Surviving the Phys Ed Requirement

The physical education requirement. Even now, sitting in my room, a 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew in one hand, a half-eaten package of Swiss Rolls in the other, I am still haunted by it.

I thought I had it all figured out this term. Surviving the Dartmouth Experience: a stress management class to fulfill this wretched requirement. Not surprisingly, trying to sign up for Dartmouth’s stress management course was itself a stress-inducing experience. I made the trek to the gym, stood on line, dealt with the crowds, dealt with the claustrophobia caused by the crowds, and finally signed up for my stress management class.

Needless to say, the course was summarily canceled. Not enough student interest. Ah, the ulcerous irony.

Of course, I’m sure mountain climbing had plenty of takers. No doubt aerobic snow shoeing was turning people away.

Dartmouth just loves its physical fitness, doesn’t it? By the end of sophomore summer a student must have completed at least three terms of physical education — so goes the physical education requirement. Why by the end of sophomore summer? Well, if it were by the time you graduate, Dartmouth couldn’t fine you nearly as much, and the administration bestows those $50 fines on students with the vigor and frequency of zealots’ handing out flowers at airports. Without fines the College would probably declare bankruptcy.

I’ve been trying to deal with this odious phys ed requirement since I got here, and I’m well into my junior year now, so fifty-dollar fines are like gravy to me. I hate Phys Ed. Always have. Never been good at it, never had an iota of fun, whether it was getting broadsided by a dodgeball, smacked upside the head by a hockey puck, or vomiting after the two-mile run — for some reason I just never caught on to the fun of it all.

It all started with the swimming test. I had to take it twice. Apparently, you’re not allowed to walk the length of the pool. You’re supposed to swim, because if you ever fall into the Connecticut River, you’d better be able to swim the length of a pool, right? At least you won’t drown right away.

So far I’ve taken a lot of body shop courses. Talk about your life-enhancing experiences. Normally I would just sit at that lower-back machine for 30 minutes I’m still in terrible shape, but my lower back is like steel.

This Mack Daddy Jock Beast mentality has got to stop. It’s fine to be an athlete if you play for a team, and I’ve got nothing against staying in shape, but must we all join in? Must we aspire to rippling, sinewy, striated musculature? Do I need to experience the Tao of Bench Pressing? It’s hard enough trudging through Hoth to get to class everyday; I suppose I should have weights strapped to my ankles, too?

I wasn’t brought up on competition or even much physical activity, and I think my sedentary brothers and sisters and I deserve a break. What does Dartmouth care what kind of shape we’re in? This is just the last vestige of that nearly-dead-but-still-gasping-one-last-stinking-breath “Perfect Dartmouth Man” ideal. Sound mind, sound body goes the quaint litany — well, if the College on the hill is so very concerned about my physical health and yours, then why don’t they apply some of this mothering to their meal plan? Why not proscribe chicken tenders? A daily diet of chicken tenders for four years in Hanover has got to be at least as harmful as not taking tennis classes for three of out your first six terms.

But perhaps the College somehow realizes that what foods we eat, healthy or otherwise, isn’t their business. The College doesn’t force every student who has an emotional breakdown to seek therapy at Dick’s House, but it’s an available option if you want it. Why can’t physical activities take on the same status?

And what’s with this draconian absence policy? Missing a few classes isn’t automatic failure in philosophy or physics, but I guess those classes just can’t match the social gravity of tai chi stunt skiing.

Let the ruggers and the rowers and the log-rolling bungee-jumpers and whoever else work out and pump up ’til their diaphragms implode — I wish them nothing but the best. But can the rest of us be spared the pain? At least we could fulfill the requirement in ways that would be relevant to our lives. Instead of swimming in a pool, how about playing pool? The last-minute paper Kiewit sprint? Or a new class — surviving the chicken tenders experience?

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