You can buy the Sport Death shirt, and the Roast shirt, and even the Lambda Sigma Delta jersey (complete with purity score!). But there is a special rite of passage for those who want to be a true Senior Haus resident. I am speaking, of course, of learning how to tire swing.
The Senior Haus courtyard tire swing may be the only centrifugal tire swing in the world. Most tire swings hang a couple of feet off the ground so that you can seat yourself in the hole and swing freely. Not the Haus tire swing. The rope is long enough for the tire to drag on the ground, so getting air time requires the special technique of standing up in the tire hole, running sideways in a circle with the rope taut, and then kicking off the tree. If this technique sounds difficult and dangerous, it is. The motto “give blood to the tree” is not arbitrary.
Because of the high probability of injury, I had put off learning how to tire swing in my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. I could only watch as the other residents and alums pirouetted in the air. With skill comes confidence and tricks, such as leaning backwards to brush the ground with your hands, riding on top of the tire instead of in it, riding with two people, or picking up objects and throwing them at people with accuracy.
Finally, in my second semester of senior year, when I had well and truly lost all my cares, I decided to finally defeat the tree that had been looming over me since I was a prefrosh. It was a lovely Patriot’s Day weekend that I chose for the task. The air was cold enough that I could wear a windbreaker as extra protection for when flesh hit bark.
On the first day of my quest, I checked and double-checked that the rope was unwound. I grabbed the tire, took a deep breath, and started running in an awkward sideways shuffle. When I had run about 180 degrees around the tree, my body was lifted off the ground by the rope. My feet impacted tree. So far, so good.
Then I had to kick off at the correct angle so the tire swing would stay off the ground and swing in a circle rather than a skidding parabola. Failure at this stage is less painful because the tire takes the impact of your body on the ground. The tire merely skids on the brick tiles until friction stops the motion. Hopefully, this happens before you hit the trunk of the tree.
The next step to master is landing with your legs on the trunk, instead of back-planting. The amount of spin you have is controlled by how you kick off and how much you lean back. But it’s awfully difficult to concentrate on these things when you’re speeding through the air and can’t see where you’re going.
If you land incorrectly, all the weight of the swing will be transferred to your elbows, or your back. It’s difficult to judge when you’re safe, and when you should try to abort the swing, because sometimes traveling backwards will magically allow your legs to hit the tree. You just have to trust the untrustworthy tree.
I was hyperventilating with adrenaline and pain after that first day. My elbows looked like I had been moshing with a biker gang. But I could not stop then. After the third day, I messed up my knee, and I was walking with a limp for a while. But still I persevered.
The secret to successful tire swinging is to do it without fear. The faster you run, the higher you land on the tree when you leave the ground, and the better you can kick off. You have to retain a cool head to control your spin, and you have to have enough reaction time in case things turn out badly.
In the end, what did I get from learning how to tire swing? An achievement in my trophy box, a notch on my belt, a lost purity point, a sheet of paper. Learning to tire swing is a peculiar type of education. It teaches a mind-over-matter philosophy: to wipe out and smash your elbows against the tree, stagger woozily and rub the pain from them, and then ask for another.
I’m glad to have had the opportunity to stare pain in the face, and learn how to deal with it. There are no guide rails, safety padding, or “you must be this tall to enter” signs, because life doesn’t have those either. The injury is real, but there are safeguards in place that prevent things from going too far. After all, MIT Medical is only a couple steps away.
So now, I have enough tire swinging chops to not injure myself. Others can transform the act into a thing of beauty, but I’m okay with knowing enough to not be dangerous.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to imply that people are forced to tire swing as a hazing ritual. All incidences of tire swinging that the author knows of are voluntary.