Throughout the decades, the concept of ‘healthy habits’ has evolved.
One longstanding premise seldom challenged is that physical fitness–to maintain muscle and cardiovascular health–serves you well in the present, and in future years.
This concept was challenged in the 1960’s by those who thought muscle mass would infringe on a golfer’s game, but Gary Player proved them wrong. Dubbed ‘Mr. Fitness’ for his dedication to working out, he faced the sneers of many who said he would never last as a professional.
“One famous reporter said I would never win a tournament over 35,” says Player. “When I won a tournament at 63, I looked up to heaven and told him to make sure there is a gym we can both use when I get there!”
Now 77, Player has made physical fitness, not only a priority but a lifetime passion. And it has served him well. He is a legendary athlete winning more than 160 tournaments over the past six decades. He is one of only five golfers with a career Grand Slam title, having won all four major tournaments–the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. He is also the only golfer to have won both an international grand slam and a senior international grand slam for players 50+.
Player has now teamed up with Humana to promote physical fitness and a healthy diet for all generations. He feels the timing is right. “I’ve been preaching health and fitness for 68 years, and now we have support from Humana, the Clinton Foundation and all the great scientists in this country.”
It wasn’t always easy. While on tour in the 60’s and 70’s, it was tough to find a gym. “I went to YMCA’s throughout the country and waited in smelly lines as we helped each other lift weights.” He applauds the access professional players now enjoy. “Look at it today. We’ve got a traveling gym on tour! The progress we’ve made is terrific.”
And he is eager to see fitness spread across America. “We live in the greatest country in the world, and the biggest problem we face is obesity which affects 30% of youth and 55% of the adults. The financial burden is enormous, but the greatest tragedy is the sorrow of those left behind. Because when one dies of poor health, they leave loved ones, family, a business and many tears. And it all could have been alleviated. We have the solution.”
He is especially passionate about reaching today’s youth. “Winston Churchill said ‘the youth of our nation are the trustees of prosperity.’ We need to get the message out to them. Our youth need to realize their good fortune to live in the U.S., and that maintaining their health ensures they can contribute to the country’s continued success.”
“Great wealth breeds bad health,” he adds recognizing the false sense of entitlement that many of our country’s youth possess. “America now has fierce competition from Asia, India, and Russia. We have to work harder than we’ve ever worked before to maintain our status. And we have to get ourselves – and our kids – in shape.” He knowingly references President Kennedy’s famous words ‘Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.’
So what is his advice for today’s youth? “Get a good education. Stay thin, remember ‘it’s thin to win; fat you’re on the mat.’ Learn to eat properly. Make sure you exercise, and do something for your country.”
Gary Player has certainly done–and continues to do–a lot for both his native South Africa and adopted United States. To speak with him is a great joy as his love and appreciation for life are infectious. He continues to be an inspiring role model today with a daily workout routine that includes 1,000 sit-ups and a variety of other exercises. He is ‘almost totally’ vegetarian noting the antibiotics, steroids and hormones fed to today’s livestock. “Diet is 70% of the fitness puzzle.” He also meditates for 20 to 30 minutes every day. “I think it’s important to work on strength of mind, patience and gratitude.”
How would he like to be remembered? “As a man who has a lot of love for people. I think the most important words in our life are ‘love’ and ‘gratitude’ which is the mother of all attributes.” Gary Player also wants to be remembered as a man who gave back and this year is the 30th anniversary of The Player Foundation, which has raised more than $50 million for underprivileged children worldwide.
Sharing his personal fitness story, and partnering with Humana and the Clinton Foundation to encourage healthy habits, is another of his many contributions to us all. “It’s been a monumental journey for me. I won the Senior Grand Slam, which may be the greatest achievement of my life because I had to do it after age 50! I was also the only one to win the International Grand Slam on the senior tour, and I am blessed with great health today. So yes, it has all been well worth it.”
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