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Bonnie Prudden, 1914-2011

Bonnie Prudden, 1914–2011

Bonnie Prudden, fitness pioneer and founder of Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy, passed away at her home in Tucson on December 11, 2011. She was 97. “You can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again,” she would tell her students and patients, and that is how she lived her life. She was born on January 29, 1914, in New York City. When she was three years old, the curious and energetic Bonnie would climb out of her bedroom window and wander the neighborhood at night. A wise doctor gave her frantic mother some advice. “There is nothing the matter with this child that discipline and exhaustion won’t cure. Put her in the Russian Ballet School.” It worked, and by the time she was 10, Bonnie was a professional dancer and eventually performed on Broadway with the Humphrey-Weidman concert dancers.

Bonnie equated exercising to music with happiness, and said, “body movement has a language all its own.” She became an avid rock climber, skier, and fitness enthusiast. At age 23 she fractured her pelvis in four places during a skiing accident, but she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when told she would never be able to climb or ski again and that she could never have children. Bonnie bore two children and in 1943 became the first woman awarded the National Ski Patrol Badge. She has 30 first ascents to her credit in the “Gunks.”

“Bonnie holds a place in the climbing history of the Shawangunks that has yet to be superseded by any other woman,” said Laura Waterman, author of Rocks and Roses, a book about women climbers. “Bonnie was a luminary in the climbing scene for more than a decade.”

After watching her daughter’s dismal gym class in the 1940s, Bonnie decided to use her background in dance and athletics to give neighborhood children “conditioning” classes. As the classes grew she used the Kraus-Weber test for minimum muscular fitness to chart student progress and noticed that new students failed the test and returning students passed. Bonnie and Dr. Hans Kraus, Kennedy’s White House doctor, worked together to test thousands of children across America and in Europe and found that Americans were the least fit. The results, presented to President Eisenhower at a White House luncheon in 1955 and known as the “report that shocked the President,” led Eisenhower to establish the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, now the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Bonnie was a columnist and advisor for Sports Illustrated. In 1957, in a full-length leotard of her own design, she launched a line of fitness fashions on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She had her own TV show in the 1960s, appeared on countless radio talk shows, and wrote 15 books and numerous articles. She also invented exercise equipment. Bonnie always felt that if individuals had the correct information and tools they could, for the most part, take care of themselves.

In 1976 she developed Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy, a non-invasive, remarkably simple method of relieving muscle pain. She went on to write Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-Free Living, in which she shows how to erase and recover from muscle pain and take charge of your body. In 1980 she opened a school to train myotherapists to erase pain from muscles by pressing on the trigger points and then using appropriate exercises to keep the muscles free of pain. In 2006 Bonnie was inducted into the Fitness Hall of Fame and the Massage Hall of Fame. In November of 2007, at age 93, she received the Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the council, which she had co-founded.

Bonnie brought hope and inspiration, laughter and play to thousands of people. She made this world a better place and the impact of her wonderful accomplishments will live on and continue to benefit us all through her teachings. “Very seldom do wonderful things happen while we wait,” she said as she marched to the beat of her own drum.

Enid Whittaker