A late addition to the IHRSA speaker list, former President Bill Clinton marched into his keynote position on March 21, telling an IHRSA crowd of several thousand that everybody has the power to make some change.
Although he began by saying he was going to talk about childhood obesity and what we can do about it, he managed to touch on some of his favorite topics on the long road there, including globalization, hunger, the healthcare crisis, world security, epidemics, taxes, unemployment, Iraq, 9/11 and global warming, among others addressed in the 56-minute speech.
However, the common thread throughout the presentation -- other than a few well-placed, semi-disguised jabs at the current administration's policies â€“ was the interdependence of the 21st century world and how every problem, including childhood obesity, was everybody's problem.
"We live in a world where we are all tied together," Clinton said, "â€¦and divorce is not an option, and the consequences are bound to be worse."
After general remarks by IHRSA board chair Joe Moore and an introduction by session sponsor Precor president Paul Byrne, Clinton's talk began uneventfully, in fact surprising many at the appearance of relatively slim security: Seats weren't assigned. Attendees were allowed to mill all over the floor. No one had to show ID to pick up their tickets. Metal detectors or other screening devices were nowhere to be seen. Clinton, too, seemed relaxed and even at times nearly appeared to ramble, as if he were just chatting with a few friends in his living room.
"That's the great thing about not being president anymore," he said at the start. "I don't care; I can say whatever I want. But the sad thing is, nobody else cares either."
Since his heart attack and bypass surgery and since spending some time sitting on the couch mending, as he said, he realized that exercise and health was even more important than he thought. That prompted him to take action by joining forces with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Healthy Schools Program to get schools, both students and staff, healthier. (Click here to see a Feb. 14, 2006, SNEWSÂ® story, "Former President Clinton helps launch healthier schools program." )
"The power of private citizens to do public good is greater than ever before," he said, "but we have to keep getting better within our borders."
He said too many people are sick from preventable ailments and called the current population "self-inflicted invalids."
The gist of his talk, which he got to after 48 minutes, was that the effort needed support and IHRSA attendees were top candidates for doing that, from donating equipment to volunteering instruction at schools.
"We need some helpâ€¦. People in this room get this," he said, pointing to his earlier messages that stressed how we all have the power to make some small change. "I implore you to go home and think about what you can do to give our children their future back."
SNEWSÂ® View: It took some focus to stick with Bill on this talk as he seemed to take the crowd of nearly 5,000 (SNEWSÂ® estimate) on a whirlwind tour of all of his favorite themes in less than an hour. But if you stayed with him, you realized that the line that connected the dots was personal power and affecting change, leading him finally to connect the final dot as he closed his talk with only a few minutes to go with a call-to-action for the crowd to do something in their communities. Our bet is, Republicans in the room loved the fact that there were a couple of thousand empty chairs in the back and that it seemed to take Clinton nearly his whole speech to get to the point. But Democrats seemed to like listening to a like mind when it came to topics such as global warming and the healthcare crisis, as we noted bobbing heads around the hall. Nevertheless, it was an honor to have Clinton come to the IHRSA convention to talk, but you betcha it wasn't happen-stance. He is one of many that realize the fitness community is becoming a political force, and even the medical arena is recognizing the healing powers of physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. We think we'll see more flirting and courting by politicos from a local to national level at all levels of the industry.Â