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IHRSA Conference Speakers Stress Taking Risks

SAN FRANCISCO — More than 8,000 attendees and 400 exhibiting companies participated in the 26th annual International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) Convention and Trade Show held March 28-31 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, making it one of the largest IHRSA shows yet, according to show organizers.

On the first day of the show, former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard spoke about what it takes to win. Leonard's advice? Believe in yourself. Control your composure. Listen to others more than you speak. Do not fear failure; instead, fear doing nothing.

Vice Admiral Richard Carmona also spoke on the first day, offering an account of his life as a child. Amazingly, the 17th U.S. surgeon general was a high school dropout, and his parents were often unemployed but did not believe in welfare; therefore, the family was without medical care for much of his life.

Carmona turned around his life by joining the military, eventually earning a GED and a medical degree. While working in a trauma unit, he noticed that the majority of his patients had preventable health issues, often related to their sedentary lifestyles. That's when he began pushing for a way to stop managing disease and instead prevent it. He urged the audience of fitness professionals, who at 30,000 clubs strong could make a difference on the preventative side, to join together to address the obesity issue.

“If you can band together as one and come to the Hill, you can make a difference,” Carmona told the audience.

Later that day at the 3rd Annual IHRSA Technology Summit, club owners heard about the new payment card industry (PCI) data security standard. Speakers Michael Scott Scudder, owner of MSS FitBiz Connection, and John Whitworth, business development manager of Ambiron TrustWave, told fitness operators that they might face $100,000 in fines if they don't become compliant with the new standard. Credit card companies now are making credit card-taking businesses (including fitness facilities) pay for bad charges, Scudder says. If a club owner doesn't pay the fine in full, then the club owner can no longer take payments using any credit cards, Scudder says.

After the Technology Summit, Frank Abagnale, subject of the film “Catch Me If You Can” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, took the stage. A former check forger and imposter, Abagnale eventually became a multi-millionaire as a legal fraud detection consultant. He spoke about the importance of family and fatherhood.

That evening, the opening reception at the Marriott featured live music and food.

On March 29, attendees packed the Marriott ballroom to hear former Disney CEO Michael Eisner speak about his career, which included a stint at Paramount Pictures. The Disney Company was worth $2.8 billion upon Eisner's arrival. When Eisner left Disney, it was worth $60 billion. At Paramount, Eisner kept most films under a $10 million budget, one of the many examples of one of the main points of Eisner's speech: micromanagement.

That afternoon, industry veterans gathered for the 11th Annual IHRSA Financial Panel. Rick Caro of Management Vision led the panel that featured Brent Leffel of Angelo, Gordon & Co., who talked about the success of the Crunch chain; Steve Reiner, the managing director of Financo, who talked about the growth of the club industry; and Sharon Zackfia, a Wall Street analyst, who discussed why she pays attention to public fitness companies. Ron Rich, an independent research expert, talked about the state of Bally Total Fitness and where he thinks the financially troubled company is heading.

On March 30, the keynote speaker, Lyn Heward, former president of creative content for Cirque du Soleil, talked about the growth of Cirque du Soleil and the “Seven Doors” that serve as a gateway for visitors to Cirque du Soleil.

The highlight of the show came that afternoon and evening when Augie Nieto spoke. Nieto, the founder and retired chief executive of Life Fitness, is battling ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Nieto, confined to a wheelchair, had a positive message about taking risks and not being afraid to fail. That night, the Black & Blue Bash for Augie's Quest raised nearly $2 million for ALS research. Olympic gold-medal winning swimmer Summer Sanders was the master of ceremonies, and Mitch Albom, sports columnist and author of books including the best-seller “Tuesdays with Morrie,” was the featured speaker. After an auction, John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting provided the entertainment.

For more details about the 2007 show, read Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro's blog, Behind the Scenes, at For information about some of the products introduced at the show, go to

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