THEODORE ROOSEVELT … 26TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 1901 1909 … NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, 1906 … U.S. VICE PRESIDENT, 1901 … GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK, 1899 1901 … COMMANDED FIRST U.S. VOLUNTEER CAVALRY REGIMENT (ROUGH RIDERS), SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR, 1898 … ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, 1897 98 … NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER, 1895 1897 In life as in football, the principle to follow is hit the line hard and don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard. TEDD Y ROOSE VELT THEODORE ROOSEVELT 177 SOURCES: T WEED ROOSEVELT, GREAT-GRANDSON; JIM FOOTE, ROOSEVELT HISTORIAN This president ended up on Mount Rushmore, so I think you can conclude that historians think Teddy Roosevelt was not just another President or an average leader. As robustly as he lived his adult life, he began it as a child riddled with asthma and often had to sleep sitting up in a chair in an effort to breathe. He was virtually a house prisoner.
Most people did not expect him to live through his teensthat was how bad the asthma was. But he survived to live an adult life that was the complete antithesis of his youth. When it wasn’t full-contact politics he practiced, it was fullcontact sports. My exercise consists of walking, boxing, vaulting, and gymnasium work. Eventually, young Theodore’s father built a gymnasium for him where they lived in Manhattan and said, Son, you have the mind, not the body. One has to be built up, and it’s hard drudgery but I know you can do it. He was so frail as a kid that he had to be home-schooled. He spent countless hours on the parallel bars and with dumbbells trying to build up his chest. Physical exercise, it turns out, was and is one of the best treatments for asthmatics. While he was bright and had a photographic memory, he was not able to socialize. He later admitted that he was afraid of a great many things, but found that by practicing being brave, he became brave. I believe that those boys who take part in rough, hard play outside of school will not find any need for horse play in school. TEDDY TURNS Part of the treatment for asthma back then was getting out of New York City. Come summertime, Teddy was shipped out. He took the train up to Moosehead Lake in Maine.
178 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME On the stagecoach ride from the railroad depot to the lake where he would be staying, he encountered a problem. Two much larger boys around his age started in with him. With his quick temper, he swung out at them. The result was that the undersized Teddy was manhandled. Without any effort at all, the other two boys held him off while he flailed away like a windmill, never landing a blow. He was humiliated and vowed never to let it happen again. He got his dad to put him in boxing class. EXCERPT FROM TEDDY ROOSEVELT: YOUNG RIDER HIGH-VALUE FIGHTER At fifteen, his dad was able to get Teddy a boxing coach named John Long. He was still just one hundred thirty pounds, with short arms, and nearsighted, but his asthma was virtually gone. Like everything else he did, Teddy picked up the skills quickly and learned to hit straight, hard, and clean.
TOURNAMENT TIME It was soon time to test his skills in the ring as a lightweight in Coach Long’s boxing tournament. Roosevelt drew a tall, slender fighter in Dick Williams. It’s been said that he never hit Williams hard but did hit him often and easily won the fight. He went on to take his next two bouts. The fourth was for the trophy. His opponent was John Hart. Like almost everybody else, he was taller, with longer arms, than the future President. After two rounds, with the fight all even, the bell sounded. Teddy dropped his hands. Hart, already in motion, whacked him with a full shot right in the face. As much as it hurt, he knew that Hart did not hear the bell or at the very least did not mean to hit him after the bell. So, before the ref could stop it or the crowd would go over the top, he yelled, Quiet, John didn’t hear the bell. That stopped the booing and kept the fight going. It was Teddy who held on to win the decision and the trophy. He was quoted as saying between rounds right after the blow, You play fair and if the other fighter means to play fair, you stand up for him. THEODORE ROOSEVELT 179 IMPACTING THE GAME In 1905, eight people were either killed or wounded on the football field. As President, Roosevelt felt he had to take action, but at the same time he knew the value of having athletics complement academics.
He called the three big football powers at the time to Washington, D.C.Harvard, Princeton and Yaleand they hashed out the National Football Rules. That coalition stuck together and expanded to become what we now call the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA.). The Theodore Roosevelt Award is awarded annually for national significance and achievement in competitive athletics and attention to physical well-being in college. This award sums up what this book is about. FUN AND FISTS IN THE WHITE HOUSE In 1906, Roosevelt was sparring with a navy lieutenant in the White House, got hit in the left eye, and suffered a detached retina. Back then, anything like that happening to a President would send the country into a major panic, and so it was kept quiet. Roosevelt lost his sight in his left eye and his doctor advised him to give up boxing. Roosevelt’s reply was, Very well, so I’ll try jujitsu. He did, and eventually he earned a black belt. MY WRAP Although sports were not the single key to one of America’s most accomplished citizens, Teddy Roosevelt went out of his way to say they were vital to his development. But more than winning, he talked about fairness and fitness. One of the hardest parts of writing this book was keeping this particular chapter brief because this man did more in his life than just about anyone else in history.
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