Wounded Warriors: Fit Former Commanders in Chief
I really don’t know a heck of a lot about the fitness or athletic achievements of other former Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover or the even the very buff looking Chester A. Arthur. But in my humble, thorn-coated opinion, after catching a glimpse or two of George W. Bush riding off the front of Peloton One, there is no doubt in my mind that he is our fittest former President ever, hands down.
Paul Morse was a staff photographer for the LA Times when his friend, Eric Draper, was named as President Bush’s official photographer. Morse was recruited by Draper to become the Deputy Director of Photography and move to Washington, D.C.
“The President was having issues with his knees at the time and knew he needed to find another outlet besides running,” Morse recalls. “He decided to get into mountain biking and when he found out that I had experience on the trails, he started asking me a lot of questions and we started to ride together.”
At first they would ride at the Secret Service facility in Beltsville, Maryland.
“The Secret Service staff was obviously very fit,” continues Morse, “but running fitness is a lot different than mountain biking fitness. The Secret Service put together a special training group to get their team up to speed as mountain bikers. Besides being able to carry their weapons and radios while they rode, they had to learn bike handling and mechanical skills plus keep up with the President, who was becoming a really good rider.”
Morse rode with Mr. Bush at the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia and at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. But the President’s favorite rides were right there at the White House.
“I’d get a call and the President would want to ride at say 3 that afternoon,” says Morse. “We’d ride laps on the South Lawn and through the Rose Garden. It would just be the two of us and his dogs.”
Over the years, a number of White House staffers would come out to try and ride with President Bush —once.
“People underestimated how hard the President rode or how competitive he was,” says Morse. “A lot of them quickly got dropped and never came back.”
After a trip to Idaho where the President had his first taste of singletrack riding, everything changed.
“He loved the singletrack,” remembers Morse. “The day after we returned from Idaho we started building singletrack trails on President Bush’s ranch. The President would be out there with us working on the trails and sweating together.”