BLOG: Rowing, Running and Raising the Bar

By Carolyn McDonald of Orangetheory Fitness

In 2017, through a partnership with Augie’s Quest, Orangetheory Fitness announced a social initiative to raise money and awareness for ALS. Also known as Lou Gerig’s disease, ALS, is a progressive neurological disease that strips a person of the ability to walk, speak, swallow and, eventually, breathe. On average, 15 people are diagnosed with ALS every day and the average lifespan once diagnosed is two to five years.

In 2005, Augie Nieto was diagnosed with ALS. Later that year, he and his wife, Lynne, co-founded Augie’s Quest to fund research and find a cure. They believe ALS is not an incurable disease, but instead an underfunded one. Augie, once known as the Steve Jobs of fitness, was instrumental in building the fitness industry in the early 80s. He is the founder of Life Fitness and inventor of the LifeCycle.

In 2017, the Orangetheory network raised over $2 million for Augie’s Quest in just two weeks. In 2018, Orangetheory raised over $4 million. With these donations, clinical trials of AT-1501, a drug shown to slow the progression of ALS, were able to begin far sooner than expected. The research arm of Augie’s Quest, the ALS Therapy Development Institute, currently has other promising drugs in the pipeline. Early research of these drugs is showing promising results for not only ALS, but also Alzheimer’s, Lupus and Type 1 Diabetes. Continuing the partnership in 2019, Orangetheory raised over $4.5 million to become the world’s largest single donor to ALS research through Augie’s Quest.

As a network, these numbers are incredible, but I’m proud to highlight how our Indiana studios came together and crushed this social initiative. All three years, our Carmel, Indiana studio raised the highest donations in the country, bringing in $24,272, $54,373 and $58,510 respectively. In 2019, not only did Carmel represent, but Indiana studios as a whole raised over $275,000 and had nine studios in the top 25 out of more than 1,000 studios in the U.S. and Canada.

This type of success only happens with a great deal of planning and solid execution. During a two-week period, our teams worked incredibly hard to raise awareness and donations. They highlighted members and staff whose lives have been affected by ALS and put together challenges for our community to support. For example, staffs were split into teams and members could choose from several physical tasks and assign them to their team of choice at different levels of donation. So for $250 you could assign a 1,000 meter row to a favorite coach or for $500 you could assign a one mile run to a friendly sales associate. At the end of the campaign, all donations and exercises were compiled and all teams completed their workouts together. When you consider donations in Carmel, for example, totaled nearly $60,000, that’s quite a workout!

We’ve been asked many times how we were able to reach such high levels of success with this initiative year after year. I’ll be honest, the friendly competition between our studios helped raise the bar for everyone, but beyond the dedication of a caring staff, we also say that the people of Indiana have heart. When they hear about someone in need, they generously come together to help. It’s the Midwest friendliness you hear about and it’s one of the reasons my husband and I chose Indiana when we had the opportunity to relocated and bring Orangetheory to a new audience.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 derailed our plans in 2020 to continue working with Augie’s Quest. Non-profits like Augie’s Quest and so many others, are finding it difficult in the current environment to raise desperately needed funds. If you are interested in donating or learning more about Augie’s Quest, please visit augiesquest.org.

To learn more about Orangetheory Fitness, listen to Episode 85.