Working Out at BYU: Alumni Exercise Stories
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First Person

Working Out 

BYU grads recall the many ways they stayed active on campus.

An illustration of a female college student strains to raise a heavy weightlifting barbell. Stacks of dumbbells and weights sit in the foreground.
Illustration by Travis Foster

Trash to Treasure

By Nancy Noble (BS ’75, MA ’81), Victorville, CA

In fall 1972 I was last in the registration line. Discouraged, I approached the PE table to find only weight training 100 cards left. I thought it was a class on how to lose weight.

When I showed up under the Smith Fieldhouse bleachers for class, I was horrified to see weightlifting equipment—and no other girls. I was a farm girl who had lifted hay bales, but what kind of girl lifts weights to build muscles? Would I ever get a date as a weightlifter? Embarrassed, I hid this unfortunate situation from my roommates.

But the class was fun, and every day I left with a big smile. I was secretly proud of my developing muscles, and my classmates were friendly and goodhearted. At the end there was a round-robin weightlifting competition. I went the rounds, doing my best, as the TA wrote down the scores.

I won the standing squats with a 257-pound lift and, with flaming red cheeks, received the trophy. Not able to figure out how to bring it home without drawing laughter from my roommates and FHE brothers, I dropped it in the trash can on the way out the door.

Times change! I would give anything today to have that trophy and bragging rights.

A Tight Fit

By David R. Law (BA ’11), East Wenatchee, WA

A group of men in my married student ward decided to sign up for an intramural flag-football team. We thought it would be a good way to get some exercise and show our wives that we still had some athletic skills.

One of the guys on the team announced that a friend had given him a bunch of brand-new football jerseys. The jerseys were made for a local football team but had been rejected because the style was not what the team had ordered. We were excited—playing in matching jerseys would make us look like a serious team.
Before the first game, our friend pulled out the jerseys for the first time. We soon realized the jerseys were for a youth, possibly even a pee-wee, football team. Even without pads, we could barely squeeze into these tiny jerseys, but we decided to wear them anyway. We looked a little ridiculous, and our wives could not stop laughing.

Aerobics Anthem

By Ginny Dixon Walker (BFA ’90), Chesapeake, VA

“Tommy used to work on the docks, union’s been on strike, he’s down on his luck, it’s tough, so tough…”

It’s 1987 and hundreds of BYU students—mostly women—and I grapevine and knee-lift to Bon Jovi’s hit single “Livin’ on a Prayer” at the nighttime intramural aerobics class in the Smith Fieldhouse.

We surround three instructors standing on raised platforms indicating low-, medium-, and high-impact activity levels. Even though my roommates and I are warmed up from the walk from our apartment, we still stretch our muscles.

Next, the music gets loud and the lead instructor gives us commands to walk side to side, kick, squat, raise our arms, and clap.

I feel a little silly copying a lady in light-blue leotard and a head mic, but Bon Jovi is blasting and everyone is laughing as we try not to run into each other. After 45 minutes we’ve all worked up a good sweat and I feel triumphant for being able to follow the high-impact teacher without twisting an ankle.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” will always hold a special place in my heart as a joyous anthem of my uncoordinated, youthful self.

A drawing of a diver standing on a high diving board, his back to the pool.
Illustration by Travis Foster

Dive of Faith

By David S. Thornley (BS ’08), Provo

I am not athletically gifted and avoid any type of sport. However, to maintain my full-time status during one semester at BYU, I enrolled in diving.

I struggled from the start, not understanding basic techniques and facing fears of diving head-first from a height. This often resulted in my plunging into the pool in a crumpled mass. Practicing between classes didn’t help. To end my constant anxiety and embarrassment, I tried to drop the course but begrudgingly continued when I learned it would affect my GPA.

During one session the instructor taught everyone how to dive backward. Although fully anticipating another failure, I stood with my feet at the edge of the board, my back to the water. I slowly practiced each part of the movement with other students quietly coaching me. Finally, I leapt backward and into the water. When I emerged, I heard the sound of clapping and cheering classmates.

I had successfully performed a back dive!

I didn’t become an expert diver, and it’s been years since I’ve attempted another back dive. However, knowing that this non-athletic guy could successfully perform one type of dive still brings a smile.

150-Mile Success

By D. Brian McNatt (BS ’86, MAcc ’89), Eagle, ID

My only exercise as a freshman was walking across campus and up and down endless flights of stairs. But in spring 1980 BYU announced that students could earn a T-shirt by running 150 miles to commemorate the Church’s 150th anniversary.

Despite never having done any running, I thought, “How hard could it be?” I’d have the entire semester. So, with the allure of that special T-shirt, I signed up, headed to the indoor track, and ran 1.5 miles. The weeks passed, and my miles were adding up very slowly. I discovered that running was not so easy—especially at 4,550 feet elevation. I worked up to 5 miles each time I ran, but my 18-credit hour course schedule left me with little time to run.

With only three days left in the semester, I found myself 25 miles short. So I planned to run 7 miles, 7 miles, and 11 miles over the last three days. Fueled by the dream of that special shirt, on the last day I ran 55 laps and fell exhausted to the fieldhouse floor. Extremely proud, I entered the Wilkinson Center office to claim my prize, only to find out that the event had ended the week before.

With one last effort, I sent a letter to the organizers. A month later a manila envelope arrived at my home. Inside was a powder blue T-shirt, symbol of my sesquicentennial success.


During spring and summer terms, did you stick around Provo to take classes, to stay close to someone special, or for another reason? Or was it your seasonal strategy to take a few months away from studies to earn money, hang out with family, go abroad, or find creative ways to recharge? Whether you were on campus or far away, share a story of how you spent your summer when you were a BYU student.

Deadline: April 3.

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