Duke Cannon Remembers the Presidential Physical Fitness Test

Although we have nothing but respect for the highest office in the land, we must admit that some confusion surrounds Presidents’ Day here at Duke Cannon HQ. Where to put the apostrophe, to begin with. And why does it feel like this holiday is little more than a plot hatched by home appliance manufacturers to stage massive yearly sale events? What’s not fuzzy however, is our memories of that middle school rite of passage, the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. So in honor of this upcoming Federal holiday, let’s all remember the pain, the glory, and yes, the one or two pull-ups we were able to perform without assistance.


Now classified by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a form of torture, the rope climb consisted of a stopwatch-timed struggle up and down a suspended rope (possibly left over from the set of Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn), conducted without a safety harness, helmet, or even very much in the way of supervision. The flight down often involved a fairly uncontrolled slide, legs and hands clenched tight on the rather unforgiving knotty cord. Reader, did you also walk funny on the way back to 4th period Social Studies? Yes, you did.


For this exercise you were assigned a partner to hold your feet down, supposedly to provide ballast that would ensure proper form. But perhaps fearing a barrage of post-lunch flatulence, most partners were wary at best and inattentive at worst, leading to sub-par anchoring that severely limited the number of sit-ups one was able to perform (this is our excuse, anyway).


Duke Cannon enjoys his walkabouts in dense old-growth forests, but he is fairly resolute in his distaste for mindlessly trotting in circles. On mile run day, one could find him firmly entrenched in the baseball dugout with a cup of chicory coffee, a pouch of Big League Chew, and a dog-eared Louis L’Amour paperback. 


If your school was at all like ours, proper form went out the window once the whistle blew, leading to a gym full of students all performing questionable variations of the standard push-up. Some of the greatest hits from this era include “The Tortoise” (going so slowly the teacher eventually grows bored and wanders away), “The Inverted V” (self-explanatory), the “Do One and Collapse in a Heap,” and our personal favorite, “Move at a Very High Rate of Speed So That No One Can Tell You’re Only Descending Two Inches with Each Repetition.”


You strained to reach your toes with every fiber of your being, trying to hit an arbitrary measurement intended to assess your relative flexibility, only to come up a sixteenth of an inch short, when suddenly you felt a hand on your back helping you across the finish line (thank you, Mr. Kozlowski). And while the pain in our tender young hammies may have lasted well into summer camp, we consoled ourselves with a classy little certificate and iron-on patch from the President himself, even if said mementos stayed in our locker until they got thrown away on the last day of school (along with the lamp we made in Industrial Arts from a beer bottle and a hockey puck).