Up Close & Personal with Gary Player

04/11/2014  |  By Gary Player

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity on several occasions to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the national lobbying effort known as the National Health Through Fitness Day. As a part of this advocacy effort, our goal was to meet with members of Congress (U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators) and their staffers to talk about the need for continued federal legislation to help “Get America Moving.” 

National Health Through Fitness Day is an annual lobby effort, spearheaded by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and PHIT America. It attracts leaders and athletes from all realms of the sports, health, fitness, and exercise industry, something I could not have been happier to be a part of.

“While “walking the halls of Congress,” it was our goal to address this issue of physical inactivity, and why a lifestyle complemented by fitness and exercise is the best route to follow for a long, positive and productive lifestyle.”

While on Capitol Hill, we helped to lobby Congress for passage of two legislative initiatives that will help all Americans become more physically fit, the:

  1. Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Bill, which provides grants to school districts and community based organizations to support innovative physical education and activity methods;
  2. PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Act, would change current federal tax law to allow for the deduction or use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities.

While “walking the halls of Congress,” it was our goal to address this issue of physical inactivity, and why a lifestyle complemented by fitness and exercise is the best route to follow for a long, positive and productive lifestyle. On Capitol Hill we encouraged all of America’s legislative leaders to recognize the importance of a continued emphasis on more physical education in America’s schools. It’s a philosophy that complements my own attitude about physical fitness and health. It is a proven statistic that physical education helps to improve a child’s learning ability, it starts them with healthy habits at a young age and gives them the basis for a healthy and productive life.

It’s important to put an emphasis on education in America because this phenomenal country is not in the top 25 in the world in education. America should be number one! As far as fitness is concerned, it’s tragic. Twenty-six percent of America’s youth are obese, and over 60 percent of the general population is obese; you have a massive tsunami on your hands to get that right. And we’ve got to get the schools to bring in physical training — in fact, double it in schools. We’ve got to get the parents on board too, because it starts at home. We have to get the kids active and teach them the importance of eating more vegetables, fruit and salads.

As for my challenge to the U.S. Congress and what role they can play in America’s fitness solution, I did not hesitate to provide an answer.

I am certainly no politician, but I think lawmakers can help to allocate funding such as the two legislative initiatives above or mandate programs in the schools to try and help the situation. The answer does not always come from money though. Better school meal programs, incentives to teach and help the students learn better and healthier eating habits ... to name just a few.

I was a very poor boy growing up in South Africa, but my parents made sure that I went to a great school that taught us about physical training. If you participate in physical training, your grades will be better. It’s a proven fact. And you will live longer and better.

I still feel as fit as ever, even in my 70s. When asked “What kinds of things have you been doing in order to practice what you preach?” I don’t hesitate to give an upbeat and direct answer:

I am an 80 percent vegetarian, meaning that I limit my intake of animal fats and focus on vegetable and fruits. Less red, more green is a philosophy that I live by. Secondly, my exercise routine still consists of 1,000 sit-ups every day along with cardio, weight training and stretching.

I have travelled over 25 million kilometers over my career and I continue to be busy around the world with our golf course design business and our corporate partners, but one of my great ambitions is to get this message across to the youth of the world that your body is a holy temple and you cannot do anything without health. We’ve got to get this ingrained within young people that health is number one.

One of the greatest accomplishments in my career was the fact that I am the only golfer to win the career Grand Slam on both the regular PGA Tour and Champions Tour. No other golfer in history has been able to capture the Grand Slam of winning all four Major Championships on the Senior Tour. I credit my physical fitness as the foundation for my success, especially after the age of 50. I am one of the few golfers to win a Champions Tour event after the age of 60, when I earned a spot in the winner’s circle at the age of 63.

In 2013, I certainly did something I never thought I would. I posed in the buff for ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue” in order to demonstrate to the world how fit you can be at this age (in my late 70s). I still remain very active and I wanted to show that it does not matter what age, fitness is important for people of all ages. When not traveling for our corporate business, I still actively work on my ranch in South Africa. People must keep active each and every day. Rest is rust. One of my “big picture” concerns is the topic of inactivity which leads to obesity and health problems.

I agree with PHIT America (www.PHITAmerica.org), which feels that obesity is one of the biggest issues in the world right now. Obesity is often triggered by a combination of inactivity, overeating, the chemicals in our food and poor food choices. At the rate we are going, it will be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get the average man to worry about diet and exercise.

As for the quality of my golf game these days, I am happy to report that I am still hitting fairways and greens ... and still seeking birdies and eagles! I break my age almost every time I play.

Gary Player, whose nickname is Mr. Fitness, is the author of “Fit for Golf.” He was born in November of 1935. Player packs 148 pounds on his 5’ 6” frame.
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