Paul Frediani, an advocate of long-distance open water swimming and a trainer for the past 25 years who, before that, became a highly paid model after winning a Golden Gloves title in California, was happy to hear during a conversation at his home in Springs the other day that his visitor, while pushing 74, remained physically active.
“Only 3 to 5 percent of 74-year-olds are active, 30 percent of the adults over 50 don’t exercise at all,” said Frediani, who owns the Elysium Gym in New York City and has written 10 books on strength and flexibility conditioning concerning sports as disparate as surfing and golf.
The book on golf, titled “Golf Flex: The Complete Workout,” was an Amazon best seller, as is his newest one, “Tri Power: The Ultimate Strength Training, Core Conditioning, Endurance, and Flexibility Program for Triathlon Success.”
One didn’t need to play golf, Frediani said in reply to a question, to know how best to stretch and strengthen the muscles involved.
“Physical conditioning and technical skill conditioning are two different elements for the development of golf and should be addressed separately,” he says in the book’s introduction. “Golf Flex is focused on getting you in your top physical condition.” All one needed, he wrote, were a few dumbbells and an exercise ball.
Frediani grew up on the Italian Riviera, in a small town, Bozzano, equidistant between Lucca and Viareggio; though lest his visitor conclude that he had been a rich kid, he said, “My father had an outhouse.”
He came to San Francisco with his parents — his father, a laborer, worked for the railroad — in 1956, when he was 4.
As for the reason why the family emigrated, Frediani smiled and said, “It’s like in the play, ‘A View From the Bridge,’ when Catherine says to Rodolpho that they should go back to live in Italy. ‘It’s so beautiful there,’ she says. ‘What are we going to do?’ he says. ‘We can’t eat the view.’ ”
Growing up in San Francisco, Frediani was in his teens a hod carrier — hard manual labor at $10 an hour that served him well when it came to boxing and kept him levelheaded when, for a heady decade during which he traveled the world as a model, he earned $1,000 a day.
“My first dream,” he said with a smile, “was to be a priest — because a priest was an authority figure, I guess. The second thing was to be a garbage man, because all my cousins were garbage men, and they were big, strong guys. I still see one of them when I go to my hometown in Italy, which I do every year. It’s beautiful there. . . . San Francisco’s beautiful, here it’s beautiful. . . . East Hampton is pretty extraordinary, with its natural beauty and the ocean and bays. It’s one of the most beautiful areas in the world.”
Asked about his boxing career, Frediani said he had trained at Herman Newman’s Gym — “the boxing place in San Francisco. George Foreman trained there, as did Henry Clark, the California heavyweight champion, who fought Ernie Shavers, Ken Norton, and Sonny Liston. Clark had a big influence on me.”
Frediani’s trainer had been Vic Grupico, who “had over 45 fights in the ’40s. . . . I sparred with some of the best fighters there. . . . Nate Collins was another one, a top-10 middleweight. They helped me along,” he said, on the way to a California Golden Gloves light heavyweight championship, and to a Diamond Belt Pacific Coast title as well.
“I boxed from the age of 18 to 24. . . . Mickey Cohen — yes, the Mickey Cohen — offered me a contract. We talked on the phone. He said, ‘Come down to L.A. and I’ll set you up with Aileen Eaton [the promoter of the weekly fights at the Olympic Auditorium there]. I thanked him very much and told him I’d think about it. I guess they were looking for fresh meat. I got the modeling offer with Nina Blanchard soon after that. . . . Good timing! When I called my dad about my first job, five days of work at $1,000 a day, I was almost in tears.”
Asked when he began to swim, Frediani said, “When I started doing triathlons. The first one I did was in the late ’80s, in Santa Monica. I kept boxing too, sparring every day in gyms. I’d run in the morning and go to the gym in the afternoon. . . . I over-exercised and under-ate in the days when I was a model.”
Once having moved to New York, and to Springs, Frediani increasingly embraced swimming (and yoga) as a means to ameliorate a genetic spinal condition that in his mid-50s prevented him from running. In the city, he participated in swims around the Statue of Liberty and around Governors Island.
Here, he “began to encourage more people to get active through Bonac Open Water Swimmers on Facebook. If you go on it, in May, you may see, ‘Hey, Jack, we’re swimming tomorrow morning at Indian Wells. . . .’ If I’ve made a contribution to swimming here, it’s that, just a small part of what’s being done at the Y, by the Ocean Rescue Squad, by the junior lifeguard program, and by coaches like Tim Treadwell, Tom Cohill, and Mike Bottini. . . . Open water swimming, by the way is something you don’t want to do alone. In the ocean you can be 50 yards from shore but, make no mistake about it, in the wilderness — in someone else’s territory.”
“I always trained, but I didn’t train intelligently when I was younger,” Frediani said, in answer to another question. “You know, a person who’s been walking three miles a day, at a three-to-four-mile-per-hour pace, a guy who’s been doing it his whole life, with good nutrition, could well be more fit and healthy at 50 than a former pro triathlete who over-trained when he was at the top of his game, between the ages of 20 and 30. There’s only so much mileage in the body.”
In the process now of earning a master’s degree in geriatric exercise, Frediani said Andy Neidnig, the late long-distance runner from Sag Harbor, was right to advise this writer not to look back.
“I like that . . . always look forward,” said Frediani. “The big mistake 50, 60, and 70-year-olds make when they go to a gym is wanting to be as fit as they were when they were a decade younger. They choose to do an exercise program that is beyond their reach and quickly become defeated and stop working out. The fact is aging is real and progressive, but it is also a fact that we can through intelligent exercise mitigate the aging process.”
“So, instead of focusing on being a decade younger, focus on preparing and training to become the healthiest and fittest you can be for the future.”
“Always look forward . . . I like that comment.”