Club Industry is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

John McCarthy

With Open Arms: The Story of IHRSA's John McCarthy

John McCarthy is the recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award for 2014.

The email came in with the subject line "Red Lexus" and the following message:


I am parked immediately in front of the Logan Airport Embassy Suites hotel.


It was 7:45 a.m., and John McCarthy was ready to meet me for our interview on this unseasonably mild July day in Boston. I'm glad I was ready to go—he was 45 minutes early for our appointment.

I could have rented a car or taken a train to meet him in his hometown of Weston, MA. But McCarthy felt it was best to come meet his guest from the Midwest.

This is the essence of John McCarthy, the first executive director of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), which was founded in 1981. In talking to people who have known him for years, McCarthy was legendary for being out in front of the convention hall at the IHRSA show, greeting everybody who walked by. No stone unturned. No hand unshaken.

For 25 years, McCarthy led the growth of the trade association for commercial clubs, and, really, the entire fitness club industry. IHRSA now has more than 10,000 club members in 76 countries. Since his retirement in 2006, McCarthy remains active in the industry, most notably with Augie's Quest, the initiative to raise money in the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

This month, McCarthy will receive the Club Industry Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony takes place Oct. 23 at the Club Industry Show in Chicago, McCarthy's hometown. He becomes the 12th recipient of the award, joining IHRSA co-founders Rick Caro and Curt Beusman as well as four club operators from the early days of IHRSA: Alan Schwartz, Red Lerille, Joe Cirulli and Daniel Levin.

"I'm very, very delighted to receive this award," McCarthy said after we arrived at his home in Weston. "I'm honored and delighted to be in such outstanding company. I know and respect and have the highest regard for everyone who has received this lifetime award. I feel honored to be part of that."

As he remarked about receiving the award, McCarthy, true to his nature, also acknowledged the organization giving him the award.

"I've always had tremendous respect for Club Industry, going back to the days of (Club Industry founders) Todd Logan and Marc Onigman, who were coincidentally right here from Boston," McCarthy said. "They founded Club Industry in Boston, just as the headquarters of IHRSA was in Boston. We were only a couple of miles apart. We were friends and competitors, and they were incredibly strong competitors. They had a great magazine. They had a great trade show. So we were going down parallel paths, and both groups were doing extremely well."

There are tons of other memories from a health club career that has spanned 40 years and a life that has spanned 77 years. McCarthy was a standout basketball player who played against the Harlem Globetrotters and spurned the NBA's New York Knicks to enter the seminary and become a priest. After serving as a priest for five years, McCarthy decided that the lifestyle of a priest was not for him, and he left the ministry in 1970. In many ways, the fitness industry is thankful for that decision, not to mention his wife, Gail, and their four children, one of whom is getting married a few days before the Club Industry Show. McCarthy talks about his family and what he's doing these days in this video shot during our time in Weston.

In a break from Club Industry Lifetime Achievement Award profiles of the past, McCarthy and some of his closest colleagues tell his story in their own words. The following is an oral history of John McCarthy.

Early Life in Chicago

JOHN McCARTHY: I grew up in Chicago and lived on the south side of the city. Both my mother and my father were children of immigrants. They met in Chicago. They were both Chicagoans. My paternal grandfather came here from Ireland, and he died before I was born. My maternal grandfather also died before I was born. My maternal grandfather was very successful in business in those days. He was president of the Chicago Board of Trade, which in those days was a big thing. My paternal grandfather started out as a laborer. He fixed apartment buildings for other people who owned the apartment buildings. He gradually made enough to buy a lot of the apartments. He ended up in the real estate business.

JOHN McCARTHY: [I grew up] middle class. Middle class in those days was wonderfully comfortable. We lived in a nice neighborhood in the city called South Shore. It was over at 71st and the lake—it was close to Lake Michigan. I had a very comfortable boyhood. [I have] three younger brothers. The twins were born 18 months after I was, and then my youngest brother was born 10 years after I was. I basically left home when I was 17 to go to the University of Notre Dame.

JOHN McCARTHY: It was a great time to grow up in the south side of Chicago. Like so many boys in that era, I was involved in all the sports, particularly involved in basketball and in tennis. I played high school and college basketball. While I was still in college, I was asked to play a tour with the Harlem Globetrotters. I was also drafted by the New York Knicks, which was a real privilege. I never even went to a camp [with the Knicks]. I wrote them and said that I was going in the seminary.

JOHN McCARTHY: After college, I went in the seminary and studied to be a Catholic priest for a number of years. That was six years of study and then I was ordained and served in the Catholic ministry for about five years before I left. What made me decide to go [into the seminary], it was a period when a lot of idealistic young men thought that was an interesting, challenging and exciting career choice. So I did it with a lot of hope and enthusiasm. Put all the years of study and the years of ministry together, it was a total of 11 years. They were years that I enjoyed a lot, and I ended up being a teacher and a coach at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, which I enjoyed. I did that for the last five years that I was associated with the ministry. I enjoyed that tremendously. I think I realized that I wasn't cut out to be a single person. I didn't have the calling to be single for the rest of my life. That was my main motivation [for leaving the ministry].

Club Operator Life before IHRSA

JOHN McCARTHY: I think like many people who got in the industry early like I did, I came in the outside door. I came in through a tennis club. In 1975, I was the general manager and minority owner of a tennis club not far from here in Walpole, MA—the Wimbledon 109 Tennis Club. I was able to finance it through some money that I had slowly acquired through the previous 20 years, mostly by working in different tennis clubs, outdoors and indoors for those years. I was planning a career as a teacher. At the time that I was working at Wimbledon, I was in graduate school working on a PhD (at Harvard), which I never completed. I was [at Wimbledon] for three years, from 1975 to 1978. I enjoyed it a lot. And then when tennis clubs started to diversify [into] racquetball and fitness, I sort of moved with the industry in that direction. That was the early '70s when the fitness industry was just really exploding. Everybody was gravitating toward fitness, first toward the strength part of fitness with Nautilus and then toward the aerobic part of fitness thanks to people like Ken Cooper and the LifeCycle. And then along came IDEA and AFAA, who really pushed the aerobic part of the business. I was the beneficiary of all those movements, none of which I was the author of. But the industry was the beneficiary of those interests. We were really riding a fast-growing industry at that point.

JOHN McCARTHY: The biggest thing I learned from my first experience in the health club business or in the commercial sports club business, it became crystal clear to me that hospitality was the core and the heart and the soul of the business. From the very beginning, I understood this. It is something about which I have always been passionate. It's not necessarily what you do; it's how you do it that is the critical difference in what separates the good from the great. It's how they treat their members, how they're welcomed, how they are encouraged, how they are supported, how they are befriended and how they are treated that is the difference between the best and the worst. The thing about hospitality is that it is an art, not a science. It is something that is infinitely perfectible, infinitely improvable, and no one ever masters it. You just try to do on a daily basis the best you can with every possible member or guest that comes into the facility. The big thing I learned that I kept with me for my entire career is the fitness business is a hospitality business—bottom line. Unless and until people understand that, they really haven't entered the high road of the business.

JOHN McCARTHY: At the same time (while at Wimbledon), I was a close friend of a fellow who was the chairman of the New England Racquet Sports Association. Originally, it was called the New England Tennis Association. That gentleman, Richard J. Trant, still owns the Weston Racquet Club, which is very close to here. [He] invited me to take over the management of the New England Racquet Sports Association, which I did. I did that from 1978 to 1981. In a small way, we were very successful at involving almost all the clubs in New England, whether they were tennis clubs, racquetball clubs or fitness clubs. We developed a relatively strong regional association of clubs. Just at that time, the two national associations, the National Tennis Association (NTA) and the National Racquetball Association—the National Court Club Association (NCCA)—both of those associations were struggling.

Forming IHRSA, Finding a Leader

RICK CARO, IHRSA co-founder: I was the president of the National Tennis Association, which was the tennis club owners association. I was also the president-elect of the NCCA, National Court Clubs Association, which was the racquetball owners association. Hence, I was on both boards of directors. I was in a Chicago O'Hare hotel for a board meeting of the NTA on a Friday. And exactly a week later, I'm in the same hotel for the NCCA. I had one of those briefcases like an old Samsonite that had a bunch of flaps in it. You could put your file folders in them and snap them on the top half of them. It wasn't until the fourth item of the agenda that I realized I pulled out the wrong agenda, and the agendas were identical for the first three items. And I said at that point, "We need to combine these two." Neither one was doing very well financially, neither one was growing very fast, neither one was a substantial trade association.

RICK CARO: I knew if it was just my idea, it would not fly. So I identified three people from the National Tennis Association and had Norm Cates, who was then the president of the NCCA, to identify three people (from the NCCA), all of whom I thought would be appropriate participants. I purposely did not go to that meeting. There were six people who were invited to that meeting. I said, "Whatever you do, whether you have a good meeting or a bad meeting, call me at the end of the day." And they called me at the end of the day and they said, "Rick, we see your vision. We see what we have in common."

RICK CARO: I knew in New England that they had a very strong regional [association] that existed before IHRSA was founded, the NERSA region—New England Racquet Sports Association it was called then. And their executive director, a part-time guy, was John McCarthy. But I didn't think I had any right to talk to John without talking to my friends who were on the board of NERSA and asked them what they thought. I had a club in Connecticut, and one day, Dale Dibble and John McCarthy drove down to the club. Todd Pulis flew his private plane down to the next town and came over to my club. Curt Beusman came up from Connecticut. And somehow, we had Norm Cates on a speakerphone from Atlanta. And we interviewed John. And at the end of the day, I think we all agreed he was the right guy.

JOHN McCARTHY: They were looking for somebody who had been relatively successful in managing an association that involved the racquetball clubs, the tennis clubs and the fitness clubs. And at that time, I was the only one who was doing that. So they contacted me, I met with them, and I became in 1981 the acting executive director of IHRSA. I was the first hire of IHRSA. Was I involved in the founding of IHRSA? Yes. Was I technically the founder of IHRSA? No. (Editor's Note: In addition to Rick Caro, the co-founders of IHRSA are Curt Beusman, Dale Dibble and Todd Pulis from the NTA and Norm Cates, Peter Donahue and Jennifer Wayt Saslaw from the NCCA.)

JOHN McCARTHY: [They] decided to call it the National Racquet Sports Association. And somebody then said, "Let's make it 'International.'" So for a short period of time, it was the International Racquet Sportsclub Association. And then somebody said, "Well, let's involve fitness, too, in the association." So instead of IRSA, they added IHRSA—International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. And that involved all the health clubs, all the fitness centers.

RICK CARO: Officially, I hired John, and he has no office at this point (in 1981) and no staff, and all of a sudden we now have a salesman we've given him in Chicago (Chuck Leve) to go after vendors and a woman who was part-time in Portland (Mary Johnsen) to be the tennis liaison. He now has three parts of the country covered. I don't think he knew either one very well. I think he knew Chuck a little bit, and I don't think he knew Mary Johnson at all. Within a short amount of time, he added another 1 1/2 people. Even though I'd like to think we were great leaders, it was John who became the self-motivated leader. He realized he needed two things early on: He needed members, and he needed vendors who would pay some money to help underwrite the organization.

NORM CATES, IHRSA co-founder: John was an amazing ambassador for the idea, and that idea was to make our industry better through an association that would not hold back in its sharing of expertise. Getting John McCarthy and Chuck Leve together as a team at the beginning of IHRSA was the luckiest thing we could have ever done. And since then, our luck has continued with Joe Moore at the helm and Tom Hunt as his teammate.

RICK CARO: My dream was exceeded in the early years because of John McCarthy. I think what IHRSA did was create another dream.

Hitting the Ground Running at IHRSA

JOHN McCARTHY: We began as a national association, and we began with a few Canadian members. So we were sort of international from the beginning. Both of these groups, the court club association and the tennis association, they tended to have as their members the leadership clubs in tennis and the leadership clubs in racquetball. The secret to the association business is to capture the leaders. If you capture the leaders, you have a very good opportunity of capturing everybody else. So we began with a lot of leaders. People like Rick Caro and Curt Beusman and Alan Schwartz who were profound leaders in their respective industries. When you begin with a lot of leaders, you have a very strong hand. We picked up more leaders. In the Northeast, the big leaders were Dale Dibble and Curt Beusman and Rick Caro. But there were leaders in the South like Red Lerille and the Midwest like Alan Schwartz and the West like Jim Gerber. Our job at IHRSA was to involve them all. If you get the leaders on your board of directors, which we did, that acts as a magnet because people say, "This is where the successful people in the business are. Maybe I should belong to that, too." And so that's what happened.

JOHN McCARTHY: The U.S. industry at that time, in the late '70s, early '80s and '90s, was five to 10 years ahead of the rest of the world. The leaders in Europe, the leaders in Asia, the leaders in Latin America all understood they had a lot to learn what was going on in America. Very early on, we launched an effort, with some very good people, to involve the leaders in Europe, the leaders in Asia and the leaders in Latin America. This was a breakthrough concept for IHRSA and for the industry. It's paid enormous dividends for everybody. It gave the IHRSA trade show a unique position in the industry that it was a truly international show, and that gave it a tremendous competitive advantage over other shows.

JOHN McCARTHY: [Traveling] was a part of the business, and it was a part of the business that I really enjoyed. I made it a point to get to every major market in the U.S. every year and to make at least one trip in the year to major centers in Europe and major centers in Asia. Toward the end of my career, I started going to Latin America, too. Travel was something I did, and it never stopped. It was probably, if not every week, it was every 10 days I was somewhere. Usually, wherever I was, I stayed for two or three days. I tried to hit all the key people in every market, whether you go to Chicago, or you go to Dallas, you go to San Francisco or you go to New Orleans. My frequent flier miles probably lasted seven or eight years after I left IHRSA.

RICK CARO: [McCarthy] became a road warrior. He would get in his car, which I think was an old car and not a very impressive car, and put some real miles on. If he had to stay overnight, I think John had the smallest oversized briefcase—which he called an overnight bag—of anyone I'd ever met. He did change his clothes, but I never understood how efficient he was in this dilapidated, nothing bag that seemed to always have enough stuff in it so that he could change and keep going. He traveled coach. He rented small cars. He was the most frugal guy going. Within a short amount of time, he was continuing to make hay because he loved going out in the field.

RICK CARO: If there's anything about John that everyone will talk about, it's that he is warm when you meet him, has a great handshake, great smile, looks you in the eye and makes you feel like you're the most important person in the world. I'll never forget the first time he did it. He'd sit down in front of you—let's say he went in the field and talked to one of the owners and they showed him around the club—he'd sit in their office and he'd say to them, "What do you think is working for you here? What do you think makes your club so special?" Then he'd asked them what could IHRSA do for them, knowing full well he couldn’t promise that it could do a lot right away. And as he asked those open-ended questions, he pulls out a legal-sized yellow-lined pad, and with a very inexpensive, probably Bic pen, would start writing. He wrote very large, and he's writing like crazy and flipping pages. You feel like the most important guy on earth. He flips [the pad] over and starts writing on the backs of each page—that's how he was. To this day, I will tell you, I'm not sure he ever did anything with those pads. But at the moment, you knew he was listening because he would say things to reaffirm—"That's an interesting point. I hadn't thought about that." You knew that he was really there for you, and he really connected.

RICK CARO: While he was there (at IHRSA), he gets married. He (with his wife, Gail Bayer) has four children in like 6 1/2 years. One night, I stayed over at his house, and he had one child at that time, and his wife was due with the second. And in the middle of the night, they woke me and said, "Can you watch our child because Gail is going into labor?" As it turned out, it was false labor, and they came back several hours later. He was able to balance all of this work, all of this travel with getting married, having four kids in 6 1/2 years and getting an MBA part-time at night or weekends.

McCarthy's Impact on Others in the Industry

RICK CARO: On opening night of the annual convention, John would be at the door for the opening reception, greeting every single person by hand. Every single person. He recognized a lot of people and had often something specific to say to them. He has a great handshake, a very warm smile and a little bit of a giggle that makes it a very engaging experience, even for five seconds, 10 seconds. Politicians can learn from him because he made you feel special as you walked in the room.

ROGER RALPH, Hockessin Athletic Club: He shook more hands than Bill Clinton. I don't think there's anybody other than he and Bill who have done as much of that.

CHUCK LEVE, former IHRSA vice president of business development: One year at the convention, I had sold a sponsorship to Star Trac to sponsor a breakfast, and the breakfast was due to start at 7 a.m. I got up, and it was about 5, 5:30, and I realized I forgot to bring the (Star Trac) banner down to the room. About 5:30, I just threw on a pair of warm-ups, grabbed the banner, still had bedtime hair and jumped in the elevator to get down to the room. The elevator opens, I'm in the lobby, and there's John, suit and tie on, portfolio under his arm, standing there ready to start shaking hands with people. It was no later than 6 o'clock in the morning. He wasn't going to miss anybody.

RICK CARO: He delegated well. He hired people who in some cases were a raw talent with tremendous potential and nurtured them. But he delegated so well and he gave people an opportunity to perform. He was just a major supporter, a motivator and someone who was one of the world's best cheerleaders. No one had the kind of skills that John had in strategic thinking. He was Mr. Strategist right from the beginning. Always was. He was pretty amazing.

CHUCK LEVE: As a boss, you couldn't find one any better. I was in sales, and every year he would say, "Chuck, I hope you make a million dollars this year. Because that will mean IHRSA makes $10 million." When you find a boss like that and you're in sales, you hang on to him as long as you can. That type of sharing and unselfishness leads to employees who trust you, who want to give you everything they have and more to you and to the organization. He was perfect for the job. John McCarthy has what I would call and have always called a negative ego. It's not about him. It's never been about him. He doesn't want it to be about him.

NORM CATES: John led the leaders. We were the leaders, and John led us and gave us the ability to have complete faith in him and just kicked [butt]. John took the opportunity and ran with it and never put the ball down until he had gone across the goal line many times. I'm proud to have known him and proud to have worked with him and proud to have had those many phone calls over the year that I was president. You could depend on him like the day was long.

NORM CATES: John's legacy is going to be that he changed the world that we lived in in this industry, and I mean he changed it big time. He gave this industry a future of excellence through his dedication and his travels and his hard work, and his always presence at that front door right at the entrance of every convention when it would start—he was there shaking hands. John was the best thing that ever happened to the association and probably that ever will. He was a treasure—and he still is, of course—for this industry.

Leaving IHRSA, Staying in the Industry

JOHN McCARTHY: I actually decided to leave (IHRSA) in late 2004. I said, "I think I can make this 25 years, and it's a nice even number." I talked it over with some friends in the industry and outside the industry. I told them where I was emotionally, where I was physically, how I felt. No one discouraged me. It was the right time for me to leave. I left with no regrets. I left with a very, very strong staff, and I really liked Joe Moore, the person who was going to take my place at IHRSA. And he is doing a wonderful job. I also liked the people I had worked with all those years, all those people that were so instrumental in IHRSA's success.

JOHN McCARTHY: I have three major continuing involvements with the industry. The first is with Augie's Quest, which is a real honor and a pleasure with me. Augie's company was LifeCycle, and LifeCycle and IHRSA grew in tandem for 25 years. Augie was always the strongest and largest supporter of IHRSA, whether it was in advertising or trade show booths or sponsorships. When Augie was struck down with this terrible ALS disease, I was privileged that he asked me if I would help him raise funds for the cure of ALS. Augie and I and a lot of other people have been doing that now for a long, long time. [Next] year will be the 10th year of the Augie's Bash at IHRSA. Along with a lot of other initiatives that Augie has undertaken, we've now raised over $40 million for the cure for ALS. I feel very privileged to be involved with Augie in his quest.

JOHN McCARTHY: Two other companies that I'm very involved with and have been involved with for a long time ever since I retired from IHRSA are Cybex, which is now a private company owned by John Aglialoro and his wife, Joan. It has been a pleasure and a privilege for me to be involved with that great company, which happily continues to grow brilliantly. I'm honored to be part of that group. And I'm also very pleased and honored to be a part of a company called North Castle Partners, which is a private equity company that has always had a lot of investments in the health club industry. Their current investment is Curves and Jenny Craig, and they've hired Jillian Michaels to round out its fitness component. All three of these activities are very enjoyable for me. I'm working with good people. I'm working with good companies. I'm working with good causes. I feel very blessed to be involved with North Castle and with Cybex and with Augie's Quest.

RICK CARO: Every week, [McCarthy] volunteers at the hospital where he had some surgery at one point. His way of giving back and saying thank you is to volunteer one day a week as the reception guy. So when you walk into a particular floor, he is there to greet you. His role is to take you to wherever you need to go, not just direct you and point you in the direction and say, "Go down the hall and turn left." He takes you there. I would love, especially if I were uncomfortable and going in for some surgery at a hospital, to have John McCarthy be the one who greeted me and led me to where I needed to get started. He would make me feel a lot more comfortable.

John McCarthy Bio

  • Born (Dec. 23, 1936) and raised in Chicago
  • A graduate of the University of Notre Dame (B.A.) and Boston College (M.B.A.)
  • Instructor and coach (basketball and tennis), University of St. Thomas, 1966-1970
  • Graduate student and coach (basketball and tennis), 1970-1974
  • Partner, Wimbledon 109 Tennis Club and Tennis Pro, Eastern Yacht Club, 1975-1978
  • Executive Director, New England Racquet Sports Association, 1978-1981
  • Founding Executive Director, International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), 1981- 2006
  • Volunteer: Augie's Quest, 2006 to the present
  • Volunteer: Massachusetts General Hospital, 2006 to the present
  • Advisor: Cybex (current), North Castle Partners (current), Healthtrax International (current)
  • Board Member: Marquette National Corporation, 2004 to the present
  • Activities/pastimes: golf, tennis, fitness
  • Home: Weston, MA
  • Wife: Gail M. Bayer, 32 years
  • Children: Meghan (31), Elise (29), John (28) and Michael (25)
  • Publications: IHRSA's Guide to How to Prevail in Competitive Markets; IHRSA's Guide to Membership Retention; The Plan for Growth: A Progress Report on 100 Million by 2010; The IHRSA Guide to Bank Financing; IHRSA's Guide to the Health Club Industry for Lenders and Investors; 50 Million by 2010: The American Fitness Industry's Plan for Growth

What Others Say About John McCarthy

JOE MOORE, IHRSA president and CEO: Nobody has achieved more for this industry than John. He was at the fore from the very beginning. I can't speak highly enough of him. John is one of the most sincere people that I've ever met. He is one of the most curious people that you'll ever meet, wanting to see the nuts and bolts of each operation—how the clubs work, what makes them successful, how they keep their members. John has been great with bringing club operators and manufacturers into the same room. John, more than anybody else at the time, saw the industry as a big tent that should include all types of clubs. When you get a group of club operators that run big boxes, they don't necessarily like a competitor coming in that has a different model. There were those voices that wanted to exclude part of the industry. I think John has always stood for inclusion. It's better to have people in the tent, part of IHRSA, part of the industry, rather than outside. That's a hard message when you're competing against various models.

MITCH WALD, former president of the IHRSA board of directors: I can't imagine anyone more deserving to receive this award than John. His visionary leadership of IHRSA during its first 25 years has been instrumental in the development and success of our industry as we know it today. I've often thought what position IHRSA and our business as a whole would have been in if not for John and his team's commitment to and passion for what we do. John wanted everyone to succeed and believed in bringing everyone in under IHRSA's tent to raise the professionalism of the industry and to improve the experience of our members. It is definitely a lifetime achievement to have helped birth an association and an entire industry that impacts the lives of millions all over the world.

ROGER RALPH: John simply is one of the world's great people, and our industry was fortunate to have his leadership for almost three decades. He was the right person to lead us in those times, and I am not sure our healthy growth—no pun intended—would have occurred as rapidly. In my view, he was everything one wants in a leader: absolute integrity, big thinker, accessible, treats everyone with respect, open to new ideas and produces results. John certainly deserves this honor, which is something I am sure everyone who knows him would say, and that's a rare tribute in and of itself.

ALAN SCHWARTZ, Midtown Athletic Clubs: John never gave up the call of ministering. We in the industry were his congregation, and he treated us with respect, integrity, warmth, compassion, impartiality and great creativity.

JOE CIRULLI, Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers; former president of the IHRSA board of directors: I had the opportunity to work with John over a number of years with the (IHRSA) board. The great thing about working with him is the fact that the John you saw in public and the John you saw in private were exactly the same. He was consistent in how he approached people, the caring attitude and always doing what he said he'd do. He is a big thinker and knows how to implement a plan. He brings people together, and with him you know you can accomplish great things. He was truly unusual in being part of the creation of IHRSA with the ability to lead it into the future for 25 years. I will always cherish the time I spent with him.

DANIEL LEVIN, East Bank Club: John McCarthy was and continues to be a terrific leader in our industry, and we could not thank him enough for his guidance, advice and council over the past 35 years. In his time as IHRSA's executive director, he was a wonderful friend to East Bank Club, and he set the highest standards for the industry, which greatly informed how we developed and maintained our club.

PAT LAUS, The Atlantic Club: More than 30 years ago, the founders of IHRSA, then known as IRSA, wisely chose John McCarthy to be its first executive director. Subsequently, John proved to be not only a visionary for the start-up trade organization, but a significant role model for others to learn leadership skills that would prove to be his primary gift to IHRSA's members, vendors and staff. Throughout his tenure, John led with integrity, reassurance, inclusion and humility. Conversations in good times and tough times within our industry were always imbued with goodwill. John is a master networker, who clearly learned early on the power of relationships and skillfully, but softly, made everyone who was fortunate enough to cross paths with him feel important and respected. John's legacy as a leader, and as a human being, is indelible on many. In my opinion, he is truly "sui generis!" It has been my privilege to know him all these years.

BAHRAM AKRADI, Life Time Fitness: With his gracious demeanor and proven leadership strengths, John was able to unite so many people in the health and fitness industry. He is a great unity builder and trusted leader who simply will never be duplicated.

Club Industry Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients

Profiles of all Club Industry honorees are available at:

2003 — Joe Weider, Weider Publishing

2004 — Joe Gold, Gold’s Gym, World Gym

2005 — Judi Sheppard Missett, Jazzercise

2006 — Rick Caro, Management Vision

2007 — Alan Schwartz, Midtown Athletic Clubs

2008 — Dr. Kenneth Cooper, Cooper Aerobics Center

2009 — Jack LaLanne, TV Fitness Personality

2010 — Curt Beusman, Saw Mill Club

2011 — Red Lerille, Red Lerille’s Health and Racquet Club

2012 — Joe Cirulli, Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers

2013 — Daniel Levin, East Bank Club

2014 — John McCarthy, IHRSA

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.