Sports

These 7 U.S. Presidents Were Great Athletes During Their Terms

by Joey Held

September 5, 2016

We’re about two months away from electing the 45th President of the United States. It’s a big honor, and it comes with plenty of responsibility. After all, there are bills to sign, speeches to give, meetings to attend, and plenty of international relations to keep strong. So how in the world would a president have time for athletics?

Many presidents excelled at sports during their high school and college days, but the seven in this list kept up the athleticism all the way through their presidency.

7. Barack Obama (2009- )

Obama is probably the best baller the White House has ever seen. The lefty participated in a 3-on-3 tournament while he was campaigning back in 2007, and he regularly holds games on the White House court with cabinet members and congressmen. He also has played a few hundred rounds of golf while in office, and he carves time out in his schedule for weight training and cardio workout sessions.

6. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)

Hooverball played during Herbert Hoover's presidency.

The only president with a sport named after him, Hooverball is a combination of volleyball and tennis, played with a six-pound medicine ball. Hoover and members of his staff, known as the “Medicine Ball Cabinet,” would hurl the ball over an eight-foot tall net. To this day, the Hoover Presidential Library Association hosts the Hooverball Championships in Hoover’s hometown of West Branch, Iowa.

5. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

Though he took bicycling vacations, Wilson’s true love was golf. He played more than 1,000 rounds during his two terms in office, and he even had Secret Service members paint his golf balls black so he could still play during the winter. Gotta know if you’ve ended up in the rough, after all.

Wilson also gets bonus points for being the first president to throw out the first pitch in a World Series, doing so during the 1915 edition of the Fall Classic between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.

4. Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Dwight Eisenhower playing golf in Newport, R.I. (Image via State of Rhode Island.)

Ike boasted a litany of athletic accomplishments before ever stepping foot in the Oval Office, but once there, he quickly adopted golf as his game of choice. A member of the Augusta National Golf Club, Eisenhower had a small facility installed at Camp David. He also established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness to encourage children to be more active. Some 60 years later, Pokémon Go is carrying on his legacy.

3. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)

Having a morning ritual is important. Adams’ was waking up at 5 a.m., stripping down, and swimming in the Potomac River. But skinny-dipping wasn’t his lone athletic endeavor; he frequently took walks, rode horses, and shot billiards. In fact, he installed the White House’s first pool table.

2. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)

The elder Bush is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, but he’s probably better known for two other activities: tennis and skydiving. He expanded the White House tennis court, and received an Anna Kournikova serve to the butt during a celebrity doubles match after his presidency.

Bush and Chris Evert at Camp David.

Bush Sr. credits his mother for his interest in the sport. He once complained that he was off his game, to which she replied, “You don’t have a game. Get out and work harder.” In addition, Bush has gone skydiving eight times, including on his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.

1. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Before all the Chuck Norris memes, we had Teddy Roosevelt. There was hardly an athletic challenge this man could not conquer. Suffering from debilitating asthma as a child, Roosevelt pledged himself to a strenuous, active lifestyle. He was an avid singlestick player, and jogged regularly around the Washington Monument.

Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite.

Early on in his presidency, he had a tennis court built onto the White House grounds, which he used often. He boxed and practiced judo, attaining a third-degree brown belt in the sport. Roosevelt was also no stranger to injury – he showed up to a White House reception with his arm bandaged after a singlestick wound, and he hosted a boxing match against a pro boxer in the White House that ended up blinding him in one eye.

And while not necessarily a sporting accomplishment, Roosevelt was once shot in the chest, but the bullet was stopped by a 50-page speech that was in his breast pocket. Amazingly, he gave the speech later that afternoon.

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