Doug Moe: He jumps at chances to promote equipment

2012-04-06T06:30:00Z 2012-05-23T17:48:53Z Doug Moe: He jumps at chances to promote equipmentDOUG MOE | Wisconsin State Journal | dmoe@madison.com | 608-252-6446 madison.com

Nobody should be surprised that CBS News has decided to profile Madison fitness entrepreneur Bobby Hinds some 36 years after the network profiled him the first time.

The most recent piece is scheduled to air at 5:30 p.m. Friday on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley."

Things like that just seem to happen to Hinds, 80, whose constant brio and colorful life story have made him a favorite of writers and producers, myself included, for decades. (A point of disclosure: I've been working with Hinds on his autobiography.)

My favorite Hinds story, which is as hard as choosing my favorite cheeseburger, is probably one from 1998, when Hinds was in the show business bar Sardi's in New York City and found himself overcome by a desire to demonstrate his Lifeline portable gym, which uses lightweight rubber cables in place of heavy weights and dumbbells.

This, too, was not surprising. Birds fly, fish swim and Bobby Hinds demonstrates his exercise equipment. That Hinds was jumping rope in Chicago's O'Hare Airport between planes one day in 1976 is directly responsible for his appearance this evening on the CBS Evening News. More on that momentarily.

At Sardi's, after Hinds demonstrated his gym, he was approached by a well-dressed middle-aged man who said, "You could use one of those in a small space, couldn't you?"

"Sure you could," Hinds said.

The man handed Hinds $50 along with a card that included a name and address. "Please send one to my friend."

When Hinds got back to his hotel, he looked more closely at the card. The name was John Gotti — then America's most notorious mobster — and the address a federal prison in Illinois.

Naturally, Hinds sent the gym. When it was returned without explanation, Hinds wrote Gotti a letter. The Dapper Don, as Gotti was called, responded with a handwritten note, and the two began a correspondence that included Gotti sending Hinds several hand-drawn sketches.

Hinds, a Kenosha native and celebrated Badger boxer, started his jump rope company, Lifeline, in Madison in 1973, after years in the insurance business. (If he couldn't trademark the Lifeline name, Bobby was going to call the company Jump for Joy, after his wife, to whom he's now been married more than half a century.)

"We did everything wrong," Hinds has said about the jump rope company, and yet he was such a gifted promoter that Lifeline's lack of something so basic as a business plan to did not sink the ship.

In 1976, coming home from a trade show in Washington, D.C., Hinds changed planes in Chicago and with some time on his hands, began jumping rope in the O'Hare terminal. As invariably happened, a crowd gathered.

Out of the corner of his eye, Hinds — who had already talked himself onto Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show — spotted Charles Kuralt, the shambling CBS correspondent famous for his "On the Road" pieces on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Bobby jumped over.

"What are you doing?" Kuralt said.

"I'm making jump ropes in my backyard," Hinds replied, "and they're selling like mad. I can't make them fast enough." The next day, Kuralt was in Madison.

"It sounded just crazy enough for him to grab onto," Hinds recalled this week.

Kuralt and his crew spent a few days in Madison and the resulting piece, which showcased Hinds jumping rope while a ragtag band of friends and employees assembled them in the Hinds backyard on Regent Street, appeared on the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite."

Last fall, CBS News handed the "On the Road" franchise to correspondent Steve Hartman, who has included a few updates of Kuralt's subjects among his pieces.

Hartman told me this week that they made a lot of phone calls trying to find subjects who were simply still alive.

"We never expected to find anybody as alive as Bobby Hinds," Hartman said. "He's a life force."

For the piece that airs this evening, Hinds talked about the evolution of Lifeline, which now includes a wide variety of products, including one set to launch in September that he dubs "a revolutionary new fitness system."

This week, Hinds said his immediate plans include taking a few of the new products on the road. Once a promoter, he said, always a promoter. America, you've been warned.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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