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Augie's Quest For A Cure

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Mike AlpertMike Alpert

I have known Augie Nieto for over 25 years as the Founder and Owner of Life Fitness, one of the world's largest manufacturers of Cardio and Strength equipment. When we first met, Augie was driving around in a Slugo Motor Home trying to sell his LifeCycles to Nautilus clubs. In nine months, he sold a total of eleven LifeCycles. Through years of tireless work and brilliant marketing, Life Fitness became a must-have in every good health club. Augie was on a roll, and in 1999, he sold his company to Brunswick for $325 million dollars. Life was good for Augie. He was living the American dream: he had a devoted and beautiful wife; beautiful children; an ocean-front home; fine wine and dining and traveling around the world. What more could anyone want? Then, in 2005, while traveling to Thailand, Augie began to notice weakness and numbness in his limbs. He started to stumble and fall. Upon returning home, he received the devastating diagnosis that he had ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

ALS is an absolutely horrible disease that affects approximately 5,600 people in the United States each year. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, eventually leaving the victim totally paralyzed and shutting down major organs and the ability to swallow and breathe. There is no treatment or cure. The expected life span of a person with ALS is 2 to 5 years. Over the following years, Augie began to experience these terrible effects of ALS: his speech became slurred and difficult; his muscles began to atrophy; he began having trouble walking; and eventually, was confined to a power chair and able to communicate only through a computer that he controls with the balls of his feet.

How does a person who has reached the pinnacle of success deal with ALS? Augie decided not to and attempted to take his own life. Fortunately for his family, and others who must deal with ALS, he failed. Digging deep into his competitive nature, he decided to dedicate himself to helping find a cure for ALS. Through an alliance with the fitness industry, he created Augie's Quest for a cure and has raised over $48 million to date. Along with fundraising through TDI Institute, the amount raised is over $106 million.

In 2013, Augie heard about some interesting work going on at Project Walk at The Claremont Club with Spinal Cord Injured (SCI) people and asked if he could come out for a visit. Augie was able to witness several of our SCI clients and see what they were doing outside of their wheelchairs. He immediately let me know that he wanted to enter the program and was willing to travel 48 miles each way from his home twice a week. I had several concerns. How will we know if he is in distress (because when he is out of his power chair, he cannot communicate with us)? How will we work around his respirator, feeding tube and neck brace? Finally, we had never worked with anyone who had ALS, so will our treatments be beneficial to him? After some thought, the answer became evident: how could we not try? Nothing else was making a significant difference. We had to give it our best effort.

We have been working with Augie for two years now, and the progress he has made is simply astounding. Here are just a few of the things that he can now do that he has been unable to do for the past 7-8 years: (1) he can sit at a 45 degree angle and leg press 120 pounds, 30 times; (2) he has wrist flexion and extension; (3) he has hip flexion; (4) he can ride a cycling bike for 15 minutes; (5) he can walk on our Robomedica Gait Trainer in a harness supporting 70% of his body weight at a 1.0 speed for 15 minutes, and with some help planting and locking out his legs, he was able to walk his youngest daughter, Lindsey down the aisle at her wedding last year.

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