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Brandon Rayburn is standing and holding a wheelchair above his head

Project Walk – The Claremont Club Claremont, Los Angeles

The story of how a near-fatal traffic accident is transforming a health club into a world-class facility for people living with a spinal chord injury. It is written by Ray Algar, founder of Gymtopia.

Mike Alpert’s early career was as a Californian stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers, but it was a move to Oregon that profoundly changed his life. He had been drawn to Oregon for the winter skiing, but soon after arriving decided with a close friend to create The Athletic Club of Bend, a new multi-use athletic, aquatic, tennis and social club. One programme they started was for children with severe physically disabilities called ‘US Able Oregon’ and Mike began twice-weekly warm water pool sessions with a 5-year-old boy living with severe spina bifida. Alpert was always struck by the joy these sessions brought to a boy who would never walk again and asked himself why the club was not doing more programmes like this. “I became somewhat obsessed with wanting to do more of these kinds of things. That 5-year-old boy changed my life and gave me meaning” Alpert says.

Alpert eventually returned to California where since 1997 he has been the president and CEO of The Claremont Club. Founded in 1973, the health club, fitness and wellness centre nestles in seven and a half hectares (19 acres) in the city of Claremont, around 52 kilometres east of downtown Los Angeles where it serves more than 10,000 members. The inclusive operating philosophy that Alpert embedded in his earlier Oregon club is evident here, which is why this year it was the recipient of IHRSA’s Outstanding Community Service Award. Each year, IHRSA selects one club making a difference in, and beyond, their community.


A group of men and women taking part in the Dancing Parkinson’s YYC programme taught by Decidedly Jazz Danceworks using a Dance Education model from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada - Gymtopia.org

Dancing Parkinson’s YYC programme Calgary, Canada

Launched in 2013 as a pilot project, Dancing Parkinson’s YYC provides dance classes to people with Parkinson disease, their spouses, friends and care partners. It is based on the simple belief that ‘dancing is good for us’. With live musical accompaniment and a focus on rhythm and musicality, body awareness, muscle development, coordination and socializing, Dancing Parkinson’s YYC brings together the style of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks with a Dance Education model used at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  The program is dedicated to enhancing people’s quality of life through the arts.

 

 


Toupee for a Day – Raise $50 and get a toupee for a day. Show that people are not alone

Helping those in need through exercise Calgary and Edmonton, Canada

We give back to our communities and support organizations who foster wellness initiatives for people in need. We do so by providing programming and fundraising through exercise activities. We support two main charities along with public schools through a number of annual initiatives. These include the World Health Games, Toupee for a day, Annual Golf classic and Summer Fitness Party, all in support of Wellspring Calgary. We also run our “Train the Trainer” toy drive in support of the Women’s Centres. We also provide our Mobile Fitness Unit programming to area public schools at no charge.


The fitness brand has so far raised US$100,000 for the EquiCenter charity

Movement, Community, Service – Midtown Athletic Club Rochester, New York State, USA

This is the story of how Midtown Athletic Club located in the American state of New York has for more than forty years used generosity to build strong community connections. It is written by Ray Algar, founder of Gymtopia.

I have long been interested in how connected and rooted a club is within its immediate community. When a health club opens in a neighbourhood, it plugs into both its infrastructure and community of people. It can be likened to a symbiotic (from Greek – ‘living together’) relationship as found in nature. When I look at some of the world’s most remarkable health club brands, I often discover a strategic intent that they play a proactive part in the prosperity of the community; they are not just there harvesting its resources. They forge a reputation for compassion and generosity and over time become an influential, valued and integral part of the community. So this month, I want to share the story of how Midtown Athletic Clubs in the United States has embraced a strong sense of corporate citizenship and a wider definition of community to enable its clubs to flourish even as the competitive landscape intensifies. In just five years time, this privately owned business celebrates its 50th anniversary so I believe there is a lot we can learn from this mature brand.