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‘My dad was Superman!’

Jon LaLanne is keeping his father’s legacy alive

Created date

January 6th, 2017
In 1955, 60-year-old Jack LaLanne swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf for the second time, handcuffed, shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat.

In 1955, 60-year-old Jack LaLanne swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf for the second time, handcuffed, shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat.

At the age of 41, Jack LaLanne swam through the frigid shark-infested water from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf...while handcuffed.

When he was 45, LaLanne performed 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 chin-ups in one hour and 22 minutes. He did this to promote his fitness program. Despite the fact that all those chin-ups ripped the skin off his hands, LaLanne refused to give up. 

When he was 60, he repeated his swim from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf, but this time, in addition to the handcuffs, LaLanne was also shackled and towed a 1,000-pound boat behind him. 

At the age of 70, handcuffed, shackled, and fighting brutal currents, LaLanne towed 70 rowboats from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary. 

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Jack LaLanne was a fitness superhero. These feats garnered LaLanne enormous attention, but his greatest achievement by far was convincing Americans that they could improve their health through proper fitness and nutrition.

Through his national television program, books, videos, and infomercials promoting the health benefits of a good diet combined with exercise, Jack LaLanne changed American culture. 

Family legacy

Last month, we shared an interview with Jack’s widow Elaine. This month, we chat with Elaine and Jack’s son, Jon LaLanne, a former professional surfer. He has a surfboard company and also works in the family business, BeFit Enterprises with his mother and siblings. Together, the LaLanne family is determined to ensure that the legacy of Jack LaLanne lives on.

Tribune: You and your family are working on your father’s biography.

LaLanne: Yes. He left so many notes and recordings behind, and we are putting that together. It’s very exciting. I mean I grew up with dad, and I’m even excited when I read the book. We’ve done a good job of piecing it together. We’re hoping to finish it within two years.   

I hang out with a lot of younger kids through my surfing business and when I show them his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, their eyes pop out of their heads. They automatically go and research him. I think keeping his name alive is important. 

Tribune: How do you stay in shape?

LaLanne: I’m nowhere near my father, but compared to my contemporaries, I’m in great shape. Surfing has done wonders for my body. I’m trying to be an example. People take notice when I’m in the water. I’m kind of an anomaly. Not many 55-year-olds can ride a surfboard that is two inches shorter than them and fly down the line. It’s kind of fun. 

Tribune: Any advice for people who want to get in shape?

LaLanne: I think just staying active. The message to seniors is, think of something you used to do and go and do it again. You don’t have to be as good, just go do it. For example, I was on the top of my game in the 1980s and I still surf, but now, I go out in smaller surf. I’m just trying to get better and stay active.

Tribune: Let’s talk about those swims your father did.

LaLanne: The swims were around the time when the [convicts] actually escaped from Alcatraz. No one could find them, and my dad says, “Well, they could still be alive if they were in shape.” He swam from Alcatraz to the mainland with no wetsuit. Just a speedo.

Tribune: How did he train? 

LaLanne: Mom gave dad ice baths to prepare for the 60th birthday swim. He had to prepare for the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay because when you’re 40 you can handle the cold water. When you’re 60, it’s a little tougher. So he trained for that one. We have footage of him, and she’s pouring ice water on him in a San Francisco hotel bathtub. 

Tribune: He also pulled a massive amount of weight behind him.

LaLanne: Yes, he did that on his 70th birthday. He tugged 70 boats with a person in each boat and his feet tied for two miles alongside the Queen Mary. Nobody does that anymore. Dad trained for endurance and agility. He wasn’t a muscle guy. He wanted to remain flexible.

Tribune: You are working to keep his legacy alive.

LaLanne: Yes. I think that moving forward, we want to continue to promote his name and get it out to more people. I think it would be so good to have a movie made about dad. The reason I’m taking this on is because, through all his training shows, I feel he changed the country. Everyone is more health conscious today.