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Jack LaLanne-Godfather of Fitness

January 24, 2011 - Mike Donahey
News that Jack LaLanne, known as the “Godfather of Fitness” had died Sunday at age 96, caught me off guard. LaLanne died from respiratory failure due to pneumonia at his home in Morro Bay, Calif., his family said. Only the day before I had watched LaLanne and his wife Elaine on a taped infomercial. They were promoting the “Jack LaLanne Juicer,” one of their many fitness-related products. The ever ebullient LaLanne had told people “I can’t die, it'll ruin my image,” finally succumbed. However, I bet he went down fighting.

LaLanne was more, much more, than a man who did infomercials. Read on and you'll see why. As a youth growing up in Berkely, Calif., LaLanne was a self-confessed sugar addict. “I was a miserable kid,” LaLanne once told a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He attempted suicide, tried to burn down the family’s house and attacked his brother.

A man by the name of Paul Bragg changed LaLanne's life. LaLanne’s mother took him to a presentation at the Oakland Woman’s Club by Bragg, who opened the nation’s first health-food store. Said LaLanne: “Bragg said, ‘My dear friends, it matters not what your physical condition is, if you obey nature’s laws, you will be born again." LaLanne went home and prayed, asking God to give him the power to refrain from the addictive sugary foods. He did stop. A weight-lifting regimen followed. The once skinny, pimply-faced kid became a champion wrestler in high school. But that would only be the beginning.

In 1936 he opened a gym in Oakland, promoting healthy eating habits and weight-lifting. Later he would sell the gyms to Bally’s Fitness Centers. But LaLanne’s biggest contributions were bringing fitness to ordinary working-class men and women. And through his motivational techniques, he convinced people they could change for the better. How? Through television.

In 1951, according to the Chroncile, he started a live exercise show on a San Francisco television station. The “Jack LaLanne Show” went national in 1959 and ran for 34 years in the United States and Europe. He also proved that getting older didn’t mean getting weaker. At 40, he towed a 2,000 pound cabin-cruiser as he swam the Golden Gate Channel. When he was 42, he did a record 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes. At age 70, handcuffed, he towed 70 loaded boats 1.5 miles in Long Beach Harbor. There was more to LaLanne than push-ups and barbells—he was a 4-handicap golfer, author, businessman and motivational speaker.

Until he fell ill, he exercised two hours a day. “I work at living,” he once said. “Most people work at dying. Dying’s easy.” Another favorite saying was: “If you believe in something, live it!” Grand-nephew Chris LaLanne summed up Jack's life well. He said: “His mission in life was to help people help themselves.”



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