Fred hosted a Hell of a lot of people in Sydney, and he had to get them home. However, more than that, there were a lot of people who were at a crucial changing point in their lives, and they were ready for some pretty important transitions. And in many cases, Fred would be a key player in enabling those transitions. In other cases, Fred was responsible for those transitions–think of the sailing team whose jobs were coming to an end, but who'd been promised continued employment by Fred's Sports. My (this continues to be Charlie writing) goal in this episode is to tell you about those transitions.
The transition that involved the most people was simply the process of getting them home. When everyone was invited to accept Fred's hospitality in Sydney they were offered two choices of how to go home. He'd arranged for a World Airways charter jet to fly directly from Sydney to Los Angeles, then Grand Forks, and then Chicago. People could deplane at any of those cities, whichever worked best for them. Of course, most headed to Grand Forks, but there was some demand for the other cities. About half of his "guests" chose that route, which got them home the fastest. Tim and I considered that, sensing that we needed to get back to our responsibilities at the university. But we were confident that we'd left it in good hands with Liddy Lidholtz as Acting President, and that getting home a few days later wasn't going to make any difference. And were we ever ready for a little relaxation–even Tim was ready.
So we joined the other half of Fred's guests who accepted his offer of a slower trip home–lessening the impact of the time zone change. Our charter left a day later out of Sydney, allowing everyone to more leisurely depart. We flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, and spent three days and two nights at the Heritage Christchurch Hotel, right near Cathedral Square. Fred had made no plans–we were on our own, but we were invited to take a bus tour of the city and environs arranged through the hotel. On the third day we flew, again by World Airways Charter, to Tahiti, where we had the same length stay. Almost everyone decided to spend our one full day on the beach! The next hop was to Hawaii, where we were booked into a Waikiki Beach hotel for just one night. Our departure from Hawaii was on an evening red-eye directly to Grand Forks. For those needing the connection, they could fly with the plane to Chicago. It was one wonderful way to wind down from the excitement of the Olympics. Tim and I wisely decided not to worry too much about seeing the sites in the places we visited; rather we took advantage of their beaches and recreational possibilities. Yes, even Tim could sense that this was a time for complete relaxation. We got back to Grand Forks rested, in a good mood, and ready to return to the realities of running a university after spending most of the previous three years learning how to sail a sailboat.
Returning to the realities of running a university proved to be impossible–at least in the near term. Our World Airways Charter arrived at the Grand Forks airport at 10:38 on Saturday morning, October 7, 2000. We were coming from Hawaii, so it wasn't an international flight involving customs. We taxied to a side area of the airport and Tim and I, and the others on the left side of the plane looked out the window to see an army of people crowded around a podium about a hundred yards from where the plane stopped. Wheeled steps were driven to the plane and the door opened. Liddy Lidholtz entered the plane and invited Tim, me, Billy, and Willie to be first to exit, along with Fred, who was grinning ear to ear. We knew what was coming and insisted that the entire sailing team join the first group. Before we got to the door, however, Fred stopped us and handed us all of our 2000 Olympic medals. How he had them–I thought Tim and I had packed them in our suitcases–I have no idea. He told us later, "Suitcase locks are simple to pick, and we went through your luggage after you checked it. Everybody else was told to carry theirs on the plane."
So, down the stairs we marched, medals around our necks, Tim in the lead with Liddy on his arm. Billy, Willie, and I followed. Next the sailing team, Fred, and everybody else on the plane. The few people going on to Chicago were told that the plane wouldn't leave until after the festivities and they could join in.
I really have no idea how many people were present. It looked like the entire state of North Dakota. Since it was a Saturday, featured decent weather (i.e. winds less than gale force and not near freezing), and was at the Grand Forks rather than the Fargo airport, it seemed that everybody came. The UND band played "They Called the Wind Mariah"–we learned later that Auggie had recommended that, since he claimed that we owed the Wind Mariah our gold medal–we couldn't disagree.
We were afraid that there might be an hour of speeches, but they were limited and brief. Liddy spoke for the university community, the mayor spoke for the city, and the governor spoke for the State of North Dakota. All briefly, and all saying just about the same thing. It didn't matter; nobody paid any attention–they just wanted to bring greetings, and "be there." In fact, almost everybody that we ever asked later said that "being there" (worded just that way or similarly) was the reason they went to the airport. It was an event they didn't want to miss.
The last speaker was Prof. Simon Wentzell, Dean of the Faculty. He invited us to a grand luncheon in the Field House, which was set up to feed almost a thousand at tables, with box lunches for two thousand more in the seats. We learned that tickets were the hottest commodity on campus since Jumper's streak! The airport show ended with the band playing the Olympic Fanfare and Theme.
The group from the airplane were herded onto busses and we led a procession of at least a mile of cars back to campus. When we arrived on campus the Olympians in the group were taken into one of the locker rooms at the Field House, while everyone else was taken to seats at a table. We waited almost an hour for the parade from the airport to end and everyone who had a ticket for the meal to get settled in the Field House. Then the Olympians were led in, this time by Jumper, and seated at a central table. We learned later that they hadn't planned on the full sailing team being at that table, but after Tim brought them along coming off the plane, a telephone call hurriedly expanded the Olympians' table.
It was quite a feed, featuring hot roast beef sandwiches, and a variety of side dishes. Jumper was the featured speaker. Liddy introduced him by saying that his streak had earned him the right to speak for the entire university community to its beloved Olympians. Jumper rose and said, quite simply, that he wanted to say three things: First, that the University of North Dakota community, athletes, scholars, everyone, wanted to affirm Tim's belief in the importance of love and support in all of life's endeavors, not just athletics. Second, he wanted to affirm and thank Tim and Charlie, and all of the athletes, for their love and support of the university. Third, he wanted to assure Tim, Charlie, and all Olympians, of the love and support of the entire university community. He continued, "Finally, this community wishes to show to Tim and Charlie it's support in a most tangible way. The sale of tickets to this meal, less the cost of the meal, has generated almost $25,000 dollars. Those funds are being contributed to one of Tim and Charlie's favorite causes: the Endowment for Faculty and Staff Salary Enhancement. Secondly, the campus had gifts for Tim and Charlie. These were magnificent pieces, and had been shown to the entire community three days before. They would be shown to Tim and Charlie in due course during the day, because everyone had agreed that they should be displayed in their proper setting, and not in this huge Field House.
Jumper then turned to the other Olympians at the table, and apologized for putting all of the emphasis on Tim and me–noting that Tim and I had a very special place in the hearts of the University of North Dakota community. But he introduced Willie, Billie, and the other Olympians: Dylan, Tyler, Julie, Lorrie, Betts, Nan, Als, JoJo, Johnny, and Jinx, and each one was individually cheered. Then he introduced Auggie who was asked to introduce all of the sailing team.
The Olympic Hymn was played, followed by "We Kiss in a Shadow" followed by loud cheering, which Jumper assured us wouldn't end until Tim and I had kissed. We complied with the obvious demand–with great pleasure.
We returned to our meal as the band played, and many, many people, students, faculty, Gang members, friends, and strangers, came by the center table to wish Tim, me, and the other Olympians well. We realized that there were television cameras recording the event, and learned that it had been carried live on local TV so that those that couldn't get tickets could watch. It was also carried in Fargo, Bismarck, and several other communities in the state. Highlights made national newscasts.
Then Liddy invited Tim and me to follow her. She told us that we were heading to our offices in Twamley Hall. She assured me that she'd moved out of the Chancellor's office, and that it had been returned to me. The events at Twamley, she assured us, would be watched on the big television screens in the Field House. We had no idea of what was coming. In the central lobby of Twamley we found a small group, obviously awaiting our arrival. Liddy introduced Tim and me to an elderly gentleman that I recognized but couldn't place. Tim, bless him, walked up and said, "Hello, Lars, what brings you here?" How in the Hell did that kid ever pull that name out? Liddy swears that she didn't prompt him! Liddy spoke for Lars, who was completely tongue-tied. Liddy explained, "Almost two years ago we decided that the campus had to be ready for this moment. Auggie assured us that you would indeed represent the United States on the sailing team and that your winning a medal was a virtual certainty. We invited the entire campus community to suggest an appropriate way to honor you. We received a variety of suggestions, printed them all in the newspaper, and invited everyone on campus to a meeting to discuss the gift and then vote. Lars suggestion was, overwhelmingly, the favorite. He, and a team of students and staff from the carpentry shop have crafted a gift that a mightly emperor would be jealous of. Please follow Lars to your offices."
We went first to Tim's office and there, in the middle, was the most magnificent desk I have ever seen. It looked big enough to be an aircraft carrier. The top was massively thick, finished to an incredibly high polish. But you didn't realize what you were seeing until you looked down on the top. It was made of numerous wide bands of different colored woods. Inset into the wood were the five Olympic rings, each made of different colored woods–blue, yellow, black, green, and red. In the bottom band of wood was inlaid in almost white wood, "President Tim." In the band above that were 21 Olympic medals, in gold, silver, and bronze, arranged in the order in which he'd won them.
The whole thing simply took your breath away it was so beautiful. Then Tim and I were each handed a handsome bound book that carefully described the desk in details that weren't obvious when it was viewed. We learned that there were nineteen bands of wood in the desk, from the nineteen different countries that we'd sailed the Freddie in. Each band represented a country and was made of a distinctive wood from that country:
Bahamas – Lysolima sabicu, more commonly called Horseflesh Mahogany
United States – White pine
Ireland – Black alder
England – Black poplar (from the south of England where we sailed)
Australia – Bloodwood
Mexico – Chihuahua pine
South Africa – Pink ivory
Chile – Chilean laurel
Tonga – Coconut palm
Italy – European cherry
France – French plane
Canada -- Red spruce (native to the area where we sailed)
Singapore – Trumpet tree
Jamaica – Sangre
Canary Islands – Tea wood from the Canarian Pine*
Spain – Olivewood
New Zealand – Totara (New Zealand yew)
Brazil – Imbuia
The Netherlands – Dutch elm
*Over harvested, and harvesting is now illegal. Grows only on La Palma in the Canary Islands. The wood is very expensive, and that which is legally available is taken from used items or buildings.
Liddy had talked to Perry, and as the support team moved around the world it identified appropriate woods and acquired them, shipping them back to Lars on campus. Some of the woods had been very difficult to obtain in the size that Lars needed, but all were located. It needn't be noted that no expense was spared.
Then came the problem of identifying and obtaining woods in the colors of the five Olympic rings. Lars insisted that he didn't want to dye the wood, but wanted to use natural colors. After some research they settled on these five woods:
Blue – Blue mahoe (from Jamaica)
Yellow – Yellowwood (from Arkansas)
Black – Ebony (from Indonesia)
Green – Verawood (from Venezuela; heartwood, selected carefully for greenish color)
Red – Purple Heart (from Mexico)
The rings represent the five continents participating in the Games: Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas–considered a single entity. At one time the IOC indicated that each color was associated with a particular continent: blue for Europe, yellow for Asia, black for Africa, green for Oceania and red for America. However, in 1951 the IOC removed this listing from its literature, and went back to the idea that the five rings represent the five continents collectively, there being no evidence that Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games who designed the rings, ever intended the one to one correlation.
Olympic medals change for each Olympics, and so the art department had designed a generic medal to use for the desk inlays. It featured Nike, the traditional goddess of victory which was on the obverse of all of the medals Tim or I had won, and a blank reverse, since they would be inlaid into the desks. The medals had been cast of silver and bronze in the precision instruments shop at the super collider. Gold medals were created by plating silver medals with gold, exactly the way real Olympic medals are made. The book acknowledged that these medals were thinner than regular Olympic medals, but as inlays they didn't look it. The book then listed Tim's twenty-one medals:
This incredible desk top sat on top of a magnificent walnut pedestal and drawer unit. The whole thing was absolutely unbelievable.
We were then taken out into the corridor where 68 people were assembled: staff, students, faculty, along with Perry and his support team who had collected the wood. Lars and Liddy followed us out into the corridor and Lars introduced us to each person lined up, explaining his or her role in the construction of the desks. Artists, woodworkers, metallurgists, designers, laborers, and purchasing agents. As Lars introduced several of the laborers he noted the incredible hand labor involved in achieving the glassy smooth surface. Halfway down the line Tim had to pause to get control of himself; I had never before seen him so completely lose it. But he recovered, and continued his hugs and thanks until the end of the line. I joined in the thanks, even though I hadn't seen my desk yet–but I'd been assured that I was getting one.
After we got to the end of the line Lars led us to the chancellor's office, which I'd given up to Liddy as acting president, but which she'd obviously returned to me. All of my things had been put back in it. There in the middle was a desk just like Tim's except that it said "Chancellor Charlie" and contained three Olympic medals. The Book of the Desk listed my medals:
Everyone had followed to my office, and I insisted on going down the line again and thanking people. I didn't make it to the end without a pause either.
Slowly the crowd broke up, the television cameras were stilled, and Tim and I headed for home. It had been a while since we'd been in Dakota House and we were eager to relax. When we got to the house we were greeted by Franklin at the front door. He assured us that only the original eight were present, and that they'd leave as soon as dinner was over. But they were fixing dinner and we were to relax.
We sat down in the living room with everyone but Franklin, who was in the kitchen. I said, "How does one return to the routine of life after the three years we've just experienced?"
Ronnie said, simply, "You two have never had a routine, and you aren't going to start now. Life's always a new adventure for you, and my guess is that by the end of the week you'll be so engrossed in whatever it turns out to be that Sydney will fade into distant memory."
"Never," said Tim.
Jim put in, "Yes, it will. Life goes forward, especially for you two. You won't be dwelling on the past, but moving from pinacle to pinacle. You just don't know, at this time, what's next. But it's out there, waiting to bite you."
You simply cannot imagine how comfortable it was to be with this group of incredible friends. Franklin called us to dinner, and surprised us with a fairly simple meal of pot roast with fruit, baked potatoes, and artichokes with butter. He told us, "We figured that you've had all the fancy meals you need for a long time; we thought you'd like a simpler, hardier fare."
He was exactly right. We enjoyed the meal, lingered over the cherry pies Andy'd made for dessert, and then they all went home. Tim and I went to bed, and we were so tired our feeble efforts at sex didn't even lead to an orgasm for either of us. We didn't care. We slept incredibly well, comfortable in our own bed.
The next morning we got back to our normal routines, or tried to. Tim set off for the gym where he planned to start catching up for missed gymnastics practices. I set off a little later for the law school and my office there. My secretary, who'd been around Twamley for the festivities the day before, seemed a little on edge. She welcomed me back, and told me that there was an incredible pile in my inbox on my desk. I headed into my office and stopped dead in my tracks. There in the middle of the room was another of the magnificent Olympic desks. At first I thought that this had been moved from the chancellor's office, but then I looked and saw that this one read, "Dean Charlie" where the other had read, "Chancellor Charlie." They'd made two, one for each of my offices! Lars and Tim came in the door. Tim'd been expected at the gym and had been diverted to the law school where he waited with Lars in the conference room until I appeared.
I couldn't believe it: two desks. Lars smiled and said, "We couldn't figure out which office to put the new desk in, so we made two. It seemed to be the only solution to the problem. However, Mr. Charlie, this desk is different from the other one in more than your name. Walk around to the other side."
I did, and you'll never believe what was there. Under the new desk top were the pedestal and drawer units from my beloved old metal desk! They been carefully hidden behind a three-sided walnut frame, so that only someone sitting at the desk would see the old metal unit. Everything in the drawers was there, unchanged. I couldn't believe it. I hugged Lars, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "Lars, this is the most wonderful thing I've ever seen. But two desks? My God!"
"Mr. Charlie, you and Mr. Tim are the best things that ever happened to this university and to its staff. We all love you for who you are and how you've treated everyone. Enjoy your desks."
My secretary walked in, carrying a huge pile of papers. She said, "And here's the inbox that I promised you was on your desk." She put it there–right in the middle. "Go to work." I shooed everyone out, told Tim I'd meet him at the faculty club for lunch, and went to work.
By then there wasn't much left of the morning, and my mind was wading back through the events of the morning so fast that I knew there was no chance of getting any meaningful work done that morning. I'd be lucky if my mind settled down enough to get anything done in the afternoon. So I walked out to my secretary, Becky's, desk and sat down. Becky had been my secretary for years, and I knew her well. I took her to lunch frequently, knew her family, and found her consistently pleasant and efficient. However, our relationship was professional, not personal or social. Nevertheless, we were able to talk about anything, including very personal matters. As I sat down I asked, "Can you tell me a little about what's going on. Liddy said that this had been in the works for almost two years, but that doesn't make sense."
"It makes sense to this campus, Charlie. I don't think you really understand how much you and Tim mean to this university. You started putting this law school on the map when you went to Washington and became our first graduate to clerk for a supreme court justice, and not just any justice, the chief justice. Before that nobody in Washington knew or cared whether there was a law school in North Dakota. In your time as Dean you've raised the standards of the school, but much more importantly you've enhanced the reputation of the school. You've always said it was a good school before you got here, but nobody knew about it. Well, they do now."
"What does this have to do with that desk in my office?"
"Tim's impact has been just as great. And the two of you together stand like giants in the community, and in professional educator circles everywhere. Well, the university community, led by Liddy Lidholtz, was completely supportive of your sabbaticals, and in awe of your willingness to go off and pursue your renewed Olympic dreams. And I don't think you could've found anyone on campus that didn't think–right from the beginning–that you were going to get medals in Sydney. So Liddy started talking about a grand thank you gift. When Lars suggested desks, everybody fell in love with the idea. A desk fund was created, but since everybody that worked on the desks considered it a labor of love, there were no labor costs. The only real expense was finding the woods, but since Perry was traveling all over the world with you and Tim, he found the wood and shipped it back. We had a fund worth over $19,000 and costs of only a fraction of that."
"What happened to the rest?"
"It went into the Faculty and Staff Endowment Fund, which we think is your favorite cause."
"It is. You raised more than $19,000?"
"That's a story all by itself. Liddy sent out an appeal to the entire university community as soon as the gift of desks was settled upon. Contribution boxes were put all over campus–they had to be briefly removed when you and Tim hit town for a week. Everyone was asked to contribute just one dollar. There are about 14,000 persons total in the university community, students, faculty, staff, and a few others in various odd relationships to the university. A letter went out to the alumni with an envelope enclosed inviting them to join in the gift by mailing back a dollar bill. I'm sure that some people put in an extra dollar or two, but for the most part people just put in the one dollar they were asked to. That means that almost every single member of this community contributed to your gifts, as well as about 6,000 alumni."
I couldn't believe it. I still have a hard time getting my mind around it. $19,000 in one dollar bills–actually I was assured that the boxes contained a lot of coin as well. It has to have been one of the grandest expressions of love for a pair of educators ever.
I did ask Becky, "Two desks. Why two desks?"
"Which office would you put one desk in? No, no, it was agreed right from he beginning, when the idea of a desk was first considered, that you'd have to get two desks for your two offices."
Tim had gotten a similar story from Liddy, and when we met for lunch we compared notes. Tim summed it up, "Charlie, I'm not sure it exactly fits this situation, but I think the mantra, 'Buy the damn shoes,' might fit our situation here. We say, 'Thank you,' and move on."
"I guess you're right, Tim. And I guess I'll get used to working with those rings and medals staring at me, but it'll take some time."
"You can say that again. Well, Charlie, welcome back to the surreal world of the University of North Dakota. I think we need to prove to them that we're worth it."
That evening I got a call from Tim's father, Norman, inviting me to lunch the next day. Betsy joined us, and they took me to Ruby Tuesday's–a national chain restaurant that had recently opened in Grand Forks. When we were seated, I asked Dad–Norman, "What's on your mind? You don't invite me without Tim unless there's a reason."
"Indeed there is."
"Out with it."
"Charlie, do you understand the significance of those desks?"
"I think I do, but I'm not sure what you're getting at? I know all about the fund that was raised to way more than pay for them. That's incredible. But what do you have in mind?"
Betsy said, "He didn't make it clear. Do you understand the significance of three desks?"
"I couldn't believe my second desk, but what are you two getting at?"
"Charlie, we've been worried for years that you were too often number two to Tim's number one. He's the president, you're a dean. He has twenty-one Olympic medals to your three. I could go on, you've heard it before, and you insist that it doesn't bother you. And yes, Betsy and I believe that. But it bothers more than us. When people got talking about a gift for you and Tim a number of people started putting into words their concern that you might be seen as second fiddle. One of the appealing things about Lars' suggestion that we give you two desks was that we would need two for you and one for Tim. That was stated very clearly in the all-campus meeting when we voted on gifts. This community wanted to be very clear that you're as important to them as Tim, and putting a desk in both of your offices was seen as a way of communicating that. Betsy and I took in upon ourselves to make sure that you clearly understood that. I just wish that Mamie and Jason could've been here to witness this. I hope they were looking down yesterday and simply bursting with pride at their son's successes. I know that Betsy and I were, both for Tim and for you. We really love you, Charlie, and this entire campus does as well."
"Dad, I don't know what to say. You know that I've never felt like second fiddle to Tim, he's simply too wonderful to ever have those feelings toward. But your telling me about the second desk, in those terms, well, that's just amazing."
Betsy said, "I like that term, amazing. It describes both you and Tim. Now, we've talked enough. Let's go get salad at the salad bar."
When we got back to the table and had begun to eat our salads, Norman paused in his eating and said, "You know, Charlie, your arrival in our lives was quite a surprise."
"I can believe that."
"Not the way you think. I know, everyone thinks that we were so shocked that our little Tim had fallen in love with his camp counselor. We had a lot of faith in Tim, and when we met you, all of our doubts went away–and I'll certainly admit that we had a few doubts. No, for us the surprise was what an exceptional young man you turned out to be. For starters, as a gay man you neatly sidestepped a really sexy young teenager virtually throwing himself at you. You know, Tim demands that the COGs not overly tempt the older men around them, but he never met that standard in regard to you. He would've done anything with you at Camp White Elk that you would've let him get away with. You could've been rolling in the straw behind the archery range with him just about any time you wanted. But you didn't. I know people think it's extraordinary that you and Tim could just decide that you were going to get a gold medal in a sport like sailing that you were unfamiliar with, but you did that once before in archery. You've proven to be every bit as extraordinary a man as Tim, and we sensed that right from the beginning."
"I'm not quite sure how to respond to that, Dad."
"Just calling me, Dad, means a lot, Son."
"Well, I just want you and Mom to know that joining your family, not just Tim, but the entire family, has made my life. I consider myself simply to be the luckiest guy alive."
There were others returning to Grand Forks from Sydney, and for a number of them some critical life decisions approached as their participation in the Olympics became history. The Marauders are a case in point. Fred had invited the parents of the Olympian Marauders to join the party in Sydney. They'd accepted–no fools they. Since the charter flight from Hawaii had flown directly to Grand Forks, they'd elected to take a regular flight to Seattle and go from there directly to Eugene. They'd insisted, and their children had agreed, that all of the Marauders needed to visit Eugene soon, since the community wanted to honor its Olympic heros.
The six Marauders realized that this was the time to make some decisions about their future, and share those with their parents. Their discussions started with Nels and Mary. They wanted to know whether Nels and Mary were in a position to continue their support of the Marauders for another four years–until the Athens Olympics. In cycling they'd achieved in Sydney what had been the NTAC goal for Athens. In view of that, did Nels and Mary want to continue their support another four years?
Nels and Mary were immediately worried that the six Marauders were getting tired of cycling and were looking for an out to their obligations to NTAC–specifically in regard to their moving expenses and support in buying their house. After a few awkward minutes, everyone realized that nobody was trying to get out of anything, but simply not trying to hold anybody to an obligation that might've gone out of date. The Marauders were, in fact, eager to continue with NTAC, having specifically discussed that among themselves in Sydney. Nels and Mary, so excited with their successes in Sydney, were quite willing to relieve the Marauders of any further obligation, but were eager to have them continue. The Marauders had come to another conclusion in Sydney as well. They decided that they were quite happy with their living arrangements in their house, which they had inevitably named The Wheelhouse–capitalizing the "The" just like The Hideout, The Roundhouse, and The Lighthouse. Als shared a room with the three boys who were more straight than gay, used the pill faithfully, and told all of the boys that she wasn't going to worry about romance, pregnancy, or motherhood until after Athens. On the other hand, Coleman and Jake had fallen completely in love. They'd privately made a firm, loving commitment to each other and were looking to make the same commitment in public in some venue. They assured the others that they wanted to continue to live in The Wheelhouse, for as long as that seemed to work for the group. They also assured the others that they considered themselves to be bisexual and hoped that their continued involvement, from time to time, in the nighttime (and daytime) activities of the other four might continue; they received the appropriate assurances.
So, shortly after the post-Olympic hullabaloo in Grand Forks, the six Marauders headed for Eugene. Eugene was a city of about 150,000, but like any town of just about any size, Olympic gold medalists were pretty rare. So were Olympic silver medalists. The combination of JoJo and Als, along with the successful finish by Jinx in the men's race, gave the city a great opportunity to celebrate. The two Fred's Sports stores in town were willing conspirators in the plans to welcome the three. In fact, Andy had sent his son Gary–who was sort of a troubleshooters for Fred's Sports–to Eugene as soon as JoJo got the gold medal, to make sure that the two local managers took maximum advantage of the success of the three from the Fred's Sports American Road Racing Team. All six of the Marauders were honored as a team, while JoJo, Als, and Jinx got special honors for their success in the Olympics.
Their parents hadn't known each other before the kids met as cyclists, but over the years since they'd gotten to know each other fairly well. They'd all grown up in the "hippie years" and by choosing to continue living in Eugene they hadn't rejected that part of their past, even though they'd grown into middle age and the more sedate lifestyle that implied. The fathers did not, to the great relief of their children, sport gray ponytails. In that environment, the Marauders decided that they'd gather all of their parents–and siblings–together and detail their plans for the next Olympiad.
Their parents had been pretty much aware of the living arrangements in The Wheelhouse, though they were learning the name of the building for the first time. However, it was clear to the kids that their parents were a little surprised, and perhaps disappointed, that The Wheelhouse arrangement was going to continue. Like most parents, they were hoping for grandchildren, and to facilitate that, they were hoping for romance–not three boys sharing one girl. However, they were smart enough parents to realize that these kids were going to do what they were going to do. Supporting them was the wise decision for smart parents.
Adrian and Jake were, of course, the exceptions in the group. Not only were they gay, but they were ready to make a lifetime commitment. Having known they had gay sons since early high school, their parents were quite ready, even eager, for their sons' commitment. The questions were when and where?
Als told me the story of their meeting with their parents. I realized that times had changed from my era of presenting Tim to my parents. Of course, Eugene was a different community than Indianapolis, but the big difference was about thirty years. It'd been quite a thirty years for gays in America–and the western world (In those same thirty years things had gotten worse for gays in Africa and many other parts of the third world–the issue having been raised by changes in Europe and America). Thirty years ago Adrian and Jake's parents would've been so grateful if the commitment could take place in North Dakota–anyplace but Eugene and involving their friends. Now, they were disappointed by the idea that the ceremony might take place somewhere else. Eventually it was agreed that there'd be two ceremonies, one in Eugene and the other in Grand Forks. Since legal marriage didn't yet exist, there was no question of which ceremony was the "real" one–both were.
The Eugene ceremony was scheduled for early January, 2001. All the Marauders went, as did Nels, Mary, Fred, and Marty. The rest of us were asked to save the following weekend for the Grand Forks celebration, and we did. Nels, Mary, Fred, and Marty drove out in IT, delivering it–fully stocked with food, supplies, and an AAA Triptik for the scenic route between Eugene and Grand Forks–to Adrian and Jake following the reception which followed the ceremony at Jake's parents' "More Light" Presbyterian church.
Als took it upon herself to arrange the commitment ceremony and celebration in Grand Forks. It would, she announced, take place in the NTAC Velodrome. The whole world was invited, and a decent percentage of it came–thanks to the success of the Marauders, not only at the Olympics, but at a lot of international races. The Gang–now having reached the number 105, but that will be told in a subsequent episode–was complete, of course, because we were present not only for the wedding but for the ceremony at which the Marauders would be the next addition to our group. The Cavers, the skaters from the Fred, NDU swimmers and divers, and, of course, everyone from NTAC were present. A lot of non-athletes showed up as well, and all were welcome.
Als knew that Fred would've been willing to feed everyone had she asked, but she felt that the Marauders shouldn't be so totally dependent on Fred. So the invitation included a request that everyone planning to stay for the meal/reception afterwards, bring food. The tables set up in the middle of the velodrome track fairly groaned with sandwiches, salads, sweets, cold cuts, you name it. The ceremony itself took place entirely on wheels. I would've said, "Entirely on bicycles," except that wasn't quite true. Als led the procession onto the track riding a unicycle. It was a talent that we weren't even aware of, and she told us later that it was a skill she'd acquired solely for this event. Als led, followed by JoJo, Jinx and Coleman, who would serve as "witnesses." Those four slowed and rode slowly around the track, clockwise, as Adrian and Jake entered and rode around the track counter-clockwise at very high speed. They were dressed in specially designed suits that were a combination of a Tuxedo and the Fred's Sports American Road Racing Team uniform–in white and blue, with NTAC logo on the pocket and the Fred's Sports logo on the tie and cummerbund. The rest of the group had similarly colored, but less fancy and formal, clothing.
Then we learned why Als was on a unicycle. The two "grooms" pedaled up to the rest and they formed a formation with Als in the lead, followed by the "grooms" with the "witnesses" surrounding, one on each side and one to the rear. They moved slowly and then Als turned on her unicycle and started pedaling backwards so that she was facing the rest. In this formation they slowly moved a full circle around the track. Then Als tested her microphone and began the ceremony. They'd taken the most traditional marriage ceremony you could possibly find, and made the few changes that had to be made to account for two "grooms" instead of a bride and groom. When it was time for the ring the "witness" that was functioning a one "best man" dropped back and picked up the ring from the "witness" to the rear and then moved forward and handed it to Als, who proceeded with the ceremony. Adrian placed it on Jake's finger as they both rode free-handed. Then the ring ceremony was repeated for Jake to give a ring to Adrian. Then Als concluded with, "If only the State of North Dakota would grant me, or someone, the authority, I would now pronounce you husband and husband. As it is, I now pronounce you life partners. Please kiss each other."
The kiss had been well rehearsed, and they managed it with ease as they pedaled around the track. In the meantime, Als had turned to go forward and had then eased off the track, as had the three witnesses. Following their kiss, Adrian and Jake sped around the track at breakneck speed for about three circuits, at which time they slowed, dismounted, and moved into the stands greeting guests along the way.
The only problem with the whole event was that Als stole the show. She'd pedaled about six circuits of the track backwards, and as far as anyone could tell during that time she didn't once turn to see where she was going. It was a remarkable performance.
The dinner following was delicious, the Coke glasses overflowing, and the overnight accommodations sumptuous–in the master bedroom of The Hideout. The next day life returned to normal–at least what Marauders termed normal–at The Wheelhouse.
There's no question that the Olympics can be a life-changing event, and having them involve a trip half-way around the world certainly enhances the effect. Billy's UND swimmers and divers had three Olympic hopefuls among them. All had had varying degrees of success: Nan Watson had won the bronze in platform diving, Johnny Dawson had been fourth in his backstroke race, and Pieter Haanson had been to the trials off the springboard, but had failed to qualify. All had been Fred's guests in Sydney along with Nan and Johnny's families. Nan and Pieter would continue as undergraduates at UND; both would continue on the UND swimming and diving team until they graduated, but they realized that their moment of fame had passed, and they would make their marks in life on land and not in water. Johnny was the same, except that he had graduated. After his experiences with Tyler, and what he'd learned about the Cavers and the Gang, the idea of staying in Grand Forks was appealing. But the pull of home, in his case Beaver Creek, Idaho, and a high school sweetheart who'd gone to the University of Idaho and was now back in Beaver Creek, unattached, and writing to him was stronger than the appeal of Grand Forks. Fred told Johnny that a job was waiting for him at the Boise Fred's Sports store, and he could feel comfortable working there on a short term basis while he seached for a career job, or he could think of Fred's Sports as a career and plan to move up the corporate ladder. When he told him this, Fred winked and said, "Being on a first name basis with the owner certainly won't hurt you as you move up that proverbial ladder."
Fred tells me that Johnny is now managing the Boise store, and cannot be tempted to move any further up the corporate ladder, because it would mean moving from his beloved Beaver Creek, where he's settled with his wife, Mary, and two sons. He did visit Grand Forks in 2005 for his fifth year UND class reunion. He went out of his way to introduce Mary to Fred, Andy, and Marty, and thank them for their support, both as a swimmer and as an employee of Fred's Sports. Andy assured him that his promotions had been earned–people didn't move ahead at Fred's Sports on the basis of who you knew, but on how well you performed.
Tyler told us that Johnny and Mary had visited, and that Johnny was eager to introduce him to Mary. He'd told Mary the complete story of his relationship to Tyler before his races in Sydney and had assured her that the 4th Place Olympic Victory Diploma on the wall in their front hall would never have happened had it not been for Tyler's love and support in Sydney. Tyler had responded by saying that not everyone would've been willing to share that story with a future wife, and not every future wife would've taken it in a positive light.
Mary had responded, "I would've been terribly upset had we started our marriage with a deep dark secret between us. Johnny thought it was a wonderful experience and he wanted to share it with me. I'm so glad he did. Thank you, Tyler, for giving Johnny the love and support that he so needed in Sydney."
From then on it was a conversation that would've grated on Carl's ears, but which they all enjoyed. Tyler was invited to visit them in Idaho, and in fact he did that a year later as he was vacationing in the Northwest. It looks like the Gang will see Johnny at Homecoming time every five years. He's the kind of loyal alumnus that Mary Robbins in the Alumni Office loves. She told Tim, "If you can give every student a success like sending Johnny to the Olympics, then my job'll be trivially easy." Tim had to admit that it wasn't possible to do that much for every student, but he felt it was the job of the university to try.
Tyler was, in fact, of the third group of Cavers. He, along with Dylan, Julia, Lorrie, and Betts made up the Cave's contingent in Sydney. They had all medaled and had been a source of continued pride and accomplishment for Marty and his program, which had by now been recognized nationally as producing more Olympic athletes than any other American gymnastics program in history.
All of the first group of Cavers were now retired from gymnastics and didn't compete in Sydney. All of them had continued to live in Grand Forks and all were heading for Gang membership. And all of them were part of Fred's big group in Sydney. Dylan, Julia, and Lorrie were the second group of Cavers and Tyler was, all by himself, the third group–unless you counted his brother, Winston, who wasn't a gymnast but who'd been made an Honorary Caver. Betts was one of four in the fourth group, and there'd been a few more since then that we haven't kept track of in this story. The first group was special, and it was responsible for creating the Cave as it continues today. But it had a COG, Nels, in its number and that made it particularly close to the Gang. The closeness to the Gang diminished in each succeeding group of Cavers, until the Cave had a quite separate identity from the Gang. We felt that that was good for both groups, and Marty completely agreed. While he loved the Gang, a close association might very well become a barrier for new members of the Cave, and for some people (usually, but not always, parents) the rules of the Cave were a sufficient barrier all by themselves.
But that left the five Cavers who'd been to Sydney still to make up their minds about their futures, including whether they wanted to be a part of the Gang. With their closeness to the first group, and their interactions with members of the Gang at two Olympics, they were, we felt, entitled to being considered for the Gang. And, in fact, considering them was tantamount to inviting them, because they'd all proven to be outstanding young people, and they'd be completely comfortable in the Gang.
Betts was familiar with the Gang and the implications of Gang membership. But she was still in high school, and wasn't ready to make plans beyond the idea that she'd head to UND and continue gymnastics at both the Cave and university. Over the years she found her natural grouping with the younger Cavers, and the issue of Gang membership never arose.
Winston and Lorrie were ready to get married–they'd been ready for a long time. The 1998-1999 school year had been Lorrie's senior year at UND, and it would've been Winston's freshman year, except that he'd elected to try himself on the tennis pro tour. Less than a year of that was all it had taken for him to decide that he didn't want to be a tennis professional–at least not on the tour. The 1999-2000 school year was Winston's freshman year, and Lorrie spent full time that year as a Caver, working toward the Olympics. Lorrie had a couple of small endorsement contracts, and they both worked part-time in a Fred's Sports store. That made them enough money to afford a little apartment. With Lorrie's graduation, marriage, and her getting a job as an interior decorator with a local paint and wallpaper store, they were ready to settle down. Fred told them that he'd hold a no-down-payment mortgage on a house, and they told him that they'd accept his offer when they found the perfect house and could afford fair mortgage payments. They were eager to continue their relationship with the close friends they'd made at the Cave and with many in the Gang by becoming members. At that stage, Winston didn't have a career in mind, and Lorrie wasn't at all sure that interior decoration was going to be a lifetime pursuit–though she realized that she could do it part-time while she was being a mother.
Dylan and Julia were 2000 graduates of UND, Olympic medalists, completely in love, ready to get married, and totally uncertain about their futures–except that they would travel life's road together and as part of the Gang. They each had a job offer from Fred's Sports and the same mortgage offer when they were ready. While they were considering their futures, Tim and I offered them a room at The Hideout, and they gratefully accepted. Both sets of their parents privately thanked Tim and me for that offer, as they really weren't looking forward to having the kids move back home after college–either separately or together. They had no problems with their living at The Hideout, and they thought that was a great place for them while they were working out their future.
Tyler would be a senior at UND, and was the only one of his group of Cavers to continue with gymnastics. He wanted to compete both for the Marty Center and for UND for another year. He was, however, fed up with dormitory living. He knew that he could've moved back home with his parents, but that didn't appeal–even though he got along with them quite well. They were also of the opinion that they didn't need a just post-teenager moving back in–they liked the freedom of an empty nest. Not shy in the least, Tyler came to Tim and me and asked if he might have a bedroom in The Hideout. We decided that we needed to talk to Dylan and Julia about that before we'd make that deal with Tyler, but both Dylan and Julia were delighted to have, as Julia put it, "A third cook and a second cock." I think that sums up life in The Hideout that year!
There was one more group coming home from Sydney that faced major changes in their lives: The nine fantastic people that had supported Tim and me in our pursuit of our Olympic dreams. I almost wrote, "Tim's Olympic dreams," but I'll have to admit that they'd become my dreams as well as his. But this episode has come to an end, and the stories of the sailing team will be told in the next.
And so another Olympiad came to an end. It had, I think, proven to be the most spectacular yet for that grand collection of people we called the Gang. Life would go forward, would continue to be exciting, would constantly present new challenges, would allow our loves to mature and flower. But Sydney had been a highlight–especially for Tim and me. And the most fantasic thing about it all, as Tim and I thought back over it, was that for the rest of the Gang Sydney had been a highlight in their lives precisely because it was so important to us–such was the love of the Gang for my little kid, and for me. I remain to this day in awe of that fact.
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