A buddy of mine is a world class distance runner. If I mentioned some of his accomplishments--running across Costa Rica, for example--you would just shake your head in wonder. He is a complete and utter beast.

Never having run more than 50 miles in a day myself, I'm in awe of someone who disdains an event of a hundred mile as "too short." It makes me tired just to think about Will running up and down 13,000 foot mountain peaks. So I was surprised when my buddy and I disagreed about cheating in running. We both love our sport. We get chills thinking about Abebe Bikila running barefoot through Rome winning the 1960 Olympic marathon. We both know that Hicham el Guerrouj beat Bernard Legat by twelve one-hundredths of a second to run the fastest mile in the history of the world. How could we be in complete opposition on such a fundamental issue as corruption in athletics?

         Abebe Bikila, Rome, 1960
Here's my position: performance-enhancing drugs, any substance that confers an unfair advantage, should be discovered and banned. It breaks my heart to train hard, run all-out, and finish fourth in my age group. If the three guys in the 60-64 year old category all took PEDs, then I'm peeved. I should be on the podium getting a medal, not the guy who conned the race. Cheaters demean the participants and the sport.

Will disagreed.

"Broccoli is a performance enhancing substance," he said. "What about coffee? Where do you draw the line?"

"Why not just level the playing field?" he went on. "If people want to destroy their bodies with HGH, steroids, and EPO, let 'em." Let them cut their legs off and run on blades if they think they can go faster."

It is hard to disagree with a man who can run for 36 hours without stopping or sleeping, so I will turn my attention from running to a subject about which I am supposed to be knowledgeable, admissions at competitive colleges.

Johnny has a tutor for each day of the week, one for each of his senior year advanced placement courses; Susie has hired a professional writer to craft her admissions essays; Rafa is applying to the agriculture school at Cornell even though he has no interest agronomy; Tommy's father is putting pressure on someone he knows on the board of a competitive college where Tommy is applying.

 Hicham el Guerrouj

Here's where the analogy between runners who use banned substances and students who cheat in admission becomes especially cogent: cheaters may prosper--but only in the short term. Illicit performance enhancing drugs have significant long-term negative health consequences as well. Johnny, Susie, Rafa, and Tommy will be slammed and stressed when they are in over their heads, surrounded by more able students. They may self medicate with marijuana or pain pills to diminish their anxiety. They may be completely and utterly miserable having been admitted to colleges where they can't compete.

You think the hardest thing about Cornell is being admitted? Try preparing for a calculus test, going up against other kids who actually know the material backwards and forwards. Whether you got admitted through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences before switching to the College of Arts and Sciences is not the issue when the exams get handed back.

The focus on winning races or admissions contests is harmful to kids. Brown and MIT admitted under 10% of their applicants this year; Harvard and Stanford under six percent. The only way to win is to just do the best you can. Play hard, play fair, accept the result with graciousness.

As the insanity surrounding competitive college admissions continues to accelerate at this family-destroying pace, some parents would allow their children to cut their legs off if the child could run faster as a result. Some parents would cut the legs off their children if they thought the kids would be admitted to more competitive colleges as a result. Is deliberate amputation of limbs such a long way from cheating in the admissions process?

Wouldn't you rather have a kid who knows you love her whether or not she's admitted to an uber-competitive school? Wouldn't you rather have a healthy kid attending college where she belongs, with all her limbs intact?

3 thoughts on “Cheetahs!

  1. Roland Samimy

    Couldn’t agree with you more. The means do not justify the ends. And at the end of the day, the race does not end with admission to college, grad school, the “perfect” job if such a thing exists. The race ends when you are on your death bed. Are you lying there at peace with yourself, with how you lived your life, with how you treated the people you encountered and touched along the way, with what you gave back to your community to make the world a better place. Or are you tossing and turning, stressed, regretful, afraid.

  2. kris

    Well said! We didn’t have any “strings to pull” . While I may have had a moment of regret, Logic overcame and I felt that my son would end up where he belonged and Relaxed.
    I was so right. He ended up in a “reach” school that was his number one choice.
    Emory University…through his grades, extracurricular and perseverance.
    He is very proud and knowing he did it on his own is a big confidence builder.
    He’s been happy and maintaining an A- average, since day one. .with two semesters to go!!!
    Parents, the other reality is that the college years go by at warp speed!
    So as much as you will miss them it is hard to be sad when you see them happy and thriving.


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