‘ Back on the horse’

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Jeff Littmann, owner of Wisconsin Health & Fitness Centers, knows now that he can depend on his employees. Littmann has worked with almost the same group of employees since he opened his first club in 1994. He has always felt they worked like a family as Littmann opened locations in Grafton, South Milwaukee and Germantown.

When Littmann suffered a life-threatening cycling accident last year, he had to rely upon his employees to keep his company moving forward.

On Sept. 18, 2005, Littmann was competing at Muskego Park in his last race of the season. In the final sprint, Littmann lost control of his bicycle, and going about 35 miles per hour, he ran into a wooden park sign. Littmann’s torso took the impact.

Darin Pipp, a trauma doctor from Madison who was riding behind Littmann, saved his life. Pipp immediately started work on Littmann, who was unconscious, and resuscitated him until the Flight for Life helicopter arrived to take Littmann to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.

The impact of the accident fractured Littmann’s sternum and broke all of the ribs on his left side completely off. They were floated freely in his body. He fractured multiple ribs on his right side, punctured both lungs, fractured his right hand, ruptured his spleen, bruised his heart and tore his left rotator cuff from his scapula.

“It was a two-hour race. I remember starting,” Littmann said.

Once at Froedtert, doctors had to literally put Littmann back together. He was in a coma for seven days.

“An accident like mine leads to death or it doesn’t happen,” Littmann said. “If not for Darin, I would not have lived.”

Littmann had been exercising for 25 years and had been an avid cyclist for 16 years. His physical stature enabled him to survive the impact, but when he woke up from his coma, he was forced to start over.

When Littmann returned home to Pewaukee after his hospital stay, he started out getting used to walking. Slowly, he moved to the stationary bike. The first time he got back on the stationary bike, he could not ride for more than nine minutes. He worked up to 17 minutes, then 24 minutes, then 30 minutes.

In January 2006, Littmann took his annual trip to Tucson, Ariz., for pre-season training. He rode his bicycle four to five hours per day very slowly until he worked his way back to his normal training regimen.

Littmann was in the middle of negotiating a lease agreement on a new location for his Grafton fitness center when he was involved in the bicycle accident.

“I sat down to negotiate three or four days after I was released from the hospital,” Littmann said. “I got right back on the horse.”

Littmann’s employees took over every aspect of running the business for at least 60 days, he said. Littmann currently has 67 employees.

Littmann was unable to drive because of his broken hand, so his controller, Grace Labinski, drove him to each one of his locations every day for a month.

“I always thanked God, but I never asked him for anything, so maybe that helped,” Littmann said. “There is a saying I think of that goes, ‘I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.’ I have had hard times, but with the help of Jeff Larson at Grafton State Bank and my employees, we survived. We were able to add another facility, and we are continually growing. Things will work out.”

The Grafton location of Wisconsin Health & Fitness Centers recently moved to its new Cedarburg site at N61 W513 Washington Ave. Wisconsin Health & Fitness Centers will add its fourth location soon in Bay View at 2121 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Littman has ridden his bike 12,000 miles since the accident.

In 2007, Littmann will be back on his normal schedule of 60 to 70 competitive races per year.

Littmann has a large reminder of his brush with death. The doctors had to make incisions across his chest and around to his back, as they pieced him back together. The scar resembles the bite mark of a great white shark, he said. The ribs on his left rib cage are now riveted to a Titanium shield.

“I have always been a man of faith. I am not a religious zealot, but I believe in God. Now I definitely have a stronger belief in fate,” Littmann said. “The reason I am still here, I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe it just wasn’t my time to leave Earth.”

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