Monday, June 15, 2009
On any given day, a remarkable thing happens at the Desert Springs, a JW Marriott Resort and Spa (Palm Desert, CA). When most people are still doing their last turn in bed, Bob Lemen (former Purdue track star, former U.S. Army Captain and retired Aetna Insurance sales executive) begins his daily ritual as the Desert Springs Spa Fitness Center leader. He’s also the leader of “the pack”, of power walkers, that is.
Big deal, you’re probably wondering. Right? Well, it is a big deal, when you consider that Bob Lemen is a youthful, physically fit, ninety-four year old gentleman, who has been motivating others at the resort with his daily power walks for fifteen years.
Bob opens up the resort’s Fitness Center at 5:00 a.m. (M-F) and begins his routine of checking out the equipment and resetting any of its programs, before the early birds start arriving to begin their sweating, moaning and groaning. Bob’s a permanent and welcome fixture of the Fitness Center, and always on the ready, just in case one of the guests can’t figure out those high-tech control panels (like me). He’s seen fitness equipment advances over the years, but none of the new-age high-tech stuff phases him in the least; so, if you need any help, have any questions, Bob can do just about anything, except guide the personal training regimens.
Okay, if 5:00 a.m. seems a wee-bit early for you, then try getting your “you-know-what” out of bed and get over to the gym no later than 7:00 a.m. and really see what Bob’s specialty is and why so many regard him as the resort’s living legend. Before setting out on his 3.3-mile course, Bob puts his walkers through a routine of stretching maneuvers that lasts about eight minutes. Bob’s walking buddies can number anywhere from a few to as many as forty, are of varied ages and fitness levels, and although women comprise about eighty-percent of the participants, the twenty-percent of men who do show up for the challenge, enjoy the rigors just the same.
Although the power walk begins outside of the gym area, meandering outside of the resort, walkers get a closer view of some of the area’s most beautiful scenery. Bob’s pace starts at a brisk thirteen-minute mile pace, a good clip at any age or fitness level (I consider myself fortunate to clock in at a twenty-minute mile pace). As the course progresses, locals from the nearby villas (an annual pilgrimage for many) often join the hearty group of walkers, which sometimes slows the pace a tiny bit; even taking this into consideration, the entire course is completed anywhere from forty-five minutes to one hour, which is still a good clip of about a fifteen minute mile.
Bob enjoys inspiring and encouraging anyone who tries. If Bob notices that any of his walkers appear to be falling behind and losing their pace a bit, he goes to the rear, offers some motivating words of encouragement or humor, and before you know it, their pace has quickened and their step more lively, and consistent. In all the years he’s been doing this, he’s yet to lose anyone along the way.
Bob reminisced that once a younger gentleman, about seventy, kept asking him all sorts of questions about what he did at the resort; finally, Bob jokingly quipped something like “. . I know what you’re up to; asking me all of these questions, just so you can try and get my job; well, you can’t have it.” Bob further reminisced that a lot of people are caught up with their weight and don’t understand their genetics; I guess many of us, including myself, try to become a weight or body-type that we’ll never attain, no matter what we do to try and achieve it. Staying active, trying and accepting who you are, are probably some of the most important things a person can do. Bob recalled how a rather plump lady showed up one day for one of his walks; she didn’t look like she’d be able to keep up with the pace, but her determination was wonderful and she finished ahead of most of the other walkers in the group. Bob was very happy for her accomplishment; it’s all about trying!
Bob’s exceptional life has kept him going, both mentally and physically; which is probably why Bob can still out-walk most people of any age. And, he has an incredible positive attitude about everything and everyone. Talking to Bob, you understand why he’s been able to keep going. He absolutely loves what he’s doing, and gets a huge kick out of taking folks out on his power walks. It really invigorates and revitalizes the group, but Bob gets these same benefits as well.
Bob’s attitude is to keep moving and just do it. You understand this when you hear about his college days as a Purdue track star (Big Ten Champion, Drake College Relays), running alongside athletes like Jesse Owens, whom Bob knew and felt was one of the greatest athletes of all time, in addition to also being a fine gentleman. Bob humorously recalls at one of his track meets, he wore his school jersey that had a letter “P” on it, for Purdue; although he came in second place (still a significant accomplishment), he learned that the radio announcer incorrectly identified him as a runner from Princeton. Bob decided to approach the announcer and correct him. It would be many years later that Bob realized that the person he had corrected all those years ago was none other than Ronald Reagan. Bob received his B.S. in Business Administration in 1938 from Purdue; his minor was in Physical Education and Psychology from Purdue. A four year stint in the Army convinced him that a “moving target is hard to hit”, which no doubt came in handy on many occasions. And, considering his history, Bob had to have been a stellar senior sales executive at Aetna Insurance before retiring after forty years of service.
Bob’s college background was definitely the foundation for his life: athlete, understanding people, and knowing all about business and salesmanship, and with Bob’s incredible longevity in the business world, it was obvious that Bob really knew how to sell anything, including himself. That’s how Bob came to be affiliated with Desert Springs, a JW Marriott Resort and Spa all those years ago.
When he and his dear wife Betty decided to settle in the Palm Desert area, they moved into one of the condos right next door to the resort. Always on the go, Bob continued his daily walking routine, staking out for himself a preferred route by the resort. Because Bob is incredibly affable, he loved engaging the resort guests in conversation and encouraging them join him on his daily treks, which locals and resort guests took a liking to. In spite of the resort having an established walking activity for its guests, it was Bob, the consummate salesman, who approached management and convinced them that he was the ideal person to lead their daily walks. Bob is without question the definitive authority on the resort’s early morning walks.
Bob’s positive attitude towards life and his deep love and devotion for his family, keeps him looking forward to the future. He loves life and loves what he does at the resort, and looks forward to each day he’s able to continue his walks and seeing others staying active. He is a humble man who enjoys being with others, talking to them and inspiring them to keep moving.
People of longevity and a keen mind are invariably asked what they do differently to achieve what many envy (or may not live long enough to experience). Bob’s approach is simple. He’s always been active, spending time each day to do some form of fitness activity; he eats whatever he wants, with moderation being the key, and he doesn’t drink or smoke. He keeps his mind active by reading a lot, enjoys a good conversation, and rarely has time to go to the movies. Bob’s too busy with life to worry about looking back. He’s focused on the future and moving forward. Bob Lemen is a remarkable man, with a remarkable history. He is an inspiration to many and is a gift that keeps on giving.
By Terry Herman
Terry Herman is a recognized expert in the spa industry, and regularly covers issues that include business, management, operations, customer care, treatments, products, and trends. In addition to writing and reviewing, she is also a management consultant and motivational speaker. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Image by Benito Juarez. Bob Lemen, Spa Lobby.)