Exceptional PE Exemptions

For a handful of Upper Schoolers, fulfilling their gym requirement means skipping the locker room but essentially adding an extra school day to the week, devoting eight hours or more to a physically demanding sport in which they excel.

The Upper School office must approve each student’s proposal, and the student has to maintain a log detailing each day’s practice. For example, on one Saturday in December, Graci L. ’17 spent three and a half hours riding motocross with her coach. Graci races four-wheelers and competes both locally and nationally as part of the Zimmerman Racing team, along with her little brother, Grant ’22.

Age 5 seems a popular time for kids to fall in love with their extracurricular crush: Graci, along with classmates Lily D. and Carlie A., and sophomore Vanessa S. all got hooked before their sixth birthdays.

Carlie swims for the Reading and Berks County YMCA as well as competing in the Lancaster-Lebanon League for McCaskey’s varsity squad. Her sister, Nicki ’15, does too. Graduation is three years away and Carlie has no plans to cut back on her pool time, but she already has a clear vision of where swimming and school rank in her life.

“I’m not going to college to swim,” she said flatly. “Academics are more important.”

Vanessa competes in eventing, an equestrian competition combining dressage, cross-country and show jumping. She spends about 16 hours a week training, not counting travelling to multiday shows in other states. For all the demands eventing places on Vanessa, it’s also risky.

She recounted one time her horse, a former racer who’s “a bit skittish and doesn’t like moving things,” reared and flipped over backward, landing squarely on Vanessa during a perfectly ordinary dressage training session. “I was bruised. My dad was all pale, but we were both fine. I guess I’m sort of an adrenaline junkie,” she said.

Lily, a prodigiously talented figure skater and strikingly poised freshman, was one of 12 skaters chosen by Quarryville native and skating Olympian Johnny Weir for his 2011 “Holiday Dream On Ice” show at the Penn Ice Rink in Philadelphia. Then 11 years old, Lily offered the following praise when asked by WGAL what she liked about Weir: “He dares to be different, I find, and I think that’s a quality a good skater should have.”

Her two coaches met while performing with Disney On Ice, which Lily wants to join after college. So no Olympic dreams then?

“Everybody says, and everybody wants to compete in the Olympics but, being realistic, it’s just not something I want to devote my life to,” she said. “The people who skate in the Olympics do nothing but skate, and when they’re not skating, they’re working out their skating muscles some other way. They’re almost all home-schooled because regular school takes too much time away from skating and I don’t want to give up school.

“Obviously academics mean a lot to me; I go here.”