STONE HARBOR, N.J. - His friends call him "Captain Crunch."
Bill Dougherty set a goal for his 90th birthday: 1,000 stomach crunches. He was going to do them Saturday, his actual birthday, but Jan, his wife of 63 years, prevailed on him to wait a day or two. They had 46 people coming.
"I just thought he wouldn't have enough energy left for the party and dinner," she said. "I didn't want to take any chances."
So, Monday morning, Bill put a towel down on the family-room floor. There were whitecaps on the Intracoastal Waterway out his window, and howling winds outside. But inside, life was calm. Jan didn't pay any attention to Bill or his big birthday goal. She had packing to do. They leave Wednesday for Florida for a few months.
Bill got on his back, hands behind his head, knees bent, ready to go.
Bill, a retired executive at Georgia-Pacific, has played tennis for 80 years, since he was a boy growing up in Mechanicsburg, Pa., near Harrisburg. For the last 20 years, since his second back surgery, he's exercised faithfully.
He has a 90-minute routine he now does every other day - at his age he needs a day to recover. Normally, he begins with an elastic band, doing a series of stretches for his arms and legs. He starts out in the second-floor family room and then moves into the bathroom, to do squats holding onto the sink, following with standing push-ups in the doorway.
He always finishes with 360 stomach crunches.
He did 45,000 last year.
One other thing.
"I usually do this with no clothes on," he says.
He prefers to work out naked. Pants slide off the chair during stretches.
But he always puts the towel down on the carpet.
"I'm used to just stepping over his body to get to the sun deck," says Jan, 83, who met her husband when she was a student at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, and he was a World War II veteran at Muhlenberg College.
Monday, because journalists asked to be present, Bill decided to wear clothes: a white tennis shirt, blue sweatpants, socks, and sneakers.
He established a cadence from the first crunch, exhaling on his way up, inhaling on his way down. As he exhaled, he would softly count. With each crunch, he squeezed his rear end, his stomach tightened, and up he would come. Not to sit-up position, but just enough to get his shoulder blades about two inches off the floor.
As he explained before he began, he's not trying to impress anyone. "I'm not trying to be the local handsome guy," he said. "Those days are over."
This wasn't a sprint.
After two minutes and 11 seconds, he called out, "100."
An additional 2:18, he barked, "200."
He remained smooth. His breathing even. Outside, whitecaps in the wind. Inside, patience and control.
After 2:13 more, "300."
His oldest son, Craig, 62, the last house guest, peeked his head in the door, smiled, and walked away. Craig does 750 crunches a day, inspired by his father.
Then 2:20 for the fourth hundred.
At 2:27 more, Bill shouted, "Five hundred!"
Any thoughts at the halfway point?
"No. No thoughts."
The photographer had a camera in his face. Bill started giggling, but didn't break form.
He slowed to 2:53 for the next hundred. His face was red, his skin moist with sweat. But no beads.
Bill's stomach is no washboard, which he laments.
"I do all these crunches," he had said earlier. "I still have a gut that sticks out."
He attributes it in part to the emergency gall bladder surgery he had years ago during a cruise in Alaska. He was taken to the hospital on a fire truck, and the surgeon cut through his stomach muscles, leaving a thick six-inch scar.
Bill picked up the pace - 2:19, 2:21, 2:10. And he kicked the last 100 in 2:08:54, finishing in under 24 minutes.
But he didn't stop at 1,000. He counted off 50 more. "In case I missed any," he said.
He was on his feet. Beaming. "Well, I did it," he said. "It's amazing, when you get yourself in shape, what you can do."
He's on about five municipal committees in Stone Harbor, and just wrote a story for the homeowners association website about the 7,000-mile migration from the arctic of the goose-like Atlantic Brant.
"Few his age have the capacity he has shown," said Jennie Chin Hansen, CEO of the American Geriatrics Society, an organization of health-care professionals. "And I would challenge 50-year-olds to do this!"
She said Bill may be exceptional, but recent studies have shown that even frail nursing home residents can improve their muscle capacity by 50 percent after eight weeks of strength training.
Exercise also keeps the brain healthy, she said. So the message is that two-thirds of Americans are overweight and a key to being healthy in old age is to start moving. Now.
Bill agrees. "So many people my age roll over and give in to age," he said. "I know I can't lick it, but why not view it as a challenge?"
His wife was at the door.
"Did you make it?" she asked. "No trouble at all," he said.
"Ohhhh," she said. "I'm exhausted from just packing."
See a video of Bill Dougherty in action at www.philly.com/