Life Fitness Legends: Ray Wilson

by Stephen Tharrett

March 10, 2012 // Category: Our People

Stephen is president of Club Industry Consulting and Author of Legends of Fitness

Few individuals have had as much influence on the modern era of the health and fitness facility industry as Ray Wilson. From owning and operating ten distinct chains of clubs, to bringing our industry its first high-tech piece of equipment, the Lifecycle™ exercise bike, Ray Wilson has had a significant hand in shaping the fitness club industry we know today.

During the 1950s, Ray brought to market four club chains, the most prominent being American Health Studios and Silhouette Figure Salons. He also opened European Health Spas, which became one of the leading chains in the U.S., many of which later were purchased by Health and Tennis Corporation, or as we know them today, Bally Total Fitness. In the 1970s Ray opened what might just have been his most successful group of clubs: Family Fitness Centers. He later sold the chain to Mark Mastrov and his group, forming the launching pad for 24 Hour Fitness.

Over the course of 60 years owning and operating clubs, Ray was the first to introduce concepts like monthly dues and alternating usage days for men and women in gyms. He even brought the first recreational pools and whirlpools into the club industry. A true legend in fitness, Ray was honored in 2004 with the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association's (IHRSA) Dale Dibble Lifetime Achievement Award.

While owning and operating clubs was his bread and butter, Ray’s most significant contribution to the industry may have been his creation of Lifecycle Inc. with co-founder Augie Nieto, which later evolved into Life Fitness. In the early 1970s Ray purchased the rights to an electronic bike invented by Dr. Keene Dimmick, seeing in it the future for cardiovascular exercise in the club environment. Under Ray’s vision and that of his partner, they took Dimmick’s creation and made it into the most recognized and most used piece of cardiovascular exercise equipment in the history of the fitness club industry.

The Lifecycle is celebrating its 38th year in 2012, with over 1 million sold, making it the number one selling piece of cardio equipment in the world. It has served as the template for every bike that has been introduced to the market since. Lifecycle, like Ford did for U.S. automobile industry, has created an entire industry devoted to technology driven cardiovascular equipment.

Spreading his influence around the world, Ray continues to stay at the forefront of the club industry with the opening of California Fitness in Southeast Asia – the first club opening in Hong Kong at the turn of the century. Ray is truly an industry legend and pioneer, not only to the Life Fitness family, but to the entire fitness community.

 
Stephen Tharrett
 

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