Faculty value continued athleticism

Libby Arnosti

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There’s no doubt that Whitman students are an active bunch: about three out of every four Whitties participate in athletics through  varsity sports, club teams and intramural leagues. But not all athletes at Whitman are students. From squash to soccer to swimming, faculty and staff members–many of whom were college athletes as well–find value in continuing to incorporate sports into their lives.

“Sport has always been a passion,” said current Director of Academic Resources Juli Dunn, who served as Whitman’s first certified Head Athletic Trainer from 1993-2008.

As sophomore varsity soccer player at Whitworth University, Dunn suffered an injury that caused her to spend a lot of time in the athletic training room.

“That exposure led me to explore the field [of sports medicine]. I fell in love with it during my first course,” she recalled. “Working as the Head Athletic Trainer allowed me to combine several passions: helping others, sports, and teaching.”

Since coming to Whitman she has earned a blue shirt for intramural kickball and has also played intramural softball.

Dunn is now an active college sports fan and statistic-keeper for her sons’ baseball teams.

“It’s a great way to continue to enjoy those things I love,” she said.

Director of Institutional Research Neal Christopherson has also been able to follow his athletic passions while at Whitman.

“One of the reasons I decided to go to a small school is so I could keep running cross country and track,” said Christopherson of his own college running career at Wheaton College–during which he went to Division III nationals and became interested in training theory. This interest has led him to a position as assistant coach of the Whitman varsity cross country team.

Christopherson also remains personally active in sports: he ran a marathon just last year, bikes recreationally and plays intramural basketball.

“Right now I’m coaching my son’s 1st/2nd grade indoor [soccer] team, which is great fun,” he added.

For some, sports have played an important role not only for providing fun and friendship, but also maintaining mental and physical health.

“Swimming has saved my life on a number of occasions,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Mare Blocker, who is also a lifelong swimmer and former swim coach.

“A few years ago when I had a neck injury and had to have several of my vertebrae fused, swimming several times a week helped me regain the use of my [left] arm. If I don’t swim, my left arm’s nerves seem to forget that they have a job to do.”

Blocker identifies the rhythmic similarity between her profession and her sport as one reason she enjoys swimming.

“There is something about the back and forth activity of lap swimming that mimics the activity of the printing press,” she said.

Swimming has also been a great outlet for mental stress. “When I am stressed out or angry, I try to go to the pool because I love to swim that energy off,” said Blocker.

Like Blocker, Assistant Professor of Politics Aaron Bobrow-Strain has found exercise to be therapeutic–and, at times, key to making academic breakthroughs.

“I used to compete in running and swimming, but really what I loved was the long stretches of time to think things through,” he said. “I wrote my Ph.D dissertation while running and swimming. I’d start the run or swim with a thorny problem stuck in my head. As soon as I got moving, it would start to loosen up. Six or seven miles (or 60 laps) later, it would come clear, and I’d be frantically scribbling notes at the side of the road or pool.”

When Ron Urban is not working in the Registrar’s office, he finds similar value in heading to the Sherwood Athletic Center courts, playing racquetball with other members of Whitman faculty and staff, and even some students.

“The sheer bursts of energy, laughter, cheering and the occasional good-natured ‘Anglo Saxon utterance’ all add great joy to the game,” he said. “In addition to its being loads of fun, the opportunity to reduce the pressures and stresses of the job via vigorous physical activity is an enormous benefit.”

Professor of Anthropology Chas McKhann also uses the Sherwood courts to play the sport he loves–squash.

“I’ve played ever since [graduate school], here at Whitman a couple times a week at lunchtime, and once or twice a year at tournaments in Portland,”  he said. “I really like the focus and mental aspect of squash.”

Every day, Whitman professors and administrators take to the court, field, road and pool. Mental release, physical health, focus and  fun are reasons enough for  them to take part in Whitman’s athletic facilities and active community. McKhann sums up in a few words the value of continuing to be involved in sports.

“These activities have provided a wonderful opportunity to maintain physical fitness, and have been priceless in terms of creating camaraderie and friendships.”

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