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    Ode to Fitness, Family & Our Father

    By Jamie Leno Zimron–

    My brother Mark, sister Jan and I recently lost our father, on April 6, 2018, exactly two weeks short of his 98th birthday. Through our grief, we know how fortunate we were to have had so many years to enjoy and learn from such a wonderful man, Manuel David Leno. I’d like to share this tribute to him here in my health & fitness column, because he provided a great model of what it takes to live such a long and good life.

    Dad was a true gentleman and gem of a human being. Amongst his many legacies to us was a clear commitment to physical and mental fitness. Born in 1920, he was still a boy when he tragically lost his own father to The Great Depression in 1930. He began working hard from a young age to make a living, and to help shore up his family’s meager finances. From our own childhood days and literally through to the days before he died, he taught us by his own tireless example to exercise our bodies, cultivate and maintain a positive outlook and to keep our spirits strong.

    Dad was a big fan of Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru of his generation. LaLanne was born in San Francisco in 1914 and died at the age of 96. As a young man he was able to turn around his own poor health and destructive habits and became a pioneer extolling the virtues of good nutrition and regular exercise. He opened the first health clubs and spas, performed dramatic feats of strength and came to be regarded as the “Godfather of Fitness.” Manny discovered his health hero Jack LaLanne in the 1950s. Full of inspiration, and well before such things became common or popular, Dad started jogging, stopped eating red meat, cut down on sugar, loathed smoking, had only an occasional drink and insisted on fresh foods.

    Dad also devoted himself to emotional and mental well-being. After serving in the Military Police in World War II, he put himself through school, borrowed $300 to start a sales distribution business, worked as a team with his wife, and took Dale Carnegie courses to overcome his social anxieties and fear of public speaking. “PMA All the Way!”—Positive Mental Attitude—became Manny’s mantra, to pull himself up by every bootstrap and lift up his kids, family, friends and the sales force that he was able to build and lead in the Midwest.

    Along with positivity, daily exercise and healthy eating, Dad made integrity, generosity and care for others his trademark practices. We still have his Eagle Scout sash with all of the medals he earned, and he was always happy to recite the oath he took as a teenager that he made the foundation for his life: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” Dad’s values and humility spoke volumes, and we have been humbled for decades to discover all of the ways he quietly gave support to people, communities and organizations in need.

    During his 80s we were amazed, and educated, watching our father keep up his vitality, improve at golf, build a building from blueprint and lovingly care for our mother who had begun a long slow decline from Alzheimer’s disease. Then one day at age 89, Dad broke his hip—when he fell as he lost his balance trying to answer his cell phone on a bicycle ride! Recovery wasn’t easy, but his underlying strength, and his willingness to exercise and work on his “mental game,” got him through what too often becomes “the beginning of the end” for older people.

    Well into his 90s, Dad was concocting fruit & protein smoothies, reading biographies of exemplary people and cutting out relevant health and business articles to snail mail to each of us. He wrote emails, checked his stocks and forwarded jokes on his iPad. Even after another fall at age 94, which fractured his leg and wrist and landed him in rehab again for 3 months, Dad did his best to walk, swim or ride his stationary bike every day.

    He started meditating and going to yoga and balance classes. Until only a few weeks before he passed, Dad got up every morning, spent an hour exercising, then showered, dressed and came out to start his day with an orange and The New York Times. Less than 3 days before he died, lying in his death bed, he somehow had the will to do arm and leg exercises with the home hospice therapist!

    Whenever I asked Dad the secret to his longevity, he’d laugh and say: “I just keep breathing!” With the joke, he knew how integral breathing was to managing our minds and emotions, and the stresses of life. When Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff was first published, Dad gave us all copies. He enjoyed and went regularly for massages until his last weeks. I got my love of bodywork from him, and he was always one of my favorite and most appreciative clients!

    To the end, Dad practiced PMA and didn’t want us to worry. His answer to “How are you?” was always his signature, “Great!” or an “A-Okay” hand sign with his beautiful look and loving smile. It was so surreal, yet all too real, to be holding our father’s two hands, sitting in sacred silence, with whispers of more love and more gratitude, as Mark, Jan and I waited for this remarkable man to take his last breath. And then he did.

    And then something amazing happened. We sat wordlessly, just watching, and sensing something very lovely going on that we all agreed was Dad taking his time to engage every moment of his transitioning experience! He always loved adventures and learning, and simply seemed to be continuing on his way and enjoying the new trip he was just beginning. He was living his dying and didn’t want to miss a thing.

    Through our tears, we know that Dad’s experience is truly a celebration of life, and that we should all be able to move on in wholeness and peace, leaving such abundant legacies of goodness and love. As our sister said so well, we always knew that he was there for us—behind us, sometimes out in front of us, and always, always beside us. Such unfailing, caring presence has made all the difference, and left an indelible impression for what we can all offer to those with whom we are sharing this world and life.

    We have been inspired and changed forever by Dad’s myriad examples of love and how to live. Though he left us two weeks shy of his 98th birthday, I will always say Dad was 98. He’d act offended when I’d say I was counting on him to 100, because he was shooting for 105 or 120! Length of life is a great gift—and we also have input. Quality is certainly achieved. If there is indeed a measure of a man, it must be the immeasurable measure of Manny Leno. He lives on through these great lessons that we are able to share, with others and with unending thanks.

    Jamie Leno Zimron is a Corporate Speaker, Executive Trainer, LPGA Golf Pro, and 6th Degree Aikido Black Belt. Check out her website: http://www.thekiaiway.com