I met Shel soon after I arrived in Grand Forks, having been recruited by Fred, Tim, and Coach Ham to come to the Fred and join their new skating club. I remember Tim so expansively describing what it'd be like at their new skating rink in Grand Forks, "Brian, it's the most wonderful place to skate, with the most wonderful people, in a wonderful town; believe me this is the chance of a lifetime." Tim was hard to resist then, and he still is. I came and found the Fred to be skaters' heaven; Tim, Fred, Ham and the others to be really special people; and the town to be damn cold–and I come from Alaska.
There was this little kid that liked to skate at the Fred. He sort of latched on to me and began playing monkey see, monkey do with me. He'd get out on the ice when I was practicing and do the figures that I was doing. I realized what was going on and began to watch him very carefully. He was incredibly good. I found out that his name was Shel, and he was just nine years old. I'd thought that I was a pretty good skater as a kid, but this kid was doing things at age nine that would've challenged almost any teenager, including me at age thirteen or fourteen. I got to know him, and before long came the day of the kiss, when he'd copied me doing a double axel. Well, you know the story. The kid's name was Sheldon, called Shel, and it wasn't long before he was head over heels in love with me, and me with him.
I'd been to the Albertville Olympics in 1992–that's where Fred and Tim found me. I'd come in ninth, which wasn't a bad showing; later I would realize that the only important thing about my finishing ninth–instead of, for example, 24th–was that ninth was good enough to get me noticed by the group from the Fred. As you know, being invited to join the Fred was the most important thing in my life up until then.
You already know that with the coaching of Coach Spivey, the support of the entire Gang, and the love of loveable little Shel, I managed to capture two successive gold medals in men's figure skating. I still pinch myself to be sure I'm not dreaming whenever I think of that. This story will focus on my life, well our (Shel's and my) lives, since my adventures as an Olympian. But there is one tidbit about the previous stories about Shel that I want to tell.
Fred told the story of Shel's buying–well, really Fred's buying, but even Fred admits that it was all Shel–The Lighthouse. As Fred puts it, and I can attest, everybody in the Gang is simply like clay in the hands of a potter when it comes to Shel. He molds us as he pleases. And he's always so sweet and innocent about it. Well, Shel bought The Lighthouse using Fred's name and money. Fred's told you how he negotiated with the Realtor over the price of the house and wouldn't haggle at all. Then Fred pointed out that in the closing negotiations he gave back concessions to the seller that were worth about half of what he'd gained in previous negotiations. Fred attributed this to the fact that the owner had taken Shel seriously from the beginning and treated him as an adult–which the Realtor had not. But Fred left out a little tidbit of information in telling the story. As soon as the contract had been signed and Fred knew the name and phone number of the owner he called him on the telephone. Fred told the guy, "If you're smart you'll act as if this little ten year old kid is an adult and treat him exactly as you would an adult. He's smart as a whip, but resents being treated as a little kid–even if he is a little kid. I'm buying the house, but Shel's acting for me, and he's going to make all of the decisions. You'll come out a lot better if you don't talk down to Shel."
The owner took Fred's advice and the rest is history. Shel didn't find out about the telephone call until I told him shortly after his eighteenth birthday. His response, "Well, that telephone call probably cost Fred about $4,000 dollars. But he's always been generous with his money. Hell, I liked the guy, whether he was primed by Fred or not."
Back to my tale. Returning to Grand Forks from Nagano in February of 1998 with the second gold medal in my hands, I had a crucial decision to make: was it time to retire? I'd been around the Gang long enough to know that there were a couple of people capable of helping me make that decision: Tim and Hal. There were two issues for me: Was it time to retire? And, how did Shel's rising star as a skater affect that decision? It was very clear that if I continued as a competitive skater, that Shel and I would be up against each other in virtually all of the major meets for the next four years, including nationals, worlds, the Olympic Trials, and if we were lucky (or sufficiently skilled, take your pick) at the Olympics.
Tim told me that, based on his experience with Billy, he would expect Shel to refuse to present a program that would outshine the program that I was presenting. He'd competed against Billy in one Olympics, and he was convinced–although Billy never admitted it–that Billy could've beaten him if he'd tried. Tim's response was to retire, and they never competed against each other again, virtually creating the sport of synchronized diving so that they could compete together. Hal told of his experiences with Jody, and how it'd taken a number of races before they both agreed to not hold back anything.
Neither Tim nor Hal gave me any specific advice. They both told their own stories and let me draw my own conclusions. I decided to retire. I decided that it was the only fair thing to do for Shel. I'd had my three chances at the Olympics, won two medals, and now it was Shel's turn.
When I told Shel his response was, "Bullshit. You aren't ready to retire. You're just doing this for me. I won't have it." Blah, blah, blah. Anyone could write the script–it was so typical of the Gang. I told Shel that he had to go and have a conversation with Billy and another one with Jody. I wasn't a party to those conversations, and the three of them have never shared them with me, nor have I asked. But three days later, just after Shel had fucked the living daylights out of me–that's another part of this story–he told me, "OK, Brian, I can accept that you're going to retire. I want you to talk to Fred in the morning."
"Fred? What about?"
"Talk to Fred in the morning."
Shel's tone of voice suggested that I could inquire all night, and I wouldn't get an answer. I rolled over and went to sleep, with Shel hugging me tight.
I dropped by Fred's office pretty early the next morning. Fred was in good spirits and welcomed me with, "Good morning, Brian. Thanks for coming by. I assume that Shel passed on my invitation."
"Yes, but with no additional information."
"Good, I didn't think Shel would spill the beans. He tells me that I have a golden opportunity and that I shouldn't pass it up."
"He says you're going to retire. Is that right?"
"Yes. I need to avoid the conflict of Shel and me competing against each other. And I'm honestly not sure that I can sustain my performance level for another four years. And, I really don't think I could beat Shel now, and certainly not in four years. In four years he'll likely end up walking away with the gold medal."
"I think that's a wise decision. Yes, getting three gold medals in a row would be a spectacular finish to your skating career, but love is more important. Now is the time to love Shel and help him repeat your performance. You know, the idea of the two of you–gay partners–capturing four men's figure skating gold medals in a row is positively mind-blowing.
"Now I need to take advantage of the opportunity that your retirement offers."
"Again, I have to ask, what opportunity?"
"The Fred wants to hire you as a skating coach. We have a teenager in the club that just missed going to the Olympics this year because of his birthday being so late in the year. He's going to need the finest coaching in the world, and the love and support of his coach. Ham and I think you fit the bill perfectly."
"What about Spivey? He's done a great job of coaching both of us."
"I've talked to Shel. He likes Spivey, and wants to keep him. He says he's a really top drawer technical coach. I have no intention of letting Spivey go. Listen, Brian, Shel is honestly worried about the coming four years. When I asked him about his practice routines, he was genuinely concerned that you'd have a job and not be around during his practice day. When I suggested that we hire you on the coaching staff he was palpably relieved. Besides, it's a good move for the Fred. We need to add some big names to our coaching staff, and right now Brian Bert is the biggest name in men's figure skating. I think adding you to the staff will bring quite a few new skaters to our stable, including some of the top in the world. That's good for the Fred and it's good for Fred's Sports. You'd be paid at a rate fitting your stature as a skater. Believe me this isn't charity, and it's not a gift to either you or Shel. It's a good solid business decision."
"I don't know what to say, Fred."
"You don't have to say anything. Shel already answered for you. You went on the payroll this morning. Now you're goldbricking. Get over to the Fred and earn your keep. I've already told Mr. Spivey, and you two need to sit down and talk about your future relationship. Neither of you will be the other's boss–you will both report to Ham. I'm well aware that Ham isn't the coach that either of you are, but he's a good manager, and that's the role I'm slowly moving him into. And, yes, I'm perfectly aware that Mr. Spivey is Richard Spivey, and that nobody calls him that. That's fine for the skaters, but you get on a first name basis with the guy."
"Fred, I'm speechless."
"Good, that way this interview can end quickly and you can get over to the Fred. Have a great four years. Two things: I told Richard Spivey about this a day or so ago, so feel free to talk to him. There was something else. Oh, yes, I offered a job to Shel starting either four, eight, or twelve years from now."
"Oh, Fred." And I kissed him.
I hurried over to the Fred to find Shel and Spivey. Shel was out on the ice and Spivey was watching him intently. I sat next to him and he said, "I'd like to claim that I taught him all that, but that would be bullshit. He's an amazing skater. He reminds me of a guy I went to college with. He was a great piano player, sat down at a piano and entertained whoever was around. But he couldn't read a note of music. He played totally by ear. If you were to place a piece of simple music in front of him–without a title or words–he couldn't do a thing with it. If you told him it was "Mairzy Dotes" he'd be hitting the keys instantly, playing it straight, improvising, adding all kinds of flourishes, melding it into other melodies, the works. He drove the music faculty nuts. He'd never be a concert pianist, but he sure was great. I think Shel is the same way. He started by playing monkey see, monkey do with you, and he still does that."
I put in, "But he's far beyond me at this point. He does things I can't. He had to learn them from you."
"Yeah, I can describe what I want him to do. Then he goes out on the ice, skates around a little, and tries what I've told him. And damn if he doesn't usually get it on the first try. Like I said, I'd love to take credit for him, but that wouldn't be true."
"Shel wouldn't say that. He has great respect for you."
"Nuts. I'm not part of Shel's world. It begins and ends with you. That's why Fred's hired you as a coach."
"Can I call you Richard?"
"I'm usually Dick when I'm not Mr. Spivey."
"Dick, I know Shel very well; way better than you do. And I know exactly how you figure in his life and his skating. Would you like to know?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, you'll want to hear. Shel thinks he needs two things to succeed as a figure skater. The first is what we call around here love and support. He doesn't look to you for that; in his words, it's not your style. He also needs top quality technical coaching. He looks to you for that, and nowhere else. He thinks you're the best technical coach around–anywhere. He'd be crushed if you left the Fred. Don't play down your role in his success. But you frustrate him at times. In his words, 'Mr. Spivey just doesn't get it: love and support are as important as technical coaching.' But I couldn't get ahead without him."
"Brian, I've watched you come alive as a skater here at the Fred. I'd taught you all I could leading up to Albertville. You came here and blossomed–winning two Olympic gold medals. I can't take credit for those medals."
"Hell, yes, you can. But Shel, Fred, Tim, and many others supplied the love and support that was missing in Albertville. We've all become a team. And don't ever think that you aren't an important part of that team. And Fred's hired me on the coaching staff in order to keep that team together. Fred wants to see Shel succeed and bring the Fred and Fred's Sports along with him. I expect Shel to leave me in the dust."
"You put in a superlative performance in Nagano."
"Thanks to both you and Shel, and a lot of others. But I'm retiring. It's time to leave the field to Shel, and admit that he'd beat me badly if I continued."
"I think you're making a wise decision. Leave while you're on top; don't let yourself become a has-been. By the way, it seems to be my job to make the technical comments, not provide the love and support. In that vein, let me assure you that you're quite correct, Shel would leave you in the dust."
"Don't rub it in."
"Oh, I'm not. You can be very proud of Shel–he is very much your creation. Not only were you the monkey that he saw and copied, you were his coach, and you provided the love and support that I never could."
"Thank you, Dick. It's nice to hear. And I think at least some of it's true. What's next for Shel?"
"Work on individual elements; develop a repertoire of transitional movements, and start planning a long program."
"If I know Shel, he's going to need two long programs."
"Yes. He needs to put together a long program–a short program as well–to use for the next four years. But If I know Shel, he's going to arrive at Salt Lake City with a program like nobody's ever seen outside of Grand Forks–and it's going to be incredibly spectacular. He's going to have to decide whether to use it at the Olympic Trials, but my guess is that he won't."
"You obviously know him very well. But none of that surprises me. It's going to be a Hell of an exciting four years."
"It sure is. I'd better go tell him that he has a new coach."
I walked over toward the entrance to the ice; Shel saw me and skated over to me. He kissed me sweetly and said, "Hi, Coach."
"I was going to tell you that."
"Fred already told me; he offered me the same deal: become a coach at the Fred when I retire. Isn't it wonderful? Hey, get your blades on and join me out here. We'll skate for a while and then go to dinner. Let's take Mr. Spivey along; we need to start planning strategy for the next four years. And it's important that he not feel he's being pushed aside in the new order of things. I really need him, Brian."
"Tell him, just like that. Often."
"Good advice. I'll start at dinner tonight."
We went to Jerry's. It was a good meal, and a good chance for the three of us to talk about our futures. Shel pointed out that we were all in it together for at least eight years, and we had to learn to work together as a single entity. I think that Dick was startled to hear how important Shel thought he was in his Olympic plans. Dick did say, "Shel, I've always encouraged my skaters to call me Mr. Spivey, and I don't think I'm going to change that. But the relationship you're describing for the next few years calls for that rule to be broken. Call me Dick, please; Brian already does."
Shel replied, "If people at the Fred hear you called Dick, I'm afraid the walls will fall down or the ice melt. But, I'd love to call you Dick."
That night Shel told me, "If it'd been almost anyone else, I would've made a joke out of the obvious synonym for his name. But not with Spivey. I wonder if he even has a dick?"
"Don't sell him short."
"You think it's short, do you?"
"I'm sure it's shorter than yours."
"You're jealous now." Shel giggled as he said this.
"Indeed I'm not. I like having a partner with a long, thin bone."
"And I like your short, fat one."
"It isn't that short."
"No, it isn't. I think it's just perfect. Can I taste it?"
"No, you can't, and you damn well know it. If you're that horny, I'd better take you home for the night where you can't get in trouble."
"I'll be good. But that damn birthday better come around pretty fast."
"It's two years from this September. You'll have to wait. You know, this was all your idea."
"Don't rub it in. But I told you six years ago that I could wait, and I will."
"I wasn't sure it was all that good an idea at the time, and there are some obvious drawbacks. But all in all, you're worth the wait, Shel."
"You, too, Brian." We kissed, but not much more.
It was a long two years. I think the worst thing about it for Shel–and me as well–was the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. He turned eighteen in 2000, but in December and the Games were in September when he was seventeen and three-quarters. We both resolved to return to Australia to do things that we would've liked to do in 2000 but could not.
Of course the birthday did arrive, and you already have heard the story of our birdwatching trip to Kiribati. As I write this I feel the need to point out to Charlie that this story isn't exactly getting told in a linear fashion. I can hear his response: "So?" So that will have to be my response to you if you get confused by the non-linear direction of this story. For some reason Charlie thought the birthday story fit in earlier. Well, it had to be told before the mass joining of the Gang could be described. And he had to get Max and others into the Gang to tell of some of their adventures. Well, you get the drift.
The amazing thing at the birthday party was Shel's unveiling of his long program for the Salt Lake City Olympics. I still don't see how he managed to put that together without my knowing. Well, I'd seen all of the elements, just not the program. That is, all of the elements except the Swan Ballet. How in the Hell did he develop that and practice it without my knowing? It seems that almost every minute that I was away from the ice that's what he was doing. It was a huge conspiracy, and Dick Spivey was up to his elbows in it. That wasn't like Dick. Maybe he was learning something about love and support.
So where do I go from here? Beginning at his birthday and continuing until the Salt Lake City Olympics two years later was the most wonderful time of my life, and I hope of Shel's as well. It's obvious why: no more waiting. But it was a lot more than that. Our relationship changed from two skaters to skater and coach. At first we'd thought that might be fraught with problems: How well did Shel relate to me as a coach? How did Dick Spivey fit in? Was I going to miss the thrill of competition? Well, none of these were problems.
Let's start with coaching Shel. He'd been the most independent of cusses as a skater. He began by totally and independently copying me. He approached Spivey as a resource more than as a coach. Since Dick's main responsibility at the Fred at that time was to coach me, he was glad to answer Shel's questions, advise him, and help him any way he could. But he wasn't Shel's coach. If anyone was, Ham was, because Ham had overall responsibility for coaching at the Fred. But Ham was quite willing to leave it to Dick Spivey, who was doing a good job, even if he didn't consider it his job.
Does any of that make sense? Well, does Shel make sense? It made sense to Shel, who was quite happy, and obviously quite capable, to take ultimate responsibility for himself. And look where it got him. I'm quite convinced that at the time I won my second Olympic gold Shel was the best figure skater in the world, but he was ineligible to compete. (What does that say about the Olympic age rules?) But Shel was reaching a plateau–not a good position to be in with four years to go before the Olympics. Others weren't on a plateau and might easily surpass him.
It was time for Shel's coaching to be more directive. Shel had moved as far as he could move as his own coach. His relationship with Dick was such that Dick wasn't going to be able to move in the direction Shel needed. He was still crucial as a coach, but in the resource role that he'd always been in. The role of coach fell to me. The question was, could Shel accept that? It turns out that Shel's no dummy–who thought he was? He recognized his own need, and willingly accepted the new relationship with me–on the ice. He made it very clear that it didn't apply off the ice, and I would certainly not have wanted it to. In fact, off the ice Shel was much more in charge of our lives than I was. But on the ice, he looked to me for guidance.
If you remember, when Shel first showed me his proposed long program for Salt Lake City I remarked that it was a little rough, but that he'd successfully completed all the elements. I believed then, and told Shel, that our job in the next two years was to smooth out all of those elements. Shel could always do an element. He seldom fell and rarely forgave himself for a fall. But it's the wobbles, the incorrect hand movements, or the missed step in a transition that separate an almost perfect high-scoring performance from merely routine.
For two years Dick and I took apart Shel's performance, element by element, and pushed him to get each piece exactly right. He ended almost every practice by going through the entire program to make sure that what he was doing for each element got translated into the full program. Both Dick and I were amazed that this determined, self-willed skater was suddenly able to put himself in my hands–well, our hands, but Dick recognized that Shel followed our advice because of his trust in me–and become essentially reshaped as a skater. If Shel was the best in the world when the process began, think where he was as it progressed.
In Shel's nineteenth year (i.e. age eighteen) he didn't compete above the regional level. And the programs he presented weren't that high level, so he was essentially sandbagging. It was a strategy that he, Dick and I all agreed upon, as he moved into all senior competition. Just before his nineteenth birthday he hit the ice in the Eastern Regionals with a new program (not his planned Olympic program) that showed off his skills at their finest. It included quads and his triple, triple axel which is even more spectacular than a quad toe loop. He was a sensation. The skating world had sort of thought that he'd fallen off the map, and that was our intention. Now here came the new Shel, bigger, stronger, and better. And doing figures that no other Americans were doing: the quad and the triple, triple axel. He was on the road to a national and world championship, and would head into the Olympics with all eyes on him.
We decided that he'd have to unveil his Olympic program at the U.S. National Championships in January, 2006, in St. Louis, as these would also serve as the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Trials. It was important that the ballet sequence be shown to the world, and thus to all the judges who'd be judging at the Olympics, in advance. If it was going to be a distraction, we needed to know. I need to explain a little about the ballet sequence. Its music was Saint-Saëns' "The Swan" which was usually danced to by a ballerina. However, Shel's interpretation wasn't feminine. After all, there are male swans, and Shel's was a bold, proud swan. It incorporated two double jumps and one of his key spins, so that it was not to be seen as an interlude between figure skating performances, but as integral to the performance. Nevertheless, it could've been controversial, and that kind of controversy can lose someone a medal. However, all of us–especially Shel who was particularly proud of his swan, because it was completely his own creation–were delighted to find it well-received. Not just well-received, but widely praised. We moved on to Salt Lake City and the February Olympic Games with confidence.
In Salt Lake City, as well as in the Trials, his short program was quite traditional, but pushed the edge by including a quad toe loop and his triple triple axel, which were beyond the capability of most of his competition. I should explain the triple triple axel. It's a fantastically difficult move; one that I never dreamed of accomplishing, and in fact if Shel lands it in the next Olympics he'll be the first Olympian to land a triple triple axel. Why is it so difficult? First, you have to understand the axel. You start going forward and land going backward on the opposite skate, so that to do a single axel you actually do a revolution and a half. A triple axel requires three and a half revolutions. Since you land going backwards, you have to turn to going forward to do the next axel. You're allowed that much turn and still have the two jumps considered a combination and not separate jumps. But in a double triple axel you have completed seven and a half revolutions. Needless to say, as you move from one jump to another you lose power, and this loss is increased as you add the half turn to return you to going forward. To have enough power coming out of the second triple axel to make another half turn and then do another triple axel is simply beyond comprehension. I've asked Shel how he does it, and he simply doesn't know. He envisions it in his mind, all of the pieces are easily in his repertoire, and he simply does them. From the perspective of the sidelines I can tell you that he has absolutely tremendous power and speed, and he manages them with exquisite control. And, he's fearless. Any rational skater would be scared shitless when he tackled a triple triple. Shel simply takes it in stride. Once he decides that something is in his repertoire, he moves on. From then on, no matter how difficult the move, it's simply one more thing to practice.
Honestly, I think that the biggest problem that Shel had in approaching the Salt Lake City Olympics was that he had his program settled two years in advance. For those two years he didn't often push himself to do new and more difficult things. Those were deferred until after Salt Lake City. For those two years he simply polished his program. I feared that was a formula for stagnation, and I did push him into some new territory. But for two years he was essentially in a routine. A spectacular routine, one that no one else on earth could do, but a routine nevertheless. And that was where Shel stood on the threshold of his first Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Shel wasn't the only skater from the Fred that had his or her eyes on Salt Lake City. Since the huge success of the Fred's skaters in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, with Bett, Flip, Carmine and me getting medals, the Fred was on the skaters' world map. In the year after the Nagano Olympics, Ham, Andy, and Fred were getting phone calls almost daily from skaters and coaches about moving to Grand Forks and making the Fred their skating home. The response was, of course, "Everybody's welcome; we have the greatest facility and the greatest coaches you'll find anywhere." And it was true as many young skaters found out.
It didn't hurt that the Fred had one of only two indoor long-track skating ovals in the country. There was only one other in all of the Americas: in Calgary, Alberta. All the rest in the world were in Eurasia, and there were damn few there: two in Holland, and one each in Germany, Norway, China, and Japan. All other long track skating ovals were outdoors and were thus unable to provide for year-round practice on an actual competition oval. Many skaters practiced on an outside oval in winter and on shorter indoor tracks in summer. But for those with real Olympic or world-level ambitions, being near an indoor track was important.
And these were exactly the people that Fred and Tim wanted to attract to the Fred. They came. Of course, because of the lack of ovals, there weren't a lot of participants in long track speed skating at world competition levels.
When it came to short track speed skating and figure skating, rinks were not scarce. Skaters were drawn to Grand Forks by the reputation of the Fred and the Olympians. A number of skaters told Ham that not only were those a factor, but the obvious involvement of Tim in the program was exciting. Wise observers of the Olympics knew that Tim was more often associated with winners than losers!
Ham had added to his coaching staff, attracting a number of pretty well-known coaches. The Fred paid well, provided excellent benefits and an incredibly supportive environment. If you were a skating coach and you got an invitation to join the staff of the Fred, a simple call to another coach already on the staff pretty quickly persuaded you that this was a opportunity that one didn't easily turn down.
For the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics none of us would be traveling to the Trials; rather the Trials would be traveling to us. The Fred, with its wonderful facilities and one of three indoor long track ovals (Salt Lake City had added a third in 2000 for the Olympics), made Grand Forks an obvious host city. The capacity of the Grand Forks airport was limited, so Fred's Sports provided free shuttle bus service from the Fargo airport for anyone involved with the Olympic Trials. Fred planned to milk this event as much as he could on behalf of Fred's Sports. I would never suggest that Fred's support of the Fred, and other sports programs involving the Gang, was for selfish motives. He genuinely wanted to support the Gang he loved. But Fred never ceased to be a businessman, and it was clear to him that the success of his business could be enhanced by its association with top level athletes of all kinds. Think sailing, skating, bicycling, fencing, archery and others which would soon be coming online.
So the skating contingent from the Fred at the Trials included a dance pair, a figures pair, two men and one woman figure skaters, three short track racers and four long track racers, for a total of fourteen. We realized that there was no way that all would qualify for the Olympic team, but Fred had assured all of them of a trip to Salt Lake City as guests of Fred's Sports!
None of the four from the Fred four years before were returning. Flip and Carmine were married shortly after the Olympics in Carmine's home town of Wichita, in the church she'd been baptized and confirmed in, and now wanted to be married in. They discussed at length where they wanted to live. Flip had started at UND, and Carmine was ready to begin college. For both of them staying in Grand Forks, continuing at the Fred, and studying at UND was the path of least resistance. But Flip had a nagging feeling that it wasn't right. He and his grandfather had moved away from his parents to Grand Forks so that Flip could achieve his Olympic dreams. Well, he'd achieved them: he had a gold and a silver medal and Carmine had exactly the same. They both agreed that their Olympic careers were behind them and that it was time to move on.
Carmine told Flip, "Listen, I'll be happy with you no matter where we are. If we stay in Grand Forks, life will be idyllic. Fred and the Gang will see to that. The road will be smooth and pleasant. But, Flip, it won't be a challenge. If we could tackle the Olympics and succeed, we can tackle the world and succeed. We don't need the Gang. We love them, and I know we'll always be welcome here. But I think we should make our own lives."
Flip's response was, "I agree. And, if you would be OK with it, I think I'd like to move back to Boise, at least for two years while we finish college. Boise State is a good school–I've asked Tim about it–and I'm pretty sure we'd be happy there. And I know for a fact that my parents would treasure our living near them for a while after missing my last years in high school. I'm sure that Granddad would move back with us–though as I found out, he's quite capable of fooling me."
"Oh, Flip, I love that idea."
"What do you think your family will do if we leave Grand Forks?"
"My sister graduates from high school next June. I'll bet they all move back to Wichita and she goes to Wichita State.
Well, that's what they did. Tim, Charlie, Bett, Shel and I all went down to Wichita for the wedding. A very traditional affair, but just exactly what Carmine wanted. Flip acknowledged to us, privately, that he would've liked to shake things up a little, but Carmine and her mother had their hearts set on tradition. Flip figured that if her family could pick up and move to Grand Forks for Carmine's sake, they were entitled to having a lot to say about the wedding. Furthermore, Carmine and her mother seemed to be on exactly the same wavelength. There was only one serious break with tradition, and Carmine's family never knew about it. The first night of their honeymoon was spent in the Midwest Inn (a Best Western) in Salina, Kansas. From there they headed to Estes Park, Colorado, to spend three weeks hiking and climbing in the Rockies, but based in a nice motel in Estes Park ("We want a soft bed each night on our honeymoon, for obvious reasons.")
Flip, with Carmine's permission, had tipped Shel as to where they'd be the first night. Shel and Flip arranged for Shel to have a room with a connecting door to Flip and Carmine's room. With Shel were Tim and Charlie, Bett, and me (Brian). Soon after Flip and Carmine arrived–it must've been about one in the morning, even though the reception had ended by ten p.m. the drive from Wichita to Salina took about and hour and a half–Flip knocked on the connecting door. Shel led the way in and all of us followed. Flip and Carmine were lying naked on the bed, hugging gently. Flip said, "We thought we might like an audience. Sort of an old-fashioned chivaree."
Carmine smiled, giggled, and said, "But you all have to be naked as well. Go back where you came from, lose your clothes, and come back."
We followed directions, and soon returned. Flip grinned at Tim and said, "You know, I'm no longer a UND student!"
Tim just grinned.
Carmine said, "Just so you all know. We aren't virgins. We talked and decided that something should be different, or special, about our wedding night. We know it isn't orthodox, but we decided that an audience was what was called for. And I need to add one thing. Flip will be doing unto to me exactly what I want him to, so don't any of you knights in shining armor decide that you need to rescue the fair maiden. As for my maidenhead, it's long gone."
With that Flip took charge like he was attacking a short track skating race. Sometimes Shel likes me to get rough with him, but I can't hold a candle to Flip. He was all over Carmine, in her, on her, pounding her, flipping her on top of him and back, mashing their tongues, driving his fingers, tongue and dick into her mouth, vagina, and anus. Carmine was giving it back in spades. We weren't sure when either of them climaxed, but eventually they simply got a bear hug on each other and collapsed onto the bed, hugging incredibly tightly. At that Carmine managed to say, "Please turn out the light when you leave. The orgy is scheduled for eight in the morning."
The next morning Flip and Carmine were changed personalities. With us they were as gentle and loving as they'd been rough and violent with each other. It was nearly noon when they were ready to head off toward the West. The rest of us decided that we'd like to spend one more night in our room, which had two queen-size beds in it. We had lunch at the motel, walked around the town a while, came back to the room for an afternoon nap to make up for the little sleep we'd had the night before, had a great dinner at a restaurant we found within walking distance, walked back to the Midwest Inn, stripped in our room, headed for bed, and if you can't figure out the rest then you haven't been paying attention to this story.
Flip and Carmine were disappointed in one thing about Boise. Carmine had been aware and had warned Flip, but there was no serious ice skating racing competition in Boise. Figure skating was big, as was hockey. There were plenty of skating venues where they could skate, but if they were going to move to Boise, they were going to have to leave their skating competition behind. They found that they were ready for that. Recreational skating would suit their needs.
They were shocked to find that Boise State had no outdoor winter sports teams. All winter sports were indoor sports like basketball. It seemed odd for such an outdoor oriented place as Idaho. Oh, well, they found that they were more interested in each other, Flip's family, and their studies than in university life. Flip was delighted that his grandfather returned to Boise with him and continued to be important in his life–and in Carmine's. He lived to see both of them become doctors, but died shortly after that, content in the knowledge that he'd helped facilitate the romance between Flip and Carmine. It was something he took pride in, and which Flip and Carmine affirmed for him many times.
Medical education for Idaho is unique. Idaho medical students go to the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle. However, they can take their first year in Idaho at a joint University of Idaho/University of Washington program at the University of Idaho campus in Moscow (Idaho, not Russia, silly). The second year is taken in Seattle. They can then return to Idaho for supervised clinical training, and Flip and Carmine were able to arrange for that in Boise. They did their family practice residencies in Boise as well, and set up their very successful joint family practice in Boise. On their visits to Grand Forks, which were fairly common, they admitted that they missed the Gang and the open and loving atmosphere of the Gang. But they didn't regret their decision to head to Idaho. They did tell Tim that they urged all kinds of young people in Boise to consider UND for college, and Tim acknowledged that quite a few had come. The code, "Flip says TTT" at the top of an application would always get them personal consideration.
With that, two wonderful people, that we'd grown to love and admire, pretty much passed out of our lives and out of this story.I should note that the Gang's kept in touch with Flip and Carmine over the years. They have continued their family practice together in Boise.
Bett was another story! You probably don't remember Shel's crack to Bett about finding her true love at the Olympics. Specifically he predicted that Bett and Joanne Carter from Australia would share the podium and announce at a press conference the next day that it was love at first sight. Well, that was not to be. Joanne ended in twelfth place, and Bett reported that they exchanged perhaps three words in the whole two weeks of the Olympics. What Bett didn't tell any of us was that she and Tilly Mills, an English downhill skier had struck up a friendship in the Olympic Village and that it'd continued by email since the Olympics.
Bett couldn't really take a trip to England without our knowing, and demanding to know the reason for the trip, so when, about two months after the Olympics, she announced she was heading to England she also told us it was to visit Tilly and see what developed.
"What do you hope develops?"
"Sex, love, and marriage; the first two in any order it happens, and the last whatever is possible in the jurisdiction we live in."
"Wow. Does Tilly think like that?"
"If she didn't, would I be flying to England?"
The next thing we knew they'd both announced their retirement from sport and their intention to settle down in the small town of Inveraray, Scotland. Bett had been able to land several short-term endorsement contracts after winning her silver medal and they'd combined that money with both of their savings and had been able to purchase a large cottage overlooking Loch Fyne which they intended to turn into a bed and breakfast. Inveraray was in the center of a popular tourist region, advertising itself as the Gateway to the Highlands. A nice, well-run bed and breakfast there would support them easily.
They paid one visit to Grand Forks not long after their announcement. Bett was eager to introduce Tilly to the Gang and for the Gang to meet Tilly. In particular she told me that there were several people that had been so very important in her life that Tilly just had to get to know them. Of course, the first on that list was Shel–the life blood of the skating program at the Fred. He was charming and gracious, and he told Tilly, "I told her that she'd find true love at the Olympics, and I was right. And a skier, no less."
In private he asked Bett, "Tilly's delightful, and I can easily see how you could fall for her. But are you ready to settle down in a small town in Scotland, after the exciting life you've led so far?"
"Exciting life? I've loved my skating, and I've loved the people I've skated with, especially you, Shel. But I've been more confined in the Fred than I'll ever be in Scotland. Besides, I grew up in Fargo, and have only lived there and Grand Forks. Granted, Inveraray with only about 500 people is a lot smaller, but I'm not exactly a big city girl. Shel, I'm really in love with Tilly, and we're excited to be making our lives together. She's from Glasgow, only about two hours from Inveraray, and knows the area well. She's dreamed of living on Loch Fyne, and by pooling our resources we were able to buy the most wonderful cottage. Oh, Shel. Wish me well, and come visit."
"I'll do both. And I'll bring Brian with me. We'd love to stay at a little waterside bed and breakfast on Loch Fyne, wander the Highlands during the day and maybe fuck the proprietresses at night. Would the two of you be up for that?"
"Shel, dear friend, I don't know how to answer that. Tilly and I have talked a lot. She knows that we've carried on some. She could hardly believe the story of Carmine and Flip's honeymoon, and the carrying on the next morning for the rest of us. My history doesn't bother her. She's had very little history, and it never involved boys. I can be content with Tilly, if that it what she wants and who she is. But you know that I could move beyond that if she was comfortable. I'm going to have to give her time. She hasn't been around the Gang, you know."
"The Gang has a rule about comfort zones, and I'd never want to push Tilly out of hers." Shel continued, "If you're happy, and clearly you are, then I'm happy for you. Changing the subject. I know you were eager to have Tilly meet me. But you be sure that she gets some time with Tim and Charlie. And Hal, too. They're the giants in this crowd, and getting to know them a little will be very meaningful to Tilly over the years. May I make a suggestion to Tim on your behalf?"
"Oh, Shel, that'd be wonderful. I know that I could just call him up. He's always insisted that we all could. But you're a COG. He's Uncle Tim to you. Please give him a call."
The dinner invitation to Tilly and Bett was issued the next day. They were wined and dined in style: in the formal dining room of Dakota House, with more than a dozen Olympic gold medalists around the table, a delicious meal served by jacketed waiters from the UND food service, and finger-food dessert in the living room where they could move around and give Tilly a chance to talk to all of them. Lunch the next day was just Shel, Tilly, Bett, Tim, Charlie and me. We talked for much of the afternoon. Tilly was charming, clearly in love with Bett, and overwhelmed by the Grand Forks hospitality. As she and Bett left to go back to The Hideout where they were staying in the master bedroom, she told Tim and Charlie, "This has been the third most exciting moment of my life, trailing only my meeting Bett and walking in the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Thank you so much, Tim, for taking time with Bett and me. And Shel tells me that the best way that I can pay you back is to love and support Bett for the rest of her life. I promise to do that."
She got a big, sloppy kiss from Tim for that!
Yes, Shel, the raunchy little kid, did visit Bett and Tilly in Inveraray, staying at their Rainbow Bed and Breakfast. And, yes, he brought me along. We talked first, and learned that Tilly had as wide a comfort zone as Bett. We began our week at the Rainbow with Shel fucking Bett and me fucking Tilly. The last night we traded off. In between the girls decided that they really were lesbians, but watching us and being watched was a real turn-on for them.
I, Charlie writing now, dare to summarize this episode: And so another one of the Grand Forks Olympic medalists moved on–out of the environment of the Gang. We were sorry to lose Bett–and Carmine and Flip–but we realized that the Gang was getting very large, and having people make the choice to move on may have been best for all parties. We never had the sense that those that moved away were making a big mistake. Everybody has to make their own choices in life, and the Gang clearly wasn't for everyone. We bid all three of them very loving goodbyes.
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