In January Henry Polessky passed away in Vancouver. Henry was a visionary and leader within the Canadian fitness industry. He will be honored this month at the International Health Racquet and Sports Club Association conference. His legacy and impact was exemplified even further during the celebration of his life last weekend which coincided with the end of the Olympics. The afternoon was capped by the city of Vancouver lighting the Olympic torch to honour his contributions.
I knew Henry founded Fitness World and grew it into thirteen fitness clubs in metro Vancouver, but his other legacies weren’t well known to me until people began to speak about their connections to him. Dr. Taunton, Chief Medical Officer of the 2010 Olympics described how they both started the Vancouver Sun Run over 20 years ago which each year has nearly 50,000 participants who run or walk 10km. Rick Hanson, Man in Motion spoke about Henry’s advocacy for spinal cord research. Wally Oppal former BC Attorney General recalled how Henry was always interested in you were doing. Others told stories of how their life’s path changed for the better because of Henry’s encouragement.
Henry built his dream team which became a fitness family. These people worked passionately beside him for over 25 years until Fitness World was sold in 2009. Henry’s impact on me began in 2000 when I joined Fitness World as a Personal Trainer.
One way that Henry showed that he cared about his staff and clubs was through his periodic visits to each club during which he would greet people by name. Two other ways were through the recognition awards held at the annual Christmas parties and his presence at company wide meetings.
In 2007, I came up with the idea of converting unused space in North Vancouver to build a rehabilitation center. Throughout the negotiations Henry supported my idea while asking some tough questions to make sure that it would thrive but also that I would be to differentiate it from the Personal Training department. After several months he and the other owners agreed to give Lifemoves a shot. It isn’t often that you can start a whole new business within one while being an employee for the previous. In September 2007 I made the transition from employee to business owner; his support and that of others is something I will be eternally grateful for.
He showed me that it is important to treat everyone fairly and like your own family. In November I was invited to a weekly brunch with the core Fitness World family. Even in his frailty and after not seeing each other for several years he still remembered my name. His actions always demonstrated how important it is to conduct yourself ethically and integrity, something that I echo even tough situations. Henry is missed and will be fondly remembered by many people including myself.
The celebration of his life left me wondering what others might end up saying about me. What legacy do I leave? Remember impressions we leave people with happen on every single interaction we have, not just when we pass away.
Our legacies don’t have to be world wide to make changes. Do something small today to make someone smile; they may just do the same to another. What will your legacy be?