By Dylan Freeman-Grist
Chuck Strong wipes a giant wad of gleaming sweat from his right eye. He inhales the grime and fumes of the Don Valley Parkway exhaust fog while clinging, in a spotty pair of Vans, to the little bit of Toronto’s Harbourfront left in his Parkdale neighbourhood.
For weeks, the fourth-year biology student has been hitting the pavement to train. Twice a day, every day he plies on the aerobic paces and darts from one side of the industrial lakeshore to the other. In his ear, the polished, eloquent voice of a slightly British gentleman informs him which level of endurance he manages to carve out. Then, with spine-throttling cruelty, the dooming chill of a beep forces him to pivot and start into
The Beep Test is a multistage aerobic capacity test that progressively gets more difficult. Though no one is quite sure which shadowy organization backs the activity, it is a staple in high schools and gyms all across the nation. Every day in Canada, Grade 9 gym students are forced to run between one poorly painted blue line to another a gym floor’s length away. While the United Nations deemed the “test” a clear and vindictive violation of human rights, Canada still holds it up as a rite of passage.
For reasons unknown to the Ryerson community, a Beep Test has been scheduled for Apr. 11, 2018 in the bridge connecting the Rogers Communications Centre and Kerr Hall East. A Facebook group has been conscripting participants for weeks. Despite this, the Ryerson administration refuses to acknowledge the existence of the event nor confirm any plans to prevent it from occurring. While in no way mandatory, 288 students are registered so far—and those numbers are rising. For most, it’s a self-destructive reliance on nostalgic systems of structure. For Chuck Strong, it’s all about glory.
“I was that asshole,” notes Strong as he recalled his days in Grade 12 gym class. “You remember how you would put in a six-score run of the test and wait on the rest of the class to finish up the test so you could go play soccer? Yeah I would push it to at least level 14 each time.”
At 17, Strong had literally no athletic accomplishments outside of the Beep Test. In fact, looking back he barely had any accomplishments at all. Yet one time after scoring an 18.5 and collapsing into the bleachers of his Brampton high school, he was informed he had broken the world record for the test. In the world of Beep Test competition there are no awards, scholarships or even competitors really. Strong’s greatest accomplishment was met with a mere nod of approval from Mr. Greggs, his gym teacher, and an eye roll from most of his class who had to delay touch football to watch him do it.
“When I saw the game was coming to Ryerson, I realized I had a shot to relive it all,” he says.
Since first attending university, Strong has slipped into a never ending spiral of uncertainty. With no arbitrary, gruelling aerobic test to anchor his identity on, he’s says he’s slowly losing control.
“I used to be happy. I used to have meaning,” Strong laments after running the test 12 times in a row. He adds that his four years at Ryerson have been marked by “shocking mediocrity and abject adequacy.” With his average grades, his average friends and his average life, a typical day finds Strong hunched over a notebook in class before crawling home to fix bikes and listen to the Beep Test recording on his iPod.
He attempted to find replacements to fill the unyielding void the Beep Test once filled. For a short while he would make a weekly pilgrimage to the RAC and run on a treadmill at maximum speed until someone would notice. When he tripped over a shoelace and bowled over a group of freshman like a cannonball he was subsequently banned for the remainder of
Each day, Strong wakes up at the crack of dawn. After shovelling down a spinach-cranberry protein shake and 12 hard-boiled eggs he enters a one hour hot yoga session. Once limber, he lightly speed walks down to the lake’s shore, before setting up two chalk lines and readying his iPod nano.
For Strong, Apr. 11 is not merely about beating his high score. It’s about once again proving he has something interesting about himself before he leaves school forever and enters the utter existential darkness that is his real life.
“It’s like, what else is there after all this besides paying taxes until I die?” says Strong. “I just need to taste something real one last time.”
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