Laurie McCartney, president of the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), died unexpectedly on February 6.  No cause of death was shared.

McCartney is survived by her children, Jack and Ally, six siblings and their spouses as well as nieces and nephews. Her funeral was held on February 16 in New York.

Since 2016, McCartney served as the president of Fitness and Wellness at Ascend Learning, which owns the NASM, AFAA and Club Connect, all of which McCartney led. During her tenure, the company bought both Club Connect and PTontheNet.

“Powered by Laurie’s innovative and creative business strategies, these brands have significantly expanded on their mission to prepare today’s fitness and wellness professionals for successful careers,” Ascend Learning shared in a statement to Club Industry.

Under her leadership, NASM had a record-breaking performance in January, which was the biggest month in the company’s history.

McCartney identified ways to support the fitness community with new programs and resources with her team launching three certifications—Certified Nutrition Coach, which is NASM’s most successful specialization; Virtual Coaching Specialization, which helped thousands of fitness professionals transition to virtual training during the pandemic; and Certified Wellness Coach, NASM’s first entry into the wellness space.

Her team also built out the Fitness and Wellness offices and gym in Gilbert, AZ and won Best Place to Work in Phoenix for two years in a row and won Healthiest Employers in Phoenix.

“Laurie’s kindness, stewardship and friendship are truly irreplaceable, and the entire Ascend Learning community will continue to honor her memory in everything we do moving forward,” Ascend Learning said in the statement.

Before joining Ascend Learning, McCartney, who held an MBA from Harvard Business School, led strategic marketing and operational efforts for major brands, including the Walt Disney Company, Teleflora, POM Wonderful, Stila Cosmetics, YogaWorks, and Forever 21. She was also the founder, chairman and CEO of her own company, babystyle.

McCartney served on the IHRSA Industry Partner Advisory Council, the trade association for health club operators, and the council advises IHRSA’s executive staff and board to support the growth of the industry and the success of its members.

“The news of Laurie McCartney’s passing was a shock to IHRSA, our Industry Partner Advisory Council, where she was a respected and engaged advocate and the health and fitness industry as a whole,” IHRSA CEO Liz Clark said. “Laurie was a friend, mentor and colleague who inspired with her intellect and approach, and brought the same zeal and creativity to the Association and industry leadership that she brought to her own business and career. Her loss is felt by the entire IHRSA family, and we are holding her colleagues, friends and family in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”

Bill Davis, CEO of ABC Fitness Solutions and chairman of the council, shared with Club Industry this statement that he sent to council members: “I had the pleasure to get to know Laurie over the past few years, both as a member of our Council but also through a successful partnership we developed together between Ascend Learning and ABC Fitness. I always enjoyed talking to her and admired her ability to think about complex challenges in a simple and logical way. She was a positive beacon for our industry and will be deeply missed by those who had the pleasure of knowing her. As I reflect on Laurie’s passing, it serves as, yet another stark reminder of how precious life is and the importance of cherishing every day and every moment each of us are afforded. My deepest condolences go out to Laurie’s family and those who knew her well.”

Petra Robinson, president of Petra Robinson, Inc., also served with McCartney on the council. She shared the following with Club Industry: “I was privileged to call Laurie my friend. Our relationship grew over four-plus years and went from professional to friendship fairly quickly. That’s Laurie. If she made a connection with you, it was real and authentic. She gave a talk four years ago for International Women’s Day that exemplifies that spirit and drive to be the best you can be no matter what obstacles may come your way. Laurie mentioned in the video and to me multiple times that she found herself as the only female working with a group of powerful, successful men and she saw that as an opportunity for her to succeed, challenge herself, provide a new perspective, and inspire others. I used to tell her, ‘Laurie, you may be small in stature, but you are mighty in will, hard work and inspiration.’”

On February 23, Ascend Learning will hold a celebration of McCartney’s life across the company to honor her legacy of leadership.

Photo, Laurie McCartney, courtesy The National Academy of Sports Medicine