Columns

What about a fitness ghetto?

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, November 22, 2013    

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I was blown away by the devastatingly handsome pair of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Usain Bolt fronting the Sunday Observer, November 10, 2013. How could such a discordant nation be so lucky? If we forget the love fluff and do some genetic engineering we could breed fast people, or can we only do it with racehorses?

We owe a debt to Ben and Joe Weider, Canadian lads who pioneered weight training, fitness circuits, energy bars, and founded the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB) in near 200 nations. They visited the Jamaica Amateur Body Building and Fitness Association (JABBFA), and we loved them. Joe died this year at 93. We embraced their fitness lifestyle long before 1962, punched above our weight and won awards as in track. The history shows Lloyd Young, empowerment coach, world champion; Cecil Chin, international chief judge; Carla Yee-Sing, champion; Frederick Smith, national trainer; Lt Col Bruce Barclay, international sport administrator, all powerful icons to the cognoscenti, globally credible and respected by the underclass they lifted from squalor. Gyms enable a quiet social mobility as uptown and downtown meet, connect, and our nation is a better place. Could we breed a race of natural super fit people and confound the World Anti-Doping Agency?

JABBFA was for years an outpost for the enterprising poor; to get ripped was drug-prevention strategy. With Clancy Chin, Stanley Black at Trench Town gym, no disadvantaged youth in training ever turned to crime or drugs; it was passion. The high from a workout improves motivation, productivity and self-esteem. As the "mother of sport" it forms the fitness base for all sport as many discover their bodies. The UK's great Sandow triggered global fashion in strength training and body symmetry in the 1890s and Charles Atlas started many on a path to muscles, standing up to bullies and pretty girls. Musclemen in blockbusters as The Robe, Samson and Delilah and Easter films with Steve Reeves as Hercules had big subliminal messages. Sergio Oliva, a sculpted black man from Cuba -- biceps big as thighs, a 50-plus-inch chest, 28inch waist; strong, symmetrical, cerebral -- the ace. He defected to the USA at our 1962 Commonwealth Games, a paradigm shifted, a massive light enough to dance salsa. Soon we had Arnold Schwarznegger as Conan, Lou Ferrigno (Hulk), all action heroes. Spartacus films use many agile body builders, male and female -- deadly! Will Usain and Shelly-Ann be in a Spartacus 2016 series?

When MoBay's Lloyd Young started weightlifting his Chinese parents were angry, but it helped his health. An absolute genius, Lloyd was 1938 co-holder of the 100 yards in the Secondary School Champs (10s ). He fought in World War II, won the UK Silver Shield for fitness in 1944, and in 1945 was UK BB Champion. In 1947 he returned with his physio certificate and founded JABBA. One night in 1949 he arrived in Kingston on a smelly MoBay truck in time to wash, go on stage, crowned Mr Jamaica -- not celebrated as he lived out of Kingston, sad. John F Kennedy, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, George Bush Sr passed through his physio hands, but in the crowd cheering his team with his wife and daughter as a normal fan -- great! Lloyd empowered poor people in MoBay long before it was fashionable and he scouted talent. He glimpsed a ripple of latissimus and triceps as a shirtless man threw a crate of Red Stripe on a truck; he gave him a scholarship to his gym, got him a job in a hotel so he could eat three squares and gifted us a Central America and Caribbean champion. Many of his protégés got carted off to sire rich tourists (USA sport benefit from our genotype). Will Usain join them? What about a ghetto of luxury townhouses to breed our fittest? Our Chinese citizens have been good for us, so make a decision on "the Goat" as we look to their second coming. The debonair Dudley Lawson went to Mr Universe, London 1873, and placed 4th ahead of American, Canadian and Latin teams in the tall class; a man fuelled by yam, Irish Moss and linseed. Gerald Roche was 4th in the short class. They are little known here, but our soft-spoken giants mentored many in other sports; they were natural. The East European guys would jibe us as being too poor to afford steroids -- a disadvantage then, now a blessing!

Exercise is cradle to grave, an aid to life extension. The benefits of resistance exercise -- machines, free weights, body weight -- to stress the muscle group is good. Aerobics is key to heart, circulation and lung health but each heart has a body attached, so anaerobic exercise for strong muscles and dense bones is a must. The work of gyms Spartan, Giscombe's; of Freddy Smith, Micky Haughton-James, dean of sport entrepreneurs- in building the fitness base on which amateur sports rest is seminal. What have Cabinets done to match this effort? The Shelly-Ann and Usain story is God, mentors and self. Do you know there is no modern national gym in two generations of success? Sports tourism? Ha! Peter, get some fiscal space for a public gym in every parish capital and FDI will come. In the UK every Parish Council has fitness centres, gyms to keep workers and jobless fit. As CACBBF Vice President I asked each MP to fund a constituency gym. One Kingston MP took the idea and even planned to do workouts with her constituents, but years later at the top of her game, life intrudes. MPs, please use your CDF to open a fitness centre and save many young men from guns, drugs; young girls from pregnancy and obesity.

Hit and miss has reached its capacity, we now have to grow the fit pool. We need a Velodrome for pro and pleasure cyclists. The BGLC should give a permit to run betting in a Velodrome for 35 years on a Build, Own, Operate (BOO) model; open it to cyclists and clubs for a small fee and the gaming taxes will grow. By 2017 put one in Cornwall and Middlesex. Use the Olympic glow to invest in key sport facilities to power national health and fitness. Cabinets get the kudos from sport; reap social, economic, health benefits, so erect parish fitness centres as sport incubators. The Ministry of Education is gestating a massive uplift in PE in schools as a teaching tool, to build character and fitness base for sports -- this is the future. But after school, what? Fritz and the Rowing Federation need talent before the next Olympics, but fishermen no longer row boats; rowing is done in gyms. Cabinet was a spectator for decades, gave cheap national honours and grabbed the acclaim. It must now invest! Don't dismiss the fit enclave idea as entertainers have been breeding in rich ghettos for years. Many artistes trace roots and name to one great. Bob spread his seed and his scion is now young lion. Ride on, Usain, Shelley-Ann! Our two success careers are poles apart; my performance-enhancing drug is not yours. Artistes take the weed to perform; athletes cannot take the weed and perform. WADA must be confused. Stay conscious!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.

franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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