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Presidential Athletes: William Howard Taft's Wrestling Career

As the heaviest of the Presidents, you might imagine that William Howard Taft might have done some wrestling during his day. And you would imagine correctly. At his heaviest weight, during his presidency, Taft's weight is believed to have gone up to as much as 340 pounds, spread out over a five foot, eleven inch frame. He was heavyset as a young man as well, though in college he was much lighter in comparison to his later years. When he was in college, his weight was estimated to be around 225 pounds, and that was the class that he wrestled in.



Taft attended Yale University from 1874 to 1878. He was described as jovial and well-liked. One classmate described him succeeding through hard work rather than having natural genius. He was also describe as having "sterling integrity." He graduated in 1878, finishing second in his class out of 121. (Another source gives the class size as 132). According to an article in the Yale Daily News, Taft was "a seventh generation wrestler". (Another source describes him as a fourth generation wrestler). He employed what is known as the "collar and elbow" style of wrestling.

His father suggested that Taft cut down on athletics at Yale, but did approve his son joining an intramural wrestling team. Taft was quite a talented wrestler, and during his time at Yale, he became Yale’s first intramural heavyweight wrestling champion.

Wrestling wasn't the only sport the young Taft excelled at. In high school his favorite sport was baseball. He was described as not being a fast runner, but despite his size, he was a good fielding second baseman, had a good throwing arm and was also a good hitter (a power hitter). Taft was also described as a good dancer. In high school he took ballroom dancing lessons twice a week and, according to one biographer, Taft "was known for his graceful movements."

Taft-Golf.jpg

But after leaving Yale and attending the Cincinnati Law School, Taft gave up the athletic life, though as president he loved to golf. He remained a heavy man, and there were stories that centered around his bulk, though most are unauthenticated. The most common legend about Taft is that, as president, he got stuck in a bathtub. According to Ray Henderson of the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Cincinnati, the story originates with Ike Hoover, the chief White House usher during the Taft presidency. Hoover wrote a book entitled "42 Years in the White House," published in 1932, which made mention of Taft getting stuck in the White House tub. But according to Henderson said, he has never found anything definitive that supports the story that he actually got stuck in a bathtub. Henderson told CNN: "I've been here for 25 years and that is the only written (primary source) documentation that I have seen of William Howard Taft being stuck in a bathtub."

TaftBeforeAfter

After leaving the Presidency, Taft became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1921. He also shed much of his extra weight. Taft lost 70 pounds the year after leaving the White House and maintained the weight loss for the rest of his life. His diet involved cutting out potatoes, bread, pork and other fatty meats. He refused to drink more than two glasses of water at each meal and he abstained from wine, liquor and tobacco. He told the New York Times: "I can truthfully say that I never felt any younger in all my life. Too much flesh is bad for any man."
Tags: supreme court, william howard taft
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