Some US colleges require physical fitness
August 11th, 2011

Some US colleges require physical fitness. I know, I know–that’s a horrible thought for many who are grateful that adulthood has freed them from the childhood pain and humiliation of physical education classes. Anyhow, I can’t see Canadian universities taking that on, not in my lifetime anyway. Too controversial. But what about all the mountains of research—by academics–that prove the relationship between sound minds and sound bodies? It’s irrefutable. If you are physically fit, you live longer, think more clearly, look and work better…and on it goes.

A few weeks ago, the premier of this province ran for the first time in the popular annual 10-mile Telegram (newspaper) race, known here as the Tely Ten. The event has grown so monumentally that over 3,000 runners/walkers/and crawlers signed up to participate this year. It’s become a badge of honour in this town to have made it through the ten mile course, in whatever fashion one has chosen to do so—anything but driving a car, of course.  Premier Kathy Dunderdale can now proudly wear the iconic blue t-shirt and boast that she is an astonishing example of personal goal achievement, not a bad credential when you are facing a fall election. She started haltingly about a year ago by simply trotting around a track at the university, and then built up her strength and confidence over time, pushing herself to get out there and just do it. She also lost 100 pounds in the process, an astonishing feat and an inspiration to anyone of a certain age wondering if it’s too late to change long-held bad habits or dress/pant sizes.

Like many, I have been inspired by Dunderdale’s example. I was in the coffee room the day after the race and overheard the staff talking about the premier and her accomplishments. It’s not at all about whether you vote for her party or not. You just can’t help but see her personal physical success as a great feat. And so it got me thinking about next year’s Tely Ten, and if I could possibly harness all the buzz around Dunderdale to get the staff—all the staff in our office–to enlist. We have almost a year to prepare. We need a coach and a plan, but first we need the will to get engaged.

First, I pitched the crazy idea to some senior staff –one who runs regularly in the Tely Ten and needs no convincing, another who just dropped a whack of weight and is keen to shape up, and a third who is reluctant but willing to sprint to the bandwagon, especially when she realized the course could be walked. If any of the other staff are reading this blog this week then you will know what’s being planned for you.

This is all taking some careful thinking on a number of levels, though. It’s tricky. I certainly don’t want to force anyone to enter the Tely if they are revolted by the idea. I might be the boss but that doesn’t give me the right to impose any of this stuff on anyone. The real challenge is how to get everyone excited about the possibility of a School of Graduate Studies team in the race. As everyone knows, for the reluctantly inclined, it’s all about taking that first step towards the big goal. We’d be the first in the university to do it as a group, and we’d be setting an unbelievable standard. We’d also have to figure out how to work out several times a week without compromising our workday world, but, surely, the university would buy into the idea and allow us to program a little physical activity into our day?

There’s a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education this month by a female prof who started working out regularly:

(http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/professor-as-student-a-gym-perspective/35233.

She points out the horrible ways her personal trainers have talked to her, patronizing her and making her feel quite inadequate, especially when compared to their amazingly awesomeness. This defeatist dynamic is definitely something to watch out for, and so a lot will depend on the communication skills of the right coach. We are a pretty disparate bunch, with all manner of shapes and sizes, and we are especially sensitive to the student’s point of view in any learning situation. No one wants to go back to work crying!

The keen staff member who runs in the Tely Ten wants to turn the whole project into a university-wide challenge–you know, getting all units to step up and start training, with the fastest race in 2012 taking home all the glory. I am ambivalent about going to that level, and worry about at what point encouragement to be fitter and therefore more productive in one’s professional and personal life starts to sound like some form of coercement. But I do think we would be an amazing model and inspiration for the rest of the university, from the president’s office on down.

For now, I am high-fiving Dunderdale, flexing my will, and running in the hope that this blog generates some immediate feedback.

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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