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When Jack Clifford reached his 80th birthday, he wanted to mark it with a milestone.
The retired minister and educator lifted 300 pounds.
“This was on my bucket list when I reached 80 years old,” Clifford said. “I felt a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment.”
Clifford, a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, started lifting weights in 1956 when he was 18 years old.
“In those days, gyms were nothing like they are today, with their personal trainers and their lattes and their television sets and all this modern equipment,” Clifford said. “A gym in 1956 was a dark room off in an extension of a boxing club, and it smelled a little bit of urine and sweat ,and it was a bunch of guys just tossing around and clanging barbells and dumbbells.”
Clifford came to Wilson in 1987 to take a job at Greenfield School where he worked for about 12 years. His main vocation is clergy. He pastored many churches before and after Greenfield School, including First Christian Church here in Wilson.
Clifford tries to work out about four days a week, two hours at a time, going from one machine to another at Regency Athletic Club.
“I don’t consider myself a bodybuilder where I go to every station and try to develop the entire body,” said Clifford. “I simply call myself a weightlifter, so I choose about five stations and go from one to the other, and at the end of that process, I do some cardio, jogging on the treadmill and also riding the stationary bike.”
Clifford is frequently told he doesn’t look anywhere near 80.
“I feel very grateful and humble that through genes, persistence, sheer luck and the grace of God, a combination of all of those, that I have achieved this level at this age,” Clifford said.
He subscribes to the biblical description of the body as a temple.
“I found all through my life that lifting weights is a tremendous emotional and spiritual uplift,” Clifford said. “I also feel extremely grateful for the fact that here I am 80 years old, and recently three of my peers have recently passed away: Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general; Aretha Franklin; and beloved Sen. John McCain. They are all 80s just like I am, and I have nothing but a feeling of humility and thankfulness that I have been able to get to this point in my life.”
Clifford said he doesn’t adhere to any of the fad diets.
“I try to basically eat fruits, vegetables, grains, but not slavishly so,” Clifford said. “I can deviate from that often if I feel so inclined to do so. They have a lot of these new protein powder supplements out on the market. I don’t overload with those, but I do use those after a workout. I understand that they are good for muscular recuperation after a workout.”
Research has shown that it’s important for people over 65 to exercise in order to prevent muscle loss and have a long life.
“I can assure everyone that it is a tremendous cardiovascular benefit when combined with cardio workouts,” Clifford said. “A lot of these gyms today have programs specifically designed for newcomers who are older, and also the gyms today are filled with people over 65 who are coming.”
Jerry Pritchett of Wilson watched Clifford make the big lift recently.
“Jack has been one of my best friends for many years, and I have a tremendous respect for him, as does everyone who knows him,” Pritchett said. “I never cease to be impressed by his commitment to working out and staying fit.”
Pritchet said age has never been a barrier for Clifford.
“It seems for many years now, the trend for good number of people has been a sedentary lifestyle leading to obesity and poor health,” Pritchett said. “Jack, on the other hand, has maintained his passion for good health and fitness, which is reflected in his quality of life. The fact that he bench-presses 300 pounds to celebrate his 80th birthday is a testament to this. He looks and acts many years younger than his actual age and is definitely one to be emulated.”
Visiting the gym can also be an important social outlet, Clifford said.
“I tend to be more on the extrovert end of the spectrum, so yes, I do socialize with a lot of the people in the gym,” Clifford said. “It certainly is possible to come to the gym and ignore everyone who is there, but I think if you do that, you are overlooking a tremendous benefit that you can have by making new friends.”
Clifford advises people who might be interesting in getting their bodies moving and involved with weightlifting to “just go for it.”
“I would certainly wish them well, and I would support them,” Clifford said. “I would certainly be willing to discus weightlifting with them as a tremendous life benefit.”