Good news, everyone! The moment you’ve been waiting for—and feared would never happen—has FINALLY arrived…The chance to relive those cherished memories from junior high gym class (“middle school” for you damn twenty-somethings)…Yes, you guessed it…All adults are now able to…take…the…PRESIDENTIAL FITNESS TEST!!! I know, I know. Don’t be embarrassed. I cried too when I first found out.
Man, I’m not sure which I’m looking forward to more—the shuttle run or the flexed-arm hang. Each was such a rich source of pleasure (and by “pleasure” I mean “pain”) during those awkward pre-teen years. I can still recall praying that I would somehow spontaneously break my ankle so I wouldn’t have to run back and forth across the gym, bending down to touch the lines, wondering if I should be MORE embarrassed that the boys could see down my shirt each time I bent down or that I came in near last, beating only a couple poor souls who had the misfortune of being even more uncoordinated than I.
Sit-ups (called “curl-ups” now) weren’t quite so bad. You didn’t need much coordination or arm strength, which was a plus for me. And we took turns with a partner, which meant that really only ONE person was watching us when we “performed” instead of a whole gaggle of gawking, hormonal adolescents who somehow always got away with making catcalls or making fun.( I swear, P.E. teachers are all secretly sadistic at heart!)
Today kids do the Sit and Reach, where they have to sit and try to reach past their toes or something to that effect. I don’t remember having to prove my fitness in this event. I think instead we had to do something called the flattering name of “burpees.” A cross between a toe-touch and a push-up. Another activity where you had to worry about your shirt flying up and your boobs (or lack thereof) being exposed to the world. Or at least your 6th period class.
Next came running the mile. Oh how I hated this. How I nearly sacrificed my firstborn to the rain gods to get out of this event. How I remember wishing for death when I realized I had only reached the quarter-mile mark and was already gasping for breath. Testing students on their ability to run one mile is asinine if you ask me. It’s not a test of physical fitness. No—or at the most, extremely few—7th graders have been training for the next decathalon. Either you’ve got the running genes in you, or you don’t. Either you were built to run, or you were built to loathe running (and runners too, for that matter). Me? Well, I’m pretty sure you can fetch a good guess…
Finally, it was my turn to really shine, my turn to really show off those arm muscles…uh, yeah…Pull-ups and the flexed arm hang. Or as I like to refer to them: The Ultimate Humiliation. “Class, gather ’round. C’mon, c’mon, get closer. You short ones, come to the front. I want to make sure everyone can see.” Every judgmental eye was on me as I reached up and grabbed that cold metal bar. Okay, deep breath. You can do it. And….pull! Pull! Pull! But, alas, it was not meant to be. My puny arm muscles gave their best effort but merely buckled under the pressure. Pull-ups: The Big Zero. Pretty sure that wasn’t getting me a stinkin’ Presidential medal.
Oh, but wait! We still have the flexed-arm hang! There’s still hope! I pictured how proud I would be to wear that medal around my neck, strutting down the hallway, as my teacher lifted me up until my chin was just above the bar. “Okay, ready? Now, just hold it there!” And he let go. Everyone held their breath and said a silent prayer. (I like to remember it happening this way, but in reality, I’m fairly certain my loyal classmates were snickering and pointing.) One…two…three—AND, we’re done. I crashed to the floor in a heap of public defeat. There would be no Presidential Fitness Award. Just the satisfaction of knowing I was a big loser—and that I got to prove it in front of all of my peers! Once again, our government, working its magic…
So why, oh, why, wouldn’t I jump at the chance to relive those fine moments…especially considering how incredibly fit I am now? I can picture the scene…a crowd gathered at the gym, watching this 20-pound overweight mama running and bending, pulling and flexing, flab flying, muscles screaming…all in the name of Presidential Physical Fitness. Sorry, G.W., but you’ll have to save your fake-signature-adorned award for someone else.
It’s not that I don’t understand the need to be physically fit. I get it. I really do. Kids should eat healthy and get plenty of exercise. But I just don’t see how subjecting them to this “test” is supposed to motivate them. And furthermore, I don’t think that this test is a reliable indicator of whether or not a child is “fit.” Let’s look at Boy #1 for example. His fourth grade class got the pleasure of participating in the Presidential Physical Fitness Test this year, and…the poor boy takes after his mama. He did okay on the curl-ups, the shuttle run, and the sit and reach. It wasn’t “presidential award” good or anything–don’t get me wrong–but decent. Then there was the mile. Not pretty. I’ll just tell you that there were tears. And how many pull-ups could he do? That’s right–zero. Flexed arm hang? A whole 5 seconds. So did that motivate him to get out there and exercise? No. All it did was send him home thoroughly embarrassed and down on himself because he was “the only one in his whole class” who didn’t get the Presidential Award or even the National Award (the loser-ish “runner up” award). This is a boy who is already overly critical of his body image at age 10…Gee, thanks, President Bush.
When he brought home his results, it was complete with “comments” from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Here’s what it recommends he do to become more “physically fit.” (Keep in mind that this is a boy who lives for sports—plays competitive football, wrestling, baseball, and golf—and is outside with his friends 24/7 playing pick-up football games, exploring our neighborhood pond, or just running around being a 10-year-old boy.)
Abdominal Strength: Your scores indicate a need to improve your abdominal strength. Try doing sit-ups, stomach crunches or other forms of abdominal exercises for 10 minutes per day, 4–5 days per week.
Agility: Your scores indicate a need to improve your quickness and sprinting ability. Try doing activities that promote foot quickness and running in short bursts, such as jumping rope, tennis, handball, or basketball at least three times per week.
Flexibility: Your scores indicate a need to improve your flexibility. Try stretching for 5–19 minutes each day, perhaps before going to bed or after awakening as part of your routine.
Endurance: Your scores indicate a need to improve your endurance and distance running. Try doing cardiovascular activities such as jogging or walking, swimming, or bicycling, for 20 minutes per day, 3 days per week.
Upper Body Strength: Your scores indicate a need to improve your upper body strength. Try doing push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, or working with dumbbells 3-4 times per week. Do as many repetitions as you can without undue strain or discomfort.
Seriously! Is it just me, or would this seem completely overwhelming to a 10-year-old? Especially one who is active every single day and is actually a talented athlete? I’m sorry, but I would much rather see #3 outside, running around being a kid than worrying about how many reps he did with the weights this week. Maybe I’m just being an overprotective or overly sensitive mom, but I find the comments, as well as the whole program, totally ridiculous. I think it has good intentions but fails miserably at measuring a child’s true “physical fitness.”
I would like to see the presidents have to perform the Presidential Physical Fitness Test on national television before being sworn into office. President Bush–he could probably hold his own. Clinton? Hmmm…he would’ve been another story. Maybe if cheeseburger curl-ups and bench-pressing interns were events…
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really need the national government telling me I’m slow, weak, and uncoordinated. I can pretty much pick that up on my own. And the award? Well, my trophy case HAS had a special place reserved for it in the hopes that someday, somehow, I would get another chance to prove my worth…But, on second thought, I think my 10-year-old’s baseball team photo would look really nice in there instead.