Bill Higgs retires after 35 year career as athletic club director

Thursday, August 17, 2017 0 Comments

Bill Higgs retires after 35 year career as athletic club director

Bill Higgs stands at about six feet with impeccable posture as he walks around Shula’s Athletic Club by day as director and by night as member. He blends in with the others, those cycling next him none the wiser that he’s led and transformed the athletic club for over 35 years. 

With a duffel bag and mountain bike in his car, he ventures out to Oletta State Park during the week after work to  bike through the dirt slopes, his new favorite pastime. The Bill Higgs that has officially retired still bears a striking resemblance to the athletic explorer he was in his 20’s when he backpacked through Grand Teton, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. It was a winding road that lead him to a life devoted to fitness and at the helm of Miami Lakes’ first-rate gym. 

Despite Higgs’ father being a physician he wasn’t in top shape. It was a different time, though, right at the cusp of a shift in mentality and media in America, where a young, impressionable Higgs sat glued to his TV watching Jack Lalane, the “Godfather of Fitness.” Lalane promoted healthy living and once beat a 21-year old Arnold Schwarzenegger in a contest at the age of 54. What Higgs saw stuck with him and combined with his passion for sports, including baseball, basketball, football, and surfing, he lead an active childhood and young adulthood. 

During his summers he took scenic routes to California’s beaches for surfing and ended up enrolling at the University of Florida for his bachelors degree in Parks and Recreation Administration where he graduated with honors. Thereafter he attended Indiana University Bloomington for a top notch program and earned his master’s degree in Parks and Recreation Administration. 

After graduation the waves beckoned and he decided to move to California. After several unsuccessful months in the state he came back home, tail between his legs, the lowest he’d ever felt. It was this moment that cemented the value of fitness for him. Higgs would send out resumes and then he would hit the gym — hard. He found control over his physical and mental growth when he couldn’t control much else and before long the call came from the City of Hialeah Parks and Recreation. Higgs was a hop, skip and a jump away from the dream job he would eventually retire from, though he didn’t know it yet.

After accepting a position as Assistant Director for Shula’s Athletic Club he got to work. When the club opened in 1982 it was simply 9 large racquetball courts, and nothing else. Less of a gym, and more of a social club – a restaurant and bar was onsite. 

Over the 80’s changes were made and by the end of the 90’s the courts were gone, a second story had been built, and Higgs, now Director, introduced children’s sports programs, an innovative move at the time. The club transformed from social club to family friendly fitness.

“I really do see fitness as preventative medicine,” said Higgs. “So the next logical step was to actually partner with medical facilities which is when we introduced the physical therapy area within the gym. 

The last radical shift Higgs put into action a handful of years ago was the introduction of the Thrive program, a licensed program Higgs researched and approved where exercises are customized to fit the gym goers abilities and needs, while still harboring a philosophy that runs congruent through all the trainers’ approaches. 

“I wanted to make sure that everyone who came here for training knew what they were getting and that it wouldn’t change on them if they were partnered with a different trainer for the day. Thrive is really a gym within a gym and people find they look and feel better.”

Introducing the Thrive program has nearly tripled the physical training revenue.  

“We should be so lucky to find our passions,” said Higgs. “I’m incredibly lucky that I dropped into mine 35 years ago.”

Along with stumbling onto his dream job he also met his future wife, Linda Higgs, at the gym. Today they have two children, Bradley, 19, and Jenna, 17. Higgs says having children later in life worked out for him, if the strict nutrition and exercise regimen he sticks to didn’t keep him young already, his children definitely do. There is a child-like quality of adventure that surrounds Higgs so it’s no wonder that to those who struggle with fitness Higgs suggests fun.

“It can be intimidating to come into a gym but we have a choice. Our lives are made up of choices we make every day. If nothing else you should choose fun,” he said with a chuckle that betrays his surfer-dude background. “Fun comes easier when you feel good, and are able to get out there and physically do the things you want to do.”

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