Strengthening the Mind-Body Connection

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 2:23 am

Issue:  Winter 2009

Author:  Greg Wallace

Almost everyone has had that experience — you’re running, or swimming, or working out in the gym. Your mind is relaxed, you’re working hard, and thinking of nothing in particular — when the perfect solution to that exasperating problem magically materializes in your mind.

There seems to be a deep connection between physical fitness and mental fitness. Each supports the other — neither exists as well alone.

We at Grinnell believe so strongly in this mind-body connection that athletics and fitness have become significant elements of the liberal arts experience here — for all the members of our community.

This firm belief in the value of a sound body and a disciplined mind has been around at Grinnell for a long time — in fact, President George Augustus Gates said it in his inaugural address in 1887: “First, a sound body. … I believe thoroughly in the cultivation and encouragement of college athletics of all sorts. In the gymnasium and on the campus, games and sports, rivalries, field days are a tremendous education power.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

President Gates placed a sound body first among the elements of a complete education, and students at Grinnell College today are living proof of this statement’s continued relevance. The women and men who compete and participate in intercollegiate sports, club sports, and personal fitness programs at Grinnell today are engaging in a vital part of their liberal arts education. Participation in athletics doesn’t detract from what goes on in the classroom — on the contrary, many scholar-athletes say the time they spend on their sports makes them more disciplined and focused in their studies.

A dedication to wellness and the quality of life is another of the hallmarks of life in Grinnell. I’m proud to say that it’s reflected in my title: director of athletics and recreation. Students, faculty, and staff (and alumni back for Reunion and other alumni events) can take advantage of the state-of-the-art wellness facilities offered in the new fitness center, including an extensive assortment of strength-training and cardio equipment. Next year, Phase II of the Athletic and Fitness Center will be complete, opening up many new opportunities for the college community. Townspeople, too, can become members of the fitness center, and through membership with Grinnell Parks and Recreation they can utilize the pool and racquetball courts.

We’re really excited about the new facility, created through a unique partnership by two renowned architectural firms, Cesar Pelli and Associates and Sasaki Associates Inc. Those of us on campus watch the construction site north of 10th Avenue as it changes on an almost daily basis. Our new state-of-the-art fieldhouse and natatorium will give our teams a great venue for competition, but they also offer a place for intramural teams, spectators, and people who just want to stay in shape. Many students participate in activities such as dance and club sports, including Ultimate Frisbee and water polo. GORP, the Grinnell Outdoor Recreation Program, offers students many opportunities to take part in outdoor activities such as sailing, climbing, and kayaking. Through all these pursuits and more, students have fun while they stay in shape, burn off stress, and make new friends.

Community is a key word in any discussion of athletics and recreation at Grinnell. I see the new Athletic and Fitness Center as a gathering place for the entire community — students, faculty, and staff — where we can meet and get to know one another in the “friendly confines” of the College’s beautiful new facility. In my life I’ve seen that a little sweat and healthy competition can remove many barriers to friendship — I believe that Grinnell’s athletic facilities can bring people together and strengthen our already tight college community.

Grinnell’s richly storied athletic history is something a lot of alumni know well from their own student experiences, whether as competitors or fans. Athletics provide a way for Grinnellians to stay connected across the generations. I am grateful that the College, its trustees, and its alumni have remained committed to our new facilities even through recent economic upheavals, and I invite everyone to help us bring this project to a successful conclusion. If you can make a gift, please do so (http://www.grinnell.edu/car/dev/pioneerfund/ways). You will be a part of a centuries-long tradition of athletics and the liberal arts.