How Did John F. Kennedy Feel about America’s Physical Fitness?

When John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States in January 1961, he told the country in his inaugural address “that the torch has been passed to a new generation.” At 43, JFK was the youngest man ever to be elected to the White House, and his boyish good looks and youthful charm were in sharp contrast to the former U.S. president, 70-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kennedy made physical fitness a cornerstone of his early agenda, including writing an article entitled “The Soft American” for Sports Illustrated magazine. In the December 1960 article, Kennedy explained his worries that the loss of young Americans' “physical vigor” would compromise the nation’s ability to defend itself and prosper, particularly during the Cold War.

JFK's 50-mile challenge:

  • Kennedy wrote that there was “an increasingly large number of young Americans who are neglecting their bodies, whose physical fitness is not what it should be, who are getting soft.”

  • Taking inspiration from a directive issued by President Theodore Roosevelt back in 1908, JFK challenged members of the U.S. Marine Corps to demonstrate their fitness by marching 50 miles (80.5 km) in 20 hours. The troops quickly responded.

  • Others heard the call, including the Boy Scouts of America, fraternity chapters, and high school students. Even Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy hiked 50 miles in his “scuffed Cordovan oxfords,” according to Time magazine.

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More Info: The Washington Post

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