Presidential Challenge is Flippin’ Awesome


Anna Farber

College fourth-year Katherine MacPhail flips out for tire flipping.

A day marked by harrowing tests of strength: a few friendly games of badminton, a cutthroat round of cornhole, and a 125-pound tire — welcome to the first-ever Presidential Tire Flip Challenge.

Last Saturday, students had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to square up against our very own President Carmen Twillie Ambar. For student-athletes, long deprived of competition, the event provided the exhilaration of an athletic contest — but the day wasn’t geared around athletes exclusively. Although I have arms like gluten-free noodles and legs like Stevie tofu, I also have a competitive spirit and I like a good challenge. So this past weekend, I found myself in Bailey Field for the first time in my three and a half years at Oberlin College.  

At the beginning of the event President Ambar set the mark by flipping a tire 18 times in under a minute, and students were challenged to best her score. All students were encouraged to sign up and give it their all — whether they achieved one or 31 flips. I repped the Review with 8 flips, and here’s what I’ll say: That dang thing is hefty. 

Everyone who participated got a “My College President is Stronger than Your College President” T-shirt, but top-scoring students took home a $900 prize. College fourth-year Connor Hibbard won the men’s competition with 31 flips, and College second-year Kathryn Beeman and College first-year Abby Cannon tied in the women’s competition with 22 flips each. 

Cannon is a thrower on the women’s track and field team, and Beeman is a catcher on the softball team. 

“I am starved for games, and so going into something as a competition and having that adrenaline for the first time in like a year — it was awesome,” Beeman said. “It was such a good feeling to get back.”

President Ambar hoped that the challenge would bring out the best in everyone who participated. 

“There’s something powerful about finding a way to compete with yourself and dig deep to give more than you thought you could,” President Ambar said. “That’s one of [my trainer’s] philosophies, ‘How do you perform better and better every time because you find a way to compete with yourself?’ I’ve found it to be very helpful in managing COVID this semester, and I wanted students in this one little moment to maybe have that feeling.”

While waiting in anticipation for my turn, I looked to the athletes who inspire me for motivation: Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, Kim Possible — all the greats. But when my “friends” started taking bets on my performance, the numbers weren’t looking good — one flip? Two flips? Three? 

I started to get nervous. Real nervous. I sought advice from Sports Editor, retired student-athlete, and College fourth-year Khalid McCalla. He said I should “tell [myself] that ‘NO ONE COMES INTO YOUR HOUSE AND BEATS YOU,’” and that I would then go undefeated in all my pursuits. Those were the words I needed. I dug deep — real deep, like rock bottom — and when the tire fell for the eighth time, I knew in my heart that my so-called friends weren’t making a single penny. Although I didn’t come close to beating President Ambar, that was more than enough for me. After all, she’s no stranger to tire flipping. 

“I asked Sara [Schoenhoft, Wellness Coordinator and Head Softball Coach], maybe a year ago, to get me a tire to flip,” President Ambar said. “It’s been a part of my routine for a while. I do really long stretches where I flip the tire for five minutes, flip the tire all the way around the track.”

President Ambar sent her congratulations to the students who earned the top score — but she also had some humbling words for them.

“Just a little reminder that I did my flips and I probably have almost 30 years on them,” President Ambar said. “The real test is when they’re 52, can they do as many of that? That’s my only caveat! I’m not taking back any credit, I just want to establish that I was holding it down for the over-50 crowd.”

A roaring crowd met President Ambar as she flipped the inaugural tire, and Cannon was inspired by her show of strength and spirit. 

“You can tell that she’s badass,” Cannon said. “She carries herself so well, and I just aspire to be that awesome when I’m 52.”

Saturday confirmed what we all knew was true: Our College president is the strongest. President Ambar says that her peers in higher ed have been impressed — perhaps intimidated? — by her athletic performance. 

“I have to say that whoever thought of the slogan, ‘My president is stronger than yours’ — I just think it’s so hilarious,” President Ambar said. “The tire flip competition has been on a couple of the social media accounts, and I did get some messages from college presidents mostly saying, ‘Yeah, you win Carmen. I agree, you win.’” 

Saturday was a big day for Oberlin. It was the day that students found out the long-awaited results of not only the Tire Flip Challenge, but of that pesky little U.S. presidential race as well. Joe Biden was declared the winner of this election cycle Saturday morning — an announcement that lifted many people’s spirits. 

“It started with kind of this feeling of relief and elation and that there’s a future that feels brighter or more possible,” President Ambar said.

For Beeman, it was a day she will never forget. 

“It was one of the best days I’ve had at college so far, genuinely,” Beeman said. “It was a great day all around. My birthday was [Monday] and so we celebrated that on Saturday too. It was like: presidential race, winning the fricking tire flip, going to Target and having fun, and then a birthday celebration.”

Over 100 students participated in the challenge, and many more came to watch. Ambar has high hopes of continuing similar events in the future, and a dream of a future full-blown President’s Games event. 

“As we go through this COVID experience, I am trying to keep note of those things that we do [to keep spirits light] that maybe we should do all the time,” Ambar said. “Hopefully this is one of those ones — whether it’s President’s Games or some sort of event that brings everybody on campus together, no matter what their abilities are, to just have a fun day together.”

A message for President Ambar: The next time you issue a challenge to the student body, watch out for the Review staff’s team. We’re coming for you and we will win.