To say George Bieber is an incredibly fit 96-year-old man does him an injustice.
George Bieber is an incredibly fit man, period.
Most 30-year-olds can’t do what he does, at least three times a week, at the Comox Community Centre.
It starts with a 20-minute bike ride. Then he hits the weights – and this is what sets him apart from most men.
His usual routine consists of some time spent doing a series of chest press reps.
He usually starts at 125 pounds; 30 reps.
He rests, then adds 30 pounds and does another 30 reps.
Another rest, another 20 pounds, 30 reps.
Then he adds yet another 30 pounds and does 20-30 reps.
That’s 205 pounds, so he says. He claims the bar is only 15 pounds. His coach says it’s a 45-pound bar, but who’s going to argue with George?
Another rest, then onto the nautilus section for some work on his pecs.
One hundred and fifty pounds on one machine; 130 on another.
An hour or so passes, and he’s on his way out the door, a sweat barely broken.
“I think I will head downtown for a while today,” he says, then climbs into his Hyundai and drives away. Yes, he also has a valid driver’s license.
In short, George Bieber is living the life the likes of which most people only dream. It’s the ultimate healthy retirement, and it’s been going on for 31 years.
“I guess I’m pretty lucky,” he says with a shrug. “I’ll tell ya, if I felt any better, I wouldn’t be able to stand it!”
British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association registered trainer Jill Nelson has walked through Bieber’s program with him and says that while some of his exercises are unique, he’s doing everything right, in regards to not over-exerting himself.
“He showed me everything that he does,” said Nelson, who is also a third age (seniors) registered trainer. “With the weights, he doesn’t go through the whole range of motion, but he does it ‘his way’. The chest presses for example… he just does his little chest presses without bending his arms too far. That’s ‘his way.’ But the way he did it was fine by me.
“He can even do hanging chin-ups, which are very difficult to do. And you can’t cheat on those. You can either do them or you can’t and he can, which is amazing.”
Bieber knows his bench presses aren’t the orthodox method, but he doesn’t care.
“I’ve had guys tell me I am not going all the way down and I tell them ‘well, you try it my way’ and they all just walk away,” he said with a laugh.
“He’s been doing it that way for years. Who am I to tell him to change it now?” said Nelson. “His body is used to it, he’s happy, he’s healthy and he is an incredible example of someone who is remaining fit. He’s amazing. It’s all based on one thing – his attitude. He is a happy, healthy, friendly guy.”
Fitness has always been a part of George’s life. He’s a born and raised farm boy from Saskatchewan.
“Grew up on a dairy farm, so it was milk the cows, stacking bales of hay, chores every day – kept me honest. And of course I walked two miles to school every day, naturally, uphill both ways,” he adds, laughing again. “But I’ve belonged to a gym since my early 20s I guess.”
George’s story is not that different from most men of his generation. He did his chores, went to school, and when the war came, he enlisted.
“I wanted to be a pilot but my eyesight wasn’t good enough, so I went into aero-engine mechanics. I thought it would be easy because I’m not that bright – dumber than straw, to be truthful,” he said. “But that was a tough trade. A lot tougher than I thought it would be.”
George eventually joined the Air Force and was stationed in Britain. That’s when he really took to running.
“My mates used to go to the mess for what they would call a liquid lunch, but I was never much of a drinker. So I would grab an apple and go running.”
5th Street Mile winner at 80
Running was a big part of his life, for a long time.
When George first moved to the Comox Valley, in 1997, at the age of 78, he was still running.
And he was fast. He’s in the record book for the 5th Street Mile, Courtenay’s annual Canada Day race.
He won it in 1999.
“I remember the race announcer called me after the race and said ‘congratulations! You won the race.’ recalled Bieber. “I said ‘now just a minute. I wasn’t the fastest. Other people passed me.’ But he said when the age handicap was calculated, I was the overall winner.
“I won a pair of really good runners from Extreme Runners. They are so good, I still have them. They are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. And by the way, here they are,” he said, pointing to the runners he wore to the gym the day of the interview.
Broken neck at 86
The last time Bieber ran the 5th Street Mile was in 2005, at the age of 86.
So why did he stop?
“In December of that year, I was in the gym and fell on my neck and broke my neck in five places,” he said.
He was in Victoria hospital for a month, then in a medical bed in his home until June of the following year. He has the holes in his forehead from the halo as a lasting reminder.
“My doctor told me I could have either been a quadriplegic or I could have been dead,” said Bieber. “It’s all healed up now except for one bone. But they said I can’t run or jog anymore.”
So he took to the bike for his cardio.
He’s been doing the bike, the weights and the nautilus machines ever since.
He performed his entire chest press routine for the Record the day of the interview.
The video of his final series of reps, can be seen at bit.ly/1cKQ48C
He ends the video by saying:
“You mean to tell me this is something extra-ordinary?”
Indeed it is, George Bieber.