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Not long ago on his home turf at the Astrodome, Judge Roy Hofheinz, carrying topweight of 230 pounds, lost a race to Louie Welch, the mayor of Houston. It was Hofheinz's first defeat in three races with the mayor, and the outcome delighted the thousands of Houstonians who looked on.
The race was unusual not only because the judge—who owns half of Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey, all of Astroworld and the Houston Astros, as well as baseball's most majestic paunch—lost. Hofheinz's previous races with the mayor had been political. This one was from home plate to first base and was the feature event of what may well have been the world's first, but probably not last, Jog-In, an extravaganza promoted by Disc Jockeys Mack Hudson and Irving Harrigan of KILT, Houston, in which 6,300 people, most of them clad in sweat suits and running shoes, showed up at 6 a.m. to trot three times around the inside of the Astrodome in support of jogging.
Dr. Denton Cooley, who has transplanted more hearts than any other surgeon in the world, was on hand to start the race and to accept the gifts of various vital organs for The Living Bank. (The organs, of course, were for future delivery.) Hudson and Harrigan handed out free sweat shirts, but the lure that drew the crowd was jogging itself. The sight of Hofheinz trundling down the first-base line, clad in a gray sweat suit with HERE COME DA JUDGE lettered on the chest and DERE GO DA JUDGE on the back, was merely an added attraction, as were young ladies in bikinis who served as pacemakers, and two penguins from Sea-Arama Marineworld, who served no evident purpose.
The Houston Jog-In was evidence of the booming popularity of jogging in the U.S. Fifteen years ago a few solitary eccentrics jogged. Today there are more than 10 million joggers. No longer do small children run alongside making faces and snide remarks, and dogs bark only perfunctorily at the previously extremely barkable spectacle of middle-aged men lumbering down the road.
Just a couple of weeks after the Jog-In, the Long Beach Community Hospital sponsored a mass Witness to Fitness meet to celebrate the dedication of 34 jogging trails situated on the grounds of 14 public parks, three high schools and 13 junior highs.
As at Houston, the affair took place early in the morning—a time when joggers habitually emerge. At 8 a.m. 500 joggers, myself among them, showed up at a running track on the campus of California State at Long Beach to bear witness to their fitness. I have been running seriously for a year, after running haphazardly for four or five. In my travels I have run all over the country, and I may well hold the world indoor record for having run on the greatest number of YMCA tracks, but this morning I only watched.
Of the 500 joggers some 60-odd were doctors, all adherents of the theory that running maketh a whole man. One of the doctors was Dr. Kenneth Cooper. A lieutenant colonel in charge of the Air Force fitness program, Dr. Cooper has probably had more to do with the jogging boom than anyone else.
Dr. Cooper is a lean man. Most people feel they are in the trim if their bellies don't dangle more than a finger span or two over their belts. If you are lean in the sense that Dr. Cooper means when he says lean, you can't pick up more than half an inch of skin between your thumb and forefinger at the waist. Indeed, Dr. Cooper looks almost emaciated; there is so little fat between his skin and muscle that he would be hard put to pinch himself at all. Dr. Cooper ran the mile in 4:30.9 at Putnam City High in Oklahoma City. At the University of Oklahoma he brought his time down to 4:18, which he might easily have bettered had he not been intent on his premed studies.
Dr. Cooper is best known for his book Aerobics, which has sold almost two million copies in hard-cover and paperback. In it he analyzes the problems facing the fat and sedentary, and describes simple tests to determine a person's physical well-being.
When I first read Aerobics I had just recovered from a heart attack. I had been running sporadically before the heart attack, kidding myself into believing that the minimal exercise I took was enough to keep me hale and hearty. It was, as it turned out, better than no exercise at all. As I was walking out of my apartment one morning, I felt a numbing, constricting and acute pain across the top of my chest. I lay down and asked my wife to call the doctor.