The title phrase (which I admit is a bastardization of the inscription honoring Christopher Wren in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral) occurred to me this morning as I found myself amid an estimated 20,000 men and women starting their 26.2 mile run through the city of Dallas. The annual White Rock Marathon, named after our scenic urban lake, is only one of hundreds, if not thousands, of endurance events throughout the world each year. It has acquired sufficient prestige to attract world class runners from around the globe, and is telecast live with former Olympic champions as commentators. Still, I wonder how many of the participants recall the man who started it all.
Forty years ago, almost anywhere in America, if you saw a grown man running on the street, you would think it odd. If you saw a women, your first reaction would be that she was trying desperately to escape a two or four-legged predator of some description. Around that time, then U. S. Air Force physician Kenneth Cooper was in the midst of empirical research of the effect exercise had on the condition of the human body. Prior to then, physicians knew that some exercise was good for you, but not in what amount, or what all of the benefits could be. Myths of all kind abounded. Exercising too much could "wear you out" and athletes of all stripes (except maybe golfers) were "over the hill" by age 30, were but a few. Persons with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions were advised to "take it easy" and avoid strenuous exercise. Cooper’s research, which culminated in his best-selling book Aerobics, and later a series of similar writings publishing his findings, changed that mind set, and inspired many in his and subsequent generations to take to the street on foot, on bicycles, or in the water.
In 1971, as a 25 year old out of shape, overweight smoker, recently discharged from the Army where I had a desk job for the last year of my tour, I idly picked up Aerobics one day and ended up reading it cover-to-cover. Few other books I’ve read have had such an impact on my life. Like many others, I’m sure, I took it to heart, and began running. I got into shape a lot faster than I imagined I would, and managed to keep it up pretty much ever since, nowadays mostly by bicycle rather than afoot. It took awhile to quit smoking, as it did not seem to hurt my running that much – a tribute to the resiliency of the human body I guess – but I managed to throw off that vice, too. Never have run a marathon – 15 K was the closest I managed – but that level of exercise is not necessary for good heath, as Dr. Cooper has determined. Still, I admire those who do and am out to cheer them on every December, riding my bicycle along the way.
Speaking earlier of women runners, it is becoming more difficult to tell someone’s age these days, but I noticed at least one grey-haired female who I would judge to be at least 50, and probably older, was today 48 minutes at the 6 mile mark. Given that when I was in the Army, a 10 minute one mile was a passing score (6 minute was 100%) on the Combat Physical Proficiency Test given to 18-25 year old men, that should speak volumes of what we are capable of.
I root for the runners partly because it’s unlikely they will be over-consuming our medical care resources. A huge number of those who are over-consumers today are Type II diabetics and suffer from one or more of the other maladies brought on by obesity. Except in rare cases, these are self-inflicted diseases. Regular exercise can go a long way to preventing, and if already established, curing or controlling those conditions. Ken Cooper’s research, as well as numerous other controlled studies, have proved that.
I plan to ride 65 miles on my 65th birthday next year at about a 15 mph average. That’s not exactly Tour de France class, but 40 years ago anything close to that would have been unthinkable. That change we can really believe in and is Dr. Ken Cooper’s monument. I hope more and more of us can pay it homage.
As of this writing, Dr. Cooper at age 77 is active as chairman of the Cooper Aerobics Institute here in Dallas.
NOTE: This homily (along with some previous wiritings) was posted on my blog at http://theinfernalserpent.blogspot.com/ I started it some time ago, but pretty much ignored it until one of my readers, David P., who I understand is an IT professional, suggested I aim for a wider audience. The wider audience, such as it might be, has him to blame. David, who is a relative by affinity, does not necessarily endorse my views, but hope springs eternal.