An Hour with Yardley Chittick
Yardley Chittick didn't let his milestone birthday change him. He went right back to his weightlifting routine.
Yardley Chittick remembers well the pugnacious, pouty-lipped teenager who lived across the hall from him at Phillips Exeter Academy in 1917. He thought him sullen and spoiled, he'll tell you, and mainly tried to steer clear of his stormy encounters. What he won't tell you is who prevailed the day the two of them came to blows over a shoeshine kit.
But if you've ever seen Chittick's current fitness routine, you know better than to place your bets on Humphrey Bogart.
Bow tie slightly askew, snowy white hair forming owlish tufts, Chittick straps 12-pound weights onto each ankle and starts in on a couple of knee flexes before his instructor has time to call out orders.
"They're supposed to be heavy," he explains when someone marvels at the bulky weights.
Admiration, you see, has just never suited Chittick. He did acquiesce last week when Pleasant View Retirement Community threw him a huge 100th birthday party. But after charming his friends by donning his college sweater and singing the MIT fight song, he was right back into his rigid routine.
Three times a week, Chittick heads for Pleasant View's fitness center, where he and about a dozen other residents work out under the direction of Michelle Young-Hampe. Chittick's the first to grab his hand-weights, the quickest to advance up the charts, the last to break a sweat.
And though centenarians and senior fitness buffs are becomingly increasingly common these days, few pack the muscle and motivation of Chittick.
"He's a really remarkable person," said Young-Hampe, director of resident services at Pleasant View. "It's not easy to keep up with him."
After several sets of calisthenics, Chittick heads for the exercise machines. He sets the chest press at 41 pounds and cranks out three sets, barely taking time to rest in between. With his 100-year-old legs, he presses 274 pounds, then performs some brisk leg extensions at 45 pounds apiece.
"These minor exercises are kind of good," he says when the 30-minute class is finished. Then, curling his torso into a practiced golfer's stance, "the best thing is to swing a golf club."
Which, not surprisingly, he does at least three times a week.
But if Chittick's lengthy life can be attributed to this unstoppable activity, it's not the only thing he owes to his well-worked muscles.
Besides helping him hold his own against Bogart, Chittick's athleticism earned him repute at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and helped steer the course of his career. "As a student, I was just in the middle. I wasn't bad, and I wasn't good," Chittick said. "The only way I could excel was on the track team."
During his senior year, Chittick won the New England Intercollegiate Low Hurdle Championship and went on to race with the Newark Athletic Club and the Boston Athletic Club. Decades before the fitness craze hit the country, he could be seen striding up and down the streets of the city. "I just liked to run. It was fun," he said.
Chittick loved golf back then too, so much that he made a career move some would have called crazy.
Shortly after graduating from MIT, Chittick met Thomas Edison, and the old man offered him a job. But Chittick was more enamored with a golf club company he'd been looking into.
"I thought being in the golf club industry would be more interesting than working for Mr. Edison," he said.
As it turned out, Chittick left the company within a couple of years, when the Great Depression hit. But it was through his work there that he met a patent lawyer and got interested in the career himself. He went to law school, got a job in the United States Patent Office, then started his own practice. He's now the oldest living patent lawyer in the country. (He quit practicing 15 years ago.)
Thirty years ago, Chittick moved to New Hampshire, where his daughter and grandchildren lived and where he'd vacationed for many years. He and his wife bought a house in Wakefield, and after her death in 1997, he continued to live there by himself.
It wasn't until the ice storm of 1998, when Chittick used up all his firewood and sat shivering in his house for 10 days, that he decided to move to a retirement community.
But if his lifestyle has changed at all, it's only because he didn't have a gym or a pitch-and-putt golf course at home.
When he's not working out, Chittick is just as likely to be exercising his mental muscles.
A couple of months ago, he decided he didn't like the Pleasant View staff's habit of calling residents customers and set about changing that.
"If he feels there's something that's not right, he's not afraid to speak up," said Executive Director Jane Poitras, who now uses the term residents. "And we like that. . . . He's one of our shining stars."
(Sarah M. Earle can be reached at 224-5301, ext. 323, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
Yardley Chittick celebrates his 104th birthday. Please visit the Chitick family Web site at http://www.chittick.com/today/celebrations/yardley_102.html.
March 21, 2005
May 23, 2005