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National Fitness Hall of Fame introduces Class of 2008
By Ron Skrabacz | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/18/2008 12:22 AM

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The dream is getting closer to reality with each passing year.

On December 2, 2004, John Figarelli founded the National Fitness Hall of Fame & Museum to honor the lifelong efforts of individuals and organizations in the field of health and fitness.

The Hall of Fame recently inducted its fourth class of Hall of Famers with a dinner, silent auction, and ceremony at Oak Meadows Golf Club in Addison.

The 10 inductees included six-time Ms. Olympia Cory Everson; Buns and Abs of Steel creator Tamilee Webb; and TV fitness guru and author Michael Thurmond. The festivities were co-hosted by 2007 inductee, Gilad Janklowicz, star of the fitness TV show "Bodies in Motion," and 2006 inductee, Dr. Bob Goldman, chairman of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.

Things certainly have changed over the last four years. The inaugural class of 2005 was 12 members strong, and included obvious selections like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack LaLanne, and Charles Atlas. There was no dinner or reception in that first year -- just the recognition and certificates sent to the recipients.

Today, 43 individuals and six organizations have been honored with Hall of Fame membership. They fall into one of six categories: pioneers, educators, instructors, sports medicine, celebrity spokespeople, and organizations.

Since that inaugural year, Figarelli's dream has grown to an annual ceremony complete with personal appearances by many of the inductees.

"This was our fourth induction class, and third time we've had a dinner associated with it," Figarelli said. "We packed the house with about 250. That's all you can fit in the place. One guy said to me, 'You know what? I see these guys on TV and they're idols of mine, and I'm talking right to them. It's amazing.'"

Equally amazing is the passion and effort that Figarelli has put into this project.

As founder and executive director, he acknowledges the Fitness Hall of Fame has a way to go before it is as well-known as the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., or the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

"We're small as far as staff is concerned," Figarelli said. "But with all these people behind us now, we are going to that next level. I'm confident of that. We want to be recognized equally to those other organizations."

A temporary site in Sycamore has been established to house the memorabilia and souvenirs representing the history and legends of fitness.

Figarelli's goal is to someday have the museum located locally in the Chicago area since this is where he grew up.

Although he lives in Minooka, Figarelli was a longtime Addison resident and a 1980 graduate of Addison Trail High School.

The Fitness Hall of Fame is a labor of love that has become a family affair. Figarelli's father, Don Figarelli Sr., and his mother, Julia, are members of the board of directors. Other board members are Mary Lou Gajda and Dr. Goldman.

The elder Figarelli, best known as the "Don of Sports," is somewhat of a local celebrity in his own right.

He is the host of Addison Community Television's "The Addison Sports Special" program, which has been on the air for about 20 years. He also hosts a sports talk radio program on WJJG 1530-AM out of Elmhurst from noon to 1 p.m. every Saturday.

Each year the "Don of Sports" recognizes individuals who have dedicated time and services to the local community, especially youth sports, and have demonstrated outstanding sportsmanship. For the past three years, these award presentations have been combined with the Fitness Hall of Fame induction ceremonies to give the event both a national and local flavor.

John Figarelli and the other board members have remained true to the hall's mission statement: To preserve and record the "History of Fitness," recognize those, past and present, who created or are currently creating fitness history, and encourage individuals and families to adopt a fitness lifestyle to ensure the good health of our nation.

Figarelli said he is hopeful that others will join them in their mission, as well as their goal to establish a permanent local museum.

Basic, associate and elite memberships are offered to the public as a way of allowing more people to be a part of this dream.

"The key with our hall of Fame is it's not so much the celebrity of the person, but it's what they have done for others," Figarelli said. "It's not what they do on a personal level. It's what they do teaching someone else or having clinics. It's recognizing the work that a person has done to help the general public."

For more information about the National Fitness Hall of Fame & Museum, call John Figarelli at (630) 865-5512, or visit www.nationalfitnessorganization.com.