The 96 year old fitness guru Jack La Lanne passed away this week, and I just wanted to offer a tribute to him on my mother's behalf. He was one of her heroes.
In 1962, after I left home to attend college, my grandmother died. At the time I didn't realize how hard it was on my mother, but she told me later, "It almost killed me." Not one to suffer passively, Jim decided to reinvent herself. She stopped smoking and she started exercising with Jack La Lanne.
La Lanne's exercise program was popular at the time, and it was just the thing to pick up my mother's spirits. He was enthusiastic; he was encouraging; he talked about his mother; he talked about his garden; he testified to how exercise had changed his life, and he just chatted with his audience. Jack La Lanne was a genuine he-man. He is famous for his feats of strength, but what is just as amazing to me is how he managed to click with housewives. My mother watched him religiously. She ordered his book, and once she got started she never missed a day doing her exercises.
La Lanne's exercise program was practical. It was something a housewife could do without any equipment. The exercises were not too strenuous, and Jack kept chatting and encouraging his fans while they exercised to take their minds off the exertion. Jim gradually built up her endurance until she could exercise vigorously for 30 minutes straight.
Jim kept up her exercise all through the years. When she went back to work the year after Grandmother's death, she got up 30 minutes early every morning so she could finish her exercises before going to work. She even talked my dad into joining her. He hadn't exercised since he played basketball at the University of Oklahoma. I think he considered exercise something you gave up when you became an adult, but Jim convinced him differently.
Jim always worried that I wasn't taking care of myself. After my father died in 2000, I started calling her regularly, and during one of those calls she gave me a lecture on fitness. The next day she sent me her copy of Jack La Lanne's book, The Jack La Lanne Way to Vibrant Good Health.
My mother kept up her exercises as she got older, and she was in good condition too. She walked fast. She never lost her balance. She climbed on chairs and ladders. She bent over to pick things up off the floor without getting dizzy. My cousin swears that once when he was visiting her she climbed up on the kitchen counter to reach something and then jumped down!
Jim kept up her habit of getting up early to exercise, and once during a visit I set my alarm so that I could watch her. I was amazed. She did kicks; she did pushups and situps; she did arm exercises with weights; she rode a stationary bicycle, and then she walked briskly around her spacious living room area for 700 steps. I really don't think I could have kept up with her.
Just like Jack La Lanne, my mother kept up her exercises to the end. Finally she had to stop because of the pain from bone cancer. She died at the age of 96, the same age as Jack La Lanne when he died.
My mother won another fan for Jack La Lanne. I've been going through an exercise routine every day since she died.