Pair of retirees use base fitness center to cheat Father Time
By Mark Munsey , Special to the Kukini
/ Published April 06, 2007
HICKAM AFB, HI -- The free weights at the base fitness center have the worst job in the place. They never seem to get wiped down after a good workout and each fiscal year brings an expanse to the surrounding neighborhood of shiny, digital workout stations, further exposing that their evolution reached its peak when cavemen learned to move rocks.
But they're resilient, those plates of steel, blazing their weight in big bold letters, a siren song to those lifters whose egos far outreach their abilities.
The years take little toll; they may get a little weathered, but they stay remain strong. And they're not going anywhere.
The same holds true for Al Pagan and Mike Elinski, two retirees who define the term 'gym regulars.' A couple of years ago they gravitated to each other as workout partners because they had something significant in common.
They're both in their 70s.
And for an hour and a half a day, three days a week, they get after it.
Pagan, a 78-year-old retired chief from Hickam and Kaimuki native who joined the seven-year-old Air Force in 1954, was always active in intramural sports.
"I played basketball and softball wherever I went," he said.
It wasn't until 1991, 13 years after he retired, that the 62 year old ventured to the other side of the gym where the free weights soon became his fast friend.
"Been going 16 years strong" he shared, adding the regime has played a huge part in making him feel much younger than his years. "I don't have pain when I walk, and if someone is having a party, my wife and I will be sure to be there dancing."
Pagan realizes that upgrades to equipment and changes in strength training philosophies has helped to keep the sessions fresh, but he also feels a human touch has propelled his progress.
Master Sgt. Benny Miguel, 15th Services Squadron Fitness Center trainer, went so far as to develop a specific strength program for the senior squatter.
"Benny is always there," Pagan said. "He brought new workouts and is best at pointing out the right way to do an exercise."
Mike Elinski first found a YMCA weight room in 1952 while at a Naval Academy preparatory school in Washington, D.C.
"Even as a kid, I was a big believer in physical fitness," Elinski said. "Back then, all they had were free weights."
Being faithful to a weight-training program while serving as a naval officer often came with challenges, especially while performing duties underwater, he said.
A decade of submarine experience using overhead pipes for pull-ups and below deck spaces for dips taught him one thing.
"I learned to be very innovative," the retired commander said.
But all the work has reaped one very large clock stopping reward.
"When I hit the gym in the morning feeling tired, the workout really gets my blood circulating," he said. "I always leave feeling a lot better."
Having clanged metal in close to 20 military fitness centers worldwide during their collective careers, they are subject-matter experts on exercise facilities -- and their opinion is united.
"Hickam's fitness center is fantastic ... the best I've ever seen," Elinski said. "Benny and his team set the standard for customer support."
For his part, Sergeant Miguel contends his involvement has been minimal.
"If they ask a question, I'll show them a solution," he said. "But they have been doing this a while and with time comes wisdom."
Wise, and resilient, like those weighty slabs of steel that help make gravity a forceful enemy. But three days a week, retired commander and chief battle
the weights. And defy conception.