Nation: I've Got to Keep Trying

  • Share
  • Read Later

A Catoctin mountain brought Jimmy to his knees

It is the kind of scene that happens every weekend all over the country, but this one is by now part of presidential history—the middle-aged runner with the yellow headband and the number 39 on his T shirt nearing the top of a long hill in Catoctin Mountain National Park, then beginning to moan and falter. "I've got to keep trying," gasped Jimmy Carter, now sweating heavily. "If I can just make the top, I've got it made."

Seconds later, an ashen-faced Carter felt his legs go rubbery and just as he began to fall a Secret Service agent grabbed him. Some aides feared he had suffered a heart attack; the White House and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski were immediately alerted, and there was talk of evacuating the President to a hospital. But White House Physician Dr. William Lukash diagnosed heat exhaustion. The President was taken back to his bedroom at Camp David, stripped, covered with cold towels, and injected with nearly a quart of salt water through a vein in his left arm. Lukash quickly ran an electrocardiogram on Carter; the results showed no heart damage. After about an hour, the President was up and slowly walking around the room. Some 90 minutes after the collapse, Carter stood at the finish line of the 10-km (6.2-mile) race, handing out trophies to the winners.

"They had to drag me off," he joked. "I didn't want to stop."

Despite Carter's lighthearted remark and stouthearted recovery, and despite Lukash's assertion after a complete medical examination that Carter seemed "perfectly normal," the incident raised questions about the President's exercise program and general wellbeing. Although more than 10% of American adults say they run or jog regularly, doctors have been cautious about proclaiming that running assures a healthier life. As exercise becomes more popular, it appears running may actually bring on heart attacks among a few people, particularly those who have not trained sufficiently.

On the very week of the Carter race, a team of Stanford doctors released a study of 18 joggers who died during or just after exercise. The doctors concluded that superior fitness and extensive training do not guarantee protection against such deaths.

Though Carter admitted last year that he had "never been a really good athlete," he has proved to be a very conscientious exerciser and one of the most versatile sportsmen ever to serve as Chief Executive. He enjoys activities ranging from bowling and swimming (he can execute an impressive one-and-a-half flip off the diving board at the Camp David pool) to fly-fishing and quail hunting. During his first 20 months in the White House, Carter tended to get most of his exercise through tennis, playing at least five times a week and teaching Rosalynn to play. He took up jogging a year ago, when he held the Middle East summit at Camp David and discovered he had no time for tennis. Says Lukash: "In his usual fashion, he went at it intensely."

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3