They found the length of the Thompson Park pool to be 165 feet, which meant that 50 miles of swimming would require 1,600 laps. An impressive figure, but the kids were dauntless. A few minutes before sunup one Saturday the club gathered by the pool, and Vance Essler, 10, was chosen as lead-off man. In the predawn light, with a brisk wind blowing in from the Panhandle plains, Essler set out on the first lap at 6:07 a.m., flashing a snappy Australian crawl. He was the first of 30 club members to take part.
The skies lowered, and at 8:30 a deluge of rain sent the standing youngsters into shivering knots. By 9, officials and parents were debating whether to call the event off. The kids let out a howl, and the swim went on.
Skies cleared at midmorning but darkened again at noon, when there was an even greater rainfall. By midafternoon the boys had reached the 25-mile mark. At 4:03 a.m., 21 hours and 56 minutes after the start, the same Vance Essler who had begun the swim touched the rim of the pool to complete the 50 miles and then, "so there'd be no mistake," swam an extra lap.
The team's elation was great, but mixed with disappointment. They had sent President Kennedy a telegram advising him of their plan, and they assumed, just assumed, that the President was watching their progress. They expected an answering telegram of congratulations. It did not come immediately, but the chances are that it will.
EARLY WARNING SYSTEM
The first day of football practice at Southern Methodist University a year ago was marred by the death of promising Mike Kelsey, presumably from heat exhaustion. There have since been other deaths in the southern tier of states. One recent Sunday night, 10 hours after his team's first practice, Fullback John Anders of the University of New Mexico died of heat exhaustion. Next day Alvin Bradley, a freshman at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, collapsed and died in practice possibly not from heat.
Heat exhaustion in football practice is, to the memory of some, quite a new development, and Matty Bell, SMU's veteran athletic director, has a theory to explain its sudden emergence.
"I believe air conditioning is a major cause," he says. "Almost everybody spends a lot of time in air conditioning. We live in it, we work in it, we sleep in it. You take Kelsey. In the summer of 1961 he worked on a Gulf Coast oil rig and didn't have any trouble that fall. Then, last year, he spent the summer [in an air-conditioned office] selling cars."
This year Texas and SMU have taken the precaution of installing a set of meteorological instruments on the field. Monitored by physicians, the instruments advise when temperature and humidity extremes call for a halt. They do not, however, take into account the factor of acclimatization in an air-conditioned world.