It’s a Good Life

“It’s a Good Life…”

Celebrating the Stark Center’s 10th Anniversary

A blog by Stark Center Director, Jan Todd

 

I first heard the expression, “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken,” from my husband Terry Todd, who’d learned it from his grandmother, Agnes Todd, who no doubt had also heard it from her parents. As lifters, Terry and I adopted the statement somewhat as a personal mantra, often mentioning it to one another when we were tired or frustrated, and finding solace in the idea that our physical strength would help us keep moving forward on whatever task we’d set ourselves at the time. Since Terry’s passing 18 months ago, I’ve thought of those words almost every day and I am struck again, as I write this, at how much those last two words, in particular, have been sustaining me during this time. “Don’t Weaken,” I say to myself, “you’ve got work to do, get going.”  And so life goes on.

Focusing on those last two words has kept me upright and moving forward, but it’s also allowed me to pay less attention than I should to the first part of that old Southern expression …  the part about the “good life.”   As I was thinking about taking on the task of writing a blog for the Stark website and casting about for a title (Terry used “Don’t Weaken” as his), it occurred to me that perhaps what I should do as the Stark’s new scribe is to focus on the things we do—and have done—at the Stark that help to create “a good life” for students, and scholars, and UT alumni, and general fans of sport and exercise around the world who use our growing digital outreach.  The psychologist Rollo May wrote in his Love and Will back in 1969 that “Life comes from physical survival, but the good life comes from what we care about.”[1] So in starting this new on-line journal, I’ve decided to share things about the Stark that I care about, things that I think have made a difference. I begin this first blog by marveling at the fact that 2019-2020 marks the tenth anniversary of the Stark Center and by sharing a quick recap of some of what our tiny staff has accomplished since the Stark opened its elevator doors to the public for the first time in 2009.  

It’s been an amazing, vastly rewarding decade as we’ve grown exponentially in the size of our library and archival holdings, become recognized as an Olympic Studies Center by the International Olympic Committee and partnered with UT Athletics to help preserve the history of Longhorn sports. Over the past ten years, we’ve also played host to the National Academy of Kinesiology; the North American Society for Sport History; the North American Society for Sport Management; the American Ephemera Society; the American College of Sport Medicine’s 2010 Health and Fitness Summit; and dozens of class groups, senior groups, summer campers to the UT campus, and myriad other visitors who wander in from near and far.  We’ve been visited by celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, and magician David Blaine; pro golfers Jordan Spieth, Ben Crenshaw, and Tom Kite; and numerous strength celebrities like World’s Strongest Man winners Hafthor Bjornsson and Brian Shaw and Women’s World CrossFit champions Annie Thorisdottir and Caity Henniger; and dozens of Olympians including more than 50 members of the 1968 Olympic Team who held a reunion here.  

We’ve assisted hundreds of on- and off-campus researchers who’ve used our library, archives, and digital collections for books, dissertations, theses, class papers, films, and museum exhibits.  We’ve collaborated on exhibits with the LBJ Presidential Library, the Bob Bullock State History Museum, The Wittliff Galleries at Texas State University, Skidmore University’s art museum, and the National Inventors Museum and Hall of Fame in Washington, DC.  We hosted special lectures with Senator Bill Bradley on basketball; British art historian Broderick Chow on performance in physical culture; sponsored a symposium with UT Olympians and TV broadcaster Donna De Varona; examined training and anti-aging in a special conference with Clarence Bass and Eddie Coyle, and learned from sport historian Jack Berryman’s lecture  how our rules for sportsmanship were originally derived from the “gentleman’s code for ethical hunting.” We also brought to our galleries two highly-regarded traveling museum exhibits—”Our Body the Universe Within,” an exhibition on human anatomy; and, through partnerships with the College of Communication and the Center for Jewish Studies, “Berlin 1936” the National Holocaust Museum’s exhibition on the 1936 Olympic Games. Our speaker series for that exhibition included the distinguished sport historians John Hoberman, David K. Wiggins, and Linda Borish.  And during the fall 2019 semester, in a partnership with the Texas Exes, we hosted our first Clyde Littlefield Lecture.  Journalist Asher Price wowed the more than 300 people in the auditorium with insights into the life of football great Earl Campbell.

We’ve also continued publishing Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture, now in its thirtieth year of publication.  Collaborating with Center sponsor, Rogue Fitness, we co-produced a series of documentary films about the history of strength and physical culture. One of those films, Fullsterkur, even received an award at the Austin Film Festival in 2018; it and others in the series can be seen on Netflix.

I admit to being, as the British say, “house proud” when I get off the elevator and see the art and sculpture, find researchers in the reading room studying and using materials from the collections, and then go into our staff areas and see what’s being digitized, archived, sorted, and cataloged. I’m amazed at how far we’ve come in only ten years with such a small staff, and I truly say a word of thanks every day for the incredible people who work at the Center and have made this all happen. I also am gratified at how the Center’s existence has changed scholarship in sport history, sport sociology, art history, and how we’ve played a role in helping to define the new academic field of physical culture studies.  To think that UT’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education now offers a Ph.D. degree in Physical Culture and Sport Studies and an undergraduate degree called Physical Culture and Sports is immensely rewarding to me, as is the knowledge that the lives of Eugen Sandow, Katie Sandwina, Bob Hoffman, Joe Weider, and Pudgy Stockton are now taught in sport history class alongside those of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Billy Jean King.

The Stark Center’s growth and success was made possible, of course, by the kindness and support of a number of individuals and foundations who believed in the Stark Center’s mission and financially and materially supported the dream first imagined by Terry as he was writing his dissertation in the 1960s.   But Terry’s dream of creating a library about sport and physical culture would never have been possible without the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, without Betty and Joe Weider and the Joe Weider Foundation, without Bill and Caity Henniger of Rogue Fitness, and without a large number of other donors whose contributions to the Stark Center are discussed here.

As I’ve had more time for self-reflection in these recent months, I’ve thought more about the first part of this old southernism that came to have such meaning for the two of us, and how I and others must continue to work to make sure that the Stark Center continues to have the “Good Life” that philosophers of old also spoke about.  For the Center that means a life in which we serve scholars, save materials that might otherwise be lost, preserve the history and cultural significance of UT sport, and conduct research that broadens our knowledge and understanding of the importance of sport and physical culture in our lives.  As I learned as an undergraduate philosophy student, the best kind of life isn’t about making your personal life easier or becoming wealthy, the good life is truly about creating more good for others.  My aim is to make sure the Stark Center does that for many decades to come.  

January 10, 2020.


[1] Rollo May, Love and Will (NY: W.W. Norton, 1969), 290.


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