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1979 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Jack LaLanne*

TV Personality, Lecturer, Author, Founder of Fitness Movement in America
Befit Enterprises

"Anything in life is possible and you can make it happen."

Born in 1914 in San Francisco, Jack LaLanne was the son of French immigrants. His parents lived in San Francisco during the great earthquake and fire. Although they lost everything, they never complained about having to start over. His father got a job with the telephone company and his mother did housework.

LaLanne was a sickly child who spent much of his time in hospitals. When he was 13, he missed school for six months because of a life-threatening illness. By the time he was 15, he says his temper was uncontrollable. He was underweight, hooked on junk food, and fighting depression and headaches. Desperate to change his life, he attended a lecture given by a nutritionist who cautioned his audience about the dangers of white sugar and flour. LaLanne listened and followed the advice. "That turned my whole life around," he said. "I quit sugar in one night, and five days later I was a new person. My temper left me. It was like being born again!"

He attended the Oakland Chiropractic College in San Francisco, but upon graduation, he was more interested in helping people before they became ill. Resolving to help others find the secrets to health and fitness, he opened the nation's first health studio in 1936, when he was only 21. "I was 40 years ahead of my time," he said. He developed the first models of exercise, and his gym led to a franchise of 100 gyms nationwide.

To reach more people, he took his diet and exercise mantra to television in 1951. Millions of Americans tuned in to follow his exercise routine. His show remained on the air for 25 years. His first video, "The Jack LaLanne Way," was cited as one of the top-rated exercise videos on the market. He wrote several books, including Revitalize Your Life after Fifty, The Jack LaLanne Way to Vibrant Good Health, and For Men Only.

Over the years, LaLanne's most publicized activities may have been his "birthday feats" - vivid demonstrations of physical prowess made each year on his birthday. At 60, for example, he swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman's Wharf, handcuffed and shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat. Meeting a challenge like that takes determination, said LaLanne. "You have to have tunnel vision-see only your goal before you. If you have a goal, and you're determined to meet it, anything in life is possible." That's what he liked about his Horatio Alger Award. "The Association is filled with members who set a goal and stayed focused on it until it was achieved," he said. "You can't fail when you use these two words: pride and discipline. People have to learn how to be self-sufficient and get involved. If you get physically fit, the other things will follow."

* Deceased