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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

SportsKids for Life

"Good morning Terry!"

You hear the exclamation from each of the surprisingly cheerful early morning workout crew as they enter the posh Sports Club LA that features a clientele of "A-List" Hollywood celebrities, multi-millionaire business tycoons, and even some regular people. When the doors are unlocked at 5:00 AM, Terry Robinson is there to smile and greet every member just like he has been since the club opened many years ago. He knows everybody by name, most of their families and he can tell you about each of their workouts. While early mornings often attract the most consistent and dedicated health nuts, nobody has anything on Terry who was born exactly 80 years earlier than my son, Benji, on March 9, 1916. Do the math: yep, he's 90!

Today, at the age of 90, Terry Robinson is a Renaissance Man. He's a renowned painter (we have two of his paintings hanging in our house), an historian specializing in physical culture, a Greek Classicist and a teacher. An avid reader who is generally in the middle of at least four books at once, he has learned that sports and learning are an incredible combination that can change your life. He is a walking Encyclopedia, but more importantly, a resource as the health club librarian who is always trying to help others to be better people like his parents did for him. Throughout his life, sports have played a central role and confirmed the life lessons of teamwork, friendship, winning and losing with grace, and always working to do your best.

Becoming a SportsKid

Sports have always played an important role in Terry's life and became a bonding experience with his parents, his four brothers and the children he raised.

Surprisingly, Terry's upbringing nearly a century ago was not too dissimilar to what we attempt to provide for our children. Organized sports and the support of his parents were an important part of his early childhood. Born near the beach in Coney Island, New York, in the pre-Video Game Era, the boys in the neighborhood used to just "play, play, play". Terry's parents encouraged the five boys to play sports and it was a major part of the family bonding.

His father boxed, played ball and was on the NY boxing commission during the glory days of the sport. His mom was a competitive swimmer. Their love of sports rubbed off on Terry and his brothers who all competed in the early days of organized youth sports: the New York Police Athletic Leagues (PAL) where the cops organized leagues, coached the kids, taught life values and competed in every sport for championships throughout the five boroughs. Summers were spent in Citizens Military Training Camps, which were organized by the Army and were the forerunner of modern day Sports Camps. The family was very interested in what each boy did athletically, went out to watch whenever possible, and like the parents of today, they got a good chance to "brag" at the office about their kids.

Sports created tremendous lifelong friendships and family bonds. By high school Terry was recognized as an all-around athlete. In addition to winning a Golden Gloves championship (he still has the ring), Terry participated on the school boxing team, ran the 60 and 220 yard sprints, was part of the city championship 440 yard relay team, the swim team and was the starting tailback on the football team. When he played football nobody used to wear helmets and Terry said he only made the team because it was "before big guys played ball". Encouraged by his football coach, and by the purchase of a "Strength and Health" magazine that he got for a whopping $0.05, Terry Robinson began weight training and his life would be forever changed.

Lifetime of Dedication and Training

There were no fancy machines or steroids in the early days of bodybuilding; just dumbbells and barbells. Yet, that was enough to sculpt a physique. He started out at Bothner's Gym on 42nd Street, the first coed gym in NY. Opened by George Bothner, an undefeated lightweight wrestler, the gym became one of the first "hot spots" in the City. In the many, many years since Terry has hardly missed a workout and his dedication and love of sports has paid off handsomely in every aspect of his life.

Terry became one of the first competitive body builders. In 1940 he competed in the first major Mr. America contest held in Madison Square Garden; he won the "Small Man Division" and finishing 5th overall. He came back stronger and repeated his Small Man title in 1941, finishing sixth overall. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to the South Pacific as a Combat Instructor. Before he left for active duty he was put on the cover of "Strength and Health", the same magazine that had originally helped to inspire his love for fitness.

In 1948, he entered one last competition and won Mr. New York (pictures included). His long career as a personal trainer, gym manager, gym owner, Army instructor, chiropractor, and kinesiologist was all initially inspired by his parent's encouragement of his love of sports. He's had so many highlights including being one of the founders of Muscle Beach in Venice; the workout Mecca that was eventually made famous by Lou Ferigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He became a personal trainer hired by Hollywood studios whipping into shape such celebrities as Clark Gable, Anthony Hopkins, George C. Scott, Robert Taylor, Cole Porter, Ozzie Nelson, Tyrone Power, Ricardo Montalban, the great Mario Lanza and countless others. Through it all, he never missed his workouts, is always available for others and has maintained his sense of quiet dignity and optimism that have become his trademarks.


Through sports and working in gyms during the years, Terry considers himself to be a lucky man because of all the people he's met and become friendly with. As a philosopher, he says: "Where does man's glory begin and end? My glory is that I've had so many friends that I've met through sports." For the young kids, he offers some simple advice: "Listen to your coach!" The key to "success in sports and in life is teamwork" and the life lessons that can be learned simply by playing. Through sports, you learn about competition and life: "You win some and you lose some. You go with the tide of life and learn how to be a good winner and a good loser".

To the consummate teacher and role model, thanks for the lessons and have a "good morning Terry".


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