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PNHL Fitness Guru

By MIKE ZEISBERGER -- SportsXtra

July 14 , 2004 - They used to call Jeff O'Neill the "McDonald's King," a reputation that inferred the young forward had never met a drive-thru he didn't like.

"My attitude was to show up at the rink and figure things would happen from there," the Carolina Hurricanes sniper recalls. "I thought all you had to do was play hockey.

"But Gary Roberts changed everything for me."

From eating habits to workout regimes, Roberts altered O'Neill's life. Gooey Big Macs were replaced by those famous Roberts nutritional shakes, the ones which quickly became the drink of choice among his teammates after games.

Looking back, O'Neill realizes how foolhardy it was to think an NHL career could be constructed on raw skills alone.

"A lot of kids with talent come into this league and a lot of them never make it," he says. "They don't put in the extra time. They don't eat right. They don't work out properly. Roberts taught me all that. He kind of took me under his wing and I owe so much to him."

This spring, Roberts has taken his love of physical fitness to a higher level.

Welcome to Mr. Roberts' Neighbourhood -- the official name, for the record, is Station Seven Reebok -- a recently opened state-of-the-art gymnasium smack dab in the heart of downtown Toronto that caters to one-on-one training.

O'Neill believes in this endeavour. So do fellow NHLers Joe Nieuwendyk, Bryan McCabe, Sean Hill and Alyn McCauley. These are just a handful of NHLers scheduled for summer programs at Station Seven Reebok, which is located adjacent to the indoor walk way between Union Station and the SkyDome.

In teaming up with Lorne Goldenberg, his longtime strength and conditioning coach, Roberts has established an environment where each client can have his or her own individual workout needs addressed.

After all, what works for 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara likely is not the same recipe for success prescribed by the much smaller McCauley.

"My belief is that each player has their own weaknesses and strengths, so why not design a program for that player's weaknesses which make sure he is getting an edge in the summer time," Roberts says.

"A lot of athletes lift weights, but they do it incorrectly. So if pro athletes need guidance lifting weights, so does the average person."

Hence the formation of Station Seven Reebok, where athletes and executives alike are provided the supervision they desire, whether it be while pumping iron, chucking around medicine balls, using the 43-metre running track or finding the right nutritional shake to gulp down.

Just how did Roberts turn into this physical fitness zealot? While he always lifted weights, it was his one-year retirement in 1996 that made him aware of what was best for his health.

"I always worked hard but not with a purpose," he said. "I used to do it just to get it done.

"Then at age 30, coming off two neck surgeries, I took the year during my retirement to learn about fitness. At 30, I felt if I was going to come back, I had to change my lifestyle and do whatever it took."

Now he has many people thinking the same way.

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