With one of the most time-consuming jobs in America, and arguably the world, time for leisurely activities like sports, is hard to come by for the president of the United States.
From George Washington to George W. Bush, these men have worked around the clock, leading the United States and making important policy decisions.
But many of those commander in chiefs have managed to fit in physical activity of some sort.
Many of the earlier presidents were avid walkers and horseback riders, rightfully so, as other means of transportation were scarce. Other physical activities that our earlier leaders took part in range from Abraham Lincoln’s wrestling to Teddy Roosevelt’s days of boxing and Ju-Jitsu, a martial art.
Some of our 19th-century presidents spent their free time playing croquet (Rutherford B. Hayes) or at the billiard tables (John Q. Adams, Chester A. Arthur and James Garfield).
Franklin Roosevelt had an indoor pool installed in the White House. The pool served as a form of therapy for the president, who was suffering from polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. The room where the pool was located now serves as the current press briefing room. The remnants of the pool are under the floor of the press room and serve as a crawl space for electronics.
A century later, the image of the presidency had changed.
With the advancements in photography and TV, U.S. presidents were under pressure to keep up their physical abilities. People now saw them more often.
Staying physically active is essential for politicians, especially U.S. presidents and other high-ranking officials at both the national and local level, said Matt Ryan, mayor of the city of Binghamton.
“It is important to set an example to show that you are active and are capable of preventing illness,” Ryan said.
Ryan, who swims for a half hour every morning beginning at 6:30 a.m., said that politicians can be role models as leaders by staying physically fit.
And that is what recent presidents have done.
A new look
The latest trend, for those who seek the presidency and those who have sat behind the Resolute desk of the Oval Office, is to stay physically fit.
Most notably are the men who have resided in the White House since the 1960s.
At 43 years, 7 months and 22 days old, John F. Kennedy was youngest man elected President.
As a young president, Kennedy stayed physically fit, actively swimming, sailing and playing football.
Following Kennedy’s tragic death, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became president and spent his free time fishing and hunting. Richard Nixon was spotted many times at the bowling alley in the White House basement. He also took up golf.
But probably one of the best-known presidents with links to sports was Gerald Ford.
Way before his tenure as president of the United States, Ford was a star athlete and captain of his high school football team in Grand Rapids, Mich. His talent on the field in high school turned the heads of college recruiters.
Ford, who played center and linebacker for the University of Michigan football team, helped the Wolverines capture national titles in 1932 and 1933, finishing with undefeated seasons.
As an instructor at the Naval pre-flight school in North Carolina, Ford coached all nine sports offered including swimming, boxing and football.
During his presidency, while attending a summit in the Soviet Union, Ford requested to be woken up to find out the score of a Michigan-Ohio State football game. He even had the U.S. Naval band play the fight song from his alma mater, “The Victors,” prior to state events instead of “Hail to the Chief,” the anthem of the president of the United States.
As for his physical ventures during his time in office, Ford was an avid swimmer, golfer and jogger. He had an outdoor pool build on the White House grounds in 1975. But despite his athleticism, Ford had a reputation as quite the klutz, exemplified when he tripped while walking down the stairs after disembarking from Air Force One.
The common president
Ford helped set the standard for future presidents, particularly his successor, Jimmy Carter.
During his youth, Carter played basketball in high school. But during his time as the 39th president, Carter spent much of his available time jogging. When not jogging or attending to his presidential duties, Carter was found on the tennis courts or out canoeing, fishing or skiing. He also followed predecessor Ford and swam from time to time.
Before he was an actor, Ronald Reagan, at age 15, was a lifeguard. As one of his favorite pastimes, Reagan frequently swam. Reagan reportedly saved 77 lives as a lifeguard, a testament to his physical ability.
George H. W. Bush also has a rich history in sports.
The elder Bush captained both the varsity baseball and soccer teams during his time at Phillips Academy, a private prep school several miles north of Boston, Mass. While at Yale, Bush captained the baseball team. The left-handed first baseman played in the first two College World Series, the NCAA Division I tournament. Yale lost in both of those world series. Bush met Babe Ruth in 1948 before a game during his senior year.
Ruth died later that year.
“Forty-One,” a nickname bestowed on him by his son, spends time boating and fishing. He also golfs, jogs and plays tennis.
Bill Clinton was known during his presidency for wanting to run on the National Mall. While studying at Oxford, Clinton played rugby. During his time in the White House, Clinton relieved his stress by hitting the links. Even after his presidency, Clinton still finds time to get to a golf course.
Yesterday and today
Our current president, George W. Bush, is one of the best combinations of sports and politics.
Besides playing baseball in high school, Bush bought $800,000 worth of shares of the Texas Rangers, a major league baseball team, in April 1989.
Bush served as managing general partner for five years, when in 1994 he was elected Governor of Texas. During his time as a partner, Bush actively led several projects and regularly attended the team’s games, where he often chose to sit in the stands with fans. He sold his shares for over $15 million in 1998 after being reelected to a second term as the governor.
During the past eight years as president, Bush has been a dedicated runner and mountain biker. According to special behind-the-scenes video extra in “The Sentinel,” a 2006 movie, during Bush’s campaign for the White House in 2000, the Secret Service had to find agents that were able to keep up with him when he went running.
Bush’s love for mountain biking has led him to help mountain bikers gain access to national parks.
Even the current presidential candidates have histories with sports.
Republican candidate Sen. John McCain earned two varsity letters in wrestling during high school. He also played on the junior varsity football team and the tennis team.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, is an avid basketball player and has often been spotted playing basketball with members of the U.S. Armed Forces and college basketball players while on the campaign trail.
Whether it was just getting away from the Oval Office or looking for a good time in the pool, at the driving range or jogging the trails of Camp David, the few men that have graced the grand halls of the White House as president of the United States have found the time to involve sports in their lives.
Whatever their reasons may be, for Binghamton’s mayor, sports have taught him a lot about focus and discipline.
“I always thought sports were important to keep up your discipline in both mind and body,” Ryan said.