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Chelios Workout Regimen

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Chelios cheats Father Time

Red Wing's extreme training rolls back the years

John Niyo | The Detroit News

At 45 Chris Chelios show no signs of slowing

Chelios' days start at 5:45 a.m. with a training routine that made former teammate Mathieu Schneider vomit on his first attempt. Chelios then lifts weights and bikes before lunch.

MALIBU, Calif. -- You arrive in this idyllic setting hoping to find the fountain of youth. Paradise Cove, they call it, and the view from Chris Chelios' beachfront property certainly doesn't argue.

But if you're expecting to see Chelios, the second-oldest active player in major U.S. professional sports, sipping from some restorative spring, you're bound to be disappointed.

"Water?" the Wings' 45-year-old defenseman asks, his lips curling into that familiar sneer. "Nah, that's not how we do it."

And with that, he's off, dodging traffic as he crosses the Pacific Coast Highway on his mountain bike, headed for the coastal sage scrub of Escondido Canyon on the aptly-named Winding Way Trail.

He is flanked by his son, Dean, who celebrated his 18th birthday the night before, and a motley crew of multimillionaires: Laird Hamilton, the world's most famous big-wave surfer; Bill Romanowski, the former NFL star with four Super Bowl rings; and Don Wildman, the 74-year-old founder of Bally Total Fitness.

For the next 90 minutes, they will push and pedal and perspire -- no water bottle for Chelios, as promised -- in the southern California sun.

Up they climb for more than an hour, churning through a mostly dirt track of switchbacks and swanky hillside estates, sending lizards scurrying and even spooking a deer that goes bounding over a ridge. By the time they reach the top, legs are burning with lactic acid.

"Way to go!" Wildman yells, as Romanowski strains up one final, dusty incline and joins the group under a lonely shade tree. "That's a grind all the way, isn't it? No relief on that ride."

No rest for the weary, either. A few minutes later, the bikers are headed back the way they came, hurtling down the hills toward the ocean. And breakfast.

For Chelios, another day in paradise has only just begun.

Finding an edge

He places his order -- an egg-white omelet with chicken and spinach, a side of bacon and dry wheat toast -- then tries to explain his recipe for success. You don't survive 23 NHL seasons, more than 1,500 regular-season games and a record 22 Stanley Cup playoffs without learning a trick or two.

The first, and most important, he says, was a chance meeting in the early 1990s with T.R. Goodman, who would quickly become his training guru.

Goodman tailors a sport-specific workout for the summer, but it's the circuit training -- a nonstop, 60-minute succession of exercises that Chelios swears by and others swear at. (The first time ex-teammate Mathieu Schneider tried it, he vomited.) Even in his mid-40s, Chelios still powers through it like "a machine," Goodman says, adding, "It's his competitiveness: That's the reason he's still willing to do the work that you have to do to sustain yourself."

Especially now that it's so crowded at the Gold's Gym in Venice, Calif., where Goodman's Pro Sports Camp has collected more than 20 NHL clients, including the Wings' Dan Cleary and Jiri Hudler.

"Even as other guys caught on, it wasn't a big deal, because I was still in my 30s," said Chelios, who last month signed another contract extension -- his sixth since joining the Wings via trade in 1999. "Then it got to the point where guys 20 years younger than me were using the same techniques, and I really didn't feel I had an advantage anymore. But that's when I met Don and Laird."

And finally, he'd met his match.

"I don't know anything about hockey," admitted Hamilton, who, along with his wife -- ex-model and pro volleyball star Gabrielle Reece -- and 3-year-old daughter, splits his time between Malibu and Hawaii, where he made his name defying death in the waters off Maui's north shore.

"But with me, my first impression is usually instinctual. You either like 'em or you don't. You can smell it. It's like, why does a dog bark at one person and lick somebody else?"

Hamilton's alpha-male personality quickly accepted Chelios into the pack.

"I just like guys that work hard," said Hamilton. "There's no secret: You just do the work. And there's a certain humility with people like that. That's one of the things I like about Chris: He's a humble guy and he's super-cool. He's comfortable."

The 'Malibu Mob'

He's also a contemporary. At 45, Chelios is twice the age of his youngest teammates in Detroit. But here, he's just one of the boys. Hamilton is 43. Romanowski is 41. Another regular in the "Malibu Mob" is former tennis bad boy John McEnroe, 48. And then, of course, there's Wildman, a veteran of nine Ironman triathlons who's now seated across the table at Coogie's Beach Grill, digging into a bowl of fruit.

"There's maybe 5 percent of the guys in the world his age that are doing the things he's doing," said Chelios, shaking his head. "Probably not even that."

Age is not a number with this group. It's an afterthought, sort of like their celebrity status in Malibu, where nearly everyone is rich or famous -- or both. (Today's breakfast is interrupted briefly as former NBA star Reggie Miller stops by the table on his way out with the morning paper.)

"How old a guy is? We're not limited by things like that -- we don't stereotype," said Hamilton, who last fall pedaled his bike from London to Paris -- crossing the English Channel on a surfboard along the way -- to raise awareness about autism. "My favorite motto is victory through attrition. If you're the last guy standing, you win."

He sits upright and raises his hand in mock victory, saluting an imaginary crowd. It's a pose that reminds one of Chelios back in 2002, taunting the fans in Vancouver with a victory lap en route to Detroit's last Stanley Cup.

"I don't know about like-minded," Chelios said. "What I did is I found some extreme guys and I mixed a little of their mentality with mine. I mean, they go flying down the hill. I don't. Because there's an element of real danger with what these guys do."

Chelios has seen the footage of some of Hamilton's notorious stunts, including conquering the Teahupo'o break in Tahiti back in 2000 -- a feat that cemented his legend in surfing. But more to the point, Chelios also has seen his neighbors torture more than a few weekend warriors over the years.

"Every once in a while, guys will show up and just want to train with them," Chelios said, laughing. "And they'll take 'em and just bury them, then come down here to breakfast and have a good laugh about it ... They really get a kick out of that."

'Almost obsessive'

So does Chelios' wife, Tracee, as she sits on a lounge chair, watching her husband of 20 years wrestle with their two boys, Dean and Jake, 16, in the water. Nearby, Hamilton is busy schooling the Chelios girls, Kaley, 14, and Tara, 12, on the finer points of longboard surfing.

"All these guys are a little on the nutty side," Tracee said, nodding. "They're all a little crazy -- almost obsessive about it. I mean, working out is like a 9-to-5 job for Chris."

Actually, the workday starts quite a bit earlier than that. Next week, Chelios begins gearing up for the Wings' mid-September training camp, "and I'll take 3-4 weeks and go at it really hard, like a boxer training for a fight."

Trouble is, he can't train like he used to. Not after all that wear and tear on his joints, particularly the left knee that underwent reconstructive surgery in 2000. So there's less impact and more strength work involved.

But it's the same 5:45 a.m. start to his day for circuit training in Venice, then back home for weightlifting in his own gym, followed by the mountain biking. Then, after lunch, he'll jump in the Pacific with his surfboard.

"It's all about trying to keep it interesting," Hamilton said, "and keeping you inspired."

Hamilton's latest inspiration is the reincarnation of a centuries-old Hawaiian tradition: paddle surfing. Using an oversized board and a long, outrigger paddle, Chelios joins Hamilton and Wildman for three- and four-hour excursions.

The stand-up paddling style allows them the luxury of catching waves farther from shore, well before the other surfers even get on their feet. And watching the serene but strenuous balancing act from shore, it doesn't take an exercise physiologist to understand the core-strengthening benefits for a hockey player like Chelios, though when asked about it later, he insisted, "It's not better, it's different."

Which makes it better, of course, in a roundabout way.

"It sure as hell beats sitting on a stationary bike," Chelios said. "I've found a way to train and have fun."

He's keeping track

A casual conversation turns on a question from out of left field.

"Hey, is Julio Franco still playing for the Mets?" Chelios asked.

When told that New York had waived the 48-year-old first baseman a couple days earlier, Chelios finishes his thought, "I think that makes me the oldest now."

He was right, of course: With Franco gone (although he would later sign with Atlanta), Chelios became the elder statesman of the four major professional sports leagues -- Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA and NHL. But you get the feeling he already knew the answer. So maybe the age does matter?

"I hear that every day now -- I've got guys in Detroit and all around the league telling me, 'Keep it up. You're a real inspiration for me, still playing at 45,' " said Chelios, whose NHL Players Association duties also are keeping him busy this summer, shuttling back and forth to Toronto for meetings.

"But you know what?" he added, nodding in Wildman's direction. "I wake up every morning and have a guy who's 74 tearing me up like he does. So that's my inspiration."

There's this, too: His eldest son is headed to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this fall to play Tier I junior hockey in the hopes of landing a college scholarship. And to get ready, Dean -- a 6-1, 170-pound forward -- is training alongside his father this summer.

"He's got to start training a lot harder than he's used to," Chris said. "So that's part of my motivation, too, to try to show my kids the work ethic you have to have."

When will it all end?

"You'd think he'd have gotten sick of it by now, but he doesn't," Tracee said. "Every season is like his first."

Asked if she sees the last on the horizon, Tracee laughed. Might he still be playing at age 50?

"Nothing would surprise me," she said. "If you would've told me 20 years ago he'd still be playing now, I would've said you were crazy. But it's not even an issue anymore. He'll come back and say, 'I signed today,' and I'll be like, 'OK, that's great.'

"It's funny, I always thought I'd get all this help with the kids when he retired. Now I just tell him, 'You might as well keep playing, because I don't need any help now. The kids are all grown up.' "

She laughed again. Her kids have already come back to shore. And it's the grown-ups -- Chris and Laird -- who are still out in the water, splashing away in the fountain of youth.

You can reach John Niyo at john. niyo@detnews.com.

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