The Journey and the Experience

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Besides giving us the opportunity to present the University’s iconic Founder in yet another light,the historical curiosity of Penn’s having a presence at every Summer Olympic Games the US has competed in since 1900 provides the occasion for some surprising and revealing stories that extend beyond the realm of sports.

Frequent contributor Dave Zeitlin C’03’s cover story, “Penn in the Olympics,” highlights five competitors, from track star John Baxter Taylor V1908, who became the first African American to win an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1908 Games, to fencer Cliff Bayer W’03 WG’03, who competed in 1996 and 2000.

The path-breaking Taylor would be better remembered today if not for his untimely death soon after his Olympic triumph. But he remains an inspiration to some who came after him, like Penn’s interim men’s track and field coach Robin Martin C’00, who keeps a picture of Taylor above his desk.

Dave’s other subjects include wrestler-turned-peace-activist Samuel Gerson CE’20 (silver, 1920); swimmer Ellie Daniel CW’74 (gold, silver, and bronze, 1968; bronze, 1972); and rower Anita DeFrantz (bronze, 1976).

Daniel, whose multiple medals netted her exactly nothing in the way of sponsorships or college scholarship offers in those pre-Title IX days, went on to advocate for rule reforms of the kind that now allow professionals to compete in the Olympics, while DeFrantz, who tried to sue to prevent the US boycott of the 1980 games, currently chairs the IOC’s Commission on Women and Sports, advancing gender equality in the competition.

Once an Olympian, “always an Olympian,” Cliff Bayer, who traded in fencing for investment banking after 2000, told Dave. Even more than winning, it’s “about the journey and the experience.” 

About a century before Penn’s Olympic streak got started, Dr. Benjamin Rush was launching what would become the field of psychiatry with his book, Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon Diseases of the Mind. This year actually marks the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication in 1812.

In honor of that milestone, “Rush’s Remedies” takes a look at the medical training that Rush received, the ideas that shaped his view of mental illness, and the book’s historical significance and continuing influence.

The writer of the piece, former Gazette associate editor Susan Frith, also got several leading Penn faculty in the mental-health field to weigh in on the effectiveness of some of Rush’s therapies—music and physical activity as aids to treatment, yes; bloodletting and the “Tranquilizer” chair, no—as well as discuss their own work.

The emotional turbulence of adolescence is a subject that a number of alumni writers are tackling in the burgeoning, if poorly defined, genre known as Young Adult, or YA, fiction. Frequent contributor Molly Petrilla C’06 profiles several of them in “What’s ‘Ya’?” (whose title points to that uncertainty). They include both men and women, writing for both boys and girls, and their work is mostly realistic, even drawing at times on their own teen years (as opposed to, say, wizard lore, vampire legends, or dystopian views of the future).

Parent-child relationships loom large in both literature and life. The one on display in Father’s Day, the new memoir by Buzz Bissinger C’76, about a cross-country road trip the author took with his developmentally disabled adult son Zach, is funny, moving, and even inspiring. That last is an odd word to associate with Bissinger—a powerful writer whose public attitude is often a kind of aggressive depression—but one that our excerpt, “Is That All There Is?” amply justifies.

—John Prendergast C’80

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