Bonnie Prudden, a fitness champion whose efforts helped inspire President Dwight D. Eisenhower to create the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (now the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition), died on Dec. 11 at her home in Tucson, AZ. She was 97.
Per her wishes, the family did not hold a funeral or memorial service. Instead, family and friends spent time with Prudden before her death celebrating her life with her, says John Spannuth, president and CEO of the United States Water Fitness Association, Boynton Beach, FL.
“The people who were friends of hers were not crying; they were celebrating her life and feeling good,” Spannuth says. “There are not too many people who leave us that way.”
Spannuth met Prudden about 30 years ago after reading one of her books. She later spoke at many of the association’s conferences, as she had developed a method to teach infants how to swim and was an advocate of swimming for exercise.
“My feeling is that she was the mother of fitness in the country,” Spannuth says.
Prudden was born Jan. 29, 1914, in New York, studied ballet, performed on Broadway as a dancer and became a rock climber and skier. She took up the cause of promoting fitness in the 1940s after watching her daughter’s gym class, which she found lacking in true physical conditioning. Using her ballet and fitness background, she put together conditioning classes for the neighborhood children to supplement their gym classes. She tested the neighborhood children using the Kraus-Weber test.
Later, she worked with Dr. Hans Kraus, who was one of the creators of the Kraus-Weber test, to test the fitness level of thousands of children in the United States and Europe. Those tests revealed that U.S. children were less fit than European children. When presented with these findings in 1955, President Eisenhower decided to establish the President’s Council on Youth Fitness.
Prudden appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1957 to launch a series of fitness articles she wrote for the magazine. In 1968, she filmed 35 episodes of “The Bonnie Prudden Show,” a syndicated TV fitness show. She was a guest on radio talk shows, a regular contributor to “The Today Show” on NBC, wrote books and articles, and invented exercise equipment, including one of the first climbing walls.
In 1976, she developed the myotherapy method for relieving muscle pain by pressing on trigger points in the body, later writing a book on the topic. In 1980, she started a school to teach people how to become myotherapists. In 1993, she moved to Tucson and opened the Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy clinic.
She married Richard S. Hirschland in the 1940s, and before their divorce in the 1950s, the couple had two daughters, Suzy and Joan. Suzy Prudden is a motivational speaker and author. In addition to being survived by her two daughters, Prudden also is survived by four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Spannuth called Prudden very honest, sincere and upfront.
“She would say exactly what she thought,” he says. “Sometimes you wouldn’t agree with her, but later, you’d think about what she said and you’d see she was right.”