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Late Thursday morning, a codger in a dark pinstriped suit stood on Freedom Plaza striking body builder poses as bureaucrats and the odd politician jumped in and out of the picture frame.
If you think that’s funny, here’s what the old man thinks about you young people: “I think they are a bunch of fat guys,” he said, breaking from the photo scrum.
The codger was Jack LaLanne, the 92-year-old iron pumper, juice man, and fitness guru. He was in town to pick up a lifetime achievement award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. The council brought him and wife Elaine by the plaza for the kickoff of MoveDC, a D.C. Department of Health obesity program.
As locals got their blood pressure taken and speakers plotted how to fix the District’s flab problem, someone asked LaLanne if he had any advice. “Goddamn right,” he said, then punched his questioner in the gut. “If man makes it, don’t eat it. If it tastes good, spit it out.”
LaLanne, aka “The King of Fitness,” has offered that advice since before World War II.
In 1936 he opened his first gym in Oakland. He taught people to lift weights back when many doctors thought it was bad for you. In 1951, he invented exercise television with The Jack LaLanne Show, which ran for 34 years. Later in life came the stunts, usually endurance swims, like the one he did at 60, from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf. He did it handcuffed, shackled and pulling a 1,000-pound boat.
LaLanne now stands nose-high to an average man. His muscles no longer bulge from his shirt. His biceps are like apples buried under tanned skin. He looks as good as a person past 90 can.
At the plaza, LaLanne described the exercise routine he does at his San Luis Obispo, Calif., home.
“Oh shit, I do 10 reps with 120-pound dumbbells,” he said. “I work out two hours a day. I hate it. A half-hour in the pool.”
For a man who helped spawn the gym rat, LaLanne is disgusted by America’s waistline. There’s no policy or program that can help that, he said. It’s about personal responsibility, self-reliance, basic logic.
“I just bought a new Corvette. 500 horsepower. Would I put water into the gas tank? You eat all that goddamn terrible food, you wonder why people are sick?”
By 11:30 a.m., LaLanne stood on the stage under a canopy tent. He flexed a few more times, blew kisses, and told the crowd his “spit it out” and self-reliance philosophy.
Afterwards, he walked toward a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services bus parked on the edge of the plaza. Before he made it, a WRC-TV reporter in high heels snagged him. LaLanne quickly had her squatting up and down, microphone in hand, as the cameraman tried to keep up.