When the pavement outside the Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene peeled its pock-marked lips from my face, I realized that my freshmen lungs were closed for business. Bronchitis told me so.
Physical Wellness Dynamics is a subject of much debate at Hillsdale College. Specifically, it has received universal disdain from the small group of Hillsdale students I polled. The course’s existence is baffling. Students talk of a time when other physical activity courses could fulfill the requirement. Detractors of the PWD seem primed to even dive into Social Dance without a partner if it means skipping lectures on adenosine triphosphate.
In my experience, PWD was a circus of good intentions. The lecture came from Swimming and Diving Coach Kurt Kirner, the PowerPoints he used were made by someone else, the exam we took was constructed by another person, and the book we read didn’t really tie into the course very well. It seemed that the entire class, at the time I took it, was a group project constructed by Dr. Frankenstein, with several well-intentioned components that didn’t fit together cohesively.
In all this confusion, one thing stood out to my bamboozled freshman brain. Coach Kirner delivered every lecture like a motivational speech, explaining to students how they could be more than Breaking Bad bootleggers surrounded by empty Pringle tubes. Somehow, PWD convinced me to try that running thing again. For context, I’d only joined cross-country in my junior year of high school because my thin frame screamed “freak who runs shirtless through unsuspecting suburbs every day,” and no one believed that I wasn’t on the team.
While well-ripened peer pressure may encourage a person to make daily runs to and from the oasis that is the Jonesville Walmart, there is no denying the fact that Coach Kirner’s lectures on exercise sparked a drive within me to run until I collapsed. By Christmas break, I had no trouble running the Walmartathon, a 6.4 mile journey greatly enhanced by dangerous winter weather.
It wasn’t all perfect. The adrenaline rush of leaving PWD to run alongside the freeway faded over time, and while I found myself running just fine, I was “underweight” according to the wonderful BMI table that consistently labels Sylvester Stallone as obese. My collapse on the pavement outside the church was a result of stubbornly choosing to run outside in the freezing cold. I couldn’t, and still can’t, understand the complex mechanism that is the standard treadmill. Because this may be the one area where PWD failed me, this is also a public plea for a treadmill expert – apply through my email.
If you athletically peaked in high school, college may be the first time you lace up athletic shoes and drag yourself to the trail or sports complex without someone, such as a parent or a coach, pressuring you into it. While many students may not care for PWD at Hillsdale, there are detractors of the class who still exercise independently until they abandon all healthy habits during hell week. I was one of them.
Perhaps all PWD needs to be is a freshman lecture series on why exercise might be a good idea. Maybe just have some of the coaches from various sports explain physical activity. I don’t think the program is by any means perfect, but it made me genuinely consider doing something about my health. Regardless of the course’s many flaws, I can still point to the moment during freshman year when I decided to embrace the physical punishment of running, and – when it’s not unforgivably cold out – I’ll tackle that Walmartathon like it stole from me.