How a man who can’t move manages to move us all

by | Mar 25, 2018 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 2 comments

What have you done so far with your day? Even if you’re reading this early in the morning you’ve likely brushed your teeth, dressed, brewed a cup of coffee. The more ambitious may have already worked out, showered, cooked breakfast.

At the very least, you’ve used the bathroom.

Imagine being unable to do any of that by yourself. Even tougher, imagine having once been able to do all of it — and more — as one of the hardest-working, wildly successful, Type A businessmen in the country, and now being unable to scratch your nose, cross your legs, or wipe your own rear end.

This is the world for Augie Nieto, the man who brought you the Lifecycle, a fitness industry guru who, at the height of his power — rich, handsome, athletic and 47 years old — discovered he had ALS. Lou Gehrig’s disease. Simply put, it snips the connection between your brain, nerves and muscles, and leaves you a barely functioning husk.

With maybe two years to live.

“Augie, at first, pretty much just stopped functioning,” his wife, Lynne, told me last week. “For the first three months after his diagnosis, he couldn’t get his feet underneath him. Then, on Memorial Day of 2005, I woke up to find my husband finally sleeping, only to realize he was unconscious.

“He tried to take his life.”

He inspires without saying a word

What have you done so far with your day? Augie, who swallowed pills to end it all, heard the voices of his loved ones later that day as he lay semi-conscious in a hospital bed. He made the biggest decision of his life: to live. To fight. To turn from darkness and search for light.

Since then, his ALS story, now 13 years into his diagnosis, has eclipsed even his brilliant business career. Augie cannot walk, cannot talk, cannot shake your hand when you meet him. But he’s created the most successful, independent research company dedicated solely to find a cure for this devastating disease. Called the ALS Therapy Development Institute, he runs it like a business: hire well, pay well, expect results.

And meanwhile, without saying a word, he inspires. He amuses. He types with his toe and a trackball, that goes to a computer, that goes to an audio box, that spits out an electronic voice — which he often uses to tell off-color jokes.

“You have to laugh,” Augie once said, when he could still talk. This is when I met Augie and Lynne, more than a decade ago, in the early stages of what Lynne rightly calls “their” diagnosis. At a friend’s request, I brought by a copy of “Tuesdays With Morrie” — and I never stopped visiting. We became friends. And they became an inspiration.

It takes hours to get Augie, now 60, ready for the day. Eye patches have to be taken off. His breathing tube needs to be maintained. His grooming requires help from multiple aides. All this just to pull him to the starting line.

Yet he has, in many ways, never been kinder, never been wiser, never been a better husband and — hard as it is to imagine — never been more satisfied.

Don’t take anything for granted

What have you done so far with your day? Augie, last week, became a movie. A new documentary made by noted director James Keach was released on iTunes. Entitled “Augie,” it depicts the story of “a rock star” in the fitness world, a man who drove a Ferrari, lived fast, pushed others to the brink and didn’t consider much beyond his own ambition — and how that man was both humbled and raised up by an awful disease.

It shows how a guy who once wanted to die eventually chose a tracheotomy so he could live longer. How a man who can’t walk, pushed himself to eventually “walk” his daughter down the aisle with the aid of a special machine. A man who is constantly told he can’t, and proves, every day, he can.

I helped Augie meet Mike Ilitch once. Ilitch was so impressed with Augie, that he promised to send the Stanley Cup to him should the Red Wings win it that year.

Sure enough, they did. And that summer, Chris Osgood, the goalie, brought the coveted trophy to Augie’s house in California. I watched Augie, who can’t skate, hold a stick or even go to a game, beaming in his wheelchair as the giant cup was placed in his lap. And I thought, life is truly unpredictable.

What have you done so far with your day? Any time I feel underwhelmed with my existence, I think about Augie and how he would love to do all the mundane things I’ve already done — shower, dress, make my own breakfast — and I remember not to take anything for granted in this life.

And that is how a man who can’t walk, talk, or wipe his own tears, does more with his day than he even realizes. Watch the film “Augie,” and I bet he’ll do it for you, too.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


  1. Theresa Ramus

    I have never met Augie but have seen him show up to a couple of your functions in the past. He has done well considering his disease. I think that we are all dealt a hand that we have to deal with. Some worse than others. I think that we are suppose to do the best that we can with it. Never allowed to give up although sometimes we do.

  2. mgrant04

    Thank you for this touching column about Augie. My husband was also an ALS patient and, unfortunately, he passed away in January 2018 from respiratory failure. It’s amazing how many people suffer from this terrible disease.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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