Ok, that picture is not any of us but it represents the time and place where my passion for this business started. That looks exactly like guys I used to workout with over 40+ years ago. Hard to imagine that would spark anything isn’t it? It was the early 60’s actually when I got my first dose but more on that later…
I have been flirting with the health and fitness business all my life. My partner’s and I all came here from different paths but our idea of what makes someone healthy and fit are diversified yet very unified in terms of the adaptation we are trying to solicit from the body. The journey to get here spans over 4 decades now and it wasn’t a direct path. But that path tells you a bit about who we are and what drives us to do what we do. As you might guess it hasn’t been economic reward although we never give up hope that what we enjoy doing takes care of us into our retirement.
Its been a long time since we first thought that there might be a better way to get people involved in their health and fitness. Almost 10 years to be precise, and it has been a journey of learning experiences evolving into a series of highly scientific leading edge concepts that we are working on today.
“Highly scientific leading edge concepts…” without a doubt an overused term. In this case we say what we mean and mean what we say. I will begin to explain our journey over a series of articles about who we are, where we came from and where we are headed.
I started my journey as a slightly “husky” young teen that quickly decided that “husky” was not a term I liked. I used to walk past one of the few Chicago health Clubs as a kid back in the early 60’s and would marvel wide eyed at these gigantic super heroes that I would see hanging around the door as I walked past on my way to Baskin Robbins for a big double scoop cone. I used to tell myself that I was going to join that club when I was old enough.
I was about 12 years old when I begged my folks to get me a plastic Sears Roebuck weight set and I began my lifelong quest for health and fitness. It was with a small cheap bench and a barbell set that I could roll out of the way and under the basement couch that led me to the path I am on today.
“Old enough” for the Chicago Health Clubs came at about age 16. Back then no parent signature needed to sign-up and give them a huge $400 upfront fee and a 3-year contract for $126 per month. All this just to join a tiny club that was originally part of a bowling alley. About 50 feet long and about 20 feet wide with one of the first Universal cable gyms and a host of free metal weights we spent 2 hours each day working out and talking about the latest supplement or exercise to make you big or strong. This was 35 years ago and compared to our club today, which has no upfront fee and just slightly higher monthly fees it was state of the art training. This industry has seen deflationary prices like almost no other service has ever seen.
I trained with all kinds of athletes and bodybuilders and just all around strong men. I befriended Mr. Jamaica 1959, at least he said he was, I believed him. He was in great shape at about 40 years of age at the time. A guy named “Sarge” who was a Sarget in the Army taught me to bench press. He was as wide as a house and about 5’7” tops and could bench press well over 400 pounds. I even had a chance to lift with a wealth of local bodybuilders that revolved through the door, many who went on to achieve both regional and national titles.
During this period I started to watch the increase of steroid use in the industry blowing guys up so fast it was almost like a comic book and the huge spike in supplement usage. We used to drink glasses of this fowl tasting blue or grey colored protein drink that came in gallon jugs. We consumed magazines with the latest bodybuilding routines and tried to figure out what the secret to a fit and health body was, normally steroids unfortunately. This was health and fitness in the 60’s and 70’s. In the 80’s it became commercialized and available to everyone.
I followed these early years with the “expert” training in nutrition I received during my high school wrestling years. I started as a slightly chubby 105-pound freshman and finished as a lean 105-pound senior. My collective nutritional knowledge base at that time consisted of starvation diets, canned chow-mein dinners and dehydration as my main weapons for immediate weight loss to make weight before a match. I once went 3 days with no food and barely any water except ice-cubes that I put into my mouth before I went to bed exhausted from 2-a-day practices. Couple that with miles of running while wearing a sweat suit to further squeeze every last drop of water weight out of my system and you have a recipe for death. Luckily today they don’t let kids do that anymore.
Fast forward to my college years with more wrestling and weight lifting, a bad rotator cuff injury that has stayed with me for life, several back injuries and all the collective knowledge I could glean from Joe Weider’s magazines and interviews with Arnold and the host of bodybuilding celebrities and I was already thinking about getting into the health and fitness business, little did I know that it would be sidetracked by a career in consulting, management and eventually venture capital and private equity but it all came in handy in the long run.
Stay tuned, and I will tell you about the Gold’s Gym Licenses monopoly I had in Chicago for about 2 years a long, long time ago…