Question: Why isn’t cycling offered as an activity in early grades and as a sport in high school? I just saw a doctor talking to Congress about obesity in children. The statistics were frightening. What can we do to pass the sport of cycling to the next generation? — James N.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: That’s a very good question. As a 27-year veteran of the high school classroom (and quite a few years coaching football and track), I suspect the answer is three-fold.
First, there isn’t much interest among kids or teachers because there’s little cycling culture in the U.S.
Second, liability. Cycling can be dangerous because it takes place on the open road rather than in the safe confines of a playing field or gym on school grounds.
Third, cost. Schools can’t afford books and new classrooms these days, much less another expensive sport.
It’s not just children who are becoming obese at frightening rates. Diseases linked to being overweight in adults are rapidly making obesity the No. 1 killer in the developed world.
The obesity epidemic has ramifications for cycling, in general. If exercise is important for losing weight, why can’t children ride to school safely? For that matter, why can’t adults ride to work safely? Where is the infrastructure — bike paths, wide shoulders, slower speed limits where cyclists ride — that would allow many more people to get out on a bike?
Every age has a basic paradox that defines it. In the Renaissance, it was the dichotomy between conventional religious belief on one hand set against the excesses of certain church officials. More recently we’ve seen one arm of the U.S. government, the Surgeon General’s Office, warn against the dangers of smoking while another branch of government, Agriculture, pays subsidies to tobacco farmers.
Now we’re being warned about the dangers of obesity and the staggering cost that associated illnesses will wreak on the U.S. economy. But the various transportation agencies continue to build roads for cars, to encourage bigger vehicles with low gas taxes, and to discourage cycling with sins of facility-building omission.
Unless society decides to focus on the problem of obesity, it will only become –pardon the pun — bigger. Sorry for getting on the soapbox!