Made in Israel: fitness idol Gilad

Starring in the 30th season of Hawaii-based ‘Bodies in Motion,’ Gilad Janklowicz reflects on the inbred chutzpah that led him to international fame.

The Pacific beach of Honolulu, where fitness guru Gilad Janklowicz just finished filming the 30th season of Bodies in Motion, lies half a world away from the Mediterranean beach of Holon where he was raised.

Even though the trip to Israel takes more than 24 hours, Gilad – as he is known to millions of followers – comes back twice a year to visit his parents and younger sister Dana Janklowicz-Mann, a film director.

“Hawaii is a summer place where the beaches are very accessible, and if you grew up in Holon the beach was part of daily life too,” Gilad tells ISRAEL21c. “When I was growing up, it had a certain coziness and simplicity that Hawaii still has in some regards. So when I moved here, it felt like a home away from home.”

At 60, Gilad is no longer “climbing trees, playing hide and seek, getting into trouble and coming home late for dinner,” as he describes his childhood. But he retains the muscular physique he began building through track-and-field competitions in high school and honed as a physical training officer in the military.

Exercising against the Hawaii sunset.

Exercising against the Hawaii sunset.

Bodies in Motion, his 6 a.m. half-hour aerobic and toning workout, was the first fitness program to air on ESPN and currently is the longest-running fitness show in the United States. Since 2002, the show has aired in 80 countries through the Discovery Fit and Health channel, whose viewers voted Gilad “Fitness Instructor of the Year” multiple times. He was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

The latest of his numerous bestselling instructional DVD series are Lord of the Abs and Ultimate Body Sculpt, based on his newer Discovery Fit and Health show, Total Body Sculpt. His only exercise DVD not filmed in Hawaii, Getting Fit in Jerusalem, was released in 1996 to celebrate the 3,000th anniversary of the establishment of King David’s capital city.

Gilad has trained many celebrities and appeared in movies such as North starring Bruce Willis and Elijah Wood, Ruthless People with Bette Midler and Burn After Reading with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich. Former world-champion bodybuilder and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of his protégés and inspirations.

In 1996, Gilad released “Getting Fit in Jerusalem.”

In 1996, Gilad released “Getting Fit in Jerusalem.”

An offer he couldn’t refuse

When an Achilles injury put an end to Gilad’s 1980 Olympic dreams, he joined his family in Los Angeles, where they relocated in 1976 before returning to live in Netanya, Israel, years later. Gilad enrolled in film school and worked as a trainer at top fitness studios. One client took him along on a Hawaiian vacation in 1981.

“I did some demo classes at a Honolulu fitness center, and the owner of the club made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says Gilad, who has lived there ever since.

That same year, he appeared as a guest instructor on the popular exercise show hosted by Jack LaLanne, “America’s godfather of fitness.”

Their relationship remained warm through LaLanne’s death in 2011 at the age of 96. “When he turned 80, he came to Hawaii and we did five shows together,” says Gilad.

Much as he respected the man, he wasn’t a LaLanne wannabe. “I forged my own path. In my vision, it was always the Olympic track-and-field athletes who were my inspiration. I’ve been able to carve my own niche with fitness and health even though it’s not competitive.”

Indeed, he has no trouble sharing the spotlight. When ESPN asked him to create a second show in the late 1980s, he developed Basic Training: The Workout, and brought in his sister Ada to host it. Like her older brother, Ada had been a fitness trainer for the Israeli military. Their mother, Ora, became a frequent guest on Bodies in Motion, following a bout with breast cancer in her 50s.

“My mom’s an inspiration — one of those types who won’t sit still, with a very positive attitude. After her chemotherapy, Ada and I worked with her and got her into good enough shape for her to participate in our shows.”

One of Gilad’s other inspirations was Erwin Jaskulski, a Hawaiian resident whom Gilad “coaxed into running in the Senior Olympics.”

“I worked with him for many years and eventually he became the world record-holder in three track-and-field running events for people over 90, then over 95 and then over 100,” he relates. “He died at 103 and is still in the Guinness Book of World Records.”

Israeli chutzpah

His Israeli background, says Gilad, “absolutely contributed to who I am today.

“In Israel, as a general rule everybody thinks outside the box. On top of that, I’ve always pushed myself to excel as best I can. I had more tenacity than knowhow at the beginning, and I can attribute that to some of the things I learned growing up and in the military. I had the chutzpah, the balls, to go out and do something another person might not have done.”

Aside from family and friends, he misses a lot of intangible things about Israel: “The views and nature, the smell of the orange blossoms in the spring, hearing Hebrew all around me all the time — the little things that you can’t define.”

He is hopeful that the Discovery Fit and Health will be available in Israel someday soon. “I’m trying to spend more time in Israel professionally and personally,” he confides.

Can he at least get a decent plate of hummus in Hawaii? “Believe it or not, yes,” he laughs. “We have a little Greek restaurant that makes excellent hummus.”

For more information, see www.gilad.tv.

About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.