YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Guest Workout

Tennis, Camping and Golf With Bill


We caught up with Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala while she was in town visiting the set of the CBS medical drama "Chicago Hope"--a real morning workout.

"I'm a natural Californian," said Shalala, 55. "For example, I don't like indoor tennis even though I'm a very good tennis player. I do try to do something outdoors every day."

Question: What's this I hear about you climbing mountains?

A: My friend the budget director, Alice Rivlin, and I used to go to the Himalayas every summer or the Andes. We usually took two or three weeks, but we haven't been able to get away. It's hard to do when you travel with security and all these things. Alice and I once traversed the Himalayas and spent almost a month out in the mountains.

Q: You took a guide, I hope?

A: Oh yeah, we take the whole village with us and they do all the work. They carry the packs and the food and set up the tents. Alice calls it "boutique camping" because I like to take a cook. I don't like to cook on the trail.

Q: When you're at sea level, what do you eat for breakfast?

A: I do California blends. I throw every piece of fruit that I possibly can into a blender. So smoothies are my favorites. I also eat Raisin Bran and bananas, and coffee and juice for breakfast. Lunch is normally a salad or soup. I don't eat a lot of meat, but when I do it's got to be in a very good restaurant. And I'm Lebanese so I like Middle Eastern food. I love Iranian food and Afghani food. I adore rice of any kind. And dinner I have absolutely no control over.

Q: Because of your work?

A: Because I'm usually out at a dinner. I eat out four or five times a week and that's a lot of eating out. I've gained 15 pounds just from eating out. I think about it a lot. Like most women executives, I'd like to lose a lot more weight.

Q: What's your position on water?

A: I drink an enormous amount of water--10 glasses a day. I've been drinking a lot more water in the last few months. I think I'm just being very conscious of the fact that I'm going to be traveling a lot and I'm going to have to keep my eye on my weight.

Q: It must feel like a luxury to eat at home.

A: It's a huge luxury.

Q: What would you cook for yourself on one of those rare evenings?

A: Tabbouleh and rice and lamb. Or rice and beans or lentils and Arabic breads.

Q: Are you a dessert person?

A: No. Not at all. I love popcorn. We make popcorn in the office at the end of the day, which is fun.

Q: Are you careful about your salt intake?

A: I'm pretty careful about salt in my food, and I'm also very careful about butter and cream products, extremely careful about fats.

Q: You said you exercise outdoors every day. No matter what the weather?

A: During [last winter's] snowstorm in Washington, I took my cross-country skis out and I picked up and delivered newspapers in the neighborhood.

Every morning I walk Bucky for about 30 to 40 minutes--I usually have earphones on because I'm listening to the news. The truth is, I let the dog walk me. My whole life was people telling me where to go and I thought, "Why does my dog need a handler? She pretty much knows where she wants to walk."

Q: And where does Bucky take you?

A: All over Georgetown or we go down to the river, to the Potomac. Sometimes on Sunday, Alice and I will take an hour-and-a-half walk on the C&O Canal and then go have coffee, and on one occasion we took [Atty. Gen.] Janet Reno with us.

Q: Does Bucky like the company?

A: Actually she's very political. She's much more interested in people than she is in other dogs. And she thought Janet was the cat's meow.

Q: When do you manage to play tennis?

A: I try to play tennis or golf on the weekends. With the campaign coming up, I'll probably play more tennis than golf. I take my racket with me wherever I go. I belong to a club, so at least once a week I'll play against the pro for half an hour just to keep my game tuned, just to go out and hit hard.

Q: You don't care for golf as much?

A: So much of it is cart golf now, and I really prefer to walk. Whenever I can I toss the bag into the cart and then just walk. That's very good exercise. I like golf because it's more social but I don't consider myself very good at golf.

Q: And isn't it a chance to get away from everybody?

A: Oh yeah. [But] you know, if you play with the president, they're all over you.

Q: Do you play with the president?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you talk about that?

A: Not very often.

Q: [Silence.]

A: Well, he always wins. He's a very good golfer and very knowledgeable about sports. You know, before a Cabinet meeting, he'll come up to me and say, "Boy, you know that ninth hole at the Army-Navy course? I hit a ball 210 yards, got to the green. . . ." I mean, you know, everybody thinks we're discussing the East-West conflict or something.

Q: Anything funny about playing golf with the president?

A: No. Actually nothing funny happened.

Q: Anything not so funny?

A: It rained once.

Q: And you stayed outside anyway?

A: Yeah, you stick with it because he'll play golf in any weather, under any conditions. You don't have enough nerve to say, "Let's get out of the rain."

I once played in a tournament in which my team beat his team, and he's still complaining about it because he was playing with Arnold Palmer and he should have beaten us.

Q: But that's good.

A: Yes. Absolutely. Puts him in his place. You know, it's fun to have a president that's a regular person who likes sports and being outdoors and doesn't have to talk business all the time.

Guest Workout runs every other Wednesday in Life & Style.

Los Angeles Times Articles