There is a reason Castle Hill Fitness, located in Austin, Texas, donates to 85 different charitable events per year — community is important to the club, and the leadership team enjoys being involved. But, there is also a far greater reason why Castle Hill Fitness raised money for and participated in the “Out of the Darkness Walk” in November, which benefited the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
“We are doing this in memory of Castle Hill Fitness founder and longtime leader, friend and mentor, Paolo Minissi, who took his own life almost two years ago,” explained Celeste Cyr, the senior manager of Castle Hill Fitness. “With more than 36,000 lives lost each year in the U.S., and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP’s mission has never been greater, nor our work more urgent.”
Minissi was not always a part of the fitness industry. In fact, he was a physicist who had somewhat retired after selling his business, MetalOptics, which produced energy-efficient lighting. He used to attend the gym previously in Castle Hill’s location for physical therapy and massage sessions. Once that club went out of business, Minissi and physical therapist Mark Hernandez founded Castle Hill Fitness in its place.
The new club benefited from Minissi’s experience with energy-efficient lighting and green technology. Castle Hill Fitness is now the only health club recognized by the city of Austin as a Green Business Leader. Flicker-free electronic lighting, HEPA air filtration, biodegradable chemical usage and a recycling program are all aspects of the club that have earned it that title.
The club that Minissi built was one kept spectacularly clean and that lived by the slogan “mens sana in corpore sano,” which means, “the healthy mind resides in the healthy body.” According to Cyr, Minissi used exercise to combat his private war with depression, which he kept at bay for years.
“He understood deeply the benefit of exercise and nutrition on one’s mental and emotional well-being and wanted to share that with others,” said Cyr. “Maybe he was highly functional in his condition because of his commitment to exercise and fitness.”
Ultimately, Minissi succumbed to his battle with depression in November of 2011, but he left behind a gym that has thrown itself into community involvement. Furthermore, the club provided a family atmosphere for Minissi’s daughter, Rita, who took over ownership after her father’s death.
“She (Rita) used Castle Hill Fitness as her stand-in family,” said Cyr. “She leaned into us and used us as support. There was this long-standing relationship and she trusted us to run the business.”
The executive leadership team of Castle Hill Fitness, comprised of Cyr, Vlad Glouchkov, the business and operations manager, and Amy Rogers, the programs and marketing manager, has used Minissi’s leadership strategies to carry on his legacy and serve the Austin community.
In October of 2013, Castle Hill Fitness celebrated its 11th anniversary. The club offers several programs that still live by the “mens sana in corpore sano” philosophy. For example, free meditation classes are offered on Fridays. There are more than 100 group fitness classes offered per week, including seven different kinds of yoga. The Food for Fitness Café provides healthy choices for nutrition, and an infrared sauna and full-service Pilates studio are also available to members.
That membership pool is growing, too. According to Cyr, the club receives about 250 new visitors per month, and Castle Hill Fitness is expected to reach membership capacity by January 2014. At which time, a waiting list will begin.
Success has been built on the leadership team’s ability to use a tragic situation and turn it into a positive institution for the Austin community. A tireless work ethic with an attention to detail was passed on from Minissi to his employees, and that legacy lives on.
“He was a very accessible, hands-on owner, sitting in an office at the front of the gym with no door,” said Cyr. “He was an active, fun and vibrant presence that inspired us all to challenge ourselves. The most difficult challenge the organization has faced is losing our leader. However, the community came together to heal and move forward with the vision Paolo created.”
By Ashley Scoby