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August 2023 – Hero of the Month: Augustine “Augie” Nieto

I did not have the privilege of knowing Augie at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) as he arrived four years after I graduated but our paths indirectly crossed through mutual friends and he is certainly deserving of my tribute to him as the hero of the month for what he accomplished for those afflicted by ALS. Augie passed away this month at the age of 65.

Augie was a star football player at CMC, NAIA District 3, first team All-SCAIC in 1978 and 1979, and was later inducted into our Athletics Hall of Fame.

While at CMC, he devoted his senior thesis to the health/fitness industry. Upon graduation, Augie devoted his career to his company, LifeFitness, and thanks to his vision, before he left the company it had become the world’s largest commercial fitness equipment manufacturer. However, he actually started the company while at CMC and it almost went bankrupt at the early stages. It wasn’t until he decided to give away the first batch of exercise bikes that the business grew overnight. 

In 2005, Augie was diagnosed with ALS and began a new chapter in his life. He, along with his wife Lynne, literally became the face of ALS, created their non-profit (“Augie’s Quest to Cure ALS”), raised $200 million for research to find a cure, wrote two best-selling books (the last one typing with his toes), made innumerable talks, TV appearances (The Today Show, etc.), and made possible the development of Tegoprubart (formerly known as AT-1501), a promising ALS medication. 

Initially, he was given the usual and customary prognosis of 5 years from diagnosis. Instead, through sheer will and determination, Augie lived a meaningful life for 18 years.

My connection to Augie was two fold. My dear friends David and Annie Malcolm became close friends of Augie and Lynne through their mutual involvement in YPO (the national Young Presidents Association) and my dear friends Phil and Jennifer Green became close friends of Augie and Lynne after Phil was diagnosed with ALS. With Augie’s passing, Phil has become the new face of ALS. To underscore how wonderful Lynne and Augie have been to the ALS community, they offered to give their highly modified van to Phil and Jennefer when Augie could no longer use it. 

Jerry Lewis offered the perfect tribute to Augie many years ago: “He is as dedicated a person as you will ever find. He has made the decision and the commitment to turn his illness into an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.”

I became a supporter of Augie’s Quest because of Phil and his parents Gary and Andrea that reinforced a long ago desire to help after an impromptu meeting with Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY) in 1981 during a business trip to Hartford Connecticut. Senator Javits was in a wheelchair on his way to accept an award from then Vice-President George H.W. Bush.  Our time together was filed with warm and occasionally funny reminiscences about politics in the 1960s and his mind was razor sharp. Senator Javits and Lou Gehrig were long-time role models for me in my formative years. They too advanced awareness of the disease and support in the fight for a cure in important ways.

I am proud to have supported Phil and Jennifer’s efforts for the last 5 years and will continue to do so.

R.I.P. Augie: you were truly inspirational and your legacy will live on for decades to come. As Augie once said: “Keep me in your hearts so that I may experience the joy when we discover a cure.”

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