The Colgate Scene
September 2001

Jumping for joy!

Jack Kupferman '77 changed his life in one minute and 45 seconds. That's what it took to win the National Aerobics Championship in the master men's division -- that and countless hours, years even, of constant training.

"I was having years from hell," says Kupferman today as he looks back to not so long ago. The worst blow was the death of his one-year-old nephew Jonathan.

"You name it, they died on me." In addition to personal losses, including his partner, Jack's career felt stagnated and his health -- exacerbated by a lifetime of inactivity -- was not good. "I was diagnosed with lots of stuff. I knew I needed to conquer or be vanquished."

So at age 42 Kupferman turned to sports aerobics, the frenetic fitness activity that combines gymnastics and choreography, which the self-described "couch potato" had seen on television and thought was cool. He hoped there might be healing, even restorative powers, in the exertion.

"My goal was not to embarrass myself. I had never done anything athletic in my life. In my life! No intramurals, nothing."

Kupferman headed for the New York Sports Club. Under the tutelage of trainer and aerobics champ Ken Berkeley, he began weight training and, after three months, gymnastics work.

Determined, Kupferman eventually joined Berkeley's Extreme Air, an aerobics team made up of competitors in their 20s and 30s. Quickly dubbed "Papa Jack," the elder team member nonetheless pushed hard, usually working out every night from 5:30 until after 11.

"I couldn't even do a push-up at first. I couldn't do a push-up . . . I was doing girlie push-ups," says Kupferman, who gradually gained strength but more importantly was accepted by Extreme Air and even became something of an inspiration for the team. "If Papa Jack is doing it, I can do it," was the rallying cry.

"I don't have the talent, skill or grace but from where I was to where I am, that's finally more amazing."

Training took the place of relationships in Kupferman's life and he grieved in his own sweaty way. The gym became the place where he could lose his frustrations and find a focus. After a year he entered his first competition -- ever -- and won a regional gold medal in Chicago. Even though the men's masters wasn't a taxing bracket that year, Kupferman realized in winning, his pain was subsiding, and he set a new goal for his second year. Rebuild.

First, though, the regional win had qualified Kupferman for the nationals where he finished . . . last.

"Okay, fine. Time to move forward." Kupferman did. A year later he again won the regionals and went to the nationals. He finished fourth.

"I was thrilled. I was healed and rebuilt and totally satisfied coming in fourth because the other men were amazing."

Kupferman was at a crossroads. His rehabilitation had been expensive and he knew he had to get his life back ("When you're training, there is no other life") but the competition had gotten into his blood.

This year, which he decided would be his last, Kupferman won at regionals for the third time and advanced to the nationals in April on Miami's South Beach.

"The difference between me and everyone else is that I had a bigger reason." And there it was, over the course of 105 seconds of nonstop aerobic activity with 10 gymnastic elements and demonstrations of strength, Kupferman performed, and in his performance was the distance traveled. "From misery to medalist," is how he puts it.

"The gold medal is the confidence builder I needed to move my career," says Kupferman, who was further encouraged by classmate Carole Kahrs, who has been among his biggest cheerleaders during the entire saga.

"If you can do this, with absolutely no background, imagine what your career will be like when you focus on what you know best."

An attorney working for the New York City department for the aging, Kupferman wants to start an elder care business. He has had a lifelong concern for the elderly, beginning as a child when his parents ran a rest home, continuing as a member of the Washington study group, where he found internships that were elderly related, to his career, which to this point has dealt with geriatric issues.

There is trepidation associated with the new venture and all the accompanying fresh ideas, but Kupferman is excited, too. And confident.

"It has been a lot of work. Why aerobics was the vehicle, I don't know, but it is time to move on, to address all the issues I wasn't addressing when I was training -- relationships, career, financial security."

Jack Kupferman is on the move, a champion carrying on.

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