As Vice Chair of the Governor’s Council on Fitness, Rockville-based trial attorney Charles Chester lobbies the state Legislature on issues concerning youth obesity. For Chester, the Council – to which he was first appointed by Governor Parris Glendening and been subsequently reappointed by Governors Ehrlich and O’Malley – offers the ideal marriage of two burning personal obsessions: physical fitness and sociopolitical action.
“Too much now with kids is computers and bad food habits, and that’s why the obesity rate is so high,” says Chester, one of approximately 20 appointees who sit on the fitness council. However, he contends, the answer is not simply more physical education in schools, but a broader awareness of the problem throughout communities. To that end, he has successfully lobbied for projects that encourage physical fitness in all age groups, like the construction of bicycle and pedestrian pathways on new state highways, “so that people can stay in shape.”
I'd rather be able
to complete a Half Ironman efficiently and feel good about my performance.
“They can stick around for their kids’ weddings,” he notes. “They stay healthy, they’re able to prolong their working lives, and they’re able to set a good example for their kids.”
A man of deeds as much as words, Chester himself leads by example. “I actually started swimming and running and lifting weights religiously during college,” explains Chester, who traces his penchant for social action back to regular involvement in organizations like the Baltimore and Washington, D.C.- area United Synagogue Youth. “It was sort of a way to mentally and emotionally balance things out and stay healthy. [Moreover,] I figured if I started it back then…it would stick with me.”
By the mid-’90s, Chester, then living and working on the Eastern Shore, had begun training competitively, entering his first triathlon – a race comprised of swimming, bicycling and running segments – on the recommendation of a friend in 1996.
“At that point I was pretty naïve,” he laughs. “I asked [her], ‘Well, what do you do in between swimming, biking and running?’ She said, ‘Nothing. You get out of your wetsuit, hop on your bike, get off the bike and go run.’ I said, ‘What about changing?’ And she said, ‘Well, you change your shoes – that’s it.’ So I really had no idea.”
But Chester learned quickly, and the self-described “Type A personality” soon found himself traveling regularly around the region to compete in similar events. In preparation for each competition, Chester developed a regimented routine of exercise, devoting anywhere from 10 to 30 hours of training per week, depending on the event. “Everybody in the house used to tease me that I would do a triathlon every weekend,” he laughs. “I would get up and go swim a mile in the ocean, then run back, hop on my bike and go biking.”
Over the ensuing years, Chester has gone on to compete in between six and eight events annually – including duathlons (comprised of running and cycling), 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles) races and half-marathons (13.1 miles) – all of which, he says, have served as “building blocks” for the dozen Half Ironman Triathlons in which he has so far participated.
Comprised of an approximately 1.2-mile swim, 56 miles of cycling and a half-marathon, the Half Ironman Triathlon, Chester explains, suits him ideally. “For me, I think a [full] marathon run would be too debilitating on the knees, [and] I don’t want to create a problem,” he admits. “One year, I was training for an Ironman distance [in Florida]; I did a century bike ride in Salisbury, and I jumped off the bike and ran 10 miles. I just said, ‘You know, my knees feel like rubber. I don’t think marathon distance is going to work for me.’”
“Every time I’ve ever trained for a half-marathon, as a building block for a Half Ironman, I push hard in order to race for 13 miles,” he continues. “I couldn’t imagine trying to race efficiently for 26. If I can’t really do it efficiently and it’s not right for my body…I’d rather be able to complete a Half Ironman efficiently and feel good about my performance.”
Back in Annapolis, on the Governor’s Council on Fitness, Chester keeps himself similarly grounded and self-disciplined, having declined numerous offers of the council’s top spot.
“The chair oversees more internal things with the council, awards that are given out,” Chester explains, “which is fine, but I want to be vice chair and just work on legislation. I want to affect public policy.”