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Monday, February 16, 2009

The Presidential Fitness Test

This morning I was reading about the Presidential Fitness Test on Runners World.  Oh, but do I remember the PFT.  For the record, I don't remember it past moving to the Annapolis/Anne Arundel area in 1986, so the earliest mile that I recall being forced to run was fourth grade.  The Presidential Fitness Test was the absolute worst thing about PE in elementary school, and the mile was by far the worst of it all.  I was a dancer, not a runner.  I had little to no experience running, and my PE teacher did absolutely NOTHING to get me even remotely interested in anything having to do with sports.

I think the real problem was that we didn't have gym clothes in elementary school.  I mostly wore a lot of hand me downs from my sisters (until around the end of the fifth grade when I was pretty much fatter than my sisters ever were, and I couldn't fit into their clothes anymore).  Anyway, I ran the mile twice, fourth and fifth grade, and in my memory now I can't distinguish between the two.  I am certain, though, that for at least one of those miles I was wearing corduroy pants and a sweater/turtleneck combo.  OMG!  If someone had me run in that these days, even if it was just a mile, I would slap them silly. I just remember being uncomfortable, and wishing I'd remembered the fitness test so I'd have been able to wear something different (although what, I don't know, I didn't exactly have breath thermo available).  I doubt I was even wearing running shoes (did I own running shoes?).

I remember it being morning and winter and it was cold.  I wasn't used to really strenuous activity and my lungs felt like they were burning from the chilly air.  Both years, there were other kids who were fatter than me or more out of shape, one each year.  My goal for the mile run was to finish before they did, so I wouldn't be last.  I think fourth grade I was second to last and fifth grade I was third to last (hooray!  Improvement!).  

We didn't have a track at my elementary school (hell, we barely had enough classrooms).  So, we had to do four laps around the playground.  Fifth grade, I decided to try skipping instead of running.  I looked stupid, but I thought it would be more fun.  It was actually inefficient, and not particularly successful, but I've been known to skip now and then during runs these days just to be nostalgic (very rarely, I might add, before anyone starts fearing running with me).  I watched in awe of the girls who could seriously run - 8 minute miles and better.  I had no idea how they accomplished it, except that it seemed so easy for them.  My time?  I don't know exactly, but I'm fairly certain that I tended to run 14-minute miles in elementary school, and that was my top speed.  At least now I'm up to 10 minutes flat.  Would I like to run an 8 minute mile?  You bet.

Once I had run that horrible mile, there was the rest of the test.  Sit ups - I think I actually did ok at sit ups, as dancing did help out with that one.  Pull ups - zero.  I still, after all of this time, cannot do a pull up.  It's a goal, but not a very big one.  Sit and reach - where I learned that I have tight hamstrings, and I must admit that now that I run so much, my hamstrings are even tighter than ever.

Basically, what I learned from this stupid test, was that I was not fit.  I didn't know how to BE fit, and I don't even think I was ever really encouraged to do anything to get off my ass.  Sure, I rode bikes a lot with my friends, but that essentially counted for nothing in this stupid fitness test.  I learned to dread it, and to hate PE so much that I didn't take it at all in the three years of middle school, because I didn't have to.  What did I take?  French and chorus.  Chorus has not proven to be particularly useful as an adult, so perhaps I pretty much wasted that time.

In high school, I was forced to take a semester of PE in order to graduate.  It was a general fitness class, and once again I was forced to take the stupid Presidential Fitness Test.  This time, I had a gym teacher who was more motivating (I still remember him singing "Do the workouts and the warm ups, if you don't you're gonna fail!"), and he used to tell me he was proud of me if I ran even a short distance.  By this time, though, the damage had been done and it was going to take a whole lot of years of weight struggles to get me motivated to hit a track again.  I don't remember my mile time in high school, and I might actually have the 14 minute time mixed up, but regardless, 14 minutes is the only time I can recall before 2005 for me running a mile.

I did take a fitness class in college, and I know we ran, but I think that I mostly walked those laps (Mary or Jess might remember, as they were in my class).  I think I can safely say that I didn't truly run a mile again until 2005.

What do I think of all of this?  I think it's shameful.  Certainly my elementary school PE teacher could have found a way to reach out to us fatties.  I don't think anyone really cared.  I guess if I could go back, I'd make myself try harder.  I'd start out slow, I'd dress myself in workout-appropriate attire.  At least I found it eventually, but I never seem to go very long in my running without wondering how things would be different if I'd gotten an earlier start.


Wacky Neighbor said...

As a fellow hopeless failure of the Presidential Fitness tests (as many times as I took it, which I assume would be somewhere around 6 times), I share your absolute disdain for it. It was a good idea that, like so many good ideas, was a miserable disaster.

The point of something like that should be to get kids to be fit and develop habits that will keep them healthy (if, that is, the President should have anything to do with that, anyways). But what it really was was a way of showing you who all the naturally athletic kids were and reinforcing that everyone else (like me) sucked. There was never any practice for these sorts of things (other than the occasional jog) and by middle school it mostly felt like some combination of torture and harassment. Usually I got killed in the mile time (which was always awful and usually run in the fall and during the height of asthma season, and yes, I'm a nerd).

It shouldn't have been some goofy low standard, but if it had been geared towards improvement, good exercise habits, and nutrition, it seems like it would have been way better.

Nick said...

And you have Jack Kennedy to blame for the Presidential Fitness Test.

Wacky Neighbor said...

I don't necessarily blame the idea, but the way it was done was horrible. It would be like having a national math test except that most of your math classes during the year had to do with playing Yahtzee.

landlord210 said...

Why did you have to remind me of that awful pe crap? There are just some of us that could never do well in pe. The program sucked and the teachers didn't really care. We were always told to "try harder" but were never guided in the proper direction to improve anything. I was always last running the mile and everything else on that stupid fitness test. I'm glad they don't do it anymore. Did you have to do the rope climb? We had to climb a rope to the top of the auditorium ceiling while the rest of the class either cheered you on, or laughed at you. Talk about humiliating. I like to think that pe has improved in quality since the seventies.

Kim said...

For the record, all of this is why I choose to support Girls on the Run - Website - which encourages girls to get out and run and trains them to feel better about themselves, ditching stupid stereotypes. I wish I'd had a program like that when I was a teenager.

Landlord, I hear you. I don't think I had to climb the rope except when I was in PG county (3rd grade and earlier), and I remember everyone sucking, so it didn't matter. PG County was so different from AA County. I'd be a different person now if we'd never moved.

Lyss said...

I actually remember my PE teacher making fun of me. One occasion was during my first-ever attempt at softball. I believe she said she had never seen someone swing a bat slower. I hated her. Totally on-board with your sentiments here.

Wacky Neighbor said...

Absolutely the worst experience I ever had in gym was in middle school. We were running the mile, I was sucking with a modest asthma attack, and my gym teacher in front of everyone told me to quit running. Humiliating. I definitely thought about him as I was wrapping up the half marathon and beating my time goal.

I heard that a few years later he got hit in the face with a discus. I suppose that shouldn't be funny.

Kim said...

To be fair, I never disliked any of my gym teachers. I think that my elementary school teacher could have cared less about me, but he wasn't mean. My high school teacher was an OK guy, and I was grateful that he let me do very little at that point.

As far as embarrassing moments, my mile run was always the worst and I don't have any that really stick out in my mind besides that one. Of course, I had some embarrassing moments on the playground, though. I was not a fan of dodgeball and I do NOT understand peoples obsession with it. SOMEONE IS TRYING TO HIT YOU WITH A BALL! WHY would I want to play a game like that???? It was just an excuse for mean kids to pick on me.

You know what's a great playground game? Jump rope. That burns a TON of calories.

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