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Kid, get off the couch

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It’s hard for me to believe that it’s 24 years since my father died, and that I’m only two years younger than he was when he suffered a massive heart attack while pushing a little bit of light snow off his driveway.

No, wait, don’t run away, I’m not going to go all morose and maudlin, and I will tie this into education.

I did the story this week about the physically inactive Grade 12 kid in Selkirk who’s refusing to do the out-of-school physical activity required for his compulsory phys ed credit, without which he’s not eligible to graduate in June.

Last year in Grade 11, he refused to design and carry out the detailed activity plan which his gym teacher expected, though his mother signed off on the boy’s log, declaring that he’s done the activity necessary to get his Grade 11 compulsory credit.

This year, says mom, she’s not signing.

I so, so wish that the compulsory phys ed credits had been around in the early 1960s when I was in high school, and that gym teachers had been the professional and caring physical educators which kids should feel blessed to have these days.

My gym teachers were varsity coaches who reluctantly had to oversee us nerds and bookworms doing pushups and toe touches, in order to get a pay cheque. One gym teacher in particular openly displayed his disgust in having to spend his day having us in his gym.

I was done with minor hockey at age 10 and with baseball at 14. No fair play rule ensuring you’d even get on the field then, no soccer, no volleyball, no school running club, virtually no intramurals. I never made a school or competitive team in my life.

And above all, no physical educator working with me to show me the benefits of an active lifestyle, no skilled teacher showing me the dozens of options available to me for enjoyable and healthy life-long leisure.

I was getting pretty chunky in my 20s, and by the age of 33 I was just plain fat. Pretty miserable, too. I remember that I was covering the Ontario Liberal leadership race in Toronto in February of 1982, snacking away on potato chips as I wrote, looking forward to dinner and a few frosty ones, and when I looked in the mirror, I hated the person I saw.

I was well on the way to a heart attack, I’m sure. By that time, my mother had already suffered a debilitating stroke, thanks in no small part to being a heavy smoker, sedentary, and decades of eating a classic deep fat and lots of gravy English and PEI-Irish cuisine.

It was only four years later that my dad dropped dead. He smoked, he was sedentary, he ate all the wrong things in far too great portions, and he brought the office home with him every night, sitting on the couch doing paperwork in front of the TV.

My dad had been an athlete, a strong one, trying out for Newcastle United just before joining the RAF for pilot training early in the war. He never played again.

But back to me, and my original point about phys ed and physical activity.

I’m completely non-athelic, I don’t have an athletic gene in my body. My dad was an athlete, my wife is an athlete (her photos are on the wall of a certain Winnipeg high school), my kids are very good athletes.

What I am is healthy.

Back in 1982 that day when David Peterson became Ontario Liberal leader, I decided to make a sudden and radical change in diet. I started walking a lot, and then I started to run. By the spring of 1982, I’d run my first 10-k, and a year later ran my first full marathon.

I really wish I could sit down and talk to that kid in Selkirk — I hope he’ll listen to his gym teacher, because there’s an horrendous number of sedentary, unfit kids out there, and they’re going to grow into unhealthy adults.

I’m closing in on 62 now, and I remain as non-athletic as ever.

But each Saturday and Sunday I referee half a dozen indoor soccer games in about a 27-hour period, six hours of running and occasional walking. And I do run, staying with the ball, I don’t stand at centre and turn in a circle to make calls — as bad as those calls I make may be, I’m on top of the play. I play two hours of low-skill but enthusiastic volleyball on Wednesday nights, and I go to Reh-Fit three times a week, two-and-a-half-hours of pretty intense activity each time: bike, treadmill, weights, abs, rowing, wind sprints, enjoying all of it.

We kayak for close to six months of the year, what’s become an absolute passion, and we love walking on nature trails, I still run half marathons and once the ice is gone, I’ll be running 90 minutes outside on nights when I don’t have an outdoor soccer match to ref. We even hack around with tennis rackets at the outdoor courts.

When I go into Mountain Equipment Co-Op or Manitoba Marathon race headquarters, I’m not an interloper, I feel at home and that I belong, and at my age that’s a nice feeling.

Dude, loosen up and go and talk to the gym teacher. He or she will go over dozens of activities, a few of which you might even enjoy, and which will make you a whole lot healthier and happier person as you grow up.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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