Bernie Stabins is winning the calorie-counting contest at Silver Mountain Spa by a long shot. No one else is even close. Stabins says since early January he's burned over 150,000 calories working out at the spa. That's right, 150,000 calories! His closest competitor is 100,000 calories behind. Do the math and it would appear the man is burning over 2,000 calories every day working out.
"I know it sounds crazy but, hey, I'm a little nuts," admits Stabins, who spends four to five hours a day, six days a week working out. "I've actually been eating like a horse so I don't lose too much weight," he laughs.
Stabins is up and in the gym working out before 5 a.m. and doesn't stop until midmorning. On the surface it looks like a clear case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Dig deeper and his motivation emerges. His mornings at the spa comprise a large portion of his social life. "It's become a second home for me. I love the people who work there and just about everybody I meet is healthy. It's great!"
Here's the kicker: Stabins, who stands tall and straight as an arrow at just under six feet and a trim 170 pounds, is 82 years old. At Silver Mountain Spa he has plunged into a training regimen that would wilt most people half his age.
"Most people my age become couch potatoes and, believe me, I've been there," he says. "They might go to a sit-down 'Silver Sneakers' workout once a week for 90 minutes and call it good. That OK for them but not for me - not anymore."
It's amazing Stabins is still standing at all. He's lost two wives to breast cancer and re-lapsed into deep depression after his second wife died in 1995. He suffered a stroke a few months after her death. Under a doctor's care and heavily medicated, Stabins lapsed into lethargy at his Marina Del Rey home in Southern California. It looked like the end of the line.
Fortunately, the fire wasn't completely out. He credits his granddaughter, Sara, and his doctor in California with bringing him back to life. "It was Sara who talked me into moving to Park City three years ago. The timing was right," says Stabins. Two of his three daughters, Karen and Barbara, already lived here. "My son-in-law Mike Phillips, Barbara's husband, also played a big role in getting me here and I owe him a lot." His third daughter, Linda, lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
It was the Phoenix rising for Stabins. "My life has totally changed since I moved here," he says. "Everything is brand new. I've been able to lift myself out of a terrible depression and now I'm having probably the best time of my entire life."
Life began for Stabins in Rochester, N.Y., during the Great Depression.
"My dad worked three little jobs just to keep food on the table," he remembers. "We all had holes in our shoes and we'd put cardboard inside to cover them. We were on food stamps too. Once when I was about eight my mother sent me to the food-stamp store to get some flour so she could make some bread. I borrowed a homemade wagon to carry the flour. When I got home the bag was almost empty. I looked back up the street and saw a thin line of flour. There was a sharp nail in the wagon that had sliced open the bag. No bread that night."
After graduating from high school, Stabins moved to California in 1947. He married Joyce, his childhood sweetheart, in 1949. They were married 26 years before her death from breast cancer in 1975. He remarried in 1983. "Barbara and I were together 14 years before she also passed away of breast cancer," he says.
Stabins was in sales for most of his life. In 1988 he was named Vendor of the Year by Walmart and met Sam Walton at one of his legendary outdoor picnics in Bentonville, Ark. "He sort of looked like a homeless guy," chuckles Stabins. "He was wearing old khaki pants, his shirttail was out and he had on a baseball cap with the price tag still on it. We talked for a while and he was a really great guy."
Stabins, who has endured hardship and devastating personal loss in his 80-plus years of life, has advice for seniors who may be in similar situations: "Get off your butts and do something that's good for your body and your mind. When you get into your 60s and 70s, you'd better start working out because, if you don't, you're going to flippin' die. Half an hour or more, three or fours days a week is good enough, but consistency is the key. I hope I can inspire some other older people to get a little exercise. If I can do that, then I feel like I've done what I need to do."
For Stabins, the last three years have been total immersion therapy. "Since I came here, I've really been putting myself out there," he says.
In addition to his daily routine at Silver Mountain Spa, Stabins volunteers regularly at the Egyptian Theatre on historic Main Street. He's been a fixture there for over a year and that's led to an exciting new opportunity for him. He's been invited to join the cast of this year's Park City Follies, opening at the Egyptian in early April. It will mark his acting debut, pretty impressive for an octogenarian. "I've been here not even three years and already I have more friends than I ever had in all the years I lived in L.A. I'm talking about real friends, real people," he says.
His family has also been essential to Stabins' rebirth. "Two of my three daughters, my six grandchildren and two great grandchildren are all right here. I love to go to all their school plays, soccer and ice-hockey games. Most people my age don't have such a wonderful extended family around them." Stabins shyly reveals he's got a new girlfriend as well.
"For me, Park City is paradise," says Stabins. "I love the four seasons and I have yet to meet someone I didn't like. I am so thankful to this town. This is the best time of my life."
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Favorite activities: Working out, riding horses, "watching my great-grandkids play sports."
Favorite foods: "Everything"
Favorite film: "To Kill A Mockingbird" with Gregory Peck.
Favorite music/performers: Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Barbara Streisand and Diana Krall. "I love music of the 1940s and '50s. Frank Sinatra is, in my opinion, the greatest male vocalist of the last century."
Bucket list: "A little more travel."