On Feb. 23, 1948, at Boston's Lying-in Hospital, an obstetrician named George Goethals assisted at the birth of a male infant, to be named Robert Burns Arnot, the first of six children born to Robert Eugene Arnot, a psychiatrist, and the former Mary Burns. Goethals was the son of George Washington Goethals, chief engineer in the construction of the Panama Canal. Both Goethals, as it has turned out, oversaw the birth of a wonder of the world.
At the age of 18 months Arnot (pronounced ARE-not) would "escape," as he puts it now, from the frantic clutches of his grandfather, run to a nearby park, clamber up a 16' ladder and careen down a slide that 6-year-olds feared—and to think that his friends hadn't started to call him Crazy Bob yet. He would pick up that name as he grew to 6'4" and began doing things like chopping through New Hampshire ice to race canoes, windsurfing in huge swells off Maui, ice-climbing in the Himalayas and flying to Greece for a marathon, which he ran in 2:38.
What wouldn't Arnot do? What couldn't he do? Last summer he laced on speed roller skates for the first time and in September finished 11th, in a field of 800, in the 26.2-mile Brooklyn Rollathon. Now he skates all over the country, flying his plane from race to race, sometimes three in a day, and practicing the trumpet at 15,000 feet. Last April Arnot entered his fifth straight Boston Marathon, and one half expected him to waltz down that city's hallowed course behind Bill Rodgers and two or three other lean and skinny chaps. But he only ran a 2:59.16. Perhaps he shouldn't have completed a 27-mile bicycle race the previous day.
That was Easter Sunday, and the race was at one p.m. Arnot, then living at his parents' Wellesley, Mass. home, could have slept late, but he didn't. Arnot never sleeps late. Indeed, it seems he hardly ever sleeps at all. At 9:15 he was practicing a piece on his piccolo trumpet, a baroque classic, Giuseppe Tartini's Concerto in D with his right hand; with his left he was steering his BMW 2002 north on Route 128 at 70 mph. At 10 he would play at one Easter service in Winchester, 20 miles from Wellesley, and at 10:45 he'd play at another back in Wellesley. The pic is the tiniest of the trumpets, and Arnot kept lowering it and flapping his lips like an exhausted horse. "See this little indentation around my lip?" he asked. "Playing notes in the upper octaves with the pic requires more airway pressure than any sport. Mouthpiece pressure on the lips to maintain an air seal in this range restricts circulation to the lips and may cause permanent damage."
October 18, 1981
Might then he be playing too much today?
"Could be," he replied, "but it wouldn't be worth doing if there weren't any danger, would it?"
Arnot Sr. observes, "We are what we were. Bob is the sixth generation of pioneer spirit expressing itself in the '80s. In 1805 James Arnot immigrated to America from Scotland. His son Daniel then went to Canada. Daniel's son Robert pioneered to North Dakota. Robert's son Jesse moved on to Montana, and Jesse's son—myself—came to Massachusetts. Bob is exploring a new frontier—sports medicine, computers, airplanes, even windsurfing—these are the new things of his time.
"Bobby always had tremendous hope and energy. He could have tremendous defeats, but he never whined, never sought attention in a negative way. Yet he did have a need to be recognized, and we paid him more attention growing up than we did the five other children put together, because he always did things you noticed. He was never involved in team sports as a child; he was no athlete, which he'll tell you. His brothers were excellent athletes—every one could do things better than Bobby. But he never complained. He has always had a tremendously good spirit, and the confidence to conquer a new challenge. My wife," Dr. Arnot adds, "has the same damn energy."
It seemed, there in the car, as it often does, that Arnot was working hard to maintain a persona, but at the churches that required no effort, what with his great curly mane, the brassy glint of his instrument and the sharp, high notes of the Tartini resounding among the pews.
Arnot changed at his parents'—a phone booth would have been more appropriate—and sped up to Bedford, 15 miles away. He had raced little in recent years, and the strategies of cycling are demanding, especially for someone whose ego tells him to break from the pack and dust the field. But on this day Arnot showed some restraint. The race was 30 laps around a .9-mile course, and at the end of each lap there he was, back in the pack, waiting. When the race was over he had finished fourth.
Afterward he said, "Cycling is so much more rewarding than running. In a marathon you reach your top speed when your legs reach theirs. If, that is, you're not limping around with musculoskeletal injuries. You're never even out of breath. But in a bike race you can be out of breath most of the time, and the next day your legs are ready to go again."
On the morning after the marathon Arnot was limping around, but at 7 a.m. he flew his white Beechcraft Bonanza to Claremont, N.H., and at eight o'clock he began a 24-hour stint as physician in charge of the emergency room at Claremont's Valley Regional Hospital. Since early 1980 Robert B. Arnot, M.D., has worked with National Emergency Services, Inc., a 6½-year-old Tiburon, Calif. outfit that assigns physicians to staff emergency rooms and provides marketing research and financial consulting to hospitals. NES has more than 1,200 physicians on call, but Arnot had so impressed its directors that he had already been made one of its two national education directors. A dozen or so times each month he flew off to some small town, usually in the Northeast, NES's fastest growing region, to man an emergency room. Each stint lasted anywhere from one day to a week, and NES paid him an average of $35 per hour. He put in as many as 300 hours in an average month, which is $10,500 worth of emergency service. As he said on the way to Claremont, "The work keeps me aloft and solvent. Besides, I like to keep a hand in emergency medicine. It's fun to be in there with the blood and the gore."
At 10 that night, in a small room far from the patients, a table was strewn with windsurfing and roller-skating magazines, and piccolo trumpet music bounced off the walls. Arnot was practicing the Tartini when the phone rang and a nurse asked, "Is this Carnegie Hall?"
"Yes," Arnot said.
"They want you to come down and sew up a cut lip."
Arnot played a few more bars of the Tartini and then made his way gingerly to the emergency room, where a boy, not more than three, in yellow pajamas sat on a bed, tears drying on his cheeks, his worried parents looking on.
"What did you do?" Arnot asked him, but got no reply.
"You cut your lip, didn't you? What are we going to do about that?" He looked at the boy's lip with a flashlight. Then he told the mother, "We could put in some sutures and probably scare him to death, but I'd prefer to leave it as it is. There'll be a little bleeding, but he'll be much happier, and it will heal perfectly."
He told the kid, "We're not going to do anything to you, is that all right?" The kid answered, "Yuh," his first sound, and burst into tears. As the parents were leaving, Arnot told them, "He was too scared to cry."
The nurse, who was referring to Arnot as Dr. Ben Gay, asked him, "Are you in pain?"
"I wouldn't admit it if I was," Arnot told her.
"He ran the marathon yesterday," she explained to a visitor, "and he had a bike race Sunday, and....
"The Japanese guy. Toshihiko Seko. He zapped Rodgers and he zapped me."
"...and he can't move. But he won't admit that he feels a...."
"But I guarantee you Seko didn't ride a 27-mile bike race the day before."
"I'm energetic," Arnot says, "because I'm excited about what I do, medicine and physiology, and you've got to play hard to work hard. Competition is stimulating, but so are the dynamic consequences of what I see as medicine's two hottest fields, human performance and emergency care. The one is giving an individual his best shot at a fun, healthy life. The other is catching him if he falls."
Arnot was called seven more times that night, once to pump out the stomach of a man who had overdosed on barbiturates, but he got three hours of sleep, all he says he needs most nights, and soon after at 8 a.m. he was back in the air.
Arnot began flying in 1977, after he lost his driver's license for speeding in six states—New York and every New England state but Maine. He got his pilot's license in 3½ weeks and bought the Beech-craft, then two years old, for $74,500. In 1980 he logged 600 hours of air time and never missed a practice session with the pic up there. On a long trip, he usually takes the Beech to 18,000 feet for a distinctive brand of altitude training, hoping to improve his ability to adapt to the higher altitudes of ice climbing. Recently he began looking for a larger plane, and indeed it is hard to visualize what he claims to have accomplished in his tiny cockpit one day last year, with his girl friend for that flight, on an approach pattern to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Arnot is, after all, 6'4". His companion was five eight or nine, and as he recalled later, "It was confusing for a moment. I was finishing off the last few bars of the Tartini; the telephone was ringing in the airplane; the air-traffic controllers were jabbering away; 747s were whizzing by; the Concorde from London was right overhead; and...."
Arnot left Claremont and headed for New York City, but he decided to put down briefly at Hanscom Field in Bedford. He had forgotten his roller skates. "Recovering from a marathon takes a while," he said, "so I won't be able to do any serious running for a few days. But I can skate tonight and get the kinks out with a few 6.2-mile laps around Central Park. Then, if I feel pretty good, I'll do another lap, just hitting full speed down the hills." He did exactly that, 18.6 miles, and then had dinner with one of the world's most unusual young women. She must be. At 29, small and perpetually tanned, she is a veritable senior citizen to the 33-year-old Arnot; yet she has endured in his life for more than a year, while a dizzying parade of 19-to 21-year-old models has come and gone.
They met last summer at a fancy Fifth Avenue cocktail party. As she recalls it, "I nearly tripped over something in the doorway, and I asked the host, 'What are these?'
" 'Roller skis,' he said. 'They're my friend's. He's out skating in Central Park.' And suddenly this sweaty guy with no shirt comes lurching in. He was wearing speed skates, with white satin shorts, and he was gorgeous. We sat next to each other at dinner.
" 'What else does he do?' I wondered. 'Give lessons?' I figured he was a roller-skating bum. That's all he talked about.
"I said, 'Where do you live?'
"He said, 'Boston.'
" 'Where do you skate in Boston?'
" 'Oh, I skate in New York.'
"I thought, 'My God, he commutes to skate!'
"Finally I said, 'Uh, how do you support your skating?'
" 'Well,' he said, 'I'm a doctor.'
"I figured he was full of it. But he was gorgeous, and I was going to Southampton for the weekend, so I told him, 'If you come out, give me a call' I never thought he would, but he did. He said, 'I'm flying around in my plane.'
"It sounded like another put-on, but he was funny, really off the wall. He said, I might be over tonight,' and I thought. 'Sure,' but that night, at dinner, he called. 'I'm stuck in Newport,' he said.
"An hour later he called again. 'I can't get down,' he said. 'The East Hampton Airport is fogged in.' Minutes later he called a fourth time and said, 'I'm going to buzz your house.' I'd hardly hung up when I heard this terrible racket outside.
"Anyway, the next day I bumped into him. He was with a very young girl, and the next morning they took off" at dawn, heading for a bicycle race in New Hampshire. I figured he was really nuts. But that night he called again and said, 'I'd like to see you.' He flew in, and he's continued to fly in, from all over the East. It was obvious that he didn't have a conventional medical practice. It took me six months to really understand what he does and how he'd gotten to do it."
Of course Arnot doesn't have a conventional medical practice. He rarely has a conventional day. As a Notre Dame student, he spent his sophomore and senior years at the universities of Innsbruck and Fribourg, respectively, learning German and skiing. The school called it a foreign study program, and apparently Arnot worked some studying in; Notre Dame did give him a B.A., in 1970, in professional studies. He then entered Dartmouth Med School. In the spring of his first year there it was announced that the 109 days he had skied over the winter, at the Dartmouth Skiway, was the second highest total of that season. For anyone, including ski bums.
"He certainly wasn't a grind," says Dr. Carleton Chapman, dean of the medical school at the time. "His mind and body required action. He couldn't spend 12 hours a day in the library, as you have to do to get the highest grades. But he was very intelligent and extremely capable, and I'm proud of him."
In 1972 Arnot entered McGill University in Montreal for his last two years of med school. His professor of pathology was Dr. Huntington (Skip) Sheldon, who also served as trainer for the McGill ski team. "Bob was a bright, thoughtful and energetic fellow," Sheldon recalls. "At the end of his first year his teammates presented him with a statue of a skier made of hot dogs—the Biggest Hot Dog of the Year Award. Bob had a huge sense of adventure. He'd ski down any hill, but he'd rarely get to the bottom without falling."
In June of 1974 Arnot received his medical degree from McGill and three weeks later returned to New Hampshire, where he completed two of the customary three years as a resident in internal medicine at the Dartmouth-affiliated Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover.
In the summers of 1975 and 1976 members of the U.S. national crew and cross-country ski teams trained at Dartmouth, and all the athletes seemed to be talking about sports technology, about lactic acid and oxygen-consumption analyses and of other tests that could lead to improved athletic performance.
Marty Hall, then the U.S. cross-country skiing coach, was talking science, too; his skiers, he told Arnot, needed some sort of laboratory. Arnot was even more interested than Hall—and less knowledgeable. He had never even taken a course in sports physiology. He promptly put in two weeks at the Harvard Medical School library, reading "all the hot journals" from the last 10 years, and, in January of 1978, to further acquaint himself with the subject, he set off on a tour of the best sport science laboratories in 10 different European countries. For the next 22 months he would commute to and from Lake Placid, applying his knowledge in a sports-medicine laboratory he set up there.
Three hundred fifty thousand dollars worth of equipment had been delivered to Lake Placid, under circumstances that were to constitute another chapter in the Olympic confusion of the 1980 Winter Games. Manufacturers had loaned or donated equipment, some on the assumption that Arnot's lab was an official Olympic facility, and indeed Arnot had reason to believe that it would be. He had been given a go-ahead by members of the original Lake Placid Organizing Committee to take a second European trip in June of 1978. By the time he returned, that committee was dissolving, but Arnot continued with the project—a decision that ultimately cost him $150,000 of his own money and enveloped him in a cloud of controversy, because the laboratory was not an official Olympic facility. When Arnot's name arises in conventional medical circles, cries of "charlatan" and "promoter" still fill the air, though the epithets are ordinarily qualified by the adjective "gifted" and the noun "genius."
All sorts of athletes came to the lab, cross-country skiers, runners, speed skaters, cyclists, oarsmen and lugers, to name a few, and if the work Arnot did with them was ad hoc to a degree that enraged conventional medical opinion, it was also pertinent. As Dr. Allan Ryan, now editor-in-chief of The Physician and Sports-medicine, says, "He has trained himself, which draws criticism from the classic exercise physiologists who want him to have a formal training, but his Lake Placid lab was active and useful."
No group was as well represented there as the cross-country skiers. Arnot had brought home from Europe the realization that in the off-season such skiers had to train the legs and upper body simultaneously. After the Games, Hall, now Canadian National coach, said, "I'm a lot smarter coach for having been involved with Arnot's work."
Arnot rigged a device to simulate poling—a pulley, adjustable for tension, and a cord with handles extending from each side—and had the skiers speed hike on an elevation-adjustable treadmill. He tried various combinations of arm-and-leg tensions and ultimately was able to prove that the skiers' isolated leg and upper body exercising had not been the most effective method of training.
Arnot also tested the athletes on a piece of sports science equipment called a breath-by-breath pulmonary gas-exchange system, which he linked up to a computer. It enabled him to determine each athlete's anaerobic threshold, the level of exertion at which lactic acid in the blood increases suddenly, causing breathlessness and burning in the muscles. That is the level at about which all endurance athletes should train to optimally increase their race pace, and no athlete benefited more from this testing than Doug Peterson of Hanover, N.H., a 28-year-old skier on the U.S. cross-country team, who says that he improved more in the last two years, having worked with Arnot, than in all the previous seven years. "Bob Arnot," he says, "has done more for elite athletes, in my sport, at least, than anyone else in the country."
Olympic competition began in February of 1980, and activity in Arnot's lab ended. Although the experience cost Arnot the $150,000, he says that it was worth that much and more to him, and he continues to be fascinated by the role of science in improving athletic performance. After Lake Placid he also had a new nickname to go with Doctor Ben Gay; a lot of people were starting to call him Doctor Sport.
One night late last April Arnot met his 29-year-old for dinner in New York, and soon thereafter he began a typically hectic five-week slice of life. He kicked off, characteristically, with a sleepless night in a hospital, followed, equally characteristically, by a 60-mile bicycle race in the a.m. That night, with a windsurfing race on Long Island ahead of him the next day, Arnot attended a formal dance given by Boston's Alliance Fran‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√ºaise. The band played '40s jitterbug music, and Arnot's date spent a good part of the evening and early morning in defiance of various Newtonian laws, whirling dizzily about his chest, shoulders and neck. Most of the other partygoers were content to watch, as Arnot, rarely known to resist an audience or a pretty girl, failed to resist again.
The next afternoon, windsurfing in the second of three triangle races, Arnot fell from his board and finished last. He had slept only three hours the night before, and he seemed to be having difficulty concentrating. But maybe that had something to do with the presence, just off his stern, of a photographer in a launch.
Three days later Arnot received a call from the U.S. Olympic Yachting Committee denying his request, made weeks earlier, to attend the Olympic windsurfing (board sailing) training camp in June. It had nothing to do with the results of the Long Island race; the committee said there was little chance of anyone weighing more than 140 pounds—Arnot weighs 185—doing well in Olympic competition. Arnot had raced creditably in heavy seas off Maui, a big man's game; as for competing in small waves, he was disappointed with the committee's decision but had to agree with its reasoning.
Now it was 7 a.m. at Claremont's hospital. Arnot was completing a 24-hour shift during which he had administered intravenous therapy to a truck driver with an acute asthma attack, X-rayed and examined a local millworker who had caught her arm in a machine, and examined a woman who had suffered a massive stroke, then confronted her family with his diagnosis and his opinion that the prognosis was poor. He had also put in some time with the Tartini and "worked the phones," as he puts it, running up a phone bill of $97 while arranging with his 29-year-old for jaunts to various Hamptons and calling all over the West to determine "the hot wheels" for an upcoming roller-skating race.
As a weary nurse asked, "What does he use for fuel?" Arnot could hardly wait for the day's activities to begin. He had had eight hours sleep, after all, only three nights earlier. At eight he was telling a breakfast gathering of the Newport, N.H. Chamber of Commerce, "...your overall life expectancy, and how you feel from day to day, is largely determined by what you do for yourself, by how fit you are." He was about to begin what he calls a Health Sports Day, in conjunction with the Newport Hospital, an NES affiliate. It would be his 10th such day in 1981.
An hour later he was at Newport High School, where 150 high school athletes from Newport and surrounding towns had gathered. He spoke of the East Germans' Olympics successes and of how they had been achieved. He said that the German athletes train 364 days a year, which elicited groans—he didn't mention his own schedule—and added, "Each of you has a special kind of body, suited for one sport or another."
To illustrate this he asked for two volunteers, one from a skill sport and one from endurance sports. He got a girl and a boy, a gymnast and a distance runner, respectively. He had laid out an 18" square on the floor with adhesive tape, the basis of a motor-skills test used by the U.S. ski team; the object is to jump from each side to the center and back, and to complete three circuits of the square that way. Both volunteers would be timed, and their times would indicate the levels of their motor skills. They would then practice and try again, and their second times would indicate how quickly they would be likely to learn skill sports.
The boy, stumbling, required 16.11 seconds. The girl took 14. Both improved with their second tries, the boy to 15 seconds, the girl to 11.2 "See," Arnot said to her, "you may not have as large a heart and lungs as this fellow, and you might not do as well in running the mile, but you have superior motor skills, so it isn't surprising that you're a good gymnast."
At 10:45 that morning, the high school session ended, Arnot went roller-skating and returned two hours and 15 minutes—32 miles—later. In three days he would be in California, to compete in the third annual Long Beach Roller Skating Marathon as well as in two shorter races of 10 and 20 kilometers, all on the same day. He would be the first skater in the history of the races to compete in all three.
One member of the high school audience had been Clint Cooper, president of Newport Hospital, and as Arnot wheeled away, Cooper was saying, "Some people call Bob an egotist, but I think the right term is egoist; he just has a good feeling about himself and what he's doing, and he has an almost missionary zeal for fitness. I can't find fault with anything he does. He's a great doctor, he's in great shape, and he's got the world by the tail."
That afternoon Arnot attended Newport High School's track and field practice. A group of milers and hurdlers was about to run 15 330s, and Arnot jumped in. In his third 330—Arnot would run them all—he was second at the halfway point; a small miler tried to pass, but Arnot held his position. Someone said, "I think your competitive juices are flowing."
"Oh," Arnot said, "I haven't run sprints like this since I was in high school myself."
"But it obviously matters to you, to do your best."
"It always does," he said.
In the seventh 330 Arnot led until the second turn, but this time he faded to third, finishing in 54 seconds. He said, "You get your pH to 6.7, down from the normal 7.2, and the muscles just don't produce any more energy. You're dead."
He was asked, "Isn't the 32 miles of roller skating affecting your performance?"
"A little," he said. "I was practicing sprint starts out there this morning, on hills, but basically I'm not very fast."
That evening, at dinner with Cooper, Arnot was talking about his tastes in sports. He had always been terrible at games such as baseball, football and basketball, he said, and he might have wound up fat and out of shape at 33 but for a conversation with a physiologist at summer camp when he was 15. The physiologist suggested that he might be better suited for endurance sports, which Arnot had never thought of trying. Soon he was swimming a mile a day and running three or four. "I was amazed that I could do it," he said.
Cooper seemed fascinated. So did their waitress, though it may have had something to do with Arnot's dramatic blue eyes, strong jaw, impish grin and narrow—the word may be "chiseled"—slightly turned-up nose. As he left the restaurant she sent a co-worker after him with a note. It read: "Tomorrow is my day off," and included her telephone number.
After dinner, back at the high school, Arnot delivered a lecture to 30 New Hampshire athletic directors and coaches, a basic introduction to sports science. He told them that the heart and lungs develop mainly in the teen years, which was when coaches could make the most important contribution. He said that many kids don't begin to mature physically until 14 or 15, but that many of them have big hearts and lungs even then. "I did," he said, "and I was a total loss at games. Then I met a doctor who told me I'd do well in endurance sports, and I was off. So you may have kids who could be great marathon runners. They should be encouraged."
At the end of the lecture, a reporter from TV Channel 31 in Hanover came over with a camera and asked Arnot, "What's your basic message to coaches?"
"That there's a perfect, or near perfect, sport for everyone," he said, "based on heart, lung and frame size, muscle-fiber type and what kind of motor skills you have."
"And what is your advice for high school kids, with the Connecticut Valley Championships coming up?"
"Well," Arnot deadpanned, "what I always advocate is sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll."
He didn't confide that 13 years ago, in Morocco, on spring vacation from the University of Innsbruck, he had taken a puff from a hashish cigarette and promptly fallen asleep. That is still his only experience with drugs, unless one wants to count the prodigious quantities of adrenaline that undoubtedly course through his veins.
That night at 11 Arnot got a ride to the airport, where he wrestled his bike from the back seat of his airplane and then raced 45 miles through the dark New England countryside. The next morning he woke at 5:45 and went 35 more, pushing hard on the hills, "trying," he explained, "to pick up a little more anaerobic power for Long Beach." At 8 a.m. he began another 24-hour shift at Claremont, and 12 hours later he had a visitor, the waitress from the night before last.
Arnot left Claremont the next morning at eight, flew to Bedford, drove to Wellesley for his clothes and some money and at noon caught a 747 for Los Angeles and Long Beach. It had to be a 747, because he needed the upstairs lounge in which to practice his pic. He played the Tartini a few times—the pilot came out to investigate, but didn't object.
The Long Beach Roller Skating Marathon consisted of 102.6-mile oval laps, up and down a waterfront freeway closed to traffic. Arnot fell behind the lead pack from the start, and by the end of the fifth lap he was five minutes behind it. But he did complete the race, in 1:44.03. Two hundred and fifty-six skaters left the starting line, 47 dropped out and Arnot finished 45th. A serious, full-time skater named Ken Sutton was the winner, in 1:30.21, but he wasn't entered in the 20-km. race. That one had a field of 155; 148 finished, and Arnot, nothing if not consistent, was 45th again.
By now the temperature had risen to more than 90°, and at the skaters' level it felt like the inside of a kiln. In the 10-km. race, 245 of 268 skaters finished, and Arnot was 56th. Coming into the last turn he wobbled momentarily, nearly falling, but righted himself and crossed the line in 27:33; Jay Goodmanson's winning time was 21:13.
Helen Johnson, who helped organize the races, which benefit the Long Beach Community Hospital Foundation, and had been alerted earlier to Arnot's triple, said, "I just looked at today's records, and I don't know how he did it. He's an incredible man. After the marathon some of those people could barely stand unaided." Arnot, who looked as if he needed an aluminum walker himself, was asked, "On a scale of zero to 10, how much pain are you in?"
"Zero," he said.
Perhaps it was true. As Miss 29 recently observed, "Either his nerve endings aren't fully developed or his threshold of pain has been raised abnormally high, because of what he's put himself through all these years."
Someone else said to Arnot at Long Beach, "You must take a day off occasionally. When you're sick, at least?"
"I've never been sick," he said. "Oh, I did have the Hong Kong flu at Lake Placid, when I was cross-country skiing, so I just skied slower than usual, and longer—25 miles or so." He added thoughtfully, "If someone proved that all this exercise would kill me at 50, I'd still do it and feel great every day, rather than make it to 70 or 80 as a wimp. I could never stop. I find that heavy, vigorous exercise discharges the nervous system. I had a terrible day recently; at 2:30 in the morning, in the plane, I was still on the phone, and I was coming in for a landing at the time. There was no visibility, I couldn't find the runway, and I was nearly out of gas. The engine was actually sputtering. But at 7 a.m. I did a bike race, and all that bad stuff went out of my system. I was psyched up for the day."
Two days after the Long Beach races Arnot was offered the position of National Medical Director for NES. If he accepted, he would continue to do some emergency-room work, but he would also be charged with the responsibility of overseeing the activities of 1,200 physicians and of acting as liaison to 90 hospitals. He would be second in command only to NES President Dr. Allan Rappaport, who has called Arnot "an amazingly talented physician" and lauded his "ability to communicate ideas and to promote the service we offer." Arnot, after being assured that he wouldn't be tied to a desk, that he could race and work out as always and that he could continue his involvement with sports medicine, and after returning to Boston to discuss the offer with his accountants, agreed to take the job, starting on July 1. He would have to live in New York City—NES's eastern headquarters is on Long Island—but he wouldn't be spending any more time there than he had in Wellesley; he had rarely slept two consecutive nights at his parents' home since college. He told friends that by the end of 1982 the job could be paying him $250,000 a year.
As Arnot streaks past, everyone in his wake wants more, indeed, feels that Arnot owes them more. More time, more attention, more research and, frequently, more money. Capable, perhaps, of significant medical work, Arnot shows no real sign of settling down and doing it; at an age where he might reasonably be determining his own focus, he seems rather to be spreading himself farther and wider. He's not returning to the laboratory, he's appearing instead on television, as an occasional sports-medicine commentator for ABC.
"Bob's an entrepreneur," says one doctor who worked with him at Lake Placid. "His contribution is on the commercial side, as opposed to being academic. This is hard for many to accept."
The month of May was winding down for Arnot. Like a Kansas twister. In Boston, he left his accountants' offices and soon was cycling through the Massachusetts countryside. He did 80 miles that day, 90 the next, and the following day, Sunday, May 24, he finished with the lead pack in a 50-mile race in downtown Boston. He immediately drove to Bedford and flew to Plymouth, N.H., where an old friend, Gwen English, sped him along country roads to Waterville Valley. One .9-mile lap of a 30-mile U.S. Cycling Federation race there had been completed, but Arnot jumped in, catching up to finish among the leaders in a field of 33. It was two o'clock. Back at Plymouth, he and English boarded the Beechcraft, returned to Bedford and drove a short distance to the Wellesley home of Arnot's sister, Bonnie, for a barbecue. At 10, back at Bedford, they took off for Nantucket. At 7:30 the following morning Arnot left English on the beach, flew to the Norwood Airport, picked up his sister, Jeanne, her husband, John, and their son, Dan, and flew them to Hyannis for a Cape Cod beach day. Then he flew back to Nantucket for a one-mile ocean swim and an eight-mile run on the beach before scooping up English and flying back to the Cape, Chatham this time, to test four new board sails. Then he flew to Hyannis, picked up Jeanne and her family, dropped them back at Norwood and flew to Worcester, where at 7:30 he picked up an old buddy, Dr. Jimmy McGuire. Together they flew up to Plymouth, discussing medicine enroute, to deposit English. Then Arnot flew McGuire back to Worcester, flew himself back to Bedford, left his plane and cycled some 15 miles through the dark night, arriving at Jeanne's home in Wellesley at 11 for dinner.
There is little point in listing Arnot's activities in the week that followed. The eyes do tend to glaze over after a while. Let us, rather, join Doctor Sport on the morning of Monday, June 1 at the Club Med Village in Haiti. Arnot was about to play the starring role in a fitness week of sorts, co-sponsored by Club Med and Perrier. The week featured a race-walking expert; a nutritionist; a consultant in hair care; an instructor in aerobic dance, calisthenics and yoga; and Arnot, who had assembled a battery of sports aptitude tests for the occasion. He called them Sport Boards. Included were the motor-skills test; the vertical jump test, a means of determining muscle-fiber type (sprint fiber or endurance fiber) that is less accurate than the taking of muscle biopsies but less painful; a one-mile time trial in the race-walk, another indicator of muscle-fiber type; a series of eye tests; a test to determine lung capacity; and tests for flexibility and percentage of body fat. He also had an M-mode echo-cardiograph, a diagnostic tool which uses ultrasound to determine the size of the pumping chamber and the thickness of the walls of the subject's heart. The information tells which sports the subject might be best suited for.
On this week Club Med had 425 guests, 190 of whom had signed up for testing, and at the orientation Arnot told them, "Marketing in the U.S. has sold many of us on smoking, drinking and staying up late. But there's a far better way to live—exercising and doing sports, being an action junkie, getting a lot out of every day."
Arnot spent much of the days in Haiti with the test subjects, offering individual counsel. He told them that the Sport Board concept would be used elsewhere, at several NES hospitals, for example, where testing facilities would be set up for older people as well as high school athletes. Arnot believes that a greater percentage of the population would engage in regular physical activity if "they knew the basic nuts and bolts of fitness. People want to know what kind of body components they have and what they're suited for. As for hospitals, they should be associated with wellness."
Arnot's nights at Club Med were spent at the discotheque. He boogied three consecutive dance contests, and after each one he disappeared with his dance partner. Late revelers, walking the beach at 3 a.m., were astonished to see them out on the water, pioneering a new sport—call it skinny-windsurfing. Each morning at 7 a.m. Arnot went out to Highway 100 for 18 miles of roller skating: It was quite a sight, the fair-skinned Arnot, on America's trendiest means of transportation, whizzing past barefoot, dumbfounded natives leading goats and donkeys.
One afternoon toward the end of the week a friend of Arnot's pointed east, where a mountain range seemed to hover over the village. For Arnot, the gesture amounted to an imperative, and minutes later Arnot and friend were jogging eastward. They found a path—or a vague, tortuous suggestion of one—and started upward in the oppressive June heat. They sweated and swatted at fearsome-looking insects, but an hour after leaving the village they stood on the peak, with the Club Med village and the Caribbean far below. It was growing dark, though, so they decided not to tarry, stumbling downward on a seemingly better path. The light was all but gone when the path wound into a thicket. Arnot led, of course. He couldn't have known that path and thicket ended at the edge of a 400' cliff. He found it out when his lead foot met nothing but air. Frantically twisting his upper body, Arnot lunged backward. His fingers raked to hold on to the cliff edge, and he stopped falling, one palm all but impaled on a sort of pointed stake. As Arnot pulled himself upward and disengaged it, blood spurted everywhere.
It was full dark now, and as Arnot and his friend tried another route down the mountain, they saw the lights of many candles, moving slowly, and heard chanting. Suddenly they felt hands on their shoulders. Arnot, never at a loss for words, said, "Here's where we get cannibalized."
He tried French. "Nous sommes perdus," he said. "We're lost. Perdus! Perdus!" He raised his palms, blood and all, in a gesture of inquiry. "Club Med? Club Med?" he repeated. The natives understood; they just wanted to be paid for their assistance. Finally they worked out a deal: Arnot's Perrier T Shirt in exchange for directions to the highway.
Ninety minutes later Arnot stood at the Club Med bar, bare-chested, his hand resembling a piece of raw chuck steak, and regaled a. group of bikini-clad young ladies with an account of his latest adventure, his wound getting progressively worse. For more than an hour he paid it no mind, but finally he said, "I'll be right back."
In the infirmary, he sat at a table and swabbed his hand with peroxide, then filled a syringe attached to a large needle with Xylocaine and, with no apparent concern, jabbed the needle into his palm. He asked the nurse for a scalpel, convinced that part of the stake remained in his hand, and when the Xylocaine took effect, began cutting. It was slow going; the incision, oozing blood, was surrounded by discolored, swollen tissue, and a female friend standing by fainted, collapsing into a chair. Arnot had been engaged in a casual monologue about "no-man's-land," a section of the lower palm "where, if you make one wrong move, you never use your fingers again." He probed deeply into the wound with tweezers but found nothing. Finally, he bandaged the hand and headed for the door, saying. "It's going to be tough at the disco tonight, doing the old back flip."
The nurse, her lip curled in what might have been disgust, was heard to mutter, "What a macho man!"