Monday, November 3, 2008

Fitness Pioneer Pumped About His Career

“Back in the early 1960s, astronauts underwent rigorous physicals to qualify for the space program, so they did what they could to stay in shape. ‘We found this little health spa in downtown Houston called the President's Club,’ said James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame. Lovell said all of the first astronauts trained there, including Alan Shepard, John Glen, Scott Carpenter and Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom. ‘We were given free use of the facilities,’ he said. Ray Wilson and Bob Delmonteque, who owned the club, set the astronauts up with exercise programs that consisted of aerobics, stretching and weight lifting. ‘They came in about three times a week when they were in town,’ Delmonteque said. The President's Club was the sixth in a long line of fitness spas opened by Wilson, a Carlsbad resident who recently turned 80. Wilson and his companies have opened more gyms, health studios, health clubs, health spas and fitness centers than anyone in the world. He is considered one of the pioneers of the modern fitness movement. ‘I had 277 health studios in my first company when I was 29 years old, and I have founded 13 more companies since then,’ Wilson said. Wilson said he is most proud of being the designer of the modern Lifecycle exercise bike, now a staple in just about every gym in the world. The President's Club clientele was the cream of the Houston crop because it had refined facilities. Besides all the traditional equipment, it featured a putting green, a track for running, a pool and a health-food bar. Even then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson used to visit for an occasional massage, Delmonteque said. Wilson credits Lovell, who was chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness for 11 years through four presidents, as a major influence on every facility he has opened since.”

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