The real point about Bruce Kidd
International track star Bruce Kidd works, and works out, about fourteen hours a day. This shouldn't surprise anybody, his father says, but it does—not because Bruce is so unusual, but because so many other youngsters never get a chance to put all their mind and muscle to work
DR. ROBY KIDD
IT'S MY NOTION that an astonishing number of people downgrade the abilities and potentials of Canadian youngsters. Kids aren't given nearly enough opportunities to expand their minds or their muscles, and they’re not permitted to accept half the responsibilities they're capable of handling.
1 can't reach any other conclusion when I think of the number of people who arc astonished that our son Bruce Kidd is excelling at athletics, doing very well in school, earning pocket money for himself, and maintaining a lively interest in the social and community life around him.
Newspapers gave front-page attention to the fact Bruce achieved lirst-class honors in all his subjects in Grade Thirteen last spring at a time when he was running faster than any boy his age ever had run before. People expressed vast surprise that he was also looking after a morning-newspaper route and was president of the students' council at Malvern Collegiate in Toronto. Well, except that his running times are exceptional, there's nothing particularly unusual about his other activities. Other high-school students do the same. Far from being a bookworm, Bruce concentrated thoroughly when he studied and rarely did more than two hours of homework a day. The paper route was the simplest method of providing pocket money because it was out of the way by seven o'clock in the morning and left the whole day for other pursuits. We were pleased he became president of the students' council, but his election hardly made him unique, did it?
1 agree that this combination is unusual in a boy nowadays but my point is that it shouldn't be. Bruce is managing successfully in a variety of pursuits because (a) they've been made available for his inspection, or. to put that another way, he's been exposed to a number of activities, and (b) he has organized his time and has applied himself to the things that attracted his interest.
My wife, busy raising four other children younger than Bruce (who turned eighteen last July 29) believes that parents have a responsibility to provide interests for their youngsters. Naturally, when a child starts out he doesn't know' what may interest him; how can he know if you don't provide an array of experiences for him to sample? When Bruce
was thirteen he was simply bursting with energy. It was necessary for us. diplomatically, to give him alternatives to hanging around the corner store, alternatives that provided him with variety and tested all his aptitudes.
We took him. for example, to Stratford. The setting of the Shakespearean theatre fascinated him and so, of course, did the performances. Last fall he came home one evening from the Crest Theatre in Toronto where he'd watched Mavor Moore's performance as King Lear. He announced with finality that Lear was the best of all of Shakespeare's plays.
This exposure to theatre roused an interest that had been lying dormant. Last year he was a subscriber to the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto with its variety of dramas and musicals. Of course, he went through a rock 'n' roll phase in music but he discovered that after you've played the records five or six times, you don't want them any more. More recently, he’s been buying Broadway-musical albums.
He played the violin in public school and the drums in high school. He seems to have some aptitude for music but, so far. has not had the spare hours to develop it. Perhaps he will later on; at least he's had the exposure and knows something about it. The activities he has taken on haven't injured his social life. As president of the students' council last year he was responsible for the administration of the dances, and he got to most of them with Ann Wadge. a girl he’s been going with for two years. Last year they were able to see a good deal of each other by studying together. It worked out fine; their marks improved.
As 1 mentioned. Bruce has been obliged to organize his time to accommodate his interests. In his final year in high school, for instance, he got up each weekday morning at 5.30, delivered the papers by seven and studied until 7.45 when he had breakfast with the rest of us. He liked to leave for school by 8.15 to look after his student council work until classes started at nine. When they ended at 3.30 he had fortyfive minutes for homework or for the council before he took a forty-five-minute streetcar ride to Hart CONTINUED ON PAGE 33
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OVERLEAF: THE STYLE THAT MAKES BRUCE KIDO LOOK LIKE NO OTHER RUNNER
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We’re too good to our youngsters. We do too much for them. We rob them of their chance to grow
House, at the University of Toronto, w'here he trained under his track coach. Fred Foot, for an hour to an hour and a half. After a shower and another long streetcar ride, he got home at eight o'clock for the dinner his mother had ready for him. Then he studied until 9.30 when he got to bed for eight hours' sleep.
A busy schedule? Of course, but there wasn't a moment of it that he didn't enjoy. Even on the streetcar he read the newspapers or novels; in fact. I believe he gets more outside reading done than 1 do. Once, training with an older member of the East York track club, a conversation led to a discussion of novels and the other fellow suggested Bruce read Lawrence Durrell. He’s enjoyed Durrell's work immensely. While making a film for the National Film Board last summer Bruce became friendly with the producer w'ho introduced him to the novel “Catcher in the Rye.” That, of course, launched him into the whole new world of J. D. Salinger.
Has he been doing too much? I don't think so. although a lot of people disagree. I remember last spring when Bruce was
writing his Grade Thirteen exams, his principal suggested to us that Bruce should stop running and training until the exams w'ere over, fearing he was overtaxing himself. I felt then and feel now that training helped him relax. After five or six hours of heavy concentration during the two weeks of exams, running seemed to me to be an excellent w'ay of getting rid of bodily tensions and mental cobwebs.
Some people have suggested, too. that a boy so young running distances so great (two miles and three miles arc his best events) will burn himself out in a few years. But his coach and his mother keep a close watch on him. Moreover, perhaps he won’t w-ant to run after a few years. Bruce hopes to go to the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 but beyond that he has no track plans. He’ll barely be twenty-one then.
As I said earlier, I think people tend to downgrade the abilities and potentials of young people. I am much more concerned that young people will try too little than that they will be ruined by effort. Em occasionally reminded of Bruce’s grandfather. At the age of twelve he helped build his own sod shanty in Saskatchewan and lived alone in it for weeks at a time, his nearest neighbor three miles through the bush, though this was Indian country and the time was that of the Riel Rebellion. Arc our young people less able or less courageous? Not unless we deprive them of the chance to develop.
I don’t remember much about my father, who died when I was six. but I know his parents took their five kids to the Prairies in 1883, and they moved west
from Winnipeg in three Red-River carts whose wooden rims had buffalo hides wrapped around them. I do remember my father telling us of the wheels being bright red from the wild strawberries they rolled across on the vast unmarked plains. They homesteaded at Wapella and Moosomin, about halfway to Regina, and each member of the family took 160 acres. In order to
claim it, each had to raise a habitation of wood and sods and live in it for six weeks. Of course, the real test of a boy was living alone, at age twelve, under these isolated conditions. Once, a party of terrifyinglooking (to him) Indians came upon my father’s crude home, but all they wanted w as food.
These days, it's my feeling that out of
affection and good will we do too much for our youngsters, robbing them of their chance to grow. We have tried to give Bruce guidance, of course, but more important we've tried to make him independent.
When he was ten he was playing softball in a Kiwanis league. His team reached the play-offs just as our family was
going north to Lake Couchiching to camp. He wanted to play ball, naturally. We reasoned with him that a boy so young couldn’t stay in the city alone. He suggested he could stay with neighbors. We said this wasn’t fair to the neighbors, handing them the responsibility of looking after him. He asked if we could delay our camping trip. We pointed out that this would inconvenience the whole family for the convenience of one. He came, reluctantly, and then discovered he enjoyed camping, uncovering new trails, sleeping in the wild erness and learning to paddle a canoe. As
it happened, I was recovering from an operation; I drove him to Toronto for his play-off game because I had to go dow n for treatment anyway.
But three years later, there was no such convenient arrangement. I was working in Toronto and the family had gone to Lake Couchiching. Bruce was playing baseball now and once more his team had reached the play-offs. He was a good average ballplayer. lean and wiry, a shortstop. He played hard and gave everything he had to the game, and felt he would let his team down if he missed the play-offs. He pleaded
with his mother to let him go to Toronto.
“How can you get there?” she asked.
“Maybe I can go down with a neighbor.”
“You can. if you can find one.”
Bruce searched the whole area, but he could find no one going to Toronto.
“I could hitchhike,” he suggested hopefully. “And then I could stay over at home and come back with Roby.”
“You can’t just loaf around for a couple of days waiting for him.” said his mother.
“I’ll paint the basement stairs,” he offered.
So his mother relented. Early in the morning Bruce leaped out of bed and hitchhiked a hundred miles to Toronto, played his play-off game, painted the basement stairs and returned to Couchiching with me.
This was fair enough — he’d shown initiative, independence and responsibility. He’d gotten what he wanted but he was willing to pay some price in effort for it.
Bruce was not a difficult boy to raise but he got into his share of escapades. Once, when he was about eight, he and a chum came upon a bulldozer which had been left unattended, though it was running, near the waterworks not far from our home in Toronto’s east end. He and the boy sped all around the grounds in the bulldozer and someone, seeing them, called the police. The boys heard the police car. abandoned the bulldozer and hid on the roof of the filtration plant. They could see the police car through a skylight and they could hear a policeman giving their descriptions over the short-wave radio. You’ve no idea what an impression it made on an eight-year-old boy to hear himself described to a T on the police radio. That was his last brush with the law. I’ll tell you.
Bruce early developed a sense of humor, which he has retained. When he was about nine, he was roaming around on the roof
of the house, clearing balls out of the eaves. His mother told him to get down, and stay down.
Next day, he was up there again, His mother, who was about eight months pregnant at the time, told him to come down again, and Bruce insisted he had to get more balls from the eaves.
“I don’t care what you’re doing.” she said, exasperated. “At this point. I don’t want you falling off a roof.”
When he didn’t come down immediately, she went into the house and returned with a hairbrush, obviously bent on using it where it would do most good.
He came quickly down, talking every inch of the way. “Now look. Mom. that's not fair.” he pleaded. “You’ve always told us not to use weapons.”
That cooled off his mother, who had made her point, anyway.
There were always balls and bats and books and music and pictures around the house when Bruce was growing up. He played hockey in winter, and, of course, baseball and softball in the summer. He became a runner largely by accident. When he was fourteen in high school he was too small to play football but he turned out for the field day and agreed to go in the mile
race. The school wanted to get everybody into something and he wasn't a sprinter and he couldn't jump. To his surprise, he finished second and found that he was a good distance runner.
He’d heard about the East York track club in our neighborhood, and that summer— it was 1958 —he telephoned the coach. Fred Foot, and told him he'd like to join. Fred, a dark-haired man with a crewcut. who is in his middle forties and is an accountant with the Toronto police force, doesn't remember Bruce's first appearance particularly. “He seemed like any other kid.” Fred says. "I threw him in with the gang. He didn’t say much; just did what the rest of them did. jogged around.”
But he soon began to assert himself. In February of 1959. a boy of fifteen, he raced a mile indoors at Buffalo in four minutes, twenty-six and a half seconds. A month later at Hamilton he lowered that mark by two full seconds and on the same day ran half a mile in 1.59.7. In May he set a Canadian two-mile record, and in June he ran three miles at London. Ont., in fourteen minutes, thirty-four and six tenths seconds, a world’s record under seventeen years of age.
A week later, in Toronto, he ran three miles in 14.26 flat, a mark so remarkable that although Bruce still hadn’t reached his sixteenth birthday, three American colleges, Michigan, Princeton and Harvard, got in touch with him to enquire about his university plans. Invitations to track meets began arriving, too. and we realized that it was time to lay out a few ground rules.
So Bruce and Fred Foot and my wife and I sat down for a discussion. It was agreed that he'd accept no money for his appearances, no swapping of cups or trays oi watches for cash. We agreed he could compete in track meets as long as there was no time-loss at school, and no real interference with his health or with his family life. Some suggestions were his, some ours: the important thing was that after we had outlined our points of view, Bruce took part in the final decision.
Not a gift, a responsibility
And that's the way it has been ever since. We've helped him learn to handle decisions. I suppose, but they've been his own. We've received some incredible letters in recent months—since it's been known that Bruce planned to attend University of Toronto, rather than Princeton or Harvard, say. The letters have said we're fools to deprive him of advantages — what the writers don't know, obviously, is that Toronto was Bruce’s choice, no one else's. We'd spent years helping him to make his own decisions—why now would we step in and tell him what to do?
It was interesting how' he made up his mind about Harvard. The alumni association there invited him to be interviewed. They took him to New York and a visit to Wall Street, and one man suggested that he was perturbed by the Canadian government’s attitude toward Cuba, in face of the American policy. Bruce argued with him on this point, somewhat to the surprise of the Harvard alumnus.
Then they went to Harvard at Cambridge. Mass., and showed him the buildings, the field house, the grounds. They talked about his running, the Harvard spirit, and the fact that as a graduate of Harvard he’d never have to worry about finding a job.
Bruce wrote an entrance examination there, and in the evening he raced very well at a Boston track meet. A professor told him after the race: "It really doesn't matter too much if you passed your exam this morning: you passed your test tonight.”
Bruce returned home somewhat disturbed. “1 have a feeling,” he told us, "that if
they offer me a fellowship it will be for the wrong reasons. They kept showing me their grounds and their buildings. Only one man asked me a single question about what I'm reading or what I want to study. He was an old professor who had once taught with Bertrand Russell. We had a wonderful conversation about Russell.”
Other offers came but usually the stress was on training facilities or athletic opportunities. Like any student. Bruce wants to get a good education. He believes he ought to be able to do this and keep up with athletics as well.
So Bruce decided on Toronto, where Fred Foot is the track coach and where he now is taking a general course that's heavy on sociology, philosophy, Latin and English literature. He may go into law, lie's not sure, but this course is also a good preparation for a commercial or a government career. He's interested in the foreign service, too. Meanwhile, w hatever vocation he selects, this is a good liberal education.
Bruce has been very lucky and he knows it. If he has strong qualities he knows he has an obligation to use them well. His mother has stressed to him that people for-
tunate enough to have his advantages do not have a gift, they have a responsibility.
We've never been concerned that his prominence might turn his head. He has shown no such bent and. I suppose, around our house it would be difficult to do so. 1 remember last winter, on Monday mornings after he'd had a particularly good race or broken a record, his young brother David, who is ten, would rush in wdth the paper.
"Look, look." David would cry. turning to the sports page, "there’s a big story here — all about Frank Mahovlich!” ★