The College’s very own triathlon tradition

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August 22, 2008

5:26 AM

It’s move-in time, and for new students, this means you get daily doses of anecdotes and stories on the history and great traditions of the College of William and Mary. Returning students also get plenty of reminders. We see packs of freshmen sporting green folders and following OAs around campus like they were Michael Phelps. We reminisce on that time when we sweated through seven pairs of clothes a day, attended boring lectures in Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall that would have no use whatsoever (we were right), learned just how bad the food is at the University Center (now the Sadler Center), and heard stories about how great a season our football team just had (five years ago).

It’s hard to ignore tradition here. The College has more of it than almost any other. The College has educated four U.S. presidents, a chief justice of the Supreme Court, 10 Virginia governors, two speakers of the House of Representatives, secretaries of state, defense and the treasury. There’s also Jon Stewart.

But the Rose Bowl of all College traditions is the Triathlon. The Triathlon consists of three tasks: hopping the northeast wall of the Governor’s Palace, streaking up and down the Sunken Garden, and swimming in the Crim Dell. All three must be done consecutively, and students are supposed to do it at least once before they graduate.

The underground tradition has produced some entertaining stories over the years. Greek and athletic organizations have been rumored to use one or more of the legs as initiation rituals. It’s been a bonding experience for freshmen hallmates, new roommates and seniors gearing up to enter the real world. It occasionally turns into a spectator sport as well, as midnight streakers in the Sunken Garden are sometimes interrupted by loud cheering from coincidental onlookers on the paths near Blair or Tyler Halls.

It starts in Colonial Williamsburg at the Governor’s Palace and works its way back to the Crim Dell. The rules of engagement don’t specify an order, but that way seems to make the most sense. One alum told me that he decided to do it in December, wearing nothing but a long sleeve shirt. He and his friends went in the Crim Dell first, and he eventually caught the flu, lost 20 pounds, and had to reschedule all of his finals.

The wall behind the Governor’s Palace is probably the easiest tactical maneuver of the three legs — it’s only a few feet high, and there are wheelbarrows and other things you can use to vault over — but it can also be the most hairy. For obvious reasons, this is usually done at night, as the police aren’t huge fans of students trespassing in CW, to put it mildly.

One student told me that she and a friend hid in the bushes for two hours after police showed up. In years past, students have been less lucky, and some have been arrested. Still, that’s probably one of the better Johnny Law stories you could ever tell.

The Sunken Garden streak is everyone’s favorite. While the jog is pretty self-explanatory, be advised that it’s a bad idea to leave your clothes at one end or the other. The only things that are stolen more often on this campus than bikes are the clothes of streakers.

A few years back, a group of freshmen hallmates decided to videotape themselves running, and in the process had their clothes stolen and locked in Tucker.

Streaking the Sunken Garden is hardly a nighttime-only activity either. Several years ago, MTV taped its “Call to Greatness” show in the Sunken Garden, and the opportunity to streak on camera was too much for one student to resist.

The last leg is probably the reason that most people do the Triathlon under questionable sobriety. Nobody’s sure what kind of disgusting bacteria and other creatures live in the Crim Dell, but it can’t be good. Still, some say a quick dip every once in a while is healthy for you. If you feel so inclined, make sure you just walk in from the road between Sadler and Swem. It’s safer and a much easier way out if you have to run in a hurry. The College’s finest don’t really like this one either. In the fall of 2006, Tropical Storm Ernesto hit campus, causing the Crim Dell to flood, and students were written up for swimming in the temporary ocean.

While a lot of people have their own individual stories, it’s never too late to collect your own. It’s not a requirement that everybody do it before graduation, but it’s close.

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