For those making New Year's resolutions to get fit, we'd like to introduce you to Harry Packer.
Packer is a 75-year-old mortgage broker from Porter Ranch. He had two knee replacements a couple of years ago. Oh, and he's a champion powerlifter.
We thought that you resolutioners would appreciate hearing how Packer racked up wins in the scant two years since his last knee surgery, and maybe glean some insights into getting and staying fit at any age.
After going through a round of post-surgical physical therapy, Packer felt he needed to continue to strengthen his legs and knees and joined the North Valley YMCA in Northridge to do weight training exercises on his own. There he met fitness instructor Chris Belden, who thought Packer would excel at power lifting. The two started training together.
"I loved it," Packer said. "The sport is about technique, which is developed over a period of time." Packer also loved that he could not just train, but compete. "I think I was competitive when I came out of the womb," he says, and laughs.
Last November Packer won the bench press (185 pounds) and the dead lift (303 pounds) events in his age group at the World Powerlifting Federation's world championship in Las Vegas. "I've won a lot of different things in my life," he says, "but that was the most exciting and mind-blowing event I've ever participated in. There were maybe 1,000 people in the auditorium when I got up to the podium, but I didn't hear anything. I'm getting emotional thinking about it."
Although he's been an athlete his whole life, involved in tennis, handball, running and other sports, the post-surgery road hasn't always been easy. "The therapy is very painful," he says. "You have to go through a lot of pain to make sure you're going to break those adhesions in your leg." Packer admits to resorting to leg braces and a cane to try to stave off having the surgery. Now he takes the stairs two at a time.
He found the motivation to keep exercising because, as he says, "I didn't want to go backward. I had no idea of competing, my main purpose was going forward and maintaining physical fitness, being healthy." His key exercises for strengthening leg muscles that support the knees are leg presses, extensions and reverse curls, all of which build quadriceps and hamstrings.
Packer believes it's never too late for anyone to get in shape and encourages his peers to start today. "There's always something you can do to improve your life physically. When I’m at the Y, I commiserate with people who are in wheelchairs, and I tell them that they can make their life better by doing exercises, whether it's aerobic wheelchair work or weight lifting." He's proof too that the competitive spirit doesn't necessary wane with age: "There are people who are competing in their 90s," he says.
While he does occasionally counsel friends about getting in shape, he knows the advice sometimes falls on deaf ears. "Some people never do anything until the time comes when they're not able to do anything, and they pay the price. I kind of pick my spots, so to speak -- the amount of rhetoric you give them and positive input can make it sound like you're a zealot."
If Packer is a zealot, we say let him preach. Because enough can't be said about doing something to improve your fitness and health, no matter what age.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo: Harry Packer at the World Powerlifting Federation's world championships. Credit: From Harry Packer