By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
Nine-thousand, nine-hundred, seventy-one is a lot of any one thing in just about any category. However, 9,971 sit-ups in an hour seems virtually impossible.
But, not for Chauncey Whitehead, the man known as “Chauncey the Trainer.”
In December 2003, Whitehead grabbed a space on the floor of the legendary Druid Hill YMCA in West Baltimore and cranked out nearly 10,000 sit-ups in an hour in a bid to make it into the Guiness Book of World Records. But, it wasn’t meant to be, due to a technical tripwire apparently laid by the people at Guiness Book.
“I had the proper apparatus (Whitehead utilized an abdominal frame, which is allowed by Guiness)…but they said I didn’t complete the motion the proper distance from the ground, which they never specified in the instructions,” Whitehead told me recently.
I asked him about his Herculean feat after he finished kicking my butt as he put me through the paces of one of the brutal workouts he is famous for. I wound up doing three circuits of cardio hell, which included: toe touches, jumping jacks, two versions of the two-handed rope wave, weighted twisted lunges, dragging 80 pounds on the floor, hitting the rhythmic punching bag and the heavy bag (back to back).
Rinse and repeat three times, then dumbbell curls, trunk twists and side laterals to finish me off. By the end of all of that, I was done, clearly. I described the encounter on Facebook saying at one point it felt like I was going to have a heart attack, throw up and go to the bathroom all at once.
But, once I recovered I felt exhilaration; I had taken another strong step forward on my lifelong fitness journey. Chauncey the Trainer’s work was done, work he’s been doing for decades. Perhaps his most famous clients are former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and the legendary Ernestine Shepherd, who was proclaimed by the aforementioned Guinness Book in 2010 as the “oldest female competitive bodybuilder in the world.” Shepherd will turn 85 in June and she and Dixon are both still on their fitness grinds with Whitehead by their sides.
Yet, Whitehead, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who moved to Washington D.C. in 1983 and eventually Baltimore in 1996, has been even more focused these days on men’s health. He leads a “men’s fitness and fellowship” workout session on Mondays at 5:30 a.m. at the Mission Fit gym on Sisson Street in Remington. And he, along with education and community leader Dr. Lamarr Darnell Shields, is sponsoring a Father’s Day fitness walk on June 20, starting at 7 a.m. in front of Mission Fit.
“One of the things I know about men is we may not listen to that loved one in our family, that wife, or that sister or that friend, but we listen to one another,” Whitehead said. “Remember everything we did from when we were little, from playing marbles, was to get the girls. So, when we sit and we tell each other, “man, how you doin’? Love you, it’s been a minute. How’s school? How is your health? It’s so important,” added Whitehead, who ultimately forged a fitness career after working in the military, which landed him in D.C. working in communications in the Reagan White House.
“That’s where I developed my love for politics…that was interesting,” he said. “But, the whole fitness thing, I always had a love for it even when I was in D.C.”
After some time in corporate America and having endured layoffs in that arena Whitehead decided to take a shot in the fitness industry.
“I decided fitness was something that I wanted to look at…then I realized that I was good at it and that I could make a living at it and that I could motivate people. And I never looked back” Whitehead said.
“Then I got interested not just in fitness, but the activism side. Baltimore led me to the activism side. Baltimore is what led me to do the things I do in fitness to also try to influence and help the community.”
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.
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