The Presidential Physical Fitness Test

This article reminded me of something that I haven’t thought about in decades: the presidential physical fitness test that we had to take in school when I was a kid. The author writes:

My positive relationship with movement developed not because of the test but in spite of it. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and had run a half-dozen half-marathons, at a comfortable pace, that I even began to believe I was an athlete.

I’ve heard similar stories from recreational exercisers, exercise scientists and fitness professionals.

I’m one of those people. I did horribly with the test, and, like the author, it was the source of a lot of anxiety and shame for me as a kid. And also like the author, despite the test, I later developed a lifelong exercise routine. Despite running hundreds of miles per year and running a half marathon a couple of times, it wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I began to consider myself an athlete. Now I consider exercise a core part of my identity; I prioritize it above many other things.

When I think back on my early history with sports and movement, one other thing comes to mind. The rural middle school that I attended had traditional competitive sports: only limited openings that you had to try out for, and athletes competed with similar schools throughout a large area. In sixth grade, I tried out for basketball and tennis, but I didn’t qualify for either one.

But the next year, our school district tried something new: everyone who wanted could participate in sports, and competition was between the three middle schools in our district. And while it was still competitive, the focus was on everyone being included, getting a change to play, and  having a positive experience.

I was indeed terrible at both basketball and tennis, but I had so much fun in that program. Then I moved to high school which only had traditional competitive sports, so I didn’t play sports after middle school. If I had had the opportunity to play lower-stakes sports in high school as I’d had in middle school, I’m convinced that I would have had very different attitudes toward sports and movement.

When the Cook Can’t Look

When the Cook Can't Look by Ralph ReadWhen I was an undergraduate student at UT, I worked for a blind professor, Ralph Read. I’ve blogged about him a few times over the years: here, here, and here. Another thing he did is write a cookbook for the blind. I was thinking about this the other day and realized that I never had my own copy of his cookbook. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I remedied that problem. 


This morning I was listening to the episode of the 99% Invisible podcast about addresses. The thesis of the episode is that while addresses are something we generally take for granted, they are actually a relatively new invention. I realized that I had lived in two places where conditions mentioned in the podcast existed.

First, I grew up in a house that didn’t have a street address. Our house was on a named street, and it even had a wooden street sign where it intersected the county road, but I don’t think the street names were official and in any case nobody used them. When we gave someone directions to our house, it was “when you’re coming down the county road, turn on the first street to the right past the water tower. Our house is the first one you come to, on your left.” Our mailing address was “Star Route 1 Box 205” and our mailbox was in a bank of mailboxes about a mile from the house.

Second, the podcast episode mentions how the Hapsburgs undertook an effort to number houses throughout their empire. When I was a high school exchange student in Austria in the 1980s, I lived in the village of Großklein (that name is another story of its own), and the address of my host family was just “Großklein 26” no street name necessary. That numbering most likely dates back to the Hapsburg numbering mentioned in the podcast.

End of an era

Run for the WaterA few weeks ago–a few days after the Run for the Water race, in fact–I injured my hip while running. Last week, I went to see my orthopedist about it. As her PA was examining me, noting that I’m a lifetime runner, I mentioned that also have low-level pain in my right knee, but not enough that I’d gotten it checked out. The PA said they should X-ray the knee, too, while I was in the office.

The good news: the hip injury will heal with a rest in running, some stretches, etc. The bad news: the knee pain is due to degenerative osteoarthritis. The doctor said that they can take some measures to ease the pain but that the only remedy is a knee replacement. The arthritis will only get worse whether I run or not, and I may eventually need a knee replacement. She emphasized that running it will accelerate the degeneration. She also pointed out that I would eventually have to stop running if I had a knee replacement and that knee replacements only last a certain period of time, therefore it’s vital that I delay it as long as possible. Therefore, she strongly advised me to stop running.

I think both the doctor and her PA assumed that I would find this news devastating and that I would not want to stop running. But after a few days of reflection and talking with a lot of people about this, at this point in my life I identify primarily as a healthy, fit and active person–it’s just that running is the only way I’ve ever used to maintain that state. Furthermore, I don’t relish the prospect of increasing chronic pain and eventual significant surgery. It’s much more acceptable to me to find other forms of exercise that don’t exacerbate my arthritis and allow me to remain fit than it is to continue running at all costs. I think that swimming is an activity that I enjoy that will most easily fit into my current schedule/lifestyle. I have already been to the pool once, and I think I will try to take a swim course to learn to swim more effectively. But I’m sure I’ll continue a little running, and maybe also do some biking as well.


My 15 minutes of fame!

A writer from MEL Magazine contacted me via a comment that I had made on a reddit question about whether men should run shirtless. My whole email interview got included in the article.

Running Shirtless


After I graduated high school in 1982, I spent the following school year as an AFS high school exchange student in Austria. This past weekend, I started scanning the hundreds of slides that I took during my year abroad, including the photo in this post of the village sign. Yes, I spent the year in a village called Großklein. For those of you who don’t speak German, groß = large, klein = small. Yes, I lived in big-little. Note that in Austria it’s common that if a new village springs up next to an existing one, they use the prefixes groß and klein to distinguish them. In the case, the existing village was named Klein.