Diving since 1980
83-year-old professor’s hobby takes him to the SRC high-board each week
Katherine Braden | Features Editor
Professor of physics emeritus, Joseph Spradley, is known for his 55-year teaching career here, the longest teaching career ever at Wheaton. The 83-year-old professor has taught everything from non-calculus physics for pre-meds to mathematic physics.
“I’ve taught most of the physics, astronomy and math classes here,” Spradley said. “Dr. Brabenec was actually in one of my earliest classes.” Spradley is mostly retired now, but teaches astronomy as an adjunct at times.
When he’s not teaching, however, the octogenarian has an interesting side hobby. “I’ve been diving for fun since I was about 10 or 12,” Spradley said. And he hasn’t stopped since.
“I dive nearly every week because it’s fun,” said Spradley. “It demonstrates the laws of physics, and I fear that only occasional diving would not keep me in proper shape nor maintain sufficient confidence to continue. The side benefit is that it helps me to keep me physically fit, which contributes to mobility, agility, strength and a general sense of well-being.”
Spradley can often be seen at the Wheaton pool in the SRC. “I’ve been diving on a regular basis of two or three times each week since 1980, when the pool was built. At least 10 dives a week for about 500 dives each year times 35 years since the pool was built. That’s about 17,500 dives,” Spradley said, quickly calculating the math.
Spradley was influential in the installation of the pool’s diving boards. “As chair of the building committee, I refuted the advice of a local medical doctor on the committee, who thought diving boards were too dangerous,” said Spradley.
He typically dives four or five times in a 10 minute routine and usually uses the high-board. Spradley’s favorite moves include a “one-and-a-half,” a “reverse flip,” and a “back lay-out.”
“I never coached any sport, nor even competed in diving. I just like to get the exercise,” said Spradley. “I do it to test out the laws of physics. Early in my career at Wheaton, I did occasionally work out with the diving and gymnastic teams, including when my son was on the Wheaton gymnastics team before it was cancelled. When I was a young teacher, I did back flips in physics classes to demonstrate rotational motion now I need the high board to get around.”
Born in Orgeon in 1932, Spradley moved to Los Angeles a few years later and it was there he first became interested in diving. “I grew up in a family with six brothers and two sisters. We would compete with each other to see who could do the craziest things and that led to an interest in diving,” said Spradley.
Spradley met his wife while getting his Ph.D. in physics at U.C.L.A. and afterwards headed to Wheaton to teach, though his career has taken him all over the globe. He has been a visiting professor in Beruit, Lebanon, Nairobi, Kenya and Cairo, Egypt. While at Wheaton, he has written and published multiple books, journals and reference articles as well as serving as Chair on numerous committees.
“The most difficult aspect of diving,” said Spradley, “is concentration. If you lose your focus, you can end up flat on your back or stomach, which I’ve done two or three times.”
Diving at his age requires special attention to detail, and also to balance. “Agility is very important as well as keeping up mobility. Every morning I do exercises for balance,” said Spradley.
What are most people’s reactions to the 83-year-old diving professor? “I remember thinking that he doesn’t look like a guy that should be able to do that,” said Junior Caleb Cockrum who used to life-guard at the pool.
“Most are incredulous!” said Spradley. “Several years ago Dr. Peter Walters in Applied Health Science asked me for a short video clip of my diving. He and Dr. Baybutt now show this video to their AHS 101 Wellness classes as an example of lifetime fitness. Last term two of my granddaughters were in these classes when the videos were shown. ‘That’s my grandpa!’ one of them said in class.”
Whatever he’s doing, it must be working.
“55 years of teaching and I’ve never missed a class due to illness,” said Spradley. “Doing something regularly like diving motivates you and helps keep you healthy and fit.”
To those interested in possibly pursuing diving, Spradley gives this advice: “If you really have a serious interest, keep at it. Don’t be afraid to try new things.”
What should the campus learn from Spadley? “Find activities you enjoy if you want to keep motivated,” said Spradley. “Be willing to take some risks to enjoy life to its fullest. Keep active as much as possible if you want to stay young in spirit. Give thanks to God every day for all his gifts, especially the gift of life.”