Gold Standard

Written by Douglas Towne Category: History Issue: April 2014

To keep fit, Owens did six minutes of calisthenics, two miles on a stationary bike, 40 push-ups and pull-ups, skipped rope for five minutes, punched the bag for four minutes, rowed 100 strokes, and then finished up with the steam room, sauna and a massage. “A workout like that makes it a sunshine day and makes me happy to have lived this long,” Owens said in an Arizona Republic interview in 1973.

“Owens was a low-key guy; some members didn’t even realize who he was,” recalls Doug Dunipace, who served as the YMCA’s legal counsel. “My son and I talked with Jesse once in the steam room and he couldn’t have been more gracious. Owens said he had been enjoying high-calorie food on a recent speaking tour and was hoping to sweat off a few pounds.” Owens liked Arizona and Arizona liked him back, celebrating “Jesse Owens Day” in 1976. A pack-a-day smoker, Owens died of lung cancer on March 31, 1980, at age 66. Governor Bruce Babbitt declared a day of mourning and Owens’ body lied in state at the Arizona Capitol before his burial in Chicago.