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Joe Cirulli, who has owned and operated Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers since 1978, is the 10th recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo by Migdalia Figueroa.
Cirulli’s first job in Gainesville, at the age of 19, was at the Steve Spurrier Health Spa, which was partly owned by the University of Florida Heisman Trophy winner and later head football coach. When Cirulli arrived in Gainesville, Spurrier was across the country serving his seventh season as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
In exchange for a membership, Cirulli worked as an instructor at the club. A few months later, after the club gained new management, he asked if he could sell memberships, and he sold eight his first day. Eight memberships in a month was a good month, he was told later.
Over the next five years, Cirulli experienced a series of high hopes and dreams crushed, as a total of six clubs that Cirulli worked for either went out of business while he was there or went bankrupt shortly after he left. On two occasions, Cirulli lived and slept inside the club. When things were really bad, he slept in his car.
One day, the fiscally challenged Cirulli went to McDonald’s for a 16-cent Diet Coke, only to discover he had 12 cents in his pocket. That was all he had to his name, too.
As he walked out of the McDonald’s, he began to feel grateful for the lessons he learned from all the club owners whose poor handling of their clubs led to his penniless circumstance.
“I will never allow myself to be broke again,” Cirulli told himself.
In the parking lot, Cirulli encountered a friend who, upon learning of his situation, offered him a place to stay. Inspired earlier in his career by Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Cirulli found another motivational book called “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. After reading that book, Cirulli wrote down a list of life goals. Cirulli was thinking positively again, but he would soon encounter more obstacles that would test his mettle.