Fit And Getting Along Swimmingly

Patty Haft works with Vernon Woo on strengthening his upper body muscles and improving his range-of-motion in his torso on a Pilates clinical reformer

In August, Honolulu attorney Vernon Woo will spend his 71st birthday in the ocean. No, he’s not celebrating on a yacht or relaxing on a raft. He’s taking part in his first North Shore Swim Series, which kicks off Saturday (June 22) with a 1-mile swim from Sunset Beach to Ehukai Beach Park.

Those who grew up with Woo, a 1960 Punahou School graduate, might be surprised to see him in the water. As a child, he says he was not allowed to play sports because of his asthma. Then, when he returned from law school, he says doctors encouraged asthmatics to have a physical regimen, so he started jogging.

He eventually switched to swimming, because it was easier on his knees and back, and at 50 discovered a passion for the sport. He also had just kicked his cigarette habit after smoking two packs of Lucky Strikes a day from when he was 18 until his late 40s. “I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without panting,” he recalls about his health prior to quitting cold turkey.

Two years ago, he started working with Pilates-based fitness consultant Patty Haft at her “boutique fitness” studio, Creative Fitness, in Kilohana Square (1016 Kapahulu Ave.). They met twice a week for the first year and now meet once a week, working on improving his posture, range-of-motion and overall strength.

“I’m probably more fit today than I’ve ever been,” says Woo, who also swims three times a week at Kaimana Beach. “I have a lot of energy, more flexibility, and I’ve gained a lot of strength and stability.

“I think it’s important to embrace the aging process with grace, and that’s what Patty is teaching me and what I want to do.”

Last year, at age 70, he entered the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, finishing in two hours and 11 minutes. For the upcoming North Shore Swim Series, Woo says his goal is just to finish.

“I wanted to challenge my athleticism, because I never did that growing up,” says Woo. “The great thing about ocean swimming is every day is a new day because of the different currents and tides.”

A father of two grown children and grandpa of three, Woo also credits his inspiration to daughter Lia Aguilera, who he describes as a natural athlete (she participated in the Waikiki Roughwater Swim with him); as well as girlfriend Lena Hart, noting that they share the same interest in health and fitness.

For more information on Creative Fitness, email or call 285-1475.