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Bobby Jessee at Life Time
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I’ve been exercising regularly for nearly 40 years. Granted, I’m 91, so I took to it later in life. But I’m living proof that it’s never too late to start.

You might say I had a midlife change of heart. I was 54 when I discovered I needed double-bypass surgery. My blood pressure and cholesterol were both high. I smoked up to a pack of cigarettes a day. I ate everything I could, including a lot of foods I later learned weren’t great for my cardiovascular system.

Frankly, I’d neglected to think much about my health for years — and I hadn’t noticed how poor it had become.

I understood that if I didn’t make significant changes in my life, my heart would give out. For me, that wasn’t a choice. I stopped smoking and entered into a cardiac rehabilitation program after my surgery. I’ve been exercising ever since.

Wired for Dedication

I was born on October 10, 1931, in Emory, Va. My father died when I was 12, and my mother sent me to live with my grandparents on their 1,800-acre ranch in Texas, where they raised cattle and sheep. I went to school in nearby Itasca, a town midway between Ft. Worth and Waco.

When I wasn’t working on the ranch — rounding up and feeding cattle, baling and hauling hay — I played both offense and defense on my high school football team and was a catcher for our championship baseball team. During football season, I lived in the town’s fire station, because I had no way of getting back to the ranch after practice.

After graduating from high school in 1951, I enlisted in the Air Force and married my high school sweetheart, Angie Burnett. I was honorably discharged after eight years and began working at the American Airlines Stewardess College.

In the late 1960s, I started my own excavation business in Dallas, doing most of the physical work on new construction myself. To this day, when I drive around North Dallas, I can point out houses and yards I worked on.

Over time, I hired others to work for me and focused on managerial aspects. I remained involved in labor projects — I never had to sit in an office all day — but I had more help, and I didn’t exercise outside of work. I continued to eat whatever I could, and a lot of it.

I began smoking more, too. I’d started as a teenager, and the habit grew as I got older. For years I took my health for granted — until I couldn’t anymore.

A New Commitment

In 1985 I started experiencing chest pains and went to the ER, where doctors discovered I had several blockages. They told me I needed double-bypass surgery, which involved taking veins out of my legs and grafting them to arteries in my chest to skirt the blockage and restore blood flow.

I spent 10 days recovering in the hospital after surgery. The thought of not being around for my wife and my daughter, Jeri, who was 24 at the time, gave me focus. Family has always been No. 1 for me, and I worked hard to support and provide for them. I never had any outside hobbies. I spent my free time with my family: I went to every one of my daughter’s basketball games; when she showed horses, I took her to the barn every day and to competitions on the weekends. I know how to commit myself, and committing myself to rehab was no different.

photos of Bobby as a child and with his daughter

Yet the hospital rehab program was hard at first. Part of me was scared that I’d have a heart attack while exercising. Thankfully, doctors and nurses were around to supervise, which made me feel more at ease. (See “How to Exercise After a Heart Attack” for tips to help you safely get your blood pumping again after a cardiac event.)

Once I graduated from the program, I kept up the exercise plan on my own: walking, riding a stationary bike, and doing other cardio. I quit smoking. Following the doctor’s nutritional advice, I cut back on some things, such as fried foods and salt.

After a while, I started feeling better and healthier. I didn’t lose weight, but that wasn’t really the goal. Instead, I became trimmer and less puffy. And while I’d always been pretty strong thanks to my line of work, I increased my cardiovascular endurance and general fitness.

A few years later, my wife and I moved outside of Dallas to Aubrey, so we could garden and raise a few cows. We lived there until she died, in 2001, after 49 years of marriage. I retired two years later, and my daughter convinced me to move into her home in Plano.

Sticking With It — and Making Friends Along the Way

Not long after my move, I noticed there was a new Life Time being built down the street. I paid a visit to the membership trailer in the parking lot and signed up — I was one of the first members when they opened in 2003.

Once I got myself into that building, I went to work, and I’ve kept it up ever since. I show up five days a week, Monday through Friday, rarely missing a day.

I have a routine that starts the moment I walk through the front door: I go down the hall through the offices and chitchat with the staff and manager. Then I work my way into the fitness area. I start with stretching, use some weight machines, and finish with 25 minutes of cardio. I used to walk on the treadmill, but I got tired of it and switched to the bicycle.

Although meeting people or making friends wasn’t originally part of my motivation to join, the sense of community and welcome I feel when I’m there has meant a lot to me. Over the years, it’s become another motivation for me to keep going. I enjoy visiting with staff and other members — it keeps things interesting while I do the same routine day after day. And I believe being around other people helps keep me healthy, too.

When COVID-19 came along, Life Time shut down for a while. I was bummed; I’d had a good routine, and I missed interacting with the people I would see every week. But I didn’t quit. I kept doing what I could, like walking in the neighborhood or on the treadmill at home. When the club reopened, I was there.

Reaping the Rewards

As the years go by, I’m not as stable as I once was, but keeping up with my fitness routine helps with balance. It also helps my blood pressure and cholesterol, which remain at healthy levels.

Outside of the club, I keep myself busy by running errands, and I enjoy taking long drives in the country. My daughter accompanies me when she can, but I go alone when she’s out of town. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to maintain a lot of my independence and mobility.

I have my share of aches and pains, like most people, of course, but I feel good, and my cardiologist has mentioned on several occasions that my consistent exercise routine is the secret to my success. I look forward to my club visits, and my main goal now is the same as it’s always been — keep going to stay healthy. And I’m confident I’ll keep going as long as I can.


Bobby’s Top 3 Success Strategies

  1. Show up. “Signing up to join a health club isn’t the same as going,” Bobby says. Make exercise a consistent part of your week.
  2. Stay positive. At 91 years old, Bobby knows that his body can’t do what it did when he was 21, or even 51. “But I have a good attitude and make the most of every day,” he says.
  3. Commit. Workouts will be more effective if you get into it and enjoy the experience, he notes.

Tell Us Your Story! Have a transformational healthy-living tale of your own? Share it with us!

This article originally appeared as “Commitment Pays Off” in the December 2022 issue of Experience Life.

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