Busting the non-athletic regular person stereotype

9 mins read
Photo Illustration by Sadie Rittman for the Phoenix
Photo Illustration by Sadie Rittman for the Phoenix
Photo Illustration by Sadie Rittman for the Phoenix

We all know that regardless of which sport they’re a member of, varsity athletes have it rough. On top of everything that Swarthmore demands of its students (as if it weren’t enough already), its varsity teams sentence athletes to multiple hours a week of exhausting physical activity, travel time for any away games or meets, the possibility of inconvenient, debilitating injuries…and the list goes on and on.

But what about those who commit themselves to work out just as hard without the Garnet insignia attached to a cool-looking jacket? A term exists to describe these non-varsity athletes who choose how they work out, when they work out and why.

The term NARPs (non-athletic regular people) is unfortunately a grossly misleading title. In contrast to what it stands for, a NARP is not necessarily someone who’s “non-athletic.” Used as what some might refer to as a term of endearment, a NARP is classified as a person who chooses to work out on their own but is not officially part of a varsity team. An entire spectrum of NARPs exists at Swarthmore, ranging from the dedicated gym-goers to the occasional weekend joggers. These NARPs can also range from being extremely athletic to those just starting a new workout routine.

Chien He Wong ’16 has very casually worked out at the gym since his freshman year at Swarthmore. This commitment could classify him as a NARP. However, this casual routine has grown even more casual, as the walk from Worth to the Mullan Center has oft proved to be too long of a trek for Wong this semester.

“I haven’t been to the gym for a few weeks now,” Wong explained. “But I’m thinking of starting up again next week, or maybe even after winter break,” he joked, before emphasizing that he was being serious.

Although Wong seems to encompass the lower half of the NARP spectrum — the end where working out isn’t at the top of the list of things to do — he still knows that going to the gym is something he values. “I work out because it’s nice to have a routine that makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself,” he explained. “But it’s also nice in part because it’s just fun to go from session to session to watch my lifts increase every time,” he said.

However, in Wong’s case, if his motivation does fail him, he knows that it’s not the end of the world or the end of his gains. “Working out is just a hobby for me that I could give up for a couple of nights or skip out on for a whole week in favor of doing something else,” he said. “I always know that even after a break, I can come back and start again.”

At the other end of the spectrum lie the hardworking NARPs whose dedication to their respective routines could arguably be compared to that of a varsity athlete’s. These types of NARPs, the regulars in the context of a gym setting, would be recognizable to other gym-goers who attend the gym on a semi-regular basis. They’re particularly noticeable amongst the lifters at the Mullan Center.

A specific group, almost all of whom have now graduated, helped create a sense of unity amongst the lifters as a whole. Although this group’s presence is no longer felt at the gym, there are still hardworking and dedicated NARPs including Harris Hoke ’15, who continue the sense of community amongst the lifters.

For the past three years, going to the gym has been an important part of Hoke’s life. When he first began, he was driven by the desire to stay in shape as well as find a source of self-esteem that stemmed from a non-academic origin. His workouts have ranged from regular routines that work toward a long-term goal to Olympic weightlifting programs that he and a friend created themselves.

Beside his reasons for starting to work out in the first place, Hoke emphasized the fact that one of the main reasons he continues to stay is due to the strong sense of community present at the gym. “I continue to work out because it’s a genuine community space; it brings together a wide range of people who still have common interests,” he said. “We’re not assigned to care about each other, but the people I’ve met at the gym have kept me safe and helped me learn and grow.”

One way the lifters encourage each other is through the art of giving tips. After watching someone lift and finish their set, a more experienced lifter might come up and give them a few friendly tips or corrections that could be made to their form. Wong described such a scene that happened between him and Hoke, saying, “Hoke came up to me in a really friendly way and said ‘Hey, do you mind if I give you a couple of tips?’ He wasn’t overbearing in any way and made it feel more like a conversation than a teacher-student relationship.”

Hoke also commented on the giving of tips and the initial awkwardness it can bring. However, he said, “When somebody is obviously struggling or doing something clearly unsafe, concern for them tends to overshadow any lingering social anxiety about determining when it’s appropriate to approach someone.” Emphasizing why tips are so important, he explained, “It’s crucial that people don’t feel like they have to learn to lift on their own, because it’s incredibly difficult and often unsafe to do so.”

Although this sense of camaraderie in tip-giving is present, Hoke emphasized the importance of the will and motivation of the individual, saying, “The biggest change from being on a team to working out on your own is that you have to create your own purpose.”

Although this athlete, this NARP, is not officially part of a collegiate team, his presence at the gym is dedicated. Hoke and Wong only represent a specific class of NARPs, those who lift and work out at the gym. The other NARPs, the ones working on their yoga form on Saturday mornings or the ones running on the treadmill every day, exist, whether or not they’re wearing those cool-looking jackets. Of course athletes have it rough, but let’s not forget about the NARPs who have a few hurdles to jump over on their own.

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