February 21, 2021

KEMPFF | Missing the Stink of Helen Newman

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This is a eulogy for my time at Helen Newman. A little dramatic, sure, but we’ve all become a little more emotional this year. Helen Newman’s gym is terrible. It feels as if it has been aging for a century, carrying all the wear but little love. The cramped weight room causes a laundry list of complaints, from the lack of weights to the way I’m forced to breathe on the person next to me. The pools are not much better, as those poor souls who had to undergo the swim test there can testify.

But a gross Helen Newman doesn’t sound so bad right now. I haven’t been inside a formal gym in months, and I’m definitely not disciplined enough to keep up with the push-ups. The last time I spent time in a real gym was Helen Newman, nearly a year ago now.

Not just its facilities, but Cornell as a whole can be pretty easy to hate. The academics can be brutal, and the social scene can be much the same. There are too many cliques, and the time we have here is too short. The list can go on, and on and on. But as I sit here breathless and alone in my room, I miss the sweaty gym at Helen Newman.

Ferris Bueller is a cliché, and I’ve never really found time to look around at the world because Cornell works at light speed. If you’re not working, you are losing. But is that true today? COVID-19 might have given us something: A view on what we lost.

I’ve always been too scrawny to lift weights seriously, and my coaches always told me that I had a lot to improve. Whenever I’d get on a (rare) North Campus fitness kick, I’d wander over to the gym. At the time, I complained about every part of it. The place was always packed to the brim. We were forced to work at double speed in order to make room for the next lifter. I hated the pool laps even more; the locker room was gross and the time slots were slim. But I haven’t been able to swim for months, and Helen Newman had a great view of the gorge that I still miss to look at. The floor mat in my double, used when my roommate leaves, is not the ideal place to get a sweat on.

It’s sad that this year’s freshman never got to experience the terrible but awesome lifestyle on North: A packed table at Appel, rushing to the bus or discovering how confusing the Newman complex is; I’m still not sure if I’ve found the right way up.

But one day the doors to Helen Newman will be wide open again. And when that happens, let’s appreciate it more than we ever have. So much was taken from us. We can not let our enjoyment be another casualty. 

Brendan Kempff is a sophomore in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at bpk43@cornell.edu. Slope Side runs every other Monday this semester.