Prezzercize

As I sat back in the recliner thinking once more about how to maintain an exercise regimen in the year to come, I was interested in how presidents have kept fit throughout history.  Most of them did nicely, which is not surprising considering they had to stay active to deal with demands of the office.

Early leaders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson developed the skill and coordination of excellent horsemen.   A few years later, John Quincy Adams swam (naked) in the Potomac River every morning, long before it was known that this was the ultimate cardiovascular exercise.

Abraham Lincoln, who grew up guiding a horse plow and splitting wood rails for fences, once used his strong arms to throw a heckler out of a political rally.

Related image

http://www.mentalfloss.com

Theodore Roosevelt overcame his childhood frailty in the arid west as a hand on his own ranch.  He was always active in boxing, and led other dignitaries on point-to-point walks in Rock Creek Park.  One time he asked a French ambassador, when they took off their clothes to cross the river, why he did not remove his gloves.  “Why Mr. President,” he exclaimed, “We might meet ladies!”

William Howard Taft may not be remembered as athletic because of his weight and the famous custom bathtub installed in the White House, but he later trimmed 100 pounds off his frame and lived a long life as a Chief Justice.  He liked golf and tennis.  TR had cautioned him not to be photographed playing, however, because it might make him look too upper-class.

Herbert Hoover playing Hoover-ball on the White House lawn, February, 1933. Photo 1033-16A

http://www.hoover.archives.gov

Probably the most interesting game played by a president was named after him.  Hooverball, invented by doctor, involved two teams tossing an eight-pound medicine ball over a net every morning during the Depression.  It would have much easier for Herbert Hoover than tackling the plight of Americans at the time.

Franklin Roosevelt developed his upper body strength by pulling ropes to hoist the elevator up and down, sitting in a wheelchair, at his home.  He was also a swimmer.  Harry Truman took 120 steps per minute during his mile and a half daily walks.  This was the World War I marching pace, which would make any Fitbit happy.

Dwight Eisenhower played football for the United States Military Academy, once tackling legendary Native American star Jim Thorpe.  John Kennedy played football with his family members until his weak back prevented it.  Concerned about flabby citizens of the 1960s, he initiated a nationwide fitness program and commissioned the recording of “Chicken Fat” still used in schools today.

Image result for gerald ford football at u of m

http://www.geraldfordfoundation.org

At the top of the list of fit presidents is Gerald Ford, despite his reputation for being clumsy.  That was because his knees had been used up as a football player for the champion University of Michigan Wolverines.  He turned down offers from the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, and later settled for playing golf.

Ronald Reagan was a high school lifeguard who saved over 70 people from drowning.  When president he stepped up body building with specially-designed workouts after he was shot, and even wrote a fitness article for Parade Magazine.  “In my view, every exercise program should have an outdoor element to it – whether jogging, bicycling, skiing, hiking, or walking.  I prefer horseback riding and, whenever possible, hard manual labor at the ranch,” he said.

A portrait of an adolescent George H.W. Bush and a teammate in their baseball uniforms. Bush was the captain of the baseball team at Phillips Academy, where he attended from 1937 to 1942.

http://www.time.com

The George Bushes also head the fit list, with the father a high school baseball captain and a serious runner.  Dubya runs and cycles yet today.  Bill Clinton famously jogged, as Barack Obama loves to play pickup basketball games off backboards on the old Taft tennis court.

Warren G. Harding was probably in the worst shape of all of our presidents: boozing, smoking and sitting still.

Donald Trump?  His idea of burning calories is sweating in a crowded room.  He sleeps four hours a night and skips breakfast.  What will the President’s Council on Physical Fitness do about that?  It may just have to be the Council on Physical Fitness for the next four years.

I will have to slim down to give him an example.

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Ten Terms Apart

A six year-old boy and his small brother looked out from an open window of their grandparents’ home onto a somber scene: lamp posts and citizens dressed in black, as a hearse leading a long funeral procession passed by.  There had been three children at the window, but the little girl cried, so the boys made her retreat to another room.  It was the last week of April 1865, and the city of New York was paying final respects to Abraham Lincoln.

New York Historical Society photo

The boys with the second story view were Theodore and Elliott Roosevelt.  The little neighbor girl, Edie Carow, who grew up to marry Theodore, confirmed the story to biographer Stephan Lorant in an interview late in life.

The Roosevelt family had reason to grieve a personal friend.  During the long years of the Civil War, Theodore Sr. worked closely with Lincoln to form the Allotment Commission, which routed soldier pay to their families rather than sutlers in the field.  The Lincolns welcomed him into their social circle.  Mary Lincoln invited him to dinners and asked his opinions on bonnets.  When Roosevelt attended St. John’s Church with John Hay, the president’s secretary, many mistook the tall bearded man with the top hat for the chief executive.

This photo was signed and presented to Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. http://www.mharchive.org

Lincoln was the sixteenth president; Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. would be the twenty-sixth, with much transpiring in the country during the forty years between.  The Industrial Revolution, automobiles, telephones, electricity.  In Manhattan, the stately mansion of C.V.S. Roosevelt, pictured above, torn down to make way for a sewing machine factory as residential areas shifted closer to Central Park.  Two more American presidents assassinated.  Economic recession.  A brief war in Cuba that made the go-get-em Roosevelt so popular he was easily elected governor of New York and assigned to the William McKinley presidential ticket in 1900.

http://www.inaugural.senate.gov

When McKinley was assassinated only a few months into his second term, Roosevelt became president.  In 1904 he was elected in his own right.  John Hay, now Secretary of State, wrote a note with a gift the night before the inauguration, saying, “Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understands and appreciates (him).”  Enclosed was a gold ring containing several strands of Abraham Lincoln’s hair.

“I am mighty glad you like what I have been doing…I do not have to tell you that my great hero is Abraham Lincoln, and I have wanted while President to be the representative of the “plain people” in the sense that he was…according to my lights…” Theodore wrote friend Bill Sewall in 1906.

A Lincoln portrait hung in his office in the White House; after his presidency was over, he said this in a speech at The Great Emancipator’s birthplace: “His great and tender heart shrank from giving pain, and the task allotted him was to pour out like water the life-blood of the young men, and to feel in his every fibre the sorrow of the women…unbroken by hatred, unshaken by sorrow, he worked and suffered for the people.”

Theodore Roosevelt did not have the crisis of America at war during his administration, as Lincoln did.  Perhaps his “Big Stick” diplomacy held off the Great War.  But he did fight poverty, big business, and the depletion of our natural resources.

Lifelong friend, hunting guide, and Dakota ranch foreman William Sewall.  http://www.cache.boston.com

The same William Sewall, to whom Theodore wrote the letter, later said of him, “Wherever he went, he got right in with the people.  He was quick to find the real man in a very simple man….He valued me for what I was worth.”

Also true of his predecessor, ten terms before.