RECENT CONTROVERSY: ARE ATHLETES HEALTHY - VIEWS ON THE TRAINING OF OARSMEN.
It would not be right, I think, to send forth a new book on rowing without referring to the controversy that has recently been carried on in the columns of the St. James's Gazette under the general title of " Are Athletes Healthy ? " The discussion, which concerned itself mainly with oarsmen, is naturally of very deep interest, not only to them, but to the fathers and mothers who are anxious about the welfare of their energetic sons, and who, if the charges alleged against rowing can be proved, will, of course, do their best to dissuade their offspring from indulging in this pernicious exercise. I should have preferred to discuss the matter in the earlier chapters of this book, but the printing was already so far advanced as to render this course out of the question, and I am therefore compelled to deal with it somewhat out of its place in this final chapter.
It would be idle to deny that there was some reason for beginning this discussion. Within the past two years three magnificent young oarsmen, Mr. H. B. Cotton, Mr. T. H. E. Stretch, and Mr. E. R. Balfour, have died ; the first after an illness of six months' duration, the other two after being ill for less than a fortnight. They were all Oxford men, had rowed in victorious races both at Putney and at Henley, and two of them—Mr. Cotton and Mr. Balfour—had been actually rowing and racing till within a short time of the attack that proved fatal to them. Mr. Stretch had not raced, except in scratch Eights at Putney, since the Henley Regatta of 1896, some ten months before he died.
It has been asserted that these three untimely deaths were due directly to the severe strain under gone both in preparation for racing and in the actual races in which these oarsmen took part, and that had they been content with unathletic lives they might have lived on for many years. Can that be proved ? I admit that I do not wish to think the allegation capable of proof, for these three were my familiar friends. I had coached and trained them all ; with two of them I had rowed in several races ; I had spent innumerable happy days in their society, and the sorrow I feel in having lost them would be terribly increased if I were forced to believe that our favourite sport had had any part in hastening their end. In these
cases I will confine myself to stating facts within my own knowledge, and will leave those who read my statement to say whether on a fair view of the matter the exercise of rowing can be held blame worthy.
I may begin by saying that it is the invariable rule at Oxford to send all men who may be re quired for the University Eight to undergo a preliminary medical examination. This examina tion is no perfunctory one. It is conducted by Mr. H. P. Symonds, a gentleman of very wide experience, especially amongst undergraduates, and I have known several instances in which, owing to his report, an oarsman has had to with draw temporarily from the river, and has lost his chance of wearing the coveted blue. There has never been any question about yielding to Mr. Symonds's judgment. His verdict, if adverse, has always been accepted as final both by the oarsman concerned and by the president of the Boat Club. In all the three cases with which I am dealing, Mr. Symonds passed his men as perfectly sound in heart and lungs and in every other organ.
I take the case of Mr. Stretch first, in order to eliminate it conclusively. The cause of his death was appendicitis, followed by severe blood-poison ing. It is quite impossible to connect this painful and malignant illness with rowing or with any other exercise. The appendix vernzifornzis, which is the seat of the disease, is an unaccountable relic in the internal organization of human beings ; it is liable to be affected mysteriously and suddenly in the young and the old, and the only effective remedy, I believe, is by means of an operation which removes it altogether. Mr. Stretch had, as I said, not trained and raced for ten months, and up to the moment of his illness had been in the enjoy ment of robust and almost exceptional health.