Bush one of most physically fit for duty

SUN JOURNAL

Exercise: Mountain biking is part of the reason the president has the heart rate of an endurance athlete.

August 14, 2005|By COX NEWS SERVICE

CRAWFORD, Texas - Forget what President Bush told you on the campaign trail. When Mr. Compassionate Conservative is hammering away on Mountain Bike One, there is a noticeable lack of compassion, a decided dearth of conservatism.

Bush rides his bike like he pursues his foreign policy: Once the decision is made and the course is set, there is no turning back, no second-guessing, no waiting for the less committed.

"I like to be fit," Bush said yesterday after leading a small clutch of journalists and aides on the rigorous Tour de Ranch. "My personality is such that I like to drive myself; I like to work hard."

By now, Bush's obsession with mountain biking, which replaced jogging when his knees said no more, is well-known. On yesterday's ride, Bush showed why, powered at age 59 by the heart of an endurance athlete, he may well be the most physically fit president in U.S. history.

"That's up for pundits and historians" to decide, Bush said when asked whether he wants to claim the title as fittest president.

Like comparing Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, it's difficult to make the intergenerational comparisons needed to test the theory. History, however, indicates that Bush could be at the top of the list.

After Saturday's two-hour, 17-mile ride, Bush's heart-rate monitor showed he had burned 1,493 calories and had his heart pumping at an average of 139 beats per minutes, with a peak of 177.

His clothing showed the rigors of his riding. Bush's white shirt was spattered with dirt and mud kicked up along the route. His black shorts remained torn from a recent spill in Scotland. A small trickle of blood on his ankle served as evidence of a ride-by encounter with thorns.

Along the way, Bush played tour guide, pointing out scenic parts of his ranch. At ride's end, he needled a rider or two who couldn't quite keep up.

"Let me see if I can describe it for you," he said in noting that one slower rider did not get to see one of the ranch waterfalls.

The rides have become an integral part of Bush's exercise regimen, a schedule that has moved him toward or at the top of physically fit presidents.

Some presidents have a legendary, sometimes apocryphal, feat or two. Abe Lincoln split some rails before politics caught his eye.

The first President George W. apocryphally took ax to cherry tree, a physical feat that pales in comparison with the current George W.'s one-man chainsaw war on the water-sapping cedar trees on his ranch.

Bush finds time to exercise about six times a week. It's built into the schedule for a president who believes he is at his best when he takes time to work out.

Yesterday's ride came as anti-war protesters, rallying behind Cindy Sheehan, a California mother whose son, Casey, died in Iraq, gathered on a road near the Bush ranch. Bush has steadfastly refused Sheehan's request to meet with her.

"Whether it be here or in Washington or anywhere else, there's somebody who has got something to say to the president; that's part of the job," Bush said of bike riding while a grieving mother was pleading to talk with him. "And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."

Americans, Bush said, want their president in shape and "in a position to make good, crisp decisions."

"And part of my being is to be outside exercising. So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so," he said.

Bush is bucking what appears to be an unhealthy trend. Northeastern University's Robert Gilbert, who has studied presidential health, says life in the Oval Office has proved unhealthy for past presidents. Gilbert pointed out that more than two-thirds of U.S. presidents have not reached the average life span of white males of their era.

"It's a very difficult thing to compare," he said of picking the most fit president, noting that presidents release far more health information than they did in years gone by.

Historians tell us that Herbert Hoover (a former Stanford shortstop who had a game named for him when he was in the White House) and Theodore Roosevelt (a Harvard boxer who brought fisticuffs to the White House) are among Bush's top rivals for the presidential fitness gold medal.

Roosevelt survived an illness-plagued childhood to become the nation's youngest president at 42 when he inherited the job after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

At Harvard, Roosevelt was runner-up in the college's boxing competition. As president, he led Cabinet members and aides on fast-paced hikes. He also brought boxing into the White House, suffering a severe eye injury during a bout.

Roosevelt died in 1919 of a coronary embolism at age 60.

Hoover made it to 90.

"He was a very robust man despite serving during horrendous times, which increased pressures on him," Gilbert said.

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