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Virgen: Augie Nieto continues to inspire

Augie Nieto, center, a Corona del Mar resident who has been living with ALS for the past nine and a half years, completed the ice-bucket challenge Sunday on Balboa Island with his son, Austin, at his side.
(Steve Virgen | Daily Pilot)

Family and friends of Augie Nieto stood around the man and chanted his name Sunday afternoon on Balboa Island.

We all shouted in unison, “Augie! Augie! Augie!”

Nieto, a Corona del Mar resident who has been living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis over the past nine and a half years, took on the ice-bucket challenge.

By now, you’ve seen all the videos, some that have gone viral, of celebrities and everyday people, dumping a bucket of ice-cold water on their heads to bring awareness and raise money for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.


There has been plenty of negative talk about the trend, but you won’t hear it from Augie’s family. They love all the awareness and the opportunity to raise money for a cure for their Augie.

The Corona del Mar resident had become known as the founder of Life Fitness equipment. Now he’s now known as an inspiration to many, as he has lived past the expectancy of two to five years of this cruel disease that wipes out voluntary muscle movement because it attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

But Augie’s family believes he has responded with an amazing will to find a cure for the disease. At 56, they believe his mind is sharper than ever.

Lynne Nieto, Augie’s wife, says Augie has applied his entrepreneur wisdom into raising money to find a cure for ALS and bringing more awareness.


He wants to raise $1 million at his ninth annual event, the Tradition of Hope Gala, Oct. 25 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Since 2006, Augie and Augie’s Quest have raised $41 million for treatments and finding a cure for ALS, according to the website:

Sunday’s event on Balboa Island, at Onyx and North Bayfront, was also about raising money and experiencing an awesome community event, as 200 people took part in the ice-bucket challenge.

Lynne Nieto stood in front of her husband and also had ice water poured over head.

“This is not just the throwing the water on your head,” Lynne said. “It’s allowing other people to see what this disease looks like and how horrible it is.”

She says the past decade has been very emotional for the Nieto family. That doesn’t necessarily translate into sadness. Lynne also talked about the recent wedding of her daughter Lindsay and her husband, Chris Williams.

Lynne said she cried like baby when she saw the father-daughter dance and Augie, using special harnesses and devices, experience an enhanced version of a tradition.

Lynne nearly teared up again when talking about the scene.

Augie’s son, Austin, was also at Sunday’s event. He said he has completed the ice-bucket challenge three times and he’s excited of the recent awareness of ALS.


He also noted that through the ice-bucket challenge more and more people have become aware and inspired by his father.

I recently completed the ice-bucket challenge in honor of Augie because he inspired me greatly when I met him in 2008. That was when Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch made good on his promise and had Chris Osgood bring the Stanley Cup to Augie’s home because the Red Wings had won the NHL’s coveted prize.

I remember talking to many people at that event and hearing them all say they’re grateful to know Augie. I remember feeling the same way.

Austin Nieto learned a great deal about life and its lessons by playing football at Newport Harbor High, where he was a defensive standout. But he, too, became an extraordinary man through his father and his family.

“My father has always been my hero,” Austin told me just before running away to help his father prepare to travel back home. “It’s just amazing that every one now can enjoy and share in that joy that I have. It’s the inspiration I have every day in my life.”

Austin Neito, speaking for his father, called out Ellen Degeneres to take on the ice-bucket challenge. The talk-show host is set to complete the challenge during her season premiere on Sept. 12.

Augie continues to inspire.