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He's Gov. Lean, and here's how he gets that way

Crist swims, crunches, basically doesn't eat. And he'd like a leaner routine for Florida kids.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published March 18, 2007


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photo
[AP photo]
Gov. Charlie Crist shows off his workout machine at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee. he's up and at it by 5:30, and his reward for breakfast is O.J., coffee and a vitamin.

TALLAHASSEE - He swims 20 laps every day, whether it's in a hotel pool or at the Governor's Mansion. He does 250 crunches, plus multiple reps of bicep curls, chest presses and tricep extensions.

All before the sun comes up.

Then he takes a multivitamin with his orange juice and coffee, and most days doesn't eat until dinner - typically light fare like vegetables and lean meat. Even his campaign trail staple, Red Bull, is sugar free and a mere 10 calories.

Meet Florida's highest-ranking fitness devotee: Gov. Charlie Crist.

"Working out in the morning, that's the best vitamin I can take," said Crist, 50. "I'm addicted to it."

He is a wispy 165 pounds. A doting grandmother might say he's too thin. But Crist insists he's never felt better.

In fact, he's so fitness conscious, he's worried about the ballooning waists of a growing percentage of Florida children. He wants to spend $1.3-million next year to promote exercise and nutrition.

More than 20 percent of girls and about 30 percent of boys are overweight or getting there, according to the Florida Department of Health. More than half do not participate in physical education at school.

The Governor's Commission on Physical Fitness would work with schools and community groups to promote exercise and nutrition and caution against habits such as excessive TV watching.

It is one of the smallest chunks of Crist's $71.2-billion budget proposal. But it's the one he takes most personally.

He still remembers taking physical education class every day as a student at Bay Vista Elementary in St. Petersburg, doing push-ups and pull-ups to earn one of John F. Kennedy's blue Presidential Physical Fitness badges.

Crist wants today's youngsters to develop the same habits.

Rep. Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel met with Crist recently to talk about his fitness priorities and responded with legislation, matched by Sen. Lee Constantine of Altamonte Springs, to require students in grades K-5 to take PE for half an hour a day.

"My father always talked about being a whole person - the intellectual, the physical, the spiritual," Crist said. "It seems to me the physical aspect has been de-emphasized, to the point where it's harmful to our children. I just think fitness is something we can pass on to future generations."

Healthy beginnings

The governor always had a healthy appetite, according to his father. The Crist kitchen was more likely to have a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter than a box of Twinkies.

Crist, his parents and three sisters ate dinner together every night.

Afterward, Crist tossed a football around with his father. The young Crist also loved waterskiing. As a teen he had his own boat and often took friends on it.

"They were never still," said his father, Dr. Charles Crist Sr.

Charlie Crist was a walk-on quarterback at Wake Forest University. Back then, he lifted weights and ate more, his father said. The school's media guide from 1975 lists Crist at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, though he and his father said he got up to 215 at one point.

After he stopped playing football, Crist, then 21 and preparing to graduate from Florida State University, decided to shed weight.

"I had seen other players, and I knew that when you stop playing, you either blow up," he said, puffing out his cheeks, "or you work to slim down."

He ran 2 miles a day and dropped from three meals to one. He switched to swimming after a foot injury a few years ago, but his fitness strategy remains largely the same after a quarter-century.

"I've never felt better!" he said, beaming.

In the state capital, long days, poor food choices and lack of exercise can add extra pounds to the bellies of lobbyists and legislators.

A governor's life is even more tempting and time-challenged. Crist is constantly attending or hosting luncheons or dinners complete with hors d'ouevres, appetizer, entree and dessert.

But Crist always exercises restraint.

"People get up here in the session, and the schedule's terrible," Crist said. "The food is good, but it's not good for you. It's fried, which I love, but you just can't eat that stuff and stay healthy."

'A little indulgence'

His idea of fast food? Subway, where he orders a whole wheat turkey sub with mayonnaise and cheese - "a little indulgence," he said. Chips? Only the baked kind.

House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami jokes that he asked Crist about lunch plans during their travels across the state together, and Crist handed the hungry representative a box of Tic Tacs.

Crist said he knows skipping lunch and forgoing snacks don't work for everyone, in particular growing children, but his body is used to it by now.

"It's not like it's a sacrifice."

When it comes to exercise, Crist isn't the only elected official who works out regularly - he said he learned his technique for crunches from Democratic Sen. Tony Hill of Jacksonville. But Crist is part of the minority, one of just a few to get up so early seven days a week.

"The governor's better than me," laughed Rep. Weatherford, who exercises three days a week. "We could probably all learn a lesson from him."

So are there any weaknesses in that armor of fitness, Governor?

"Well, I do like wings a lot," Crist conceded. "Kind of hot."

Times researcher Cathy Wos and staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 850 224-7263 or svansickler@sptimes.com.


Gov. Crist's fitness regimen

Between 5 and 5:30 a.m.: Wake up.

5:30 a.m. to 6:15 a.m.: Go down to the weight room. Do 250 crunches, 30 bench presses, 30 tricep push-downs, 30 bicep curls. Swim 20 laps, mostly freestyle, in the standard-length swimming pool.

Breakfast: Coffee, orange juice and a multivitamin.

Lunch: Nothing, usually. Sometimes a salad. Drink coffee throughout the day.

Dinner: A salad, a "very lean filet" or to splurge, a T-bone steak. He also likes a turkey sub on whole wheat bread from Subway, with chips - baked, of course.

Dessert: Not usually. He says he doesn't have a sweet tooth. To indulge, he'd rather eat wings, "kind of hot." One hometown favorite: wings from Midtown Sundries in St. Petersburg.

Doctor says: Crist's blood pressure is 110 over 65, and his resting pulse is about 65 beats per minute, according to his father, St. Petersburg physician Charles Crist Sr. The governor, 50, is 6 feet 1 and weighs 165 pounds.

 

[Last modified March 17, 2007, 20:31:56]


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