Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Racquet, Health Club Celebrates 37 Years

"In 37 years, a plot of land near the center of the borough has been transformed from a vacant lot, to one of the state's first indoor racquet clubs, to a full-service racquet and fitness club, thanks to the vision of now 77-year-old Dick Masia. A residential builder by trade and a tennis player from the age of 10, Mr. Masia in 1972 created what is today the Murray Hill Health & Racquet Club. ‘It was a gamble, looking back,’ Mr. Masia said. ‘There were a few clubs in the Northeast, but up to that point indoor tennis was very rare.’ In the late 1960s, tennis was in a state of transformation. The first aluminum racquets were being introduced. Synthetics replaced animal gut strings. New materials were being tested to create high performance balls. In short, there were a lot of reasons to start playing. ‘Tennis is the most challenging and fun of all the racquet sports, in my opinion,’ Mr. Masia said. ‘It tends to be more of a social sport as practitioners get hooked.’ ‘People who started in 1972 are still playing here,’ Mr. Masia said. Over time, the club built on the transformation theme by listening to its customers and continually adapting. In 1977 racquetball and squash became popular. Mr. Masia responded by adding six racquetball courts and two squash courts. At the time, the Murray Hill Health & Racquet Club was the second club in the state to offer racquetball. ‘It was, however, too easy of a game and it became somewhat boring,’ Mr. Masia said. ‘About the time racquetball's popularity dwindled, Nautilus became popular.’ A Nautilus circuit replaced racquetball at the club in 1982. ‘We became an early mover in this trend. This was actually before treadmills became big. The only cardio equipment around at that time was the upright stationery bike and rowing machines,’ Mr. Masia said. Today, the Nautilus equipment has been replaced by third generation machines. The Health Club boasts a Cardio Center, a large Free Weight Studio, a tranquil Pilates studio, and a host of classes including Yoga and Spinning. And there's a staff of certified Personal Trainers and instructors to guide members. Mr. Masia has been joined by his daughter, Betsy Shinkle, the club's general manager. ‘It has been both an honor and a challenge working towards the goals my father has set forth for Murray Hill Health & Racquet Club,’ she said. ‘The great thing about this club is that it has never gotten to the point where members have to wait for equipment. Knowing your clientele and finding a niche - working on your own business and trying to keep that up to snuff is what creates a positive experience for the members. The club was recently renovated - a new studio, new windows and carpeting, new programs and new machines. ‘Our focus is on creating a welcoming atmosphere. It's a business where we're in a position to help people,’ Mr. Masia said.”

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