It’s a beautiful April day. Beams of sunlight hit the tops of the shimmering bleachers surrounding me. A cool breeze comes through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium every few minutes, just long enough for me to appreciate the fresh air. As a student at UF, this is one of the many unique luxuries I am granted in return for the tuition check I slide over to the Bursar’s Office each semester. The stadium, known to the masses as The Swamp, is one of the most famous landmarks to grace our campus because of its notoriety in college football. However, many students only use it for its main purpose: attending UF’s nationally renowned football games. If you’re one of those Gators, I’m here to give you a wake-up call.
You may be asking, “What can you do at the stadium if you’re not watching football?” One function of the stadium, besides holding football games, is fitness-related. Those “stadiums” your friends are constantly complaining about are one of the most accessible and effective exercises available to those of us in Gainesville. The core of the stadium workout is the ascension of the bleachers, which sounds and looks easy compared to the inescapable torture it actually is. However, there are a number of ways to work out in the stadium, like strength training that utilizes the bleachers or no incline running around the edges of the stadium. In the warmer months, which are most of the months, the sun can be harsh and overwhelming. The weather can make things difficult, but the resistance makes for an incredible feeling of accomplishment as you stride out of the stadium.
Stadiums are a characteristic of the UF experience and are probably not an unknown feature of The Swamp. What may be lesser known is the ability to study within its sacred walls. What some would consider a type of heresy, completing academic tasks in a temple of athleticism is actually very inspiring and effective. On weekdays, when most people in the stadium are the average student working up a sweat or tour guides displaying the pride and joy of the school to future Gators, a dedicated few sit in the shade with their laptop batteries burning and their neurons firing.
As sweltering as Gainesville can be, the shaded areas of the stadium provide a reprieve from the heat. Studying in those areas has the perk of contextualizing your work. For a lot of people, football games and the stadium represent the tightest bonds they have to the university. They share the school spirit with thousands of alumni, students and children. While I don’t personally identify much with the school, I still find myself in awe of the size of the stadium and the strength of the connection people seem to have to it. If a student chooses to study in the stadium, they will look out over the perfectly cut grass and relatively empty stands, possibly find it a bit easier to pour some extra effort into whatever they’re working on because it isn’t themselves they are working for, but the entire Gator Nation.
The last underutilized function of the stadium is enjoying the atmosphere. Attending UF makes us some of the luckiest people in the world because we have access to higher education, unlike many people in the world. We are able to partake in all of the benefits of college, which includes its on-campus. We need to take the time to appreciate all UF has to offer. I would urge you all to go to the stadium. Maybe work out, study or both; but when you’re done, take 10 minutes to look around and take it all in. Gratitude has been shown to increase one’s quality of life. So, be grateful. Appreciate all of it. The jumbotrons, sometimes firing off with music and videos that rattle the bleachers like thunder when the stadium is empty. The lights, turned off to save energy, that illuminate the hopes, dreams and football team of The Gator Nation. The vacant kiosks, concession stands and bathrooms that become a river of people on game day. Bask in it all, because it is all yours.
Gators, the stadium is more than just a place to police your friends on game days, making sure they don’t throw up on innocent fans. It is truly the sanctuary of the Gator Nation, intended to improve our bodies, minds and souls. Just use it. Don’t find yourself graduated and having not appreciated everything the stadium has to offer.
Kyle Cunningham is a UF English freshman. His column normally appears on Mondays.
UF wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland runs with the ball after a catch during Florida's 26-10 win against Tennessee on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.