Lessons from Lance

Farm Forum

There has been much hoopla lately about the bad choices made by professional cyclist Lance Armstrong. Somehow it’s not all that surprising. What would you expect of someone who would give the heave-ho to Sheryl Crow?

His story is both renowned and incredible. After whipping the cancer that had riddled his body, Armstrong whipped himself back into shape and went on to win the Tour de France (translation: I see France) an unbelievable seven times. One would not be surprised to learn that he could also leap tall buildings in a single bound.

It all seemed too good to be true. Turns out that it was.

Armstrong’s confession that he availed himself of performance enhancing substances was like learning that Superman can fly, but only if he’s assisted by an array of invisible wires. And those wires are none of your concern, so quit looking at them!

Many of us can understand how Armstrong — who bears the same name as a primitive power steering system — would be tempted to take the low road. After all, many of us were forced to endure junior high Gym Class.

I could never see the point of Gym Class. We were told that its purpose was to make us more active and encourage us to get into shape. I had to throw bales, pitch silage, carry water and chase cows. Every day! Before breakfast! And do it all again in the evening! How much shape did I need to get into?

But my instincts told me that it was useless to argue with the authorities, so I submitted to the indignities of junior high Gym Class.

The first day of seventh grade Gym Class, we boys reported to the gym and were ordered to stand in a line. A middle-aged man who sported a prodigious belly and was dressed in a grey sweatshirt and wore a whistle around his thick neck paced before us and bellowed that we were a bunch of squishy sissies and that it was his job to whip us into shape. He didn’t say which shape. I wondered if it would be one similar to his.

We were informed during this opening lecture that we would need to procure proper Gym Class attire, which included gym shorts — not the same thing as swimming shorts, l would be chagrined to learn — and a jock strap.

Nothing is more embarrassing than telling your mom that you need a jock strap. Nothing, that is, other than not knowing what, exactly, a jock strap is.

Gym Class was reviled by some and enjoyed by others. I at first enjoyed it, mainly because it got me out of the classroom.

This quickly changed. We were forced to do something called “wind sprints”, which meant running back and forth across the gym at a pace that would make one believe we were being chased by a bull. Even though no trophies were awarded for Best Seventh Grade Wind Sprinter, I would have gladly availed myself of anything that might have enhanced my performance. I wouldn’t have said no a rocket sled.

Another onerous task involved climbing a thick rope that hung from the ceiling in a corner of the gym. Unlike wind sprints, where you were part of a stampeding herd of sweaty runners, climbing the rope was an activity where your muscles — or lack thereof — were on public display.

As I laboriously hauled myself up those last few inches — the gym coach bellowing, my classmates cheering and jeering — I would have given anything for some sort of boost. I wouldn’t have said no to a jet pack.

We were gradually whipped into excellent physical condition. This would soon prove quite useful.

On one particular midwinter morning, the road was as slick as an oiled eel. We boarded the bus and as it began to pull away, its back end slid sideways. The bus came to a halt teetering on the very edge of the shoulder.

“Everybody freeze!” roared our driver as he grappled with the controls. We boys instantly put our finely-honed athletic abilities to good use.

Acting as one, we leaped to our feet and jumped over to the low side of the bus. This was enough to give the bus a small amount of sideways motion, planting it solidly in the ditch.

It took some time for Dad to fire up his “M” Farmall and extract the helpless bus. We were so late for school that morning that we missed the first couple of classes.

And the best part is, one of them was Gym Class.

E-mail Jerry at: jjpcnels@itctel.com