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Gymtopia. A place where clubs do social good

Published in: Health Club Management, September 2016

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

Project Walk – The Claremont Club

A health club in the US is being transformed into a world-class facility for people living with a spinal cord injury. Ray Algar reports.

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.

Living Well After Cancer Programme

“I feel like I am trying to run away from my cancer when I am on the treadmill” says Linda Johnson, a The Claremont Club member. Johnson used to describe herself as a ‘professional couch potato’ but that was before she enrolled onto the club’s ‘Living Well After Cancer Programme – private donations enable the programme to be delivered without charge. The programme is a collaboration between The Claremont Club and Pomona Valley Hospital’s cancer care centre where over 13 weeks men and women take part in fitness conditioning, nutrition workshops and support group meetings. 790 people (at June 2016) have now completed the programme, who experience higher self-esteem, become fitter and report their quality of life has been enriched. Due to its popularity, the club now offers a free one-year programme for children and young adults living with cancer.

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Picture of Valerie Bonstrom and Stefi Graff of Mrs.Sporty fitness chain

Published in: Health Club Management, April 2016

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

Walking alongside a community

Are the charitable efforts of your club one-off events, or are they part of a long-term commitment to make a difference? Ray Algar reports on a remarkable club in Canada.

This month I want to share the remarkable story of how the independent Fifth Avenue Club in Calgary, Canada is making a nine-year commitment to support the growth of communities in the Belo region of western Ethiopia.

Why feature the Fifth Avenue Club?

What appealed to me about this project was the long-term nature of its support to Food for the Hungry, its chosen Canadian charity partner. Darren Kanwischer, owner of the Fifth Avenue Club had noticed the tendency for some gyms to approach charity as a one-time short-term event whereas he wanted to forge a long-term partnership that could make a meaningful and enduring impact, touching thousands of lives.

It began over a cup of coffee

Kanwischer became aware of Food for the Hungry and its work across Africa through the club’s coffee supplier and was drawn to the idea of ‘adopting’ the Belo community as part of a sustainable development project. The purpose of Food for the Hungry is to end poverty one community at a time and they achieve this by ‘walking alongside’ a community. Walking alongside means the charity does not believe in short-term handouts but instead works to understand the root causes of poverty and commits to support a community for about 10 years after which it should be self-sustaining. Therefore it seeks donor partners who believe in this long-term approach and are able to support funding of health, sanitation, food security, education and local leadership.

The friendliest club in town

Since the Fifth Avenue Club, which spans 15,500 square feet (1,440 square metres) opened in 2006, it has focused on becoming the friendliest fitness venue in the city. Calgary itself is the largest city in the province of Alberta with a population of 1.1 million at the 2011 census. It is a prospering city, which has attracted many of Canada’s largest companies, and so residents can chose from many different club brands. GoodLife Fitness operates nearby as do Anytime Fitness along with specialist studios, CrossFit and many other fitness providers. ‘Friendly’ and ‘supportive’ are therefore two important attributes for this 700 member club to own as competition intensifies and people make their club choice.

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Published in: Health Club Management, January 2016

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

My Sportlady club is enriching women’s lives in Munich

This month I want to share the remarkable story of how the My Sportlady independent club based in Munich, Germany, is harnessing its altruistic purpose to forge meaningful connections with members as well as the wider community.

Why feature My Sportlady?

Given there are more than 48,000 fitness clubs and centres across Europe (Source: EuropeActive), I am always fascinated as to why a minority of clubs have a reputation far beyond their operating borders. These days most clubs typically possess similar resources (skilled people, equipment, facilities, programmes etc) – globalisation has seen to that, so why does the story and mission of a 2,000 member woman’s-only club in Germany, spread?

 A purposeful club

Since Jasmin Kirstein founded the club in 1984, its core purpose as a special place for women that helps to foster a healthy work-life balance, has remained constant. While budget gyms and boutique studios sprout up around the club, like daffodils in spring, My Sportlady has remained focused on how it can continue to create long-term value, not just for its members, but also for women across Munich and beyond. Possessing all the paraphernalia of other 2,000 square metre (21,528 square feet) fitness clubs, it operates more as a centre for cultivating life-skills than a typical fitness club. As an example, its cooking school helps members to understand the importance of nutrition and healthy eating. The club exists not simply to support a women’s need for physicality, but also independence, tranquillity and acceptance.

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Front cover of Health Club Management showing a picture of Rebecca Adlington, Olympic swimmer

Published in: Health Club Management, August 2015

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

Movement, Community, Service – Midtown Athletic

The team at Rochester’s Midtown Athletic Club believes there’s no charitable cause too big or too small to support. Ray Algar reports:

When I look at some of the world’s most remarkable health club brands, I often discover a strategic intent to play a proactive part in the prosperity of their communities; they’re not just there harvesting its resources. They forge a reputation for compassion and generosity and over time become an influential, valued, integral part of the  community. This month, I want to share the story of how Midtown Athletic Clubs in the US has embraced a strong sense of corporate citizenship and a wider definition of community to enable its clubs to flourish even as competition intensifies.

Three generations
The Schwartz family founded its first club, the Midtown Tennis Club, in Chicago in 1970 with a simple everyday mission: “Bringing out the best tennis player in you.” The club was founded by Alan Schwartz and his father Kevie, who were passionate about tennis and used the club as a vehicle to help grow the game. The company expanded and during the 1980s began adding fitness areas to its tennis clubs.

Steven Schwartz, Alan’s son, joined in 1987 to help position and grow what has become the Midtown Athletic Club brand. Eight Midtown Athletic Clubs now operate in what Steven Schwartz – now president and CEO – describes as the ‘upscale sports resort’ segment. The brand’s mission has also evolved beyond tennis: it aims to inspire through a pledge to ‘movement, community and service’.

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