It’s hard to believe that some very positive things happened because our country was suddenly forced into war after the terror in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated that America was lacking in defense and, in the larger sense, Americans were lacking in individual physical fitness.
Christian College’s administrators had been painfully aware that many doctors and nurses were leaving Columbia and going into military service. It became important to train all our students to deal with injuries and sudden illness.
Many were eager to do something to contribute to the war effort, and they accepted the requirement that they pass Red Cross Standard First Aid. Three of us on the faculty were certified ARC First Aid Instructors; we volunteered to teach, and our classes were huge.
Other teachers enrolled in the classes and tutored students or graded their quiz papers - a great help to us!
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hopelessly bound to a wheelchair, was seriously concerned to discover that U.S. draftees had to be rejected because of poor physical fitness. They made inferior scores when results were compared to those from other countries.
President Roosevelt urged all youth-serving agencies in the nation to intensify their existing programs and to design new fitness incentives for people of all ages.
The American Red Cross soon announced "The Fifty-mile Swim," which motivated people to swim more often and for longer distances. Christian College students accepted this challenge gladly, and I signed up with them.
The 50 miles was to be done in segments of quarter miles. A swimmer could do as many segments as he or she wished, at one time. It could be done alone or in groups. Charts went up in the pool area, and new names were added frequently. The minimum distance to record was one segment, a quarter of a mile - 22 times the lengths of the college pool. A person could swim as many of those segments as he or she chose at any one time, but extra lengths could not carry over to count on another swim.
Because The Fifty-mile Swim started during the second semester, we knew that most swimmers would need to transfer their accumulated distances to their summer swimming locations.
Many of the quarter-mile segments were done as half miles - 44 lengths - by advanced swimmers on weekends. I swam my lengths as soon as I dismissed my 4 p.m. classes.
A few students joined me, so we were lifeguards for each other. Dean Bill Bedford complimented this program by saying, "I hear that you women are wearing the water threadbare these days." Could be!
We liked the extra exertion and joy of accomplishment. Each time we did another segment, we climbed out of the pool warm, tired and happy and recorded the additional distance; that was enough reward.
We were constantly checking the calender, too, because we were close to exam time and graduation. Those who couldn’t complete the 50 miles while on campus could transfer their accomplishments to their summer locations.
It wasn’t only the best swimmers who earned the 50-mile certificates. Eleanor was a diver but not a strong swimmer; she was the first one to reach 50 miles. Dee finished by the skin of her teeth and was so proud that she was anxious for me to meet her parents on graduation day when she came for her certificate.
There were several others who also made it to the finish line - including me. It was strange to sign my own 50-mile swim certificate - a good feeling, I readily admit.