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One healthy guy who practices what he preaches


One in an occasional series about the fitness habits of Marylanders.

Shortly after George Petrlik turned 50, his wife, Gay, bought him what she considered the ultimate Guy Gift: a sit-down lawnmower.

He wouldn't let the deliveryman take it off the truck.

"I was so hurt," Gay says, till George explained that pushing a mower around their Ellicott City yard was part of what he did to stay in shape.

Now 57, Petrlik caved in a few years ago and got himself a sit-down mower because of allergy problems. But he still adheres to a strict, no-frills fitness policy. Who needs Cybex machines, mirrored walls and juice bars?

"I don't see any sense in spending money going to a gym," says Petrlik. "I guess I'm old-fashioned."

He's also a creature of habit. Petrlik has been a physical education teacher at Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia since 1970. For more than 20 years he's been coming to work two hours early almost every day. That's his exercise quiet time. Just George and the janitors and his elevated heart rate.

It's pretty much the same routine, over and over, year in, year out. Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings Petrlik runs from 6:45 until about 7:30, then walks for an hour. He never ventures outside. His all-weather track is the hallway that connects Thunder Hill's small gym to one of the third-grade classrooms.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to four basic exercises. Sitting in a chair inside his office, Petrlik begins by grabbing a 10-pound dumbbell with his right hand. Forearm wedged tight against his inner thigh, he knocks off 25 curls, then switches hands.

Still seated, he next works his triceps with a round of one-arm French curls: elbow pointing toward the ceiling, dumbbell moving from his shoulder to a vertical position and back.

Again, 25 repetitions. Again, only 10 pounds of resistance.

Petrlik experimented with heavier weights, but found they pumped him up too much. He felt as if he were busting out of his shirts. He went back to his 10-pound dumbbells: "I don't like getting bulky. I'm not a young kid anymore."

After those sets of arm curls, Petrlik steps from his office into the gym and cranks out 25 pushups on the hardwood floor, then walks down the same hallway to that same third-grade classroom, anchors his feet underneath a storage cabinet, and does 25 bent-leg sit-ups.

Return to office. Repeat circuit four times. Finish with a half-hour cool-down walk.

Do this for 20 years, and your waistline probably won't change either.

"He's a huge proponent of lifetime fitness," Thunder Hill principal Cynthia Hankin says of Petrlik, "and he works with the kids on that, too."

His father, George Sr., was a catcher with the old minor-league Baltimore Orioles. George played baseball at the University of Maryland, where he met his future wife on a blind date in 1965.

They both majored in phys ed (Gay's now head of that department at Hammond High School, as well as a field hockey and lacrosse coach) and together raised three outdoors-loving children.

Much of the summer is spent camping, fishing and biking at Assateague Island. George cuts back a little on his exercise program when school's out, but still makes time to do pushups and sit-ups in the sand.

His crewcut has gone gray, but he carries the same 180 pounds on his 5-foot, 11-inch frame as he did back in college. The secret? Think of tending to your body as a regular obligation: You know, like mowing the lawn.

"Fitness," explains Petrlik, "is hard work. It's not a particularly glitzy thing to watch or do."

Training Tips

Physical education teacher George Petrlik offers these tips for staying in shape.

* Choose an activity you like and do it. Don't get discouraged and quit if you miss a few days: "Just get started again. Let bygones be bygones."

* Avoid overindulging in snacks by keeping them out of easy reach. Petrlik has a weakness for caramel popcorn but keeps it stashed in a basement workshop.

* Weigh yourself at least every other day.

* Every bit of activity helps. When he goes shopping, Petrlik tries to park in a faraway spot. When doing laundry at home, he deliberately carries small piles of clothes to the basement, forcing himself to make extra trips up and down the stairs. "I kind of make excuses to move more."

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