Clinton, TOUR team up for day devoted to healthy living

Caryn Levy/PGA TOUR
Former President Bill Clinton and TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem helped lead a forum on wellness.
January 17, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The cause is not new.


Way back when Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States in the early 1800s, he used to urge Americans to exercise two hours a day. At the very least, the country's third Chief Executive wanted people to get out of their houses and take a walk.

PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem no doubt gleaned that bit of information he shared with the audience on Tuesday when he studied law at the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded back in 1819. President John F. Kennedy's message on health and well-being, though, was much more recent.

"He said, 'Well, Thomas Jefferson said we should walk or exercise two hours a day,'" Finchem recalled. "If he was President of the United States, Secretary of State and ambassador to France and he had time to do two hours a day, well, we ought to be able to get our kids to do 15 or 20 minutes a day.


"Now 50 years later, we have another President with Jefferson in his name ... getting people focused on why health really matters to a long life."

And that President, William Jefferson Clinton, used his considerable clout and palpable passion to put together a day-long forum entitled "Health Matters" held Tuesday in conjuntion with the PGA TOUR's Humana Challenge. The tournament, formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, has partnered with Clinton's foundation to fight childhood obesity and promote wellness among all generations.

More than 350 people attended the event which featured politicians, physicians and fitness gurus, as well as athletes like four-time PGA TOUR champ Notah Begay and a pair of teenage health advocates who were disarming in their poise. There was even a touch of Hollywood glitterati with actress Goldie Hawn participating on one panel discussion and power couple Barbra Streisand and James Brolin sitting quietly on the second row.

"It's a big deal," Clinton said, the passion evident in every word. "It's a big deal for America economically. It's a big deal for baby boomers. We have no right to continue the pattern of elderly people who don't have to overconsuming health care dollars and taking the future away from our children. And it's a huge deal for the children of America who can not possibly sustain this rate of obesity and diabetes without consquences."

While Clinton noted that Finchem, his friend of more than 35 years, took a "flying leap into the unknown" by getting the PGA TOUR event involved in the cause, the commissioner countered by saying how much sense the move made. Tournaments already give millions of dollars each year to benefit charities in local communities and the TOUR and its TV partners, as well as motivated sponsors like Humana, can help share the word on participatory wellness.

"Our players walk 25 miles a week, minimum, when they play in a tournament, 30 weeks a year," Finchem said. "They are great role models for what we are talking about today and they will take on the burden of helping convery these messages."

Both Clinton and Finchem paid tribute to the legacy of Bob Hope, who nurtured the PGA TOUR event in the California desert, inviting his many friends in the entertainment and business communities to partner with the pros to raise money for the Eisenhower Medical Center. The comedian, who is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, lived to be 100, and he was famously known to walk an hour every day.

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On the other hand, Clinton, who became the only sitting President to have played in a TOUR event here in 1995 when he partnered with Hope, two other former Chief Executives -- Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush -- and Scott Hoch, was a runner. But that exercise wasn't enough to prevent a wake-up call in the form of bypass surgery in 2004.

"Before the Secret Service told me I was endangering national security by running on the Mall I ran 20-25 miles a week for more than 20 years," Clinton said. "But it didn't stop me from getting heart blockage because of the way I ate. After I had my heart surgery I had a much more personal interest in this."

Seven different panel discussions tackled subjects as diverse as encouraging healthy eating and increasing physical activity among school-age children to developing healthy communities and companies. Innovation is key -- everything from planting local gardens to keeping school athletic grounds open in the summer to holding business meetings outside while walking.

Dr. Dwayne Proctor, the senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, even talked about rigging up a contraption worthy of a "Gilligan's Island" episode that blends smoothies in direct response to the calories burned on a stationary bike. That blender bike will be part of Humana's traveling "Well-Being Tour" that will cross-cross the country for the next eight months.

Innovation can take other forms, as well. Tennis great Billie Jean King, who like fellow participant Annika Sorestam was No. 1 in her sport, recalled her Women's Health Foundation working with a group of Muslim women who said they couldn't exercise because they couldn't show their bodies. Once the windows of a local pool were covered, though, the women had a place to swim.

For everyone, there is a choice. "You have to decide what does health mean to you," said Jillian Michaels, an advocate most widely known for her work as a trainer on "The Biggest Loser," a reality show on NBC. "You have to identify it and form an emotional connection to it."

Pete Shankle, who is the wellness coordinator for the Durham (N.C.) Public Schools, talked about the need to "change a culture." His message hit home with Amy Wilson, the wife of PGA TOUR veteran Mark Wilson and president of the PGA TOUR Wives Association, who was in attendance at the conference. During one of the breaks, she talked about peer pressure -- the cool kids have chips in their lunch boxes while we have carrots -- and how families need to stop using food as a reward or a treat.

Dr. Mark Hyman, chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, found out how powerful a sense of community can be with his faith-based initiative at Saddleback Church. More than 14,000 people at the Southern California evangelical Christian church enrolled in a healthy lifestyle program and lost more than 250,000 pounds.

"There's an old African proverb," Hyman said. "If you want to travel swiftly, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together."

Clinton and his foundation, Humana and the PGA TOUR are doing just that.