YMCA Branch Name

For Youth Development
For Healthy Living
For Social Development

“Good morning Bright Spirit” a lively gentleman says as he walks into the Y in his trademark brown trench coat. At 94 years old, John Cochran stands a little over five feet tall and always has a smile on his face. His gentle presence has a calming effect, even in the chaos of the front desk.

This is John Cochran, one of our most loyal gym members. Born in Saint Joseph Missouri in 1920, John has lived what many would call a vigorous life. At a young age he developed a love for physical activity. Growing up during the Great Depression meant that high school sports were out,

so he took a job with the local newspaper company delivering papers to help support the family.  John remembers walking three miles to school in the mornings then seven miles every day hauling the papers around town before returning home. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, John was out walking. This became a lifetime pleasure for him. “Anytime I could get away to the mountains or the woods” John remembers, “I would hike”.

In high school, he learned the importance of sit ups to build a strong waist line. This paid off after he entered military service, when he was able to win a competition for the most sit ups in one minute. John completed 72 in less than 60 seconds, an incredible feat for anyone!

In 1941, John married the love of his life Averil (the couple will celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary this year). Without a gym to go attend, he began working out at home doing sit ups, pull ups, walking and hiking. “I remember one time I saw a professional athlete of some kind on the television” John recalls, “and he said he didn’t work out in the traditional sense, only with isometric exercises. I still marvel at how strong that fellow was.” That interview sparked him to take up isometric exercises that anyone can do anywhere, and has helped him maintain his strength throughout the years.

When John reached his 40’s he took up jogging. Within a few months he was up to jogging nine miles three times a week. “I wanted to show [people] that just because you turn forty; it doesn’t mean you’re over the hill”.  Throughout the 1960’s John was the director of the College Speech and Hearing Clinic in New Mexico. John has many fond memories of his time in New Mexico. “I was at a faculty and student picnic one time and three of my students challenged me to a long jump”, John says with a smile. “I ended up beating all three with a jump of 8 feet 4 inches, which I’m told is substantial”.

In the 1970’s John moved to Kearney to take over the Speech and Communication department at UNK. One of John’s greatest achievements came during his first year when he was able to secure a half million dollar grant for the school to develop a Master’s program.  John retired from teaching in 1986. UNK still honors John with the Dr. John Cochran scholarship for students majoring in Communication Disorders or Speech Pathology.

In 1995, at the age of 75, John climbed Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico. Standing at 13,160 feet, the trek was 12 miles long. The party left the base at 6am and did not return until 6pm.  “The next day there was no unusual soreness or fatigue, so I thought it was okay” says John with a laugh.

Today John lives in Kearney and works out three to four times a week at the Y. He does 2 sets of 30 inclined sit ups, and ten sets of four pull ups. “The trainers here are impressed by the number of pull ups I can do. They say that there are lots of kids here that can’t do half as many”. John gave up running and walking a few years ago due to time constraints, and instead bicycles for 10 to 20 minutes. “I would like to go longer on the bicycle, but then I wouldn’t have time for my other exercises. It’s got to be a compromise.”

“I made a lifelong commitment to be able to do physical things a long time ago” John says quietly.  “Exercise releases endorphins which are natural pain killers and make you feel better. The emotions we carry directly affect how our body works, how our metabolism functions, our heart health, even how our stomachs feel. It’s important to forgive people quickly, maintain a good outlook on life, and have a good sense of humor. When I feel hurt or resentment, I ask Jesus to guide my life and oversee my emotions. It has helped me tremendously.”

“I have been blessed with a runaway sense of humor” John says with a chuckle. “I enjoy family jokes, the kind of humor I could share with my grandchildren.  Humor releases endorphins as well, so it’s important to laugh every day. I also break into song all the time. It lifts my spirits. Of course my wife can’t sing so much anymore, but I want to keep a happy and healthy environment for her. I want her to feel the love and respect she deserves and that she has always had”. At home John mostly sings country western, hymns, humorous songs, and of course some Beatles. John’s favorite is “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine”.

“Eating right is so important! We said a long time ago, no sweets in the house! We substitute other satisfactions.” John’s favorite food is a salad that created with chicken breast, mandarin oranges, pecans and peach yogurt. “It’s quite good” John says with a smile.

"I try to encourage everyone here at the Y. It's so important to keep a positive outlook and attitude. I have made a number of good friends here at the Y. It's a great place to meet people. When I meet people that need a little encouragement, I tell them, 'remember friend as you go through life, though dismal through your view, even the mighty oak tree was once a nut like you!'" John says with a laugh.

A mountain climber, a marathon runner an academic, a soldier, a father, a husband, and an inspiration. John has lived a vigorous life indeed! 

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