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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 14. 1966.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the gym

page 23

How I learned to stop worrying and love the gym

There's a green and yellow building: to the south of Rankine-Brown. From there on any calm, third term morning you can sense that the testing time is at hand. Examination count-down has begun.

The Air is heavy with industry and scholarship. The pained sounds of psychologtcal contortions are almost audible: Backs being forced to the wall, noses to the grindstone, socks to the up, stops to the out.

The time seems ripe for a physical educational sermon on the evergreen "all-work and no-play" text. It seems timely to invite students to find relief from their eleventh hour mental strains in some wholesome and enjoyable physical pursuit. It seems justifiable to point out to them the folly of unrelieved tension.

But then I wonder if I'm being one-eyed about it all. Is there in fact any recorded evidence that all work and no play make Jack any duller than he would have been if he'd done no work either? That line and thought seems complex. I'd better try another.

Abundant evidence

Can I turn to history and literature and find abundant evidence of great minds turning from oppressing study or agonising problems to find new strength and refreshment for their struggle in the delights of physical exertion?

Certainly the ancients seem to have fostered the simultaneous pursuit and physical excellence and learning, but ever since Oedipus came to grief with the psycho-analysis, there has grown a tendency to look warily at classical ideals and ethics.

Today's iconoclast can very quickly reduce the ancient motto of human perfection, "mens sana in corpore sano," to "your body is out of its mind" and this doesn't help my case very much.

What about Shakespeare? He's usually good for a quotation or two. I can vaguely remember one of his kings in his hour of tribulation crying, out for a piece of gymnastic, apparatus ("A horse, a horse ...") That's encouraging. And didn't Ophelia, when Hamlet's exclusive reading habits get on her nerves, turn instinctively to the swimming pool for solace?

Now we're making distinct progress. John Milton obviously knew the frustrations of being a mediocre tennis player ("they also serve who only stand and wait") but eventually he was able, like that outstanding cricketer - poet, Hilaire Belloc ("Do you, remember my innings, Miranda?") to look back with pride upon the highlights of a fine sporting youth ("with Amaryllis in the shade.")


Suddenly it becomes apparent to me that history is teeming with instances of great men finding time for physical recreation even at the climacterics of their lives.

George III, for example, refused to let the American War of Independence interrupt his famous golf series with George Washington. In fact two of the famous games they played. Bunkers Hill and the Boston Tee Party, are now better remembered than, George III.

Napoleon was at all limes a stickier for supreme physical co-ordination in his men, once forcing them to walk all the way to Moscow on their stomachs, and he admitted after his Waterloo that he would never have met it had he, like Wellington, been allowed access to the excellent training facilities of Eton.

Historical figures

It is indeed difficult to think of any of the great historical figures without remembering at once his great athletic prowess, and his close association with one sport or another:

That Greek corporal who invented cross-country and marathon running, especially for soldiers; Achilles who gave us athlete's foot; Icarus who first made Sky Diving spectacular; Homer, who is immortalised through his associations with Softball; Hannibal, through his, with Mountaineering and Squash; Jonah with Deep Sea Fishing; St. Vitus with Dancing; Marco with Polo; Harold with Archery; Henry V. Edward, V. George V etc. with Fives; Drake with Bowls: Ducks and Drakes; Nell Gwyn with the Sport of Kings; Cromwell with Rounders; Lady Godiva with Bare-back Riding; Grace Darling with Rowing; Quasimodo with Steeplechasing: Eiffel with the Tour de France: Lawrence of Arabia with Motor-cycling; Amunsden and Scott with Pole Vaulting; and so on.

I feel encouraged. I have convinced myself that it is perfectly Justifiable to invite students to break away from the high academic pressures of Term III, to adjust the balance of their mental and physical output and to relieve the fatigue and monotony of a concentrated study routine with the exquisite rewards of exercise: "blood, toil, sweat and tears." Now all I have to do is convince the students.

To this day, Wellington's facilities are noteworthy. They include a university gymnasium which is open to students and stall seven days a week throughout the third term.