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Spandex chic (Dec. 1998)

The mythic Yale man of years past excelled both in the classroom and on the playing fields. And while some might fear that Yale’s days as a national athletic power are over, the average Yalie’s current obsession with physical fitness is threatening to transform the University from one of the world’s leading academic institutions into the world’s smartest, and most expensive, health club.

The driving force behind this relentless march towards physical fitness is the new Adrian C. “Ace” Israel ’36 Fitness Center, which is located on the fourth floor of Payne Whitney. Although it is located in the building dubbed the “cathedral of sweat” by undergraduates, human perspiration seems decidedly out of place in the new fitness center. Its shiny white interior—boasting six televisions and the flags of Yale’s colleges, graduate and professional schools suspended from what seem to be giant steam pipes—can best be described as Ivy League industrial. Otherwise, the new fitness center mimics the best of private health clubs, with row upon row of stairclimbers, treadmills, stationary bikes, rowing machines, free weights, Nautilus machines, and lots and lots of undulating spandex-clad bodies.

Not everyone wears spandex, though. In fact, the collection of people who resemble the hard-bodied health-club- goers found at your average neighborhood gym are heavily outnumbered by average folks clad in baggy t-shirts and loose shorts: teaching assistants or students you remember from art history section.

Depending on your perspective, the new weight room is either Jack LaLanne’s nirvana or the revenge of the 98-pound weakling, who is managing to get healthier, and smarter, at the same time. Those Yalies not watching the televisions, which in the standard fashion of weight rooms everywhere are permanently tuned to CNN, ESPN, and whatever talk show is on at the moment, or listening to the up-tempo music blaring from speakers placed throughout the room, generally are doing assigned reading or leafing through their lecture notes as they jog, bike, row, and step their way to nowhere in particular. Take it from me, sweatstains might make your bio notes hard to read, but they are better than realizing you have only been on the treadmill, set at the lowest level possible, for 5 minutes and still have another 25 to go until your workout is complete.

Like the state-of-the-art facility that it is, the weight lifting side of the weight room has the requisite full-body-length-mirror running along one wall. This affords those weight-lifting Yalies the opportunity to engage in the most time-honored of health club rituals—the post- lifting stare into the mirror to inspect the results of your efforts. Since the new fitness center and the resulting fitness boom have only been around for a little over two months, there is not always a whole lot for many of these would-be Mr. and Ms. Universes to stare at. But I, for one, will be buff by spring break. I promise.

Sandy Christopher ’99, a senior in Morse College, is in training for intramural ice hockey, and a senior essay in history.

Filed under facilities, buildings, 1990s
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