North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce chooses ESA Business of the Year 2012
by: ellen Spitaleri, Terri Gilreath and Natalia Riley are pumped up over East Side Athletic Club being named the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year 2012.

The East Side Athletic Club operates under a single concept: kaizen.

'Kaizen is a Japanese word that means continuous improvement - we have to continue changing to be our best,' said Terri Gilreath, vice president and owner of the Milwaukie and Clackamas branches of the East Side Athletic Club and the West Side Athletic Club in downtown Portland.

Now East Side Athletic clubs are on a roll. May is National Fitness Month, so it is fitting that The North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce just awarded the two clubs the title of Business of the Year 2012. In addition, both clubs have achieved milestones this month: this is the Milwaukie East Side Athletic Club's 35th anniversary and the Clackamas location's 25th anniversary.

Business of the year

This is the first time the athletic clubs have been chosen Business of the Year, Gilreath said, noting that the award will be presented at the chamber banquet on June 26.

'It is nice to be recognized, not for the business, but for the staff and members,' she added.

Gilreath believes the award came about because of one aspect of the clubs that sets them apart from other exercise facilities - community involvement.

Even through the economy's hard times, East Side Athletic has been just as committed to the community as it has always been, she said.

'We have served more than 35,000 people in the community, as members and non-members,' Gilreath said, noting that the clubs have many non-member options and programs available.

And the list of community organizations that have benefited from the clubs' involvement is long.

East Side Athletic is the only platinum sponsor for the Clackamas County Special Olympics, and has sponsored that organization for 10 years. ESA also supports the Happy Valley Fun Run, Gladstone's Chautauqua Days, the Happy Valley Harvest Festival and the Milwaukie Festival. The staff serves on the Oregon Racquetball Association Board and sponsors participatory teams such as the Portland American Heart Association Heart and Stroke Walk, Polar Plunge and Cancer Walk.

'We have raised money for schools and we bring in 100 families for free family fun nights. We have kept our staff out there, working on programs that benefit the community at large, and we have endured for 35 years,' Gilreath added.


What is the secret to their longevity? There are many reasons, Gilreath said, noting the tie-in to kaizen.

'We always have to be on the front end of improvement. We tend to travel the country looking for what's coming next; the next trend,' she said.

'People want to feel different, not just look different. They want to garden longer or walk the path longer, that is why we reinvent current programs' to serve more needs, Gilreath said, noting that the Milwaukie location has an adaptive fitness class that meets two days a week for people with special needs.

'We want people to use that new level of fitness outside the club. Fitness is a means to an end, we want them to get out and enjoy life,' she added.

'We keep up on change; we offer Zumba classes and kettlebell training. It is fun for us to bring in new programs and watch someone with an old routine try something new. We make it fun for members,' noted Natalia Riley, marketing coordinator.

'We try to connect people with people - that makes a world of difference. Group fitness is the trend right now - it promotes a sense of belonging,' she added.

Riley agreed, noting, 'It is about the relationships you build. If you miss a class, people tell you they missed you. You show up for them.'

Gilreath added one more component to the clubs' staying power - teamwork.

'We hire people who love working with people; they know members' names. We also provide childcare and have a professional fitness staff - those things have made us who we are.'

Advantages to members

Darrell Sisson has been a club member for nine months, and said he joined ESA because the people who come to the club are serious about working out and getting in shape.

He and his wife have taken classes at ESA and have found the staff members to be 'extremely courteous here - they have never failed to greet us when we come in. The equipment is kept in good working order and the classes have a good age range,' he said.

What Marie Freeman, a six-year club member, likes best about the Clackamas facility is the women's only workout area.

'I have lost weight and I have firmed up and feel better,' Freeman said, adding that her workouts give her an 'attitude adjustment' and have helped with stress release.


The Milwaukie ESA location, on Southeast Boardman, just off of McLoughlin, was built by someone else, but Jennifer Harding, the president and founder of ESA, became the owner in 1977.

'She started out selling memberships out of a trailer,' Gilreath said.

But Harding had a more personal reason for choosing the site of the Clackamas club on Sunnyside Road, across from Clackamas Town Center in 1987.

'Jennifer's mom's home was where Spaghetti Factory is now, so she knew this area as a kid,' Gilreath said, adding that Harding also envisioned that Sunnyside Road was an 'up-and-coming area.'

Gilreath has been with ESA for 27 years, and said it is the organization's character and commitment to giving back that sets it apart.

'It is the stories that keep us going. We are in the business of changing people's lives. When we see little people learn to swim, we know that the rest of their lives they will have no fear of the water. And we see the 85 year old who used to have to hire someone to help with laundry, and that person is now independent,' she said.

Fast facts

East Side Athletic Club's Milwaukie site is located at 4606 S.E. Boardman, just off Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard. Call 503-659-3845.

The Clackamas location is at 9100 S.E. Sunnyside Road. Call 503-659-3846.

Both clubs offer numerous classes, literally from A to Z, from Amp-it-up-Express to Zumba, and everything in between. Visit the website at: to see a complete listing of classes and hours for each facility.

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