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Finding Tim

A Fourth Alternate Reality

by Charlie
With editorial assistance from Dix and John


There was more to the Atlanta Olympics besides diving. For the Gang the other two sports were gymnastics and the marathon. Charlie asked me, Marty, to write this episode, because I knew more of the details about the Cavers than anybody. Besides, you've already had the background to what turned out to be one of the more spectacular marathons in Olympic history. But you'll have to wait for that story, because the Marathon is the last event of the Olympics.

You haven't read much about the Cave or the Cavers since the story of their unbelievable successes in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The publicity generated for the Marty Center by the Cavers' Olympic success was incredible. Welcome as it was, for me and for the Cavers, it brought its own problems. The first was a stream of visitors to the Center. It started with the media, but was followed by gymnastics coaches from around the country, and by top level gymnasts who wanted to see the facility that had produced the kids that had beaten them! Visitors were an inherent problem for the Cave. It'd been agreed with the Cavers that the Cave was a private area, but if it was off limits to the current crop of visitors, then there really wasn't much point in their visiting. So, following my usual pattern, I got the group together-it now numbered twelve with the three newcomers that had been added-to discuss the problem.

Seth understood the issue right away. He told the group, "Visitors want to see us practice; they want to see us interact with our coaches and each other; and they certainly are going to want to see the facilities we use. I think they're going to be surprised that we don't have a larger space; and they'll certainly be surprised that we're often alone in that space without coaches or supervision. We can't have people down here, especially with cameras, watching boys and girls go in and out of the same locker room, changing on the mats, or letting hands roam around parts of bodies that convention says are off limits. But, if we change those things, we change the whole ethos of the Cave."

Evan said, "I think that most of the problems can be solved with visiting hours. The Cave can be open to visitors on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. That should accommodate all visitors as long as they inquire in advance of our procedures. The locker room is a problem. We can't move the study tables out of the girls locker room and shift all the lockers every Friday noon, and put them back on Saturday noon."

Nels said, "OK, my dad designed the place, we dump the problem in his lap. I'll talk to him tonight."

That evening Carl thought about the problem that Nels had handed him. He drove over to the Marty Center, looked around the Cave and came back to Nels with the solution. "Nels, it's simple. Right now the two locker rooms are at the end of the building. There's no door; you walk into an open doorway, turn right and then left and you're in the locker room. It says 'BOYS' near the opening. We simply knock out the wall to the left as you go through the opening and it will lead you to the same space. But the opening is designed so that you can't see into that space. We change the sign on the opening to "LOCKER ROOMS" and then on the wall you face into after you go through the first opening we put a sign saying '<- GIRLS BOYS ->.' Below that we put a 'Visitors Not Allowed' sign. Nobody needs to know that the two openings lead to the same space. During visiting hours you'll have to obey the signs. The rest of the time you can ignore them."

And that's what they did. It was a never-ending source of humor for the kids for a boy and girl to be talking to a visitor, walk through the opening to the locker room, then each go around the wall as directed by the sign, and come together on the other side of the wall and almost always engage in some lewd act, or at least strip together. Once Evan accidently walked through the girls' opening when a couple of visitors were present. Inside, Connie realized his mistake and screamed, "Evan, get out of here."

He caught on and turned and ran out, looked foolish, and then went in the boys side. He grabbed Connie, quietly said, "Thanks," and kissed her. Amazingly that was the only slip anybody can remember, and the secret of the locker room(s) was never exposed!

The problem with this approach was that visitors never really understood what made the Marty Center different from other gymnastics clubs. The group talked with me about this, but decided that they simply couldn't afford to have the world at large know the full story of the Cave. People really weren't ready to accept it. Furthermore, they didn't really think that other coaches would accept the idea that their rules, as part of a whole ethos of love and support, were the secret of their Olympic success, even though-to a person-the Cavers were convinced of that.

I had a few inquiries from top gymnasts around the country about moving to Grand Forks and joining the program. I declined all such requests, saying that the Caver program was only open to those who'd come through earlier programs of the Center. I told people that I regretted having to turn them down, and I sincerely did regret it, but that the Cavers were a close knit group whose whole esprit could be undermined by the addition of strangers. The group received some criticism for such "exclusivity" but were very glad that I stood my ground on that point.

The three newcomers to the group, Dylan, Julia and Lorrie, fit right in, even though there was a two year gap between Lorrie, the oldest, and Nels the youngest of the original Cavers. They were warned in advance about the locker arrangements and were ready for their first group shower on their first day of practice. It was particularly difficult for eighth graders Dylan and Julia, who were dating, to be naked in front of each other for the first time in a group of twelve. But they survived, none the worse for wear. For the first week or so the three newcomers were more involved with exploring their new freedoms than pursuing gymnastics, but that slowly changed, and they began to experience the same improvement in their athletic skills that the others had experienced when the Cave first opened.

Carroll and Denise Western, Dylan's parents, became very adamant defenders of the Cave and its rules. They came to me and told me, "Look, Marty, when Dylan, Julia and Lorrie, were invited to join the Cavers, you got us all together and explained how the Cave worked. You gave us a choice, or at least you suggested that we had a choice, of accepting those rules or not. You indicated that things in the Cave would have to change if the parents of the newcomers wouldn't buy in. Well, that's wrong. You've got the best damn program in the world, and don't you dare screw it up to accommodate some recalcitrant parents."

So, I got all of the parents and Cavers together to discuss that issue, and all agreed that the loss would be too great if they changed things to accommodate newcomers. So Carl was called, the old girls locker room was ripped out to the walls and an entirely new study space created, with comfortable study carrels with computers, a good quality reference shelf with dictionaries, encyclopedias (World Book and Britannica, to cover a range of ages), a good atlas, and similar books, as well as comfortable reading chairs. At the back was a rest room with a shower for Tim, and perhaps other visitors. The space had a private locker for Tim. The unisex locker room next door became permanent!

Seemingly, so did the gymnastic successes of the Cavers. Seth and Nels, the oldest and the youngest of the original Cavers, did mighty battle on the high bar. Seth had the best all-around record of the group, but Nels consistently outperformed him on the high bar. However, Seth appeared to be determined to unseat Nels from his number one national ranking on the high bar. Their routines became more complex, more difficult, and above all, more daring. Spinning around the bar they did one release after the other, in such rapid succession that it was hard to follow. While there was always soft padding under the bar, the greatest danger was that one of them would slip while they were above the bar and would fall onto it, breaking a limb, or worse, cracking his head. Tim, Frank, and I discussed the issue among ourselves and finally decided that other than expressing mild concern and caution, we shouldn't forbid their experimentation. We felt that we simply had to trust the judgement of the two kids.

They did take falls from time to time, but always managed to land correctly and unhurt. We got one of Nels' falls on video. It shows Nels swinging up as he held the bar with one hand, twisting above the bar and coming down expecting to catch the bar with the other hand-which had gotten twisted the wrong way and couldn't grasp the bar. The tape shows Nels realizing that he can't catch the bar so he contorts his body perfectly to avoid the bar and lands on his feet, knees, and hands, then stretches his body out so that the full weight of the fall is caught by his full body. It was a perfect ten in falling, but he was cautioned not to practice it too often!

Lucy was doing almost as well on the uneven parallel bars. However, she didn't have a near competitor in the club to push her as Seth and Nels pushed each other. I realized that to keep sharp and improving, she needed frequent competition with other top uneven bar gymnasts. I discussed this with the group, and all agreed that it was appropriate for Lucy to head off on her own to carefully selected meets where her top competition was competing. She and Austin, with whom her relationship seemed to have considerably deepened, often headed to these meets together, sometimes with some or all of their parents, but more likely alone.

Evan and Nick were good at most of the events, but didn't stand out in any. In a team effort they could be counted on to hold their own and contribute points for the team. However, they rarely got individual medals in anything, though Nick did, from time to time, shine in the all-around competition. However, they were serious about their gymnastics and practiced hard, as did all of the Cavers. Evan and Nick were also very serious about each other. They were completely in love and seemed to be totally committed to the relationship. Nick was very good at keeping his parents informed about his activities in the Cave and with the Cavers-both his romantic adventures as well as his gymnastic adventures. His parents were very accepting, and dealt well with the idea of their son being gay. They liked Evan and he was welcome in their home-including frequent overnight visits.

Evan on the other hand had parents who were divorced. Since the divorce he'd lived with his Mom, Marcie, who had agreed to the rules of the Cave somewhat reluctantly. Her ex-husband, Quin, had been fairly easily convinced by the rest of the parents, and Marcie had pretty much agreed in order to keep peace in the family. She and Quin had decided that they were simply incompatible and that sharing a house that wasn't a loving home was not good for them or their son. But they were both committed to Evan and doing what was best for him. Marcie had concluded that gymnastics was probably the best thing that had ever happened to Evan, that it was important that she and Quin be in agreement, and so she'd gone along with his becoming a Caver and gone along with the rules of the Cave. Evan sensed her reluctance, and chose his father rather than his mother to share intimate details with. That was just fine with Marcie. But Evan lived with his mom and he couldn't spend the night at Nick's without her knowing. This, of course, forced Marcie to confront the fact that she had a gay son with a male lover. It didn't seem to bother Quin, but it was upsetting to her-though she went along with the Caver ethos that said the kids made their own rules; she didn't try to stop the sleepovers or scuttle the relationship. It looked like that would be the norm for Evan into his college years, because Evan and Nick both lived at home for financial reasons (divorce is not a financial upper).

In Evan's freshman year of college Marcie heard about a group called PFLAG-Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays. There was a local chapter in Fargo, but not in Grand Forks. She decided that a visit might be worthwhile, and within a month she found herself eating a fast food dinner as she drove to Fargo. She'd decided not to tell Evan where she was going, and the issue was avoided by the fact that Evan was spending that Friday night with Nick, at this time a high school senior.

PFLAG was quite a revelation! First of all she discovered that, despite her misgivings, she (along with Quin) were considerably more accepting of their son's homosexuality than the average bear, and even of the average PFLAGer. A number present were startled to learn that her son, just out high school, was spending the night with his boyfriend, and had been for years. She'd said, "If he has a boyfriend or lover, they're going to be having sex, and I'd rather it was in a safe place than some park or who knows where. That doesn't mean I'm comfortable with a gay son, it just makes me a pragmatist."

The group leader broke in and said, "I can think of a lot worse motives for what we do than pragmatism. But why aren't you comfortable with a gay son?"

"I just can't believe that that's what God intended for Evan."

Another mother spoke up, "We can't know the mind of God; but we do know that our sexuality is God-given. God didn't make my son gay in order to make him a sinner. God may have given him a difficult row to hoe, but he didn't make him evil."

Marcie had said, "Well, thank goodness Evan hasn't had a difficult time of it. He's in a completely accepting group of friends, and has found a partner that he's compatible and happy with."

"My God, the lucky boy. I wish I could say half of that about my son. He's been tormented at school, and his last boyfriend turned out to just be using him. I hear him crying himself to sleep many nights."

That sentiment seemed much more prevalent in the group than Marcie's story of Evan and Nick. But what really came through for Marcie was the fact that all of these moms and dads (many more moms than dads were present) seemed fully accepting of their children's homosexuality. It made Marcie think about her own attitude toward Evan. The more she thought about it, the more her situation seemed strange: Of those present she was the least accepting of her son's homosexuality, but one of the most accepting in terms of what she allowed him to do, and more importantly had allowed him to do during his high school years.

One mother there asked, "If your son was a girl and straight, would you let her sleep over at her boyfriend's house?"

Marcie thought about the Cavers. Nels and Mary were a couple of years younger than Evan, and they slept over. She thought a little more and said, "Yes, I would. Again, I can't control their lives, but it's my job to keep them safe. Sex in an automobile, the park, a seedy motel, or any public space isn't safe. If my kids are going to have sex - and no matter what we think, only they are going to decide that - I want it upstairs in my house, or in the boyfriend's house. And that attitude prevails among the parents of my son's close friends. And yes, boys and girls in that group have sleepovers."

It's easy to think of parents of gays, or at least accepting parents of gays, as being liberal. But Marcie soon found out that that wasn't so. There were quite a few present that were most upset by her statement. It launched the group into a real discussion, almost an argument, about rules and boundaries. They didn't settle anything, but Marcie settled one thing in her mind: Her son was gay, and that was that. He needed her full support and acceptance, and by God he was going to get it.

When the meeting broke up and Marcie was getting ready to leave, the group leader came over to her. "You were a little quiet in that discussion, after you started it off."

"I thought I pretty much said what I had to say at the beginning."

"That was probably one of the most productive discussions we've had in this group. Usually we're into wringing our hands and wondering what we can do for our kids. Providing a safe place for sex was never on our agenda. It needed to be. Thank you."

"Well, thank you, too. I learned a lot about myself this evening. I think I need to sit down with my son, Evan, and have a real talk about his sexuality. He needs to know that I'm fully supportive."

"Good for you. If you allow him to spend the night with his partner, he has to know that in his heart, but it's good for him to hear it from you."

Marcie returned to the group from time to time, but she no longer needed it. Furthermore, their focus was on problems in the Fargo community, which were different that those in Grand Forks, and which she couldn't really affect. The next evening she sat down with Evan and Nick-on the way home she'd decided that Nick needed to hear it as much as Evan did - and told them, in essence, Gay Is Good. "God made you boys that way, and I'm not going to argue with God. I'm sorry if I may have communicated a slightly different message to you up to now, but now is now and then was then. Gay Is Good."

They both hugged her and Evan said, "Mom, I've always known you loved me. But this is really special. Thank you. And I love you, too."

The next evening that Evan was at Nick's Marcie invited Quin over for dinner. She told him all about her visit to PFLAG and her conversation with the boys. Quin hugged her and said, "That's wonderful, Marcie."

Marcie had said, "Quin, it's not for Evan's sake, because he's grown and ready to head out for a life of his own. But for our sake, shall we try again? Will you stay the night?"

Evan came bouncing in about 9:30 the next morning and ran into his morther's bedroom as was his custom when he came home. He expected to give her a little kiss, tell her he was home, and perhaps give her a run down of his plans for the day-if he knew them. Like many teenagers, he usually didn't. This morning he got halfway to the bed and stopped dead in his tracks. "Dad! What are you doing here?" Then he thought a little and shouted, "Wow, does this mean what I think it means? Or at least what I hope it means?"

He father turned toward his mother with a questioning look on his face. She nodded, and he said, "Yes, Son, I think it does."

Evan leapt onto the bed, landing in the little bit of space between them, hugged them both, and started to cry. They all hugged until Evan said, "Dad, you want some help moving your stuff from your apartment?"

Quin said, "Whoa, Evan, you're moving pretty fast. Your mother and I haven't really talked."

Evan said, "Well, talk, dance, screw, sing, or whatever you have to do, but lets get you moved in. This is the best day I've had in years. I'm going over to Nick's to tell him. Then we'll both be back to help you move. Screw the Cave for today; this is much more important."

Marcie looked at Quin and said, "That trip'll take him about ten minutes. We'd better be ready." She turned to Evan and asked, "Have you had any breakfast?"


"We'll all eat here and then go over to Quin's apartment and clean it out."

Quin didn't have much furniture in his little one-bedroom apartment, and they got him moved in two loads of their three cars. His big chest of drawers was roped on top for one trip, and the rest fit in-except for his big double bed. Marcie said, "We don't really need a second bed, what shall we do with it."

Nick said, "How about putting it in Evan's room in place of the twin in there?"

Evan looked at his two parents and asked, "How about that?"

Marcie knew, instantly, that this was her test. She looked at Quin, who was grinning, and at Nick and Evan who were also grinning. "What shall we do with the twin?" she asked, passing the test with flying colors. Evan assured her that the twin was ready for the landfill, and there it went. The double got a cartop ride to its new home. The boys tried it out that night. As they lay naked, with the covers just barely to their waists, Marcie and Quin knocked on the door and were invited in. Marcie looked at the boys, who were clearly comfortable with each other and said, "The only thing wrong with this picture is that the state of North Dakota won't let you get married. But you really are, aren't you?"

Nick said, "We think so. And we hope you think so, too."

Quin said, "We do; we do."

For the three newcomers to the Cave the best part of the deal was that they really got ten coaches, not just one. The nine senior Cavers made it their business to help the youngsters whenever possible, and, of course, Marty did as well. Their progress was startling. Within a year they were forces to be reckoned with at regional meets, and Marty predicted national ranking for them in another year. Again Marty was too conservative. With the rest of the Cavers as his benchmark, he really didn't realize that his new Cavers were as good as they were. Early in their second Cave year, when they were in 10th and 11th grades, they began to get national recognition. Dylan's forte was the rings, Julia's was floor exercises, and Lorrie followed Lucy on the uneven parallel bars.

Toward the end of his junior year of high school Nels visited his Uncle Tim in the president's office. "To what do I owe this honor?" asked Tim.

"Uncle Tim, I want to go to UND next year. Seth's going to be a senior, and if I'm a freshman the Cavers will have one year in which we're all UND students. It would be a dream for Frank, and for us. What do I have to do to get early admission?"

"Have you taken the SAT?"


"What kind of scores did you get?"

"Off the charts."

"Can you be a little more specific?"

"800 in math; 785 verbal-as a junior. That's off the charts. Literally, the charts stop at 99 percentile, and my scores are better than that."

"Watch your ego."

"Oh, shit, Uncle Tim. You always tell us to be honest when we talk about ourselves. I've never told another kid what my scores are, except for Mary. I don't brag about it."

"It's OK, Nels. I know you don't. With scores like that, simply put in an application. Put 'TTT' at the top. That's the code, they'll talk to Tim. With your straight A's, those SAT scores, and your Olympic medals, there won't be any question of nepotism when they admit you early. The Admissions Office will be damn glad to get you, and I assure you they will claim credit. A bit of advice; let them have the credit."

So in the fall of 1993 Frank was looking at a gymnastics team that included all nine of the Cavers as well as another seven or eight gymnasts that were pretty damn good, if not in the class of the Caver Olympians. Not only that, the group got along well. Four of the Cavers were freshmen and three were sophomores, so it bode well for the next few years of UND gymnastics.

The Cavers did have an issue of venue. They had both the university facilities and the Cave open to them. When in the university gym they left behind the young Cavers, when in the Cave they left behind the other college students. They resolved this by practicing in the Cave in the early morning and at the university in the afternoon, reversing it on Friday so they would be at the Cave during visiting hours. Weekend mornings meant the Cave, afternoons the gym. Since they put in many more hours than the rest of the college team, this worked out pretty well. Because of the Cave's visiting hours, the rest of the UND team was familiar with the Cave-at least a good part of it!

Afternoons in the Cave I put the young Cavers through their paces, or they practiced alone with a student assistant that the Center employed. Before long I decided that it was time to invite two more of my younger gymnasts to join the Cave. Before Carl and I got the four parents together and gave them an overview of the Cave and how it operated I did some background checking. One of the families lived fairly near Janice McKesson. Conversations with Janice, and later her father, strongly suggested that the family would not tolerate the sexuality in the Cave, and would probably not keep the information confidential, regardless of their promises. Jim McKesson told me that the family attended a very conservative independent Protestant church in Fargo which was blatantly anti-gay. It was big on public denunciations. Janice said, "The kids are nice, but you can't trust the parents at all."

Membership in the Cavers was by invitation only, and no invitation was issued. Regrettably the young man dropped out of the program, which was the Center's loss-and the young man's. But the risks were simply too great. The other candidate was another boy, a year younger than Dylan. His name was Tyler Phipps, and his parents were Sylvia and Trent. Carl and I sat down with Sylvia and Trent and talked about life in the Cave. The Phipps were an exceptional couple. In fact, they reminded Carl of his parents. Trent listened for a while and then asked, "You mean that you give these kids a lot of responsibility and every chance to assume it. And, typical of my kids who are trusted in that way, they do very well in handling the freedom involved. That's been our philosophy with Tyler and his brother Winston all their lives. I'm sure that Tyler will fit right in. I sure wish that the tennis program that Winston is in, and loves, would work like that. They almost chaperone them when they go to the bathroom. Winston is going to be so jealous."

Tyler fit right in, and a year later he persuaded the group to make Winston, a year younger, an honorary Caver. He told the group that Winston was not only a great kid, but deserved a chance to spread his wings a little in an atmosphere like the Cave. Winston, seventh grade, was three years younger than Lorrie, tenth grade, but he had the chutzpah to ask her out on a date on the day he first ran into her naked in the dressing room! They became an almost instant couple! I'll share with you a fact that they shared with Tim and me years later, but not with the rest of the Cavers at the time. Winston's first ejaculation was in Lorrie's mouth! I'll let your imagination fill in the blanks between their first date and that event!

Amazingly, all of the Cavers were paired with each other, except for three: Tyler who was still pretty young; Lorrie who was paired with Winston who was an honorary caver, and Connie. Actually, it isn't so amazing. Knowing what you know about the Cave and its occupants, where were they going to find dates, partners, or lovers outside the Cave? Things just naturally worked out, but their similarities of interests, as well as the freedoms they jointly enjoyed, almost foreordained their partnerships.

Connie? Remember that Connie had started to date Hardie, but often chose to room with Nick and Evan rather than Hardie when they were traveling. That began to change, and Connie and Hardie grew to be a pair. Connie was asked, "Do you only like gay men?"

She replied, "Gay men like getting sucked, and fucking a girl isn't high on their list of priorities. That suits me fine."

Hardie was present during that interchange and had added, "It suits me fine, too. I've always preferred oral sex, whether with a boy or girl. A tongue is absolutely the best dildo ever made."

And that's where the Cavers stood in January, 1996, as we began to anticipate the Olympic Gymnastics Trials for the Atlanta Games. Nels, Mary, Nick and Lucy were UND Juniors. Austin, Connie and Evan were Seniors. Janice and Seth had been married right after Janice's graduation, and they spent almost full time at the Cave in training. Each had a little part-time job to earn money, but they lived together with Seth's folks so their gymnastics could be their main emphasis. Lorrie was a high school senior and Dylan and Julia were juniors; all were sixteen by the cutoff date, so all could compete in the Trials. Two of the other students on the college team, Marvin Dole and Harriet Vermillion, were good enough to make it to the Trials, but they didn't really expect to make in onto the US Olympic Gymnastics team. All of the Cavers made it to the Trials, and in my wildest dreams I could imagine all of them making the team, as unlikely as that sounded. The team would consist of seven women and seven men. The team events called for six-person teams, but a seventh could participate in the individual events and be a back-up for the six-person team in case of accident or illness.

The Trials were in Norman, Oklahoma, at the University of Oklahoma Field House. The Cavers had been the dominant force in US gymnastics since the last Olympics, and everyone knew that if you wanted a trip to Atlanta you were going to either have to beat out a Caver or grasp for the seventh slot. Seth, Nels and Lucy were shoo-ins. Virtually every commentator gave them a slot. Furthermore, there was considerable speculation about the results of the boys' battle on the high bar. However, the world wasn't generally aware of how good Seth had become, nor of how far the two of them had pushed the envelope in developing their routines.

The Trials went on for four days, and they were generally cliff-hangers till the end. I could lead you through the events paragraph by paragraph, but you simply can't grasp the excitement of a beautiful young man on a pommel horse or parallel bars unless you're both gay and present in the flesh. You may be gay, but you weren't there! Tim was, and he claimed he had a hard-on most of the time. And the better the Cavers got, the harder he got. It was painful, because they were really good.

OK, my wild imagination simply couldn't reflect reality. There was really no way that twelve cavers, six men and six women, were going to make the US Olympic Gymnastics team. But ten did! Nick and Evan battled for the seventh mens spot, the fourth having gone to a really super athlete from the University of Oklahoma, and the sixth to a young man from Ohio University. It came down to their floor exercises, and Nick took a little hop out of bounds on one of his landings, as he followed Tim's lead too closely and programmed himself too close to the line. As Marty told him afterward, "You can't play so close to the line unless you can guarantee to stick every landing. Only Tim can do that." Nick took his defeat well, kissing Evan warmly that evening and wishing him well in Atlanta; we all were very sure he meant every word.

Julia, the Cave's youngest female gymnast, ended up in ninth place, two places out of a trip to Atlanta. Given that it was her first Trials, and that she was barely old enough to compete, it was not exactly a failure. I'm not really sure she noticed, she was so excited that Dylan had won a place on the team. If you'd seen her rooting for Dylan, you would've known that she would be almost as happy as a spectator in Atlanta as an Olympian. In the actual event, she could honestly say that her greatest disappointment was not being able to walk with Dylan in the Opening Ceremony, not the fact that she wasn't a competitor. Hearing this, Tim and Charlie looked at each other and they both thought, "Gang material!"

So North Dakota arrived in Atlanta with ten gymnasts, four divers, and two marathoners marching with the USA Team in the Opening Ceremony. The significance of that was lost on no one, nor was the importance of Tim in making it happen. I think he was the most interviewed non-Olympian of the Olympics-at least he was until the bomb went off, and then that honor went to the security forces.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the bomb. One of the problems for the media is that they know that the more they write about some nut who sets off a bomb or carries out some other outlandish scheme, the more they are likely to encourage others. At the same time, they have an obligation to tell the world what happened. I fear that the modern media err on the side of telling too much, and telling it many times too often. I'm going to avoid that, by simply reminding you that in a park in Atlanta a nut set off a bomb that killed one person and injured a whole bunch. He was a pro-life nut who somehow thought he was striking a blow for unborn fetuses. He is best soon forgotten. Luckily, almost everyone in Atlanta decided that we shouldn't reward him with the cancellation of the Games, and they went forward without further incident.

Seth and Nels put on the show of shows in the gymnastics venue. Their high bar routines were stunning, dangerous, exciting, dramatic, impossibly difficult, and left everyone else in the dust. A number of writers focused on the risks they were taking, and criticized both me and the Olympic coach for either urging them on or not restraining them. I was speaking for both of us in simply saying that the two men were quite capable of making their own judgement regarding the danger of what they were doing. If the world was going to allow skydiving, bungee jumping, and contact football, then there was nothing to say about what these skilled gymnasts were doing on the high bar. "Oh, yes, isn't it beautiful and exciting to watch?"

You have to have a little background on previous Olympic scores in the high bar to appreciate the final position of Nels and Seth. First, high bar ties haven't been unusual. The first occurred between two Americans in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis. There was a tie for silver between a Swiss and German in Helsinki in 1952, between a Soviet and Japanese for gold in Mexico City in 1968, between a German and a Frenchman for bronze in Montreal in 1976, and finally between two Soviets for gold and between an East German and a Romanian for bronze, both in Seoul in 1988. And, there had been perfect scores before as well. Remarkably the two lists coincide in 1904, when both of the tied Americans recorded perfect scores (which were then 40, by whatever system was used then). In 1984 in Los Angeles a Japanese got a perfect score of 20.

Well, I guess I've given away the plot. Seth and Nels repeated the performance of 1904: two Americans tied for gold with perfect scores. By the scoring system in Atlanta, only the score on the final routine counted toward the final position, and their recorded scores were tens. Nels had preceded Seth in the finals. His performance was so startlingly good that the judges really had no basis for awarding less than a ten, even though they liked to always leave room to score a later competitor as better.

But you just couldn't imagine anything better than the performance turned in by Nels. In a typical high bar routine, each individual element is usually separated from the next by a swing (sometimes two) around the bar to regain speed and control. Thus the elements seem distinct and separate. Not with Nels. His releases and catches were so rapid and smooth that it was difficult to realize that Nels had transitioned into a new element. And each release became more spectacular and more difficult than the previous one. To heck with the Gaylord Two, he was creating new moves with almost every release. His dismount, again over the bar, added an additional somersault and half twist to what he'd shown the world four years before. Listening to the commentators you would've thought you had just seen the best gymnastics performance ever. They were ready to hand him gold before any of the remaining competitors had their chance. No one could imagine anything more spectacular or more flawlessly performed.

Well, that isn't true. Charlie told me that Tim sat next to him-well stood, almost everyone was on their feet by the time Nels got halfway through his routine-and said, "This is great, but Seth is mighty good. I don't think he's ready to toss in the towel." After Nels got his ten, he went over to Tim and me and said just about what Tim had said. And I know he said much the same thing to Seth, and wished him well. I know that both of them would've preferred a tie to having one beat the other-even though they had a long competitive history.

Seth moved a tad more slowly than Nels, and spaced his elements a little further apart-doing a little less. But, my God, his routine changed significantly from the preliminary round. He added extra twists to two of his elements and an extra somersault to another! He was beyond belief. I thought, "He's never seriously practiced these more difficult moves. He's just decided that they'll be needed to get a perfect score. Wow."

Seth affirmed that later when he told us, "It was a huge risk. Damn stupid, if you really want to know. But I watched Nels, who, by the way, had souped up his routine by shortening his transitions and adding an extra difficult element, and I knew that if I wanted to tie him I had to make some changes. I worked them all through in my mind, and then I prayed a lot. It was a high stakes gamble, but it paid off. I knew that with Nels sitting on a ten I couldn't beat him, but I sure as Hell wanted a tie."

Nels came up to Seth and told him, "You dumb idiot! You could've killed yourself doing that, and you were risking losing the whole event. Holy shit, Seth, I wish I had the guts to pull a stunt like that." Then they hugged each other. They held hands as they walked out and mounted the winner's podium. They stood side by side with their hands over their hearts as they listened to "The Star Spangled Banner" played twice-once for each of them. It was explained later that if a Korean and an American had tied for gold, both anthems would've been played, so if it was two Americans there would still be two anthems. What a day! What a climax for the Cavers.

But they weren't finished, even though that was certainly the big event. Their medals included Lucy's gold on the uneven bars, Janice's all-around bronze, Dylan's silver on the rings-a completely unexpected turn of events, Evan's bronze in floor exercises and Seth's bronze all-around. The icing on the cake was little Lorrie's surprise capture of a silver right behind Lucy's gold on the uneven parallel bars. A women's team silver and a men's team gold finished out the American, and North Dakotan, tour de force. The only sad thing for the Cavers was that Evan did not share in the team medal: he held the number seven men's slot, and did not manage to advance his position, nor did anybody have an accident or illness that would prevent them from competing. So he was not part of the official six-man US team that was awarded the silver medal. We were worried that he would be bothered by that turn of events, but he shrugged it off by saying, "I'm happy with my individual bronze, I wouldn't have wanted to earn a team medal without Nick sharing in it." Tim and I speculated on whether or not Evan may just have been telling the truth-that he didn't push himself to be on the official team of six so that he wouldn't get a team medal when Nick couldn't. We'll never know, and Evan never said more than what was quoted above (except perhaps to Nick). I will say that they came home from Atlanta seemingly more in love than ever, and more committed to each other.

The Olympics were now winding down. Despite the incredible performance of the old-men divers, nobody was expecting a very exciting marathon, and certainly no knowledgeable or serious commentator had Hal Bruder on his or her short list of medal contenders. Jody rarely appeared on such lists either, because, like Hal, he seldom ran in highly competitive marathons. So, despite their performances in the Trials, they weren't the "men to beat."

Unlike recent prior Olympics, the marathon wouldn't be the last event of the Games. Because of Atlanta's hot, humid weather, the marathon was scheduled to start in the Olympic stadium at 7:05 in the morning of the last day of the Games. It would finish back in the stadium shortly after 9:00 a.m. However, the awards ceremony for the marathon was still scheduled to be the last one of the Games, occurring during the Closing Ceremony.

Hal and Jody pretty much decided on a joint strategy for the race. They would stick together as long as that seemed reasonable, and would break into their faster pace at mile 16. For the last ten miles they would go all out, and may the best man win. I don't think they really cared whether they would be running in first and second place, or ninth and tenth. I know, with absolute certainty, that there was no way on earth they were going to finish third and fourth. Either one of them would've fallen down short of the finish line before he would've crossed third with the other behind him. That was just not to be.

It was not to be for another reason as well: there was no one to run either first or second ahead of them. By mile 22 they had the lead, though a young, black South African runner was close on their heels, and seemed ready to pass them if they slowed even a fraction. Those three runners entered the stadium so close together it was hard to tell who was in the lead. Jody and Hal were going like locomotives, but I could tell from the strain on his face that Hal was close to his limit. Jody wasn't much better off. Their South African competitor didn't look quite so exhausted, but he just couldn't muster the speed to pass the two Americans. Halfway around the final lap Jody seemed to edge ahead of Hal. Coming into the final straightaway he had a several foot lead on Hal. Hal told us later that he had thought, "By God, if Tim and Billy can win gold for the old men, so can this old man." Hal let loose with every ounce of strength, determination, and shear willpower, and he moved ahead of Jody. He was widening his lead slightly when they zipped past the tape. At 2:12:28 Hal was just three seconds ahead of Jody at 2:12:31. Five seconds behind Jody was Josia Thugwane of South Africa at 2:12:36. In the eight seconds between Hal's finish and Thugwane's, Hal headed to the grass, laid himself down, closed his eyes, and seemed to be totally unconscious as his chest heaved and his fists clenched repeatedly. Jody was a little better off and lay on his side beside Hal, gently rubbing Hal's chest. It was a full five minutes before either of them moved from that position. Thugwane, on the other hand, looked more like the Hal of an earlier era: he remained standing and was able to talk before Hal had opened his eyes or thought about getting on his feet. For all of us, it was a different Hal, but the changes were of Hal's own choosing, and were the result of years of thoughtful consideration and discussions/arguments with Jody. I won't abuse the term, a new Hal, but we all approved of the change.

Author's note: In the real world Thugwane won the race in the time shown, 2:12:36. It was the closest finish in Olympic marathon history, with eight seconds between first and third-as close to a photo finish as a marathon gets.

Hal had just completed his fifth Olympic marathon; he'd medaled in all five of them; and this was his second gold. You'd better believe that he made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and a whole lot of other magazines, including Time (a small inset picture in a cover featuring the closing ceremony). It was only the second time a Gang member made it to the cover of Time.

I won't bother you with a list, but I should note the absolutely phenomenal Olympic record of the Gang. Tim, of course, had the most medals with his 19. But the total for all of the Gang members (including those that were earned before the athlete was formally a Gang member) was 90, including 40 golds! As an aside, former counselors and campers from Camp White Elk had won 27 medals of which 16 were gold.

One thing occurred in Atlanta that had some pretty far-reaching consequences for the Gang. Hardie, at age 25 about three years older than Connie, proposed to her and was accepted. They were both in their twenties, and both were graduates of UND; Hardie only a year ahead of Connie because of his delay in Michigan waiting for Willie to graduate. They kept it to themselves in Atlanta, but on the way home Hardie told Willie and Connie told her twin, Austin. Willie then told Hardie, "The next people to tell are Tim, Charlie, and Fred; they're the people that make things happen in this group."

Much to their surprise Fred had an immediate response to Hardie and Connie when they told him. He said, "Talk to Shel."

"Why on earth would we want to talk to Shel? He's an ice skater, a lot younger than us, and even though he's certainly an extraordinary boy, I don't see what he has to do with a wedding."

"If you let him, he'll organize the whole wedding. He'd do a good job too. But that isn't what I have in mind. Just talk to Shel. You can tell him I suggested it."

"But you aren't going to say any more, right Uncle Fred?" asked Hardie.


Afterwards, Connie asked Hardie, "You call him Uncle Fred?"

"Willie does, and I got into the habit. He isn't Willie's uncle, but all of the Gang calls the older Gang members, 'Uncle.'"

"You've told me quite a bit about the Gang, as has Nels. But I think there's a lot more I need to learn."

"You're right. But first we need to talk to Shel."

"We're going to go talk to Shel, right now, this instant, even though we have no idea what it's about? Fred has that much power?"

"It isn't power. But Fred's suggestions are ignored at your own peril. We're off to see Shel."

"This better be good."

"It will be."

They caught Shel at the Fred that afternoon as he skated with Brian. As Hardie and Connie came in, Shel and Brian were whirling around the rink, holding hands like they were ice dancing. Hardie asked, "Are you two planning on becoming an ice dancing pair?"

Shel said, "Believe me, we would if we could. But the skating world isn't very different from the rest of the world. Gay pairs simply don't fit the paradigm. What brings you two here? Wait, let me guess. You're engaged."

Connie said, "Are we that obvious?"

Hardie said, "This kid may just be starting high school, but he's very perceptive."

Shel said, "Smart, too. So what brings you here?"

"Smart as well as a smart ass."

Shel didn't blink for that, and continued, "Did Fred send you?"

Hardie was surprised and said, "I don't know why Fred suggested that we talk to you, and I haven't any clue how you guessed. But, yes, he sent us. He told us to tell you that he sent us. What gives?"

Shel asked, "When are you going to get married? Soon?"

"We're still thinking about that. I hope it'll be soon."

Shel seemed thoughtful, and then stated more than asked, "Hardie, you're still living with Willie at his folks home, right? And, Connie, you live at home with your parents and Austin, right?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Where are you going to live when you're married?"

"I guess we'll rent a little apartment in town. At some point we're going to have to get real jobs; we're taking things one step at a time."

"What about all the other Cavers? Seth and Janice are married. Aren't there some other marriages in the offing? Nick and Evan are as close to being married as the law will allow."

"That's right, but I don't know specifics."

"Are all the Cavers going to stay in Grand Forks?"

"We've talked about that. I think we're all committed to the group."

Hardie said, "Connie and I have talked. I'm comfortable with the group, and they seem to like and accept me."

Shel said, "Well, the Cavers need a house to live in as a group."

"That's something to dream about, Shel. Hardie and I are dealing with the reality of where we'll live as soon as we get married-this fall."

"It's move in ready, right now."

"What is?"

"The Cavers' house."

"What are you talking about?"

"Want to go look at it?"

"Shel, what are you talking about?"

"The Cavers' house. You've seen it dozens of times, right next door to The Hideout. On the other side from The Roundhouse. It's the perfect house for the Cavers. Fred and I knew that it was about time for the Cavers to move in, so it wasn't rented to any students for this year."

"You and Fred?"

"Yeah, we - well, Fred - bought it four years ago. It's been fixed up, and the landscaping is all combined with The Hideout and The Roundhouse. It has a great tennis court. Oh, yeah, there's a lovely private garden behind The Hideout that's great for private sex. I can't wait till I'm old enough to take Brian strolling there. Hardie, you want to take Connie there for a good fuck."


"Surely that didn't embarrass you, did it Connie?"

"No, Shel, but it was a little blunt."

"That's me. Tell it like it is. Look, Fred bought the house with either the skaters or the Cavers in mind. The skaters have moved in the direction of having their own houses, so that leaves this house for the Cavers. When kids start coming along in large numbers, you may outgrow it. But it's perfect for now. Let's go over and you two can see the place and think about which bedroom you want. Then we'll explain the whole deal to Seth and Jancie and then Nick and Evan. There's room for all the Cavers, and I don't see any reason that you should delay moving in."

"Shel, we don't own the house, and we can't afford to buy it."

"Sure you can. Fred has a special deal in mind. I don't know what it is, but I know he wants you in that house, and it'll happen."

Hardie told me later about that conversation, and the first visit to the house. It had been restored wonderfully and had been rented the last two years to a small number of very carefully selected students. As they drove over and toured the house Shel told them how he had seen the "For Sale" sign on the house and urged Fred to buy it. He admitted that he'd had hopes that the skaters might use it, but that group was happy each in their own house. The Cavers, on the other hand, seemed ready for some kind of communal arrangements-sort of an extension of the Cave. Shel went on to tell them how Fyn and Murray took care of the house in the same way that they took care of The Roundhouse and The Hideout. Shel said, "The Cavers will have to take over responsibility for the interior of the house but Fyn and Murray will want to continue with the landscaping and the exterior. They think of the three houses as a unit, with a single landscape and exterior design plan, and they won't want you guys screwing it up. They'll call on the Cavers to provide labor from time to time, as painters, grass mowers, and leaf rakers, but I'm quite sure that they'll want to take care of the rest."

Hardie didn't have too much trouble understanding, and accepting, Fred's generosity. It was a little different for Connie, who hadn't been exposed to Fred's modus operandi before. Hardie assured her that Fred's generosity was not to be refused, but accepted and enjoyed. Hardie had said, "Really, Connie, our gift to Fred is acceptance of his generosity, and using that generosity to make the world better."

"How is our moving into this house going to make the world a better place?"

"By enabling us to pursue careers that benefit the world rather than having to focus on making money."

"Do you have something in particular in mind-for either of us? Somehow, gymnast and diver don't stand out as careers that benefit the world."

"If you talked to Fred, and believe me, we will, he would be delighted to tell you that part of his gift is the gift of time. Decisions made in a rush are often the wrong decisions. In whatever way Fred intends to transfer this house to the Cavers, it'll include adequate time to repay him."

"It doesn't bother you at all to be accepting this kind of charity?"

"Oh, don't think of it as charity. You earned Fred's generosity."

"And just how did I accomplish that?"

"By being the best damn gymnast you could be and thus being an inspiration to younger gymnasts. Also by being a full and responsible member of a group that Fred thinks is worth supporting. And by being such a wonderful asset to the Marty Center, which is owned and operated by Marty, Fred's partner."

"I'm still not sure I can accept it."

"Oh, Fred won't give you any choice. He simply doesn't accept a, 'No,' answer."

"You're serious about this, aren't you, Shel?"

"You only have one decision to make."

"And that would be?"

"Do you get married first, or move in first?"

Hardie got into the discussion at that point. "This may surprise you, Shel, but I think we'd like to be married first. We'll have the wedding as soon as practical, and spend the time between now and then working with Fred to sort out the details of the house, and getting it ready for us. We also have to have a major conversation with the rest of the Cavers."

Shel responded, "Sounds good to me. But you're moving into the house regardless of the rest of the Cavers. If they don't want to move in with you, then Brian and I will."

Hardie picked up on that and said, "Shel, when you suggested to Fred that he buy this house, you were hoping to live in it, weren't you?"

"OK, I'm caught. But let me make myself very clear. The house was bought for whichever of two groups was first ready for it: the skaters or the Cavers. The skaters moved in another direction, not at my urging. But it's a reality I accept. That means it's the Cavers house. No regrets on my part. But if the Cavers opt out, then Fred has a house on his hands, and you, Connie, Brian and I would make great tenants. But I don't think that's the way the world is moving."

"I'm going to talk to Fred and suggest that you deserve the house and that it should go that way."

"You do, and I'll wring your neck. Fred is too generous a man to be put in the untenable position of trying to make more people happy than is possible. My comment was a slip of the tongue. Please forget it. Believe me, Brian and I are going to find wonderful housing and lead a wonderful life. We aren't going to look wistfully at this house as we walk by. If we look at it wistfully it will be because the Cavers wanted, and achieved with Fred's help, a true communal living arrangement, and the skaters did not. That's life. Maybe I chose the wrong sport, but that isn't true, because skating is how I found Brian. Now, that discussion is closed. You will not feel guilty."

Hardie was willing to let that aspect of the conversation be closed, but he cautioned Shel, "You know, Shel, it's not at all certain that all of the Cavers want to have the kind of communal housing that you and Fred are offering. I know that I'd love it, and I think Connie would too, but I'd want to give her a chance to think about it very hard. I think it would appeal to some of the Cavers, but not necessarily all."

Connie added, "I think it would suit me fine; in fact, I'm sure of it. On the other hand, I bet that my brother Austin and Lucy would have reservations. Hardie and I'll get the Cavers together and we'll share this incredibly generous offer from you and Fred, and we'll talk."

Shel said, "It's real easy for me to project my personal preferences onto other persons. I just sort of assumed that because I'd be utterly delighted in such an arrangement that that would be true of all of the Cavers. It's not a fair conclusion. OK, the offer is on the table. Talk to the Cavers. If they have questions, I'll be glad to join you later, but I think that the first conversation should just be the Cavers. One thing, however."

"What's that?"

"I don't want you to get Fred involved in this. Work with me. We want to go to Fred with everything settled, and those that will be living in the house offering him their thanks. I don't want him worrying about how to sort the whole thing out. That's up to me; I got him into this and I want it to be completely smooth sailing for him. Agreed?"

"Agreed, Shel," Hardie answered.

Connie turned to Hardie and said, "I want to live in this house; it's a wonderful house. I hope that it can all be worked out."

Shel said, "Oh, count on it. I am."

Connie asked, "Hardie, how soon can we get married?"

"Three days for the license. Most girls want to drown in plans for at least a half a year. It's up to you, and maybe your mother."

"Dad already said that he's willing to bribe us to elope. He figures it would save him a fortune."

"What did your mom say?"

"She said eloping was fine with her, but that Len, that's my dad, had to pass the money saved on to you and me. Dad said, 'How about half?' but before I could answer Mom said, 'All'."

Shel said, "Why do people think that the only way to do a low cost wedding is to elope? Do it at the Marty Center, wear new white singlets, tell people not to bring gifts but to bring food for a potluck, and there you have it-a happy celebration at lower cost than eloping."

They took Shel's advice (with one exception), planned it for two weeks hence, and a wonderful time was had by all. The exception: Hardie wore a white Speedo. He looked beautiful!

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