The following article is taken from several reports.
“Ken Middleton walks 50 miles In 11 Hrs., 49 Minutes”
Ken Middleton, 17 years old, put in a remarkable under 12-hour time, with two other boys from the Aristocrats Athletic Club in Boonton, NJ following close behind. Five other members of their group dropped out facing temperatures as low as five below zero. Ken could only say to the press, “I’m too tired to think of anything.”
The 50 mile challenge was completed by my son and me many years ago; he was 12 and I was 40 plus, I will never forget that episode in our tight relationship; we talk of that challenge from time to time to this day. We walked along Spoon River, it was in July; we completed the 50 mile plus trek in 14 hours. While we did complete the journey together, I was physically sapped and could barely move by the time we reached home. And only after he made sure I was settled and reasonably comfortable, he went to his aunt’s house a few blocks away and mowed her yard for her… used a push mower.
President Theodore Roosevelt had put a standard in place during his administration for the country to challenge themselves to a personal and physical 50 mile milestone, it was abandoned after he left office, and the 50-mile test thereafter fell into a hole in never never land, the challenge would wait, and be brought back to life a half century later by another zealously active president — as well as a host of challenge-hungry Americans.
“Various economic and cultural factors made life in the 1950s progressively more comfortable and sedentary: new appliances lessened the difficulty of household chores; burgeoning streets and highways enhanced the viability and popularity of driving; television expanded the availability of spectator-centered entertainment. Leisure time went up, but it was increasingly spent in passive pursuits.”
John F. Kennedy — an adherent of the active life who played tennis and touch football, skied, swam, and skated whenever he could — worried about the complacency with which many of his countrymen had come to view their health by the early 1960s. Like the nation’s first founders, he believed that too much luxury and slothfulness — too much “softness on the part of individual citizens” — would “help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation.”
As the Cold War heated up, Kennedy believed maintaining physical vitality was key in maintaining democratic vitality and responsibility.
Even before taking office, he determined that inspiring the country to a greater level of physical fitness would be a central aim of his presidential administration.
After the election of 1960, and before his inauguration, JFK penned a piece entitled “The Soft American” in a Sports Illustrated article in which he laid out a rousing call to arms as to why the country couldn’t afford to lose its vigor and dynamism and needed to treat the task of keeping in shape a more serious matter for America: “The physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources. If we waste and neglect this resource, if we allow it to dwindle and grow soft then we will destroy much of our ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront our people. We will be unable to realize our full potential as a nation.”
May haps JFK was on to something in respect to the overall soundness of the body and the activities of the mind? Might have had a good argument for what the Greeks knew: “that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit the same bodies...”
Do we have the capacity to fully restore the physical soundness of our nation if every American is willing to assume responsibility for his own fitness and the fitness of his children?
JFK, “We do not live in a regimented society where men are forced to live their lives in the interest of the state. We are, all of us, as free to direct the activities of our bodies as we are to pursue the objects of our thought. But if we are to retain this freedom, for ourselves and for generations yet to come, then we must also be willing to work for the physical toughness on which the courage and intelligence and skill of man so largely depend. All of us must consider our own responsibilities for the physical vigor of our children and of the young men and women of our community. We do not want our children to become a generation of spectators. Rather, we want each of them to be a participant in the vigorous life.”
On February 9th, without any training or preparation and wearing leather oxford dress shoes, JFK set out at 5 o’clock in the morning to walk 50 miles along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. Accompanied by four of his staff members, as well as his dog, he trudged through snow, slush, and below-freezing temperatures, making his way from Great Falls, VA to Camp David, MD. Though the last of his aides dropped out at the 35-mile mark, Kennedy persisted to the end, completing the march in 17 hours and 50 minutes.
Walking 50 miles in 20 hours is one way to test yourself, push your limits, have a bit of adventure, get reacquainted with hardihood, rediscover your physical potential, and that illusive chance to live with vigah.