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Inspirational Reads

The Physics of Field Day

June 2, 2008

Today was my daughter's Field Day. There are a few differences between Field Days now and Field Days back when I was but a fresh-faced youth. Today, they wanted to make sure that the kids were slathered up with sunblock before participating. They also wanted to make sure the kids had water. When I was a lad, we had neither sunblock nor water, and you shut up and liked it that way, lest the other students and teachers kicked dirt in your face and called you a sissy (Oh, Mrs. Buckman, why? Why???)

Also, back when I was a kid, they gave you ribbons and all this and that stuff, depending on how you fared during the competitions. My daughter's Field Day was more game-oriented, it seemed. This makes sense as they don't have a track or an official soccer field or any of that good stuff that even my elementary school had (it was a combined elementary and middle school, thus the need for a football "stadium"). Despite this lack of ribbons coupled with the feeling of superiority over your classmates in games of skill, my daughter had a wonderful time at her Field Day.

This made me think back to my days of youth and of the competitions in which I participated. It was perhaps a harsh lesson, but I learned early on that the kids who won the running events were usually lithe, quick and surefooted. Me, being the slow, big, lumbering ox that I am would always place lower in the races, such as 12th or 13th...which is especially embarrassing when only nine kids run. It did not take long for me to figure out that I should focus on games that played more to my strengths, such as plowing and the occasional harvesting. However, when not involved in games that involved a yoke and the words "haw" and "gee" [1], I found the games involving the "field" portion of "track and field" far more appealing (and gratifying). Things such as the discus (thrown with a frisbee), shotput (a soft ball), the football toss[2] and football punt were more my speed.

Also, team games, such as the "sack race", the "three-legged race" and the "wheel-barrow race" were good for me. However, unbeknownst to young me--say, ages seven, eight, nine--there's a certain sort of understanding of physics that would greatly benefit such Field Day competitions. The most obvious to me, looking back, is the wheelbarrow race. See, I participated with my friend, Heath, who was farm-raised and, like me, ox-strong. Unfortunately, Heath was about 2/3 my height.

Perhaps I should explain some things here, lest you are confused as to what the wheel-barrow race is. The wheel-barrow race is run in teams of two, with one team member getting down on all fours and the second team member standing behind him or her (sounds kinky, I know!). The teammate on the ground then raises his legs up and the one behind holds the legs by the ankles, and then at the sound of the starter pistol, the member on the ground propels himself forward using the strength of his upper arms and shoulders to motor forward while the man behind helps stabilize the team and, since he can actually see, does the bulk of the steering. For our games, there was a "midway point", where the competitors had to turn, and you could either switch off (where the ankle-holder became the bottom man and the bottom man became the ankle-holder) or you could keep the team as you started, and the race was then run the rest of the way.

Heath and I did not really think through our roles in the wheel-barrow race. As we started, I was the bottom man. Several yards away was Heath, grasping my ankles. Catastrophe was about to strike. I remember getting about halfway through the race, and my arms, which were longer than Heath's legs, kind of pulled the top half of my body away from the lower half, causing a collapse akin to the implosion of a derelict building. Fortunately, I was able to get back up and we fought our way to the halfway point, where we decided to switch off. This proved to work out much better as my long legs could keep up a very steady pace with Heath's shorter arms, and what looked like certain doom was salvaged to a fifth-place finish. Oh, how I cherished that green ribbon, but rued the other eight children who finished above us and envied their higher placements.

The following year, Heath and I put extra thought into our roles for the Wheel-Barrow Race. With Heath on the bottom and yours truly playing helmsmen to his ankles, we cruised easily to a first-place finish. It looked something akin to Secretariat capturing the Triple Crown. Champions we were, and champions we would least until the following year. Heath and I never again competed together in the Wheel-Barrow Race, deciding instead to go out as champions. For that one year, however, we had everything we wanted: money, fame, women, a wing at the museum dedicated to us[3]. Incidentally, the very next thing I won was a t-shirt in a college basketball trivia contest [4]. For those who might be seeking proper strategy for victory in the Wheel-Barrow Race, remember these words: always let the tall guy steer, and you, too, shall drink from the sweet cup of victory.

[1]: "left" and "right", respectively.
[2]: Here's a sad fact for you: My wife throws a tighter spiral than I do. No one had ever shown me how to throw a football. The catching I'm awesome at (I have soft, strong hands), but the throwing...notsomuch.
[3]: We never had any of these.
[4]: This is also a lie.


Frank said...

We never had field days when I was in elementary school. We had "State-Mandated-Exercise-Periods" where they would literally have us jog around the soccer field for 15 minutes. At the end, we got a certificate with a facsimile signature by Bill Clinton saying that we had met some kind of national requirement by working out for 15 minutes straight.

Lisa-tastrophies said...

I am holding a lighter aloft and singing "We Are The Champions" in honor of your Wheel-Barrel Racing Glory.

Unfortunately we can no longer hold wheel-barrel races in school as some fuck-tard complained that they were discriminatory and demeaning. Way to go ACLU again for screwing with our fun.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Frank: Is that like the calisthenics that Japanese corporations require their workers to do during the day?

Lisa: Where is the line drawn? Cheerleader try-outs gone awry (as well as any sports teams) can also be discriminatory. I guess all extracurricular activities need to be axed. Thank you, ACLU.