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Footsteps to Follow

By: Lois Hince
Posted: July 23, 2008, from the August 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Another proven pioneer in the spa industry founded The Oaks at Ojai in 1977. Canadian-born Sheila Workman was figure skating at the age of 6. By the time she was 17, she had a partner, had turned pro and was a member of the Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Review. The following year you would have found the 18-year-old at the Roxy Theater next to Radio City Music Hall in New York.4

Sheila left the ice and the United States to return to Ottawa, Canada, to study physical education. After receiving her degree and teaching, she discovered girls didn’t really like physical education, or PE, classes—it was too boring. So Sheila added music to the exercise classes, piquing their interest. She added figure-skating moves to the exercises, along with music, and called it cardiovascular dance. Today, it’s called aerobics.

Sheila married Don Cluff and the couple settled in Plattsburgh, New York. She continued her work by opening Fitness Inc. where she offered classes in cardiovascular dance, and, in 1962, gave birth to son. Tragedy struck when David, 3, went into a coma. The first hospital the Cluffs took David to did not have the necessary equipment to treat someone with meningitis, so he was sent to another hospital. A snowstorm set in that made travel almost impossible, and it took five hours to get him to a second hospital. Their young son died three days later.4

Sheila vowed to raise money for the first hospital so no other child’s life would be in jeopardy. While getting her message out via local news programs, a producer asked if she’d be interested in hosting a talk show on women’s issues that included a segment on exercise and fitness. She took advantage of the opportunity, demonstrating push-ups on television and announcing her class schedules at Fitness Inc. You could call it one of the first infomercials.

A 1969 job change for her husband took the Cluffs from New York to California. Sheila picked up her own business and taught evenings in Ventura, California, using a team of instructors. She also organized trips to spas such as the Rancho La Puerta. Her vision was to build a spa of her own that mixed her interest in exercise and nutrition with the pampering done at European spas.