Health & Fitness

South Florida fitness franchise among leaders in $2 million nationwide ALS fundraiser

Lynne and Augie Nieto at the 12th annual Augie’s Quest Bash at the IHRSA Convention & Trade Show. Their nonprofit has raised more than $35 million since Nieto was diagnosed with ALS in 2005.
Lynne and Augie Nieto at the 12th annual Augie’s Quest Bash at the IHRSA Convention & Trade Show. Their nonprofit has raised more than $35 million since Nieto was diagnosed with ALS in 2005. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

The fight against a crippling disease recently received a multimillion-dollar influx thanks to a nationwide effort by Orangetheory Fitness, a workout company founded and headquartered in South Florida.

In just two weeks, between Feb. 20 and March 5, franchisees, coaches, staff and members from more than 620 locations across the country raised $2,085,305—more than double the company’s original goal—to benefit Augie’s Quest, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“We were confident we’d raise $1 million—we know our franchisees are amazing—but the fact that we doubled it was definitely no small feat,” said Dave Long, Orangetheory Fitness co-founder and CEO. “ALS has affected a lot of our franchisees in their networks, as well as many of our members. It was exciting to see them all, en masse, lean in to execute this.”

But for Orangetheory Fitness franchise owner Mike Singer, the fundraising campaign was personal. His father, Bobby Singer, was diagnosed with the disease in 1998. He died two years later. Using his story, Singer motivated members and staff at his Pinecrest, Downtown Dadeland and Coral Gables locations to donate almost $20,000. His Pinecrest studio, which raised $12,800 on its own, was one of the top 10 fundraising locations in the country.

“When I found out that Orangetheory was doing a fundraiser for something that was so near and dear to my heart, we took it very seriously,” Singer said. “One of the reasons ALS has been largely ignored is that it only affects 30,000 people in the United States. In terms of business, it doesn’t really make monetary sense for drug companies to spend a lot of money trying to find a cure. But Augie’s Quest is onto something big, and we’re excited, because I want nothing more than to cure this disease for future generations.”

Augie’s Quest was created by Life Fitness founder Augie Nieto and his wife, Lynne, after he was diagnosed with ALS in 2005. The Nietos, who now have four adult children and seven grandchildren, live in California.

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease that kills motor neurons, the nerve cells that control and aid in the nourishment of the body’s muscles. There is yet no known cure.

The idea to partner with Orangetheory Fitness germinated last March during The Bash, an annual fundraising event hosted by Augie’s Quest at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) Convention & Trade Show. Orangetheory Fitness partner Dave Hardy, who sits on the board of Augie’s Quest, offered the use of his company’s vast franchise network to raise money for the organization.

“What they did in just two weeks was nothing short of remarkable,” said Lynne Nieto, Augie’s Quest chief inspiration officer and ALS TDI chairperson. “It was the first time that we’ve been able to get a company to do a franchise-wide fundraiser on our behalf. Now, we’ve proven not only that it can be done, but how well it can be done.”

Funds raised by Augie’s Quest go directly to the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), the world’s largest nonprofit biotechnology organization focused solely on curing ALS.

Among the ALS TDI’s innovations are the ALS Precision Medicine Program, an interactive database that operates with the participation of hundreds of ALS patients to discover and track progress and treatments; and the identification of AT-1501, an antibody that may effectively treat several neurological disorders, including ALS, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In its writings, the institute describes AT-1501 as “the best potential treatment ALS TDI has ever studied—with over 200 drugs tested.”

“The only thing that’s keeping us from getting [AT-1501] into the clinic at this point is money,” she said. “And honestly, our Augie’s Quest team budgeted half a million dollars [for this fundraiser], so it quadrupled what we expected. For those of us living with loved ones with this disease, this extra $2 million shot in the arm is a huge game-changer.”