Midlife Memories: Presidential Physical Fitness Test

During this tumultuous election year, I’ve been thinking about when I first lost faith in the government. Upon reflection, I have pinpointed it to one thing–the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. It destroyed my confidence and made me want to move to a country where the powers that be didn’t care if I couldn’t do a pull-up. And it made me convinced that P.E. actually stood for Public Embarrassment.

The test was established in 1966 under Lyndon B. Johnson. Forget about Vietnam for a moment. The fitness test alone is enough for me to think the man should have been impeached. Or forced to do pull-ups, run relays, and generally humiliate himself in front of Congress. I would have held the stopwatch.

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The man responsible for my misery.

 

Can’t We All Just Play Parachute Games?

Prior to participating in this form of government sanctioned child torture, I actually enjoyed P.E. There was scooter hockey, dodgeball, and that nifty big parachute we used to play games like Popcorn, Mushroom, and Making Waves. I liked tumbling and could have done a spider walk all day long. At home, I rode my bike, jumped on the trampoline, skateboarded, and climbed trees, while still managing to squeeze several hours of television viewing into my daily schedule.  It was a balanced lifestyle. Then Big Government stepped in with its fanatical views.

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Why, yes, Skechers Go Walks, I am available for product endorsements!

Oh, I could handle parts of the test. The shuttle run wasn’t too bad even though we had to run girls against boys for that one. I could do sit-ups, so that was okay. The standing broad jump and running broad jump weren’t too bad either. But when it came to distance running… They made me run until I thought my side was going to explode (which I always thought would be kind of cool because an exploding side would have almost certainly gotten me a doctor’s note to not participate). Distance day had me in tears and longing for asthma every single year–because they couldn’t push those kids with inhalers too hard. I also have no fond memories of the pull-up bar. I remember dangling from that bar and hoping I would somehow learn to levitate. I never did. Alas, the pull-up eluded me then, as it still does today.

Yes, I decided to give the test a try again to see if I had misjudged it. Nope. I still hate it. I went out on a windy, windy day to flex my muscles, only to learn I still have no muscles to flex. But it gave me a great opportunity to wear the old lady track suit I wore post cancer surgeries. So, that’s something.

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I found out this isn’t even a pull-up. It’s a chin-up. No matter. I can’t do either one, Mr. President.

 

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Proof I Have at Least 92 Friends

I wanted to find out what other people felt about people felt about the test, so I polled a group of friends. Of the 92 people who responded, here’s the breakdown:

  • 41 out of 92 checked, “That stinking test was a blight on my happy childhood years.”
  • 17 out of 92 checked, “I enjoyed most of it except for the parts I hated.”
  • 10 out of 92 checked, “I can’t recall it being Presidential back in my day. I hated all things PE.”
  • 7 out of 92 checked, “No clue and therefore no memories.”
  • 5 out of 92 checked, “Hated the 600 yard run, but everything else was okay.”
  • 5 out of 92 checked, “I’ve always been a jock. Bring it on, Mr. President!”
  • 3 out of 92 checked, “I hated anything PE related and this was no exception.”
  • 3 out of 92 checked, “I could hold my own at the pull-up bar. The test wasn’t my favorite, but it was okay.”
  • 1 out of 92 checked, “Loved all things PE related, but the test wasn’t a thing back in my day.

For the visual among you, I have created a bar graph. Pretty fancy, eh? The blue background color represents the tears I shed over this stinkin’ test.

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Christi’s Friends Speak

Yes, that’s a slew of options because I neglected to create a poll that wouldn’t allow them to come up with their own creative categories. I know this group of women and you’re lucky there aren’t 92 options!

More specifically, here’s what some of them had to say:

“Abhorred that test! I have never been able to do a push up or a pull up. I can’t climb up a rope that is dangling from the ceiling by using my bare hands to grip the knots. Hello, Gym teacher, I am horribly afraid of heights. I have never been able to swing from ring to ring. Running, yes, that I excelled at. Same with sit ups. I could out sit up and outrun everyone else in the gym class. Jumping Jacks? Aced them.” ~ Tig

“I loved it. Sorry.” (FREAK!) “I think just because I knew on that day that we would just have to take the test and I would do well. It felt like the adrenaline you get before a game or performance. The rest of the time we could sit around and chat, or cheer our classmates on. It felt like a fun day to me. I remember having an award ‘signed by’ Ronald Reagan and thinking it was SO COOL that the President signed MY award!” ~ Becca

“I feel SO much better!! I felt like I was the only person in the WORLD who could not do a pull-up, not even one, not ever. I couldn’t even do the alternative flex-arm-hang for long enough to qualify… Running was my favorite. I don’t remember the scoring system, I just know that I ‘passed’ most events reasonably well (except for hanging by my arms), scraping by in sit-ups and push-ups, doing okay in the short runs, but long runs were the best… But I didn’t run again after I was 15 until the age of 41, four years ago. I wouldn’t beat a lame turtle now, but I’ve rediscovered how much I love running.”~ Sheila

“I have never ever ever done a pull-up successfully. Even after a year of lifting heavy weights. My body mass has always exceeded the strength of my arms.”~ Tawnia

“I come from a long line of PE haters.” ~ Ang

“I hated that test, and all PE with a passion…” ~ Anne Marie

“I’m SO not athletic. I hated presidential fitness.” ~ Melissa

“I liked everything but the running (which is funny now because I choose to run). I’m just not fast. It doesn’t matter how conditioned I am, I could not move my legs fast enough for either the long run or the shuttle run.” ~ Terri

“That ‘sit here and put your foot against this board and bend over and show how far past your toes you can reach…’ thing. I couldn’t even reach the beginning of it. Ever.” ~ Lisa

“I hated it. The one thing I could compete in was the bent arm hang, though.” ~ Staci

“PE was akin to purgatory for me. Chubby and short. Braces and bottle cap glasses. Shiny horrible shorts that creeped up and around my thigh, cutting off circulation, even if I was standing still. And then the showers. Freaking mercy. I didn’t care one whit about the award. I was too busy trying to not die of embarrassment the entire class. Moving on…” ~ Faith

Yes, Faith, and my other athletically challenged friends, we can move on. We’re adults now and that means no one can ever make us run, jump, or pull-up against our will again. The irony is how many of the P.E. haters are physically fit today. Personally, I walk about ten miles a day. Every day. All on my own. With no one dangling some elusive patch and certificate in my face like carrots I would I never reach. It doesn’t matter that I never won the Presidential award. I lettered in Library. But that’s another story for another day.

 

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Natalie B says:

    “Fail early, Fail often” was my motto.

    (See me continuing your Presidential/Election theme??? )

  • Pamela says:

    I have that track suit! I have one in burgundy and one in brown (with ribbons and fake pearl “flowers” on it). I also have two that are polyester (the cool kind, not the old-creepy-man kind). My husband got them for me when I was laid up with my broken pe1vi$. Must be the approved uniform for infirm women. So comfortable. I wore them far past social acceptability. (I guess that’s the one thing I left behind in high school: caring what others thought!)

  • I hated it! I say, “Bring back the parachute!”

  • jani says:

    I had three very athletic brothers. Can you imagine how difficult life was for me?

  • I remember the anxiety prior to it.
    Sleepless nights.
    Shallow breathing.
    Monstrously overwhelming fear that sucked the joy out of previously happy childhood.
    A test I ~couldn’t~ pass, even through study.
    The weight of the “L” plastered to my forehead during the softball throw.
    And Mike Ward, he of the lanky Indian warrior running physique, yelling at me during the 600 yd. dash, at my sprint for the finish line, “Kick, Saddles, KICK!!!!”, as my shiny white saddle oxfords flew like they’d never flown before.
    Big Government, yet again, ruining my life.
    And now, they’ve done gone and screwed up my health insurance.
    Stay out of my HEALTH, Uncle Sam!

  • Melissa says:

    AMEN!!!!!!! ladies!!! Hated that PE Test!!!!

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