"If you don't use your body, it gets rusty," former Alaska governor Walter Hickel told a Juneau audience Wednesday in an address about fitness, economics and philosophy.
With "freedom of the soul and physical fitness, you can accomplish anything," Hickel, 80, told 200 members of the 17th District of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Hickel moved to Alaska in 1940 with a borrowed grubstake of $20, started out as a bartender and contractor, became a successful businessman and was elected governor twice - in 1966 and 1990.
Rear Adm. Thomas Barrett, who arranged for the "All Hands" program, called Hickel "an example of someone who has made health and wellness part of his entire life."
Neither a gymnasium nor equipment is needed for physical fitness, said Hickel, who devotes an hour and a half every day to working out, sometimes with Nautilus equipment. As governor, he racewalked in North Douglas at a pace of three to four miles an hour no matter the weather. He got into physical fitness very naturally, he said, as the oldest son among 10 children, when he began milking cows at age 5 in Kansas.
He climbed the windmill once to see how far he could see and that gave him an urge to travel. "I told Mom that I could travel if I won the Golden Gloves." So, in April 1938, he became Kansas' Golden Gloves boxing champ, and was able to travel to Nebraska, New Mexico and California for bouts.
"I really didn't like to fight, but it got me places. I can still hear my mother saying, 'Son, don't panic; have no fear.' That stayed with me when I was fighting with Henry Kissinger over Cambodia" when he served as President Nixon's Secretary of the Interior after leaving Alaska during his first term as governor.
Nixon knew that he did daily workouts, Hickel said, and once remarked that Hickel's fitness made him a man you could rely on at any time. "You can call on Wally at midnight, and he'll be ready," Hickel quoted Nixon as saying at a cabinet meeting.
"Three things you should do in life whether you are the president, the pope or a prostitute: Exercise, diet and state of mind." Exercise can be punching a bag of wheat (as he did on the farm), stretching (as he does every morning) or walking two or three miles a day. He still race walks, he said, "although not as fast as I used to."
As to diet, he recommended eating vegetables raw and drinking three to four quarts of water a day.
A positive state of mind begins, like exercise and diet, at home, Hickel said.
"You are what you think you are. If you think you are going to have a problem, you are going to have a problem. If you think you are going to lick it, you are going to lick it," he said, noting he hit his final Golden Gloves opponent in California so hard that he lifted him right off the floor - even though he couldn't see due to a broken nose suffered in round one.
During his talk to an appreciative audience, Hickel also preached his political philosophy. He called Alaska "the bridge between capitalism and Communism," a subject he addresses in his forthcoming book, "The Alaska Solution." Eighty-four percent of the earth is held as common property. If properly managed, "we could eliminate poverty in the world," he said.
Alaska can be a leader in showing how this works, because "all the other states are regulatory states; we are not. We have the obligation of ownership, so we have to manage this like a business. The governor has to be the foreman of the ranch," Hickel said.
On the topic of personal freedom, he said, again quoting his mother, " 'Staying free does not mean you don't have any responsibilities; it means you don't have any aggravation.' You solve problems by getting rid of aggravation and rising above it - whether you are in construction or in the White House. Get up and look down on battles, and you see everyone else destroying themselves in chaos."
Working out is not just about muscles or circulation, he concluded, but "an opportunity to let your soul catch up with you. And then you are whole."
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.