The Mt. Lebanon High School track is my husband Al’s home away from home. If you’re an athletic type who hangs around our neighborhood sports venues, you may have seen him on his daily—sometimes twice daily—runs.
On New Year’s Day, he rises awfully early to be the first one to sprint around the track that year. I have no doubt that when the rubber on the school track erodes, Al will be the culprit.
He’s the ultimate physical fitness freak. He has been since his teens. One of Al’s most prized possessions is a grainy black and white photo with his high school cross-country teammates where he’s ensconced between two coaches. As the sole freshman on the 1967 Clairton High School team, he was especially proud of himself and has posted that picture on his Facebook page more than once.
Jogging, jumping rope, jumping jacks, biking, basketball, barbells, push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, somersaults, hurdles—Al does it all. Even fence-climbing, a dangerous feat for a 69-year-old. It’s like he’s on a perpetual tryout for the Senior Olympics or the NFL Combine.
When he learned that Charles Dickens used to walk 10 to 20 miles each day, he was determined to literally follow in the author’s footsteps. Maybe you’ve spotted him on his lengthy walks around the neighborhood—up and down Cochran Road from the high school to Virginia Manor, along Washington Road from the library to the Galleria, or on Cedar Boulevard from Bird Park to the recreation center and back.
Once he trudged all the way from Bridgeville back to our house carrying a screen door from the hardware store because it wouldn’t fit in the car. Someone driving by shouted out to him, “Get a truck!” That thought would never have occurred to Al.
When he exercises in our garage, he’s accompanied by ear-splitting rock music, which thankfully muffles the grunts and groans, the huffing and puffing and the clanging of dumbbells on the concrete floor. When he exercises at the gym, he’s frequently the only one operating the more exotic fitness machines.
Still, he doesn’t confine himself to indoor exercise locales. He has an uncanny knack for finding offbeat settings to perform his workout drills, like doing push-ups on a railroad track, head stands on the stage of the South Park Amphitheater, and stretches on the Exorcist movie steps in Georgetown in the nation’s capital.
Why the extreme exertion? He claims he does it for cardiovascular health. But whoever said, “Vanity, thy name is woman,” never met Al.
Like a 16-year-old Muscle Beach wannabe, every day he poses before a mirror admiring his biceps, lats and pecs. He often steps on the bathroom scale to monitor his weight, lest it fall one ounce above or below the ideal mass for a 6-foot male. That might be normal behavior for a self-conscious—or self-centered—adolescent, but for a sexagenarian? Body image shouldn’t be a number one priority when the Grim Reaper is lurking.
Yet Al declares he aspires to be a “sexy-genarian,” emulating his 67-year-old Australian idol, golfer Greg Norman, who unabashedly flaunted his physique in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue in 2018.
And for a guy who eschews pesky accounting things like balancing the checkbook or filling out a tax return, Al manages to keep meticulous records of his physical prowess and athletic statistics. He carefully logs how many miles he runs each day on a special calendar. Consistently, he conducts push-up contests with our 25-year-old son and records the results.
He cherishes trophies and T-shirts from the Great Race, the Pittsburgh Marathon, the Turkey Trot, the Brookline Breeze, and other competitions he participated in over the past 40 years. He still keeps a stack of his “finishing time” cards from races signed by long-ago Pittsburgh mayors Richard Caliguiri and Sophie Masloff, as well as a ton of score cards from the endless rounds of golf he’s played.
Often Al has trouble finding golf partners because he insists on walking the course instead of riding in an electric cart. “They’re missing the point,” he says. “No pain, no gain” is Al’s eternal mantra.
There’s also no such thing as a power mower for Al when he cuts the grass. He must operate an old-fashioned push mower to squeeze in a workout while cutting the grass.
Mark Twain once remarked that he loathed exercise. I certainly see his point. Although I recognize how beneficial it is and strive to achieve 10,000 steps daily, I can’t comprehend straining your body until the veins in your arms protrude, your heart rate soars, your face turns purple like a ripe plum, and you emit guttural noises from the depths of your throat. Seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it?
Of course, I’m ecstatic that Al isn’t parked in a casino feeding quarters into a slot machine while downing liquor or plopped on a couch feeding junk food into his mouth while watching “Wheel of Fortune.” I’m genuinely pleased he is hale and hearty, in optimum physical condition.
But I could never “bust a gut” the way Al relentlessly does or make the high school track my second home. I’m with Mark Twain on exercise. One fitness fanatic in the family is freaky enough.