Fitness on Safari

He strolled into the building as if it were any other day, wielding a water bottle and spare pair of khakis. The receptionist left her post and greeted him with a warm hug. “The busiest man in town!” she exclaimed.

He greeted the girls working in a nearby office, signed a card for a sick employee, and a small discussion arose over how to accurately spell “testosterone.”

From the minute he walked in the door, the atmosphere began to buzz.

This is but a miniscule glimpse into the life – what may be the only “normal” aspect of it, that is – of Jack Hanna, the revered and down-to-earth director emeritus of the
Columbus Zoo.

At 67 years young, fitness plays a vital role in Hanna’s life. He knows he’s aging, but it’s the last thing that will ever get in his way.

“I know that my body is getting older; my mind isn’t. But with my pace I keep … there’s no way I could do what I do unless I have my exercise,” Hanna said.

He wakes every day at 6:30 a.m. and works out however and wherever he can. He’s constantly traveling, so when he’s staying in a location not equipped with stationary bikes or weights, he has to get creative.

“I just came back from Africa, so over there I do my rocks in the field and my sit ups,” Hanna said. “I’ll find something, ya know, a log or something to use to do my exercises.”

Perhaps the real secret behind Hanna’s good health is hiking.

“Hiking is my life,” he said. “And my wife’s, that’s what we love to do. We usually take a four- or five-day hike – we like to do eight to 10 miles a day.”

Hanna gets creative in those places, too. He explained that they carry strategically packed bags on their backs for added weight, camp near creeks so they can also swim, and ride bicycles where they can. Speaking of his bag, he always carries a water bottle, bear repellant (right, of course), his hiking hat, and he’ll never be without his African hiking stick.

One thing Hanna does not do, though, is diet.

“I’m not a football player or something like that – but I burn the calories,” Hanna said. “I don’t do any dieting or anything – I eat like a horse.”

While Hanna does not feel or function like he’s 67, he says he’s lucky to be in the shape he’s in after multiple knee surgeries. Luck? Perhaps. But pride may also contribute.

“What happened was, a guy in the Minneapolis airport saw me [after surgery]. I had a cane and I was in the bathroom and the guy saw me and I heard him say, ‘Jack Hanna’s got a cane!’ And whew! it went in the garbage can,” Hanna said. “I walked out and my wife said, ‘Where’s your cane?’ I said, ‘Don’t have it anymore. A man just made fun of me in the bathroom.’ I didn’t want someone to see me, Jack Hanna, with a cane! Dang!”

Credit his luck, pride or busy schedule, he wouldn’t be the Jungle Jack known and loved today without a young spirit fueled by passion for hiking and fitness.