Fitness guru Jack LaLanne died yesterday at his California home of pneumonia at age 96. I first began watching him on TV in the 60s, inspired by his zeal for the healthy life of exercise, juice and veggies. He set the plate for my turning to weights when I simply couldn’t stand the pangs of being over six feet, yet weighing only 135 pounds. High school was bad enough, with students calling me giraffe or zipper. Once I was told not to turn sideways, lest they not see me.
The day I went down to Sears and purchased the110 pound set of vinyl weights, including bar. remains embedded in my memory. I began with an empty bar, starting with one set of 5 reps, before moving to a subsequent set when I could do 6 reps, then to a third when I could complete 7 reps of several exercises. In the following weeks, I pursued the same regimen, except for adding 5 pounds every week. I was lucky to have a wonderful little paperback guide to follow, which I still have. It promised underweight readers that if they followed the exercise routine within six months they would be 25 to 30 lbs heavier. I worked hard, never missing a workout, saying no to fatigue and distractions. Every week, two pounds or more in weight gain, six months later, the promise had delivered, and I bathed in a sea of compliments.
Jack was a pioneer when it came to the value of weights. In 1936, the pervasive notion was that weights made you muscle bound. He also fostered body building for women.
His own physical feats were legendary. When he was 43, he performed 1000 push-ups in 23 minutes. At 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf, hand- cuffed, shackled and towing a boat. At 70, he pretty much repeated the event in Long Beach.
I had begun to suspect that Jack was exempt from mortality. I had hoped, at the very least, he could reach the century mark. Recently, following heart valve surgery, he had remarked that he couldn’t die, for it would ruin his image.
But now, Jack, you can rest, your inspiration alive and well in all of us privileged to follow your recipe for active living and long life. Thank you, dear Jack.