January 17, 2006

Shivers aside, students soldier through Kuviasungnerk-Kangeiko

Kuviasungnerk, also known as Kuvia, kicked off early last Monday morning as hundreds of students flocked to Henry Crown Field House (HCFH) with the campus still shrouded in darkness.

Originating from the Eskimo word for “happiness,” Kuviasungnerk refers to a series of annual winter events including afternoon activities such as ice sculpting and faculty talks, as well as daily early-morning calisthenics known as Kangeiko.

Those disciplined enough to brave the predawn chill and loss of sleep were greeted with long lines and a sign-in table staffed by several Committee on University Programming (COUP) members on the first floor of HCFH last week for the festivities of Kuvia-Kangeiko.

“Kangeiko,” explained Jean Treese, associate dean of students in the College, “means winter training for Samurai.” Treese has led students in warm-up exercises since Kangeiko’s conception in 1983.

Until 1982, the College Orientation Office held a trip to Wisconsin at the beginning of January for first-year students to raise morale and create excitement about the winter, but it became too difficult given weather concerns and growing enrollment in the University.

Thus Kangeiko, the brainchild of former dean Don Levine, was born. Levine wanted to interest all students, first-year or otherwise, in martial arts and in exercise in general.

“This used to be a campus where nobody worked out,” Treese said. Now, however, “it’s not such a stretch as it used to be,” she added.

As students finished filing upstairs, the official festivities began with a two-lap run around the track. After the run, students gathered for stretches, led by Treese, and then split into three groups.

Jessica Lent, a fourth-year in the College, said that as a senior having never been to the event before, she felt as if she should go. Plus, she added, “Seeing the community of U Chicago students running around at six in the morning is pretty amusing to me.”

Others reveled in the “hardcore” nature of the event to get them going in the morning. First-year graduate student and former Snell-Hitchcock resident Christine Kenney said that she, “feeds off the intensity here with friends,” while second-year in the College Sandra Chen attended as part of a New Year’s resolution.

Still, others were there for decidedly less noble purposes. Hayden Hudson, a first-year in the College, said that he simply, “wanted the free T-shirt,” and that he was an early riser anyway.

COUP also sponsored afternoon activities, seemingly aimed at the more sleep-centric among the student body.

These events included several “faculty firesides” in which different professors spoke on topics ranging from prehistoric human behavior to winter baseball withdrawal. Concluding Kuvia on Friday was the infamous Polar Bear Run, in which hordes of students ran through the quads dressed in undergarments and footwear, or less.

Meanwhile, Kangeiko continued throughout the week, with participation shrinking each day as students chose sleep over exercise. Still, on Friday, over 200 turned up.

The traditional conclusion of Kangeiko, a walk to the Point and “salute to the sun,” a series of stretches meant to work the entire body, began at 6 a.m. sharp. Students assembled for one last time at HCFH and began walking as a group along 56th Street toward Lake Michigan.

Unseasonably warm temperatures, at first a boon to participants, turned out to be anything but as a drizzle of rain turned quickly into a downpour, drenching umbrella-less students as they walked. Nevertheless, soaked through and freezing, all made it to the lake, screaming as they jumped down onto the rocks surrounding the Point and performed the salute to the sun.

A sprint back to the Shoreland lobby followed, where hot chocolate awaited and t-shirts were given to those who had attended all five days. Dodd-Mead was also named as the house with the greatest participation, eliciting cheers from the crowd of gathered students.

“We practiced for a whole week,” said Aki Watanabe, first-year in the College. “The sun should be happy now.”