Friday, July 27, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger

Papa Smurf Vancouver
Tommy Smith and John Carlos
 Mexico 1968
Today marks the official opening day of the London Olympics. I have to admit I am an Olympics junkie, both the Summer and Winter Games.  This would be pretty obvious to any of my Facebook friends who followed the Attack of theSmurfs during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. We all have our favourite Olympic memories of amazing  athletic endeavors but today I want to write about my personal encounters with Olympians past and present and I want to encourage you to add your own personal stories about Olympians you have known or have met in your own journeys.

The first future Olympian I ever met in my life was Bob Lenarduzzi, who representing Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Games in soccer and currently the president of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Bobby grew up with the rest of us miscreants on Dundas Street and attended school and church together. That’s Bobby two over on my left in our First Communion group photo at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in 1961. (I’m not sure why Mom marked an X over my picture; maybe she thought I may have problems recognizing my cute smile.)

Daryl Sturdy and Friend
When I transferred to a public school (Hastings Elementary) after spending four years in exile at Our Lady of Sorrows being taught by nuns, I met my first male teacher and first current Olympian, Daryl Sturdy who represented Canada as a rower at the Mexico City Games in 1968. As a teacher, Daryl had a profound influence on me by encouraging my writing and reinforcing my love of reading. Daryl introduced me to “The Hobbit” primarily to occupy my time because I was so far ahead of my classmates in math and language arts due to the nuns somewhat interesting ways of making one learn the basics. I am still proud to call Daryl a friend and the picture is of him and me at a recent high school reunion. It pisses me off that Daryl looks so much better than me and he’s almost twenty years older. ;-)

Greg Joy - Montreal 1976
During my senior year in high school, our Community Recreation class travelled two miles south to play a friendly handball game against our local rivals, Vancouver Tech. Because I was the tallest in our group, I was the likely candidate to take part in a basketball style jump off to start the game. My Tech counterpart was Greg Joy, the current BC high school high jump champion. (I believe Greg still holds some provincial and national age group records.) Greg and I were the exact same height and build and in fact we looked more like brothers than my brother, Pat and me. However despite these similarities, needless to say Greg out jumped me by almost two feet. Two years later, I remember sitting in Version 1.0’s family living room cheering Greg on to a silver medal at the Montreal Olympics.

Lori Fung & Hugh Fisher
In 1984, as an employee of the PNE, I was given the honour of driving the guests of honour in the annual parade. The honourees that year were several BC medallists from the Los Angeles games. I was the luckiest of all the drivers leading the parade with my passengers; the sweetheart of the Olympics, Lori Fung, gold medallist in rhythmic gymnastics and gold medal canoeist, Hugh Fisher. (If you squint really hard you can see my big nose through the windshield.) This was the first and only time I got to hold a true Olympic medal. (I did hold a sample gold medal at the Royal Canadian Mint pavilion at the 2010 games.) During the parade, I’m sure I gave the CBC producers fits when Lori said she wanted a balloon and I brought the entire parade to a halt to call a vendor over and bought Lori one seconds before I was supposed to pass the broadcast reviewing stand.

Charles Hamelin and Marianne St. Gelais
Vancouver 2010
As a lead up to the 2010 Olympics, the Pacific Coliseum hosted the Canadian Short Track Speed Skating team’s annual training camps in the summer and fall of 2008 and 2009. I was lucky enough to work closely with the team members during these events. I witnessed a few dozen young adults experiencing the pure joy of sport. No one with the exclusion of one “Dancing with the Stars” competitor is ever going to get rich as a short track speed skater. These athletes were so loose and so much fun while competing intensely for twelve places on Canada’s team. It brought me to tears of elation and pride watching as several of the skaters won medals for our country.

John Naber Montreal 1976
In addition to all those previous adventures about the 2010 games I have shared with many of you, I have to share a story that truly defines humility. While waiting in the security line at the curling venue, a gentleman wearing a USA jacket standing in front of me with his family noticed the pins on my jacket and asked about making a few trades which did. In our conversation, he mentioned something about swimming a bit in college. I asked him which university and he replied Southern Cal. Knowing that USC had one of the best swimming programs I was impressed. About two weeks later the light when on in my tiny little brain and I realized who this fellow was. His name was John Naber and yes, he did swim a little in college but he neglected to mention that he won four gold medals and set world records for the USA in Montreal in 1976. I would definitely say this might define the word, humble. :-)

Charmaine Crooks
If you were to ask me who of all the Olympians I’ve had met was my favourite I couldn’t say but I have to include Charmaine Crooks, Canadian silver medallist in Athletics at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. My first encounter with Charmaine was again while working at the Coliseum. She was there attending an organizing meeting for the Vancouver games and I found her with this lost look on her face. I had seen this look before and was able to direct her to the nearest washroom. Every time I ran into after that she would make a point of going out her way to give me a big hug. For those who have met Charmaine you will know she is not only a very sweet person but is pretty damn easy on the eyes. ;-)

In closing, I am now asking all of you to add your personal encounters with the Olympians you have met.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day here in the Magic Kingdom.  Oh crap, wrong theme park! ;-)

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