Episode 219 - Vancouver
In our early days together, if Tim talked about the Olympics I understood him to mean the summer Olympics. The winter Olympics were hardly on our radar screen. However, as we had explored skiing and then developed the Fred, we had realized that the winter Olympics couldn't be ignored. When the winter Olympics shifted dates so that it was two years off from the summer Olympics, it became possible for summer Olympians, like Tim and me, to pay more attention to the winter games. And so, the winter games scheduled for 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, began to loom large in our thinking just as soon as the summer games of Beijing passed into history.
Let me remind you that Olympic men's ice hockey had been taken over by the NHL once professionals were allowed to compete, completely shutting out college athletes. However, the lack of professional women's ice hockey in 2010 meant that college teams would be the source of the U.S. women's ice hockey team. The twin women, Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, both of the Fighting Sioux, made the team and were, in fact, the first two North Dakotans to be selected for the Vancouver Olympics. Both were sophomores at UND, having transferred from the University of Minnesota after their freshman year. Tim would like to believe that they were seeking love and support, but their stated reason was to work under the new coach that UND had hired that year. Regardless of the reason, they were magnificent players and very welcome in Grand Forks. However, they aren't part of this story as the hockey players and the speed and figure skaters skated in different buildings (the Ralph and the Fred) and, for all intents and purposes, lived in different worlds. There was no hostility, just very little interaction.
The Fred would be sending a good contingent to the Olympic Trials in speed and figure skating. Shel was determined to repeat in the men's singles, and if you asked either Brian or Dick Spivey, Shel had a lock on a medal. And if Tim wasn't around, they'd say he had a lock on the gold medal. And if Tim were alone with me, he'd talk about Shel's forthcoming gold medal as well! But that would only be because he knows that Shel would be gracious in accepting a silver or bronze medal and could accept that he hadn't been the best skater in the world on that evening.
But the fact of the matter was that Shel was the best figure skater in the world. He successfully did spins and jumps consistently that others only attempted and succeeded less often than they failed. Shel had never missed a figure in any Olympic competition or trial, never fallen in any competition, and glided through impossible (for everyone else) routines as if they were, in fact, routine. And, in fact, for Shel they were routine.
Brian and Dick were on the Fred's coaching staff and were Shel's official coaches. They were also coaches for all of the other full members of the Fred. Shel wasn't yet on the coaching staff, but he acted as if her were, and he had been offered a position on the staff starting as soon as he retired from competition. For Brian, and really for Shel as well, this new relationship with other skaters made a huge difference. Just ask Herb and Hal about the relationship between a coach and athlete. For that reason, new figure skaters at the Fred were less likely to be drawn into the circle of the Gang. And less likely to be key figures in this story.
The Gang wasn't closing its doors, but I think that most of us were beginning to realize that if it grew much larger it would lose its character. Some social psychologists argue that the maximum number of close relationships a person can maintain at one time is somewhere around fifty. The Gang, with two and a half times that number of members, was disproving the argument, but was certainly stretching its limits. So, without ever saying it, we were a little reluctant to seek out potential new members. I think that was part of the reason that we didn't establish close relationships with the new generation of skaters at the Fred.
But, even from a distance they were an exciting crowd. Shel dominated the figure skaters, of course. And on the ladies side, Fran was determined to improve on her bronze in Turin. Randy and Sissy, now seniors at UND, were equally determined to improve upon, or at least equal, their pairs silver medal in Turin.
New since Turin were ice dancers Janey Corbett and Lew Prosser. They had grown up in Ann Arbor, going to the same schools. In Logan Elementary School they knew each other, but boys being boys and girls being girls they had nothing to do with each other–except that they both started skating lessons at the same arena. That was first grade, and by fifth grade they had (1) shown spectacular promise as figure skaters, and (2) become reluctant friends as their parents arranged for them to get to and from skating practice in a two-family carpool. While at Clague Middle School they (1) proved to be two of the best skaters in town, excluding the university, and (2) could have the reluctant removed from a description of their friendship. At Huron High they (1) became competitive with the best figure skaters at the university, and (2) allowed as how their relationship had progressed from friendship to romance.
Very early on they started to explore ice dancing, and by middle school that had become their specialty, and their dancing partnership firmly established. In tenth grade they began to realize that they just might be able to qualify for the Vancouver Olympics. But even with the Ice Cube venue open to them (it had opened in 1995 about when Lew and Janey were born), they weren't convinced they were in the best skating environment for them.
They talked with other skaters, their coaches, parents, many others, and each other and concluded that they wanted to skate at the Fred in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Living in southern Michigan, they realized that it would be colder in North Dakota, but they sort of equated it to the Upper Peninsula where they had visited for skiing in many winters. Little did they know!
But they were high school students and had no contact with anybody in North Dakota–not at any high school, UND, nor at the Fred. Janey said to Lew, "Look, the school provides guidance counselors, let's see if we can get some guidance."
Lew replied, "OK, Mr. Sturm in the guidance office also works with the school hockey team, at least he's familiar with ice skating. I'll make an appointment."
Mr. Sturm listened to their stories, asked many, many questions, particularly pushing them on why the felt A² (the universally used local written symbol for Ann Arbor) wasn't right for them, and why they felt North Dakota was. He also wanted to know if they had any idea about how it might be worked out for them to spend the next three years leading up to the Olympics in Grand Forks. They had no idea; only dreams. Lew said, "We hoped that might be what a guidance counselor was for."
Mr. Sturm said, "You're putting a lot of faith in a guidance counselor. Most of the students here think our only job is to arrange for college recommendations. But, I have an idea."
Janey said, "You do? That's fantastic."
"It's much too soon to call anything fantastic. It's just an idea, but you may be very lucky. Tim–I actually know his last name, but he'd never talk to me again if I repeated it to anyone–is from Minneapolis and went to Southwest High School, graduating in 1965; I'm from Minneapolis and went to Southwest High School, graduating in 1967; I was a tenth grader when Tim came out, introduced Charlie, was the Twin Cities diving champion, announced he was going to the University of North Dakota (of all places), and graduated. We maybe spoke a half dozen times in school, but he was always friendly. We spoke again a few years ago when we both went back to Minneapolis for the retirement celebration of our high school principal–Tim was, in fact, the emcee for the evening."
Janey said, "Wow, that gives Lew and me just two degrees of separation from the world-famous Tim. But where does that get us?"
Mr. Sturm was quiet for a while and then said, "I know that Tim, and everyone connected with him in Grand Forks, wants to gather Olympians and future Olympians, like the university here wants to gather football stars. You two are very possibly future Olympians, why don't you give Tim a chance to gather you in. Write to him, tell him who you are, tell him you'd like to be part of the Fred, but can't figure out how. Tell him I suggested that you write to him. Tell him who I am and tell him that I'm also going to write to him. End by asking him if he sees any way you can go to Grand Forks and skate at the Fred next year."
"Are you serious? Just write to Tim, President Tim, out of the blue and ask that?"
"I'm not particularly fond of cliches, but I think, 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained,' fits here very well."
Lew asked, "If we write the letter, will you go over it with us?"
"No, it has to be your work, not my work. Tim's smart, he'll know if it was written by a college graduate or a tenth grader–even a smart tenth grader. But I'll read it, so I'll know what you said, and what I should say in my letter. And I'll tell him about our conversation and that I have read your letter. "
I first heard of Janey and Lew one evening when Tim came home and tossed two letters on the table. He said, "Read these; tell me what you think."
I read Janey and Lew's letter first, and then Harry Sturm's. Harry had added to the mix that these two were very smart kids, and supported that by enclosing copies of their transcripts at Huron High School. They were both straight A students, give or take a couple of B's in physical education of all things. Harry had explained that they'd gotten the principal's permission to count their skating at the Ice Cube for phys ed, an exception opposed by the phys ed department, which routinely gave B's to students who got some alternative phys ed program approved. Since the school didn't count phys ed grades for class rank and other academic things, nobody seemed to care about B's in phys ed.
I asked Tim, "Do you remember this Harry Sturm?"
"Yeah, a little. Don't know much about him. We did speak at Dr. Olafsen's retirement, and I do remember his telling me that he was teaching in Ann Arbor. I guess he's moved on to being a guidance counselor."
"He seems to think these kids're pretty special. What do you think he has in mind?"
"We'll I don't think he's writing to a university president to arrange lodging for a couple of high school students–though I guess we could arrange that. I think he wants them to enroll at UND."
"That's kind of what I thought. Is it possible?"
"I don't see why not. Those kids're smart, obviously mature, evidently have supportive parents, and evidently are good skaters. Of course UND wants them."
"So, what comes first?"
"I call them on the telephone. And I'm going to do it right now. Want to listen in?"
"Hello. This is President Tim of the University of North Dakota. Is Lew Prosser there?"
"This is his mother, Cynthia Prosser. I can't believe you're calling Lew in the evening like this. I'll get him."
"Hello, this is Lew Prosser."
"Hello, Lew. This's Tim. I understand that you'd like to skate at the Fred next year."
"I sure would. So would my skating partner, Janey Corbett."
"That's what your letter said, and Mr. Sturm confirms it. Tell me honestly, in your favorite dreams, how did you think it might work out?"
"Gee, I guess I really have to be honest in that reply, don't I? Even if it does sound egotistical."
"Janey and I would like to skip the rest of high school and enroll at your university. Maybe taking a reduced load at first, to allow for a lot of skating practice."
"I'm sure that's Mr. Sturm's idea as well, though he didn't spell it out. Frankly, I think it's a very reasonable idea. Do you think that you and Janey, and all of your parents could come over to Grand Forks fairly soon? We'd like to meet you, get to know you, and let you get to know us, and the Fred."
"I'll have to talk to my parents, Janey, her parents, you know, but I'm sure we can work it out."
"Work out some dates. We can talk on a weekend, but you need to be here at least one school day. When you have some dates worked out, let me know, and we'll send a university plane to get you and take you back home."
"What? Are you kidding? A university plane?"
"In North Dakota Olympians go first class. Welcome aboard."
Tim and I simply had to imagine the conversations in A² that phone call sparked. You will have to imagine them as well. They led to a return phone call the next day, this time coming from Mary Corbett, Janey's mother. She was clearly a little shaken by the suggestion that her daughter might skip two years of high school, go to college at UND, and start in a skating program with the specific goal of heading to the Vancouver Olympics. Tim assured her that everything was tentative. "We have to get to know Janey and Lew, they have to get to know us, and everybody, including you and your husband and Lew's parents, has to agree that this is the best thing for Janey and Lew. And we want to see them skate."
It was all arranged. Shel announced that he wanted to ride on the airplane over to A² and get to know them on the ride back. When they all got to Grand Forks Shel got me aside and said, "I want to see them skate, but it's pretty clear to me that you want to catch these two. They're great."
I put a lot of faith in Shel's judgement, and he was certainly correct this time. Charlie and I, along with Ham, Dick Spivey, and Gregor Harding–the ice dancing coach who'd come to the Fred from Buffalo, New York, along with Janie Barton and Jack Kozerak, the Fred's first ice dancing pair–set off for the Fred directly from the airport along with our six guests. As soon as we arrived Shel got one of the girls to show Janey the girls' locker room while he took Lew to the boys'. Soon they were reunited on the ice. They took a few minutes to warm up and then Shel said, "Show us the waltz sequence you talked about in the plane. I'll cue the CD."
They swirled around the ice like it was a Viennese ballroom. Shel said to me, "How do you like that, Charlie? You're the waltz expert."
What could I say? I was dazzled. "I'm not a skating judge, but it looked like a ten to me."
"I think you're right. Let's try another." He motioned Janey and Lew over and asked them to show the square dancing they'd mentioned on the plane.
"We'll we're just working on that, it certainly isn't finished. We plan a different dance routine for each side of the square. Right now we only have two sides worked out."
"Let's see them. What music do you want?"
"It's band four on the second CD I gave you. The one without a label."
"OK. Here we go."
It was standard, funky square dance music with no caller. They stood at the head of an imaginary square, bowed to each other, then to the imaginary corners, and again to each other. This wasn't just standing on the ice and bowing, but a spin and bow, each a little different. Then they headed to the middle of the square where they joined hands with each other and an imaginary six other dancers and skated in a large circle. Then they took off around the ice like an eight-skater chain in which they were somewhere in the middle. Somehow Lew's left hand and arm stuck out and seemed to be pulled by the imaginary hand that he was holding on to. Janey on the other hand seemed to be pulling the next dancer along. Then they were back in the square, on the second side. This time they do-si-doed each other, the corners, then each other again. The do-si-do was simple, but the skate movement was extraordinarily tricky. Shel wasn't able to tell exactly what movements they made, but from the waist up it looked like a standard square dancing do-si-do. Then to the center and pass right through the opposite imaginary couple. Then they did what appeared to be an allemande left, except that instead of passing each other, one swung around and became the next person to pass. In this way they worked themselves around three-quarters of the square, ending in position on the bottom of the square. Then they stopped, bowed to us slightly, and when Shel had stopped the music said, "We haven't worked out the rest."
Gregor, our ice dancing coach, almost fell out of his seat. "Never have I seen anything like that. Your must work out the other two sides. I'd love to help." Then he turned to Tim and asked, "They're coming here, aren't they?"
Well, that got us right to the heart of the matter, and they'd been in Grand Forks less than two hours and hadn't yet been on campus! Jim Corbett, Janey's father, spoke first, "I think that's what we came to Grand Forks to find out about. Perhaps we ought to hear how Tim would answer the coach's question."
Tim smiled, looked at each of out visitors in turn, and said, "We don't want to rush Janey and Lew, nor their parents. I'm sure they have a lot of questions, would like to see the university, might like to meet some current students, and maybe some skaters other than Shel, who's a con man if there ever was one. But I'm in a position to speak for the university. We've seen their transcripts, heard the recommendation of their guidance counselor, received Shel's imprimatur (which, I might add, is not given lightly and is widely respected), and heard Gregor's enthusiasm. Janey and Lew are welcome to enroll at the University of North Dakota next September, as Milson scholars. Milson scholars get full tuition, room, board, fees, textbooks, and a few other perks, and are automatically renewed if they have a B average. OK, start your questions."
Janey looked at Lew, Lew nodded his head in an affirmative gesture, and Janey blurted out. "No questions. Just, yes, Yes, YES." Then they both looked at their parents, clearly seeking approval for that answer.
They got it. Mike Prosser, Lew's dad, said, "I can't speak for the Corbett's, nor for that matter for my wife, but I can tell you for sure that life would be Hell or earth for both families if we said, 'No.' Besides we'll get to skip what almost all parents tell us are the three worst things in the teen years: applying to colleges, waiting for answers, and then paying for it."
Mary Corbett, Janey's mother, said, "Janey, we're going to miss you, but you're growing up, and this is clearly what you want, and it's right for you and Lew."
The other two parents quickly joined in the affirmation/celebration.
Tim let them hug each other a little and then said, "OK, we still want you to visit the campus, we'll have to settle a little paperwork in the admissions office, and I'll answer any questions any of you have."
Mary asked, "How can you offer that generous a scholarship that easily and with no bureaucratic procedures to be followed?"
"Thanks to an anonymous donor some years ago, we have a scholarship fund that I can distribute on my personal authority–not acting as president of the university–and therefore not encumbered with bureaucratic procedures. That donor's made many things possible here at UND, and we thank our lucky stars each evening for his or her generosity."
Janey was heard saying to Lew, "This is way beyond my wildest dreams."
His response was, "These're my wildest dreams. Don't wake me up."
We were all soon in Tim's office. He started by introducing Shel as the heart and soul of the Fred, scheduled to be its director as soon as he retires from Olympic skating, maybe after Vancouver. Shel said, "Maybe after Socci; maybe after PyeongChang."
Author's Note: Confession: In the real world PyeongChang wouldn't have been selected at the time of this conversation.
Tim asked, "Where the heck is Pyeong... whatever you called it?"
"Korea, site of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Five gold medals in a row would be quite a record to retire on."
I wasn't sure just how Tim, and others, might react to that; Shel certainly knew how to stir things up–and he enjoyed it immensely.
Tim asked, "Just how old will you be at the Pyeong... whatever you called it, Olympics in 2018?"
Shel answered, "I'll be thirty-five. But just so you can pronounce the city, maybe I'll retire in 2022. Six in a row; how about that?"
Tim said, "Shel, you are both egotistical and crazy. But if I'm alive in 2022, I'm going to wherever the games are and root for the Austrians!"
The Corbett and the Prosser families weren't the first to be a little startled by the ambitions of North Dakota Olympians–and Shel was putting on a bravura performance. Tim turned to Lew and Janey and asked, "By 2022 you'll be working on your fourth Olympic medals; do you think you can hold up that long? By the way, Shel's been violating one of our basic rules. We never worry about the color of the Olympic medal. Being a bronze or silver medal winner is something to be proud of just as is winning the gold. And nobody is allowed to cry over getting a silver or bronze. Shel will, of course, do his best to bring home his third medal from Vancouver. And, yes, it would be nice to have it his third gold. But if it's silver he'd better be as proud of it as he was of his two golds, or we'll run him out of town. And he knows it."
Shel smiled and said, "Maybe I should shoot for two golds, two silvers, and two bronze. But you tell me to always do my best; so we'll have to settle for six golds."
Janey asked, "Are you people even remotely serious?"
Shel said, "Maybe, but probably not. Dreaming's fun though. But a medal for you and Lew in Vancouver is serious, and it isn't remote. But you're going to have to work your tails off right up to Vancouver. But I sense that you're ready for that. That's why I told Tim to grab you while he could and before some other skating program wises up to your promise."
Gregor put in, "I loved to watch you skate, but I haven't gotten to know you yet. I envy Shel his plane ride with you. But I'll second Shel's prediction of a medal in Canada. We're going to have a ball."
Janey asked, "Weren't you Janie and Jack's coach?"
"Yes. And you two are the first team to come along here that has a chance at matching their record."
"Where are they now? Do you keep in touch?"
"Christmas cards, birthday presents to kids, and a phone call now and then. They're in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Janie takes care of three kids while her husband is a fishing guide in the summer and a skating instructor in the winter; Janey helps out with that. Jack is a schoolteacher, has one son, and I'm not sure what his wife is doing."
Tim said, "Shel's going to take Janey and Lew to the Dining Commons to get some lunch and then over to the Admissions Office, where they can fill out applications. The essay is optional; opt out. Shel, put a TTT on the top of each. I'll call Mr. Sturm and ask him to arrange for official transcripts; but you'll probably have to sign an authorization when you get back. Oh, yes, on the application where it asks if you're applying for a scholarship–leave that blank. Shel, then give them a quick tour of the campus and meet us at the library at five o'clock. The we'll head to The Roundhouse; the Circle has invited us for dinner."
He then turned to the four parents and said, "I'm afraid that you're going to have to excuse me. I have an appointment this afternoon that I can't skip. Charlie and Gregor will be your hosts, and now you're expected in the Dining Commons."
With that Gregor and I took the Corbetts and the Prossers to lunch. We sat near the kids, but decided to let them alone with Shel and two or three other students that he'd gathered around the table. (I guess I need to update you on Shel's status. He wasn't ready to head to the university, but he enjoyed the privileges of being a student. So he enrolled in one course each semester. At that rate it would take him about twenty years to get a degree. He insisted that when he was good and ready, he'd finish up in a minute–right now he was having entirely too much fun skating.)
Jim Corbett opened our conversation with, "Well, this food sure beats anything I got served in college, but I guess that upgraded food services are more or less the norm these days." With that affirmed, he continued, "Tell me a little more about this Shel. I know he's a damn good skater, Lew and Janey were certainly startled to find him on the airplane this morning–and excited I might add. But there must be more to him than ice skating. Your President Tim certainly seems to respect his opinions."
"You disagree with Shel at your peril. He's the son of an very old and close friend of Tim and me, Andy Oldfield–Andy is the CEO of Fred's Sports. Shel's smart as a whip, and has been a driving force in the continued development of skating in Grand Forks. But right now there isn't much to him but family and ice skating. He's partnered with Brian Bert, except that Brian's changed his name to Oldfield. They'll shortly have a child by a surrogate mother. I'm sure that that's going to be a big change for Shel–and Brian."
Cynthia Prosser said, "Gay couples seem to be quite common around here. You don't discriminate against straight kids, do you?"
I said, "I assume you're being funny, but we only discriminate against students, and skaters, who don't work hard and do their best."
Cynthia continued, "I'll have to admit to having little or no experience with gay individuals. Lew is most definitely not gay, just ask Janey, and there are very few out gay high schools kids at their school."
"Have there been any problems for the ones that are out?"
"I honestly couldn't say. Certainly nothing that's been public knowledge. Lew or Janey might know of more. I think getting to know some gay couples will be good for them. Ann Arbor life away from the university is pretty sheltered."
"We've been invited tonight to eat with the Circle. It's a group of nine young people–it's easy to forget how time passes; the Circle are all in their mid to late forties. There are three gay couples in the group, one married couple with high school age twin girls, and a single man who is a second father to the girls."
Mary Corbett asked, "Are you sort of bending reality a bit there? A single man?"
"OK, caught. I think the threesome has become comfortable being out as a threesome, but they don't flaunt it. I have no idea of the parentage of the girls, and I'm not sure that anybody does. It's a delightful family of five."
"I think that we may be in for a very unusual dinner tonight."
I said, "The Circle, that's what they call themselves, won't initiate any 'unusual' conversations unless you do. They're very much aware that your kids are underage, and they have no idea of what conversations you think are appropriate for them. However, if you open the conversation, they won't be shy about it in the least. It'll be completely up to you."
I had no idea what was coming at dinner that evening, but I warned Tim about our conversation at lunch. Not knowing what to expect, we weren't unhappy that Gregor, who wasn't a part of the sexual revolution in Grand Forks, or anywhere–had had to excuse himself from the dinner. We were offered hors d'oeuvres when we arrived, along with soft drinks. (I'm sure that the absence of alcohol was in honor of the underage guests.) Soon we headed for the dining room which was actually able to hold all nineteen of us. The meal centered around a cherry-sauced pork loin, which easily fed all of us. The conversation centered around skating, and Janey and Lew's plans for the coming year. Toppy raised the question of where they'd like to live. Lew answered that he assumed in one of the college dorms. Tim said, "You know, I'm not sure that college dorms are the best place for teenagers, at least not seventeen-year-olds. I'm sure that we could find families for you to live with."
Mary Corbett said, "If they were in campus dorms they wouldn't need a car. Would they need a car, or maybe cars, to get back and forth to campus?"
I decided that I needed to open the door a little for a discussion of just what kind of living arrangements would be acceptable to the Corbetts and the Prossers. "Would you all be comfortable with Lew and Janey living in the same house? If so, I'm sure they'd be home alone fairly often."
Cynthia jumped in, "I'm sure the selection of the Circle to entertain us this evening was the result of careful consideration. We're meeting three gay couples, and this afternoon Charlie more of less invited us to move the conversation to–I think the word we used was unusual–subjects. It's clear that Lew and Janey's living arrangement might be an unusual subject. Well, be assured that all of us are comfortable with the conversation."
Toppy said, "Well, right up the street is The Wheelhouse. There are six professional cyclists living there who call themselves the Marauders, and we'll get it right out in the open, it's three men and one woman in a relationship, and two gay men in a relationship. They use two bedrooms, and the house is a five bedroom house. There'd be a room for Lew and a room for Janey. There's one other caveat, as professional cyclists they're on the road quite a bit. So, if Janey and Lew lived there, they'd be by themselves, sometimes for three weeks or perhaps more."
Lew and Janey almost lit up at the idea, and both looked at their parents questioningly. Cynthia said, "I think I can speak for all of us, because we've had a lot of conversations about the relationship between our two kids, and the matter of sex. It sounds like a fabulous idea to me; is there any chance that the Marauders–is that what you called them?–would be willing to rent rooms to our kids?"
Fyn spoke up, "I know them very well, and the answer is certainly not. However, I think they'd be delighted to have two houseguests next year. Mind you, we're assuming from the conversation so far that the ongoing relationships in the house wouldn't be offensive."
Tim spoke up, "It sounds like it's all arranged, as soon as we tell the Marauders. They're a wonderful group, the kids'll love them. As for rent, the kids'll be Milson Scholars, and the room fees will be paid into your grounds fund, and the board fees will buy food for The Wheelhouse."
Pat said, "I'm pretty sure the Marauders are home, I'll call and tell them to come down and join us for dessert."
Pat met the Marauders outside and told them what was in the air. Als response was, "Great, another girl in the house."
Pat said, "She's in love with a boy, underage, and completely hands off."
"Oh, that's not what I meant. But girl talk with a bunch of boys is a little difficult. And a teenage boy will give the middle-agers a run for their money–and I'm not talking about sex, just attitude, outlook, you know. It'll be good for them."
"Are you willing to say, 'Yes,' without even meeting them?"
"Well, we're going to meet them, right? But the answer to your question is, 'Yes.' I know Tim and the Circle would never suggest this about anybody other than wonderful kids. I realize that in this world and at the local university there are some less than wonderful people, but Tim doesn't invite them into his inner circle, and clearly that's what he's doing here. We're delighted to be asked, it's a compliment to us."
The kids were fascinated by the Marauders and vice versa. JoJo, never one to avoid a subject, asked the kids parents, sort of as a group, "You're comfortable with the kids staying alone in the house, perhaps for a few weeks?"
Jim Corbett answer for the group, "Yes. Quite frankly, the only limitation we've ever tried to impose on the two of them is that they must not make babies. They understand that, but it's a meaningless idea for them. Just ask them."
JoJo said, "Consider yourselves asked."
Janey answered for them, "Over the years we've talked about our relationship. We're very much in love. We'll get married at the appropriate time, and we haven't figured out when that'll be. Moving from high school to college two years ahead of schedule will certainly impact our thinking. We've also talked about sex. We've just decided that we're going to wait until we're married. It's not a moral stance. It's certainly not religious. We have some fundamentalist friends that've tried to insist that waiting until marriage is in the Bible. That's nuts. The Bible has all kinds of sexual relationships, and no mention of waiting until you're married. That's all cultural, and the Bible spans many years and many cultures. As for us, we just think we'd like to wait. So we don't see each other naked. We don't pet or fondle each other. We love to kiss, and passionately. But it leads to private sex, not mutual sex. That's just who we are."
JoJo said, "Well, it's certainly not who I am, nor who anybody in the room is, but I kind of like it. We'll certainly respect you for it. And nobody will push you to change your minds."
Tim said, "If you two can handle that, you'll easily handle your study and skating regimens here. You may also be the only two virgins in your graduating class. You know, many of the pregnancies we have on campus are with girls that came out of the 'abstinence until marriage' camp. But that is imposed on kids from the outside, they're coerced into it. And that doesn't work. But you two have made a personal decision. It's one that you can undecide, and nobody will hold it against you. But it's clear that that decision would be taken carefully, with the need for contraception fully understood. But I don't think the two young people I see in front of me are going to undecide anything. They look very comfortable with who they are. Welcome to the University of North Dakota and to the Fred."
School was out in A² on June 10, 2007. On June 13, 2007, Jim Corbett and Mike Prosser drove up in a van with the two kids and all their stuff. It looked to me that they had more stuff for the two of them than I and all of my dorm mates had back in the fifties. But they easily squeezed into their two rooms, which shared a connecting bath, at The Wheelhouse. We wondered how their desire to not see each other naked would hold up with the bathroom arrangement, but they insist that it did. They spent two years at The Wheelhouse, and only left because the Marauders needed room for Als and JoJo's first baby, Jon, who was scheduled to arrive in July of 2009. Lew and Janey elected that summer to get married, and they moved from The Wheelhouse to an apartment in town.
And they skated, and they skated, and they skated! They'd come with a wonderful collection of dance moves–we saw their waltz and square dance on the first day, but they had many more, including the Charleston, which simply blew my mind–but it was Gregor who helped put them together into their original and free dance programs. Their programs were ready a year before the 2010 Olympics, and we all knew they were a shoo-in for a medal. Their insistence that they'd be absolutely thrilled with a bronze medal could only endear them to Tim, but it really was sincere.
Skating at the Olympics included racing as well as figure skating. On the long track the Icehouse gang, Fredie, Ivan, Rydia, and Nicole, would return, and all expected to medal again, and they were collectively determined that one of those medals would be gold, since between them in Turin they'd gotten four silvers and two bronze, but no gold. I don't think they really cared which of them brought home the gold, but they wanted a gold medal to add to the collection above their mantle in The Icehouse.
Mary Patton and Frank Olson were also long track skaters at the Fred. They got along well with everyone, especially the six from The Icehouse, but while they would qualify for the Olympic Trials, it was doubtful that they'd be Olympians. Of course, everybody who makes the trials is Fred's guest at the Olympics. Mary and Frank dated from time to time, but there didn't seem to be any serious romance budding.
There were a bunch of short track skaters around the Fred, let by Sean and Marco, Olympic veterans and UND students. Several racers were possibly Olympic material, but it'd be four years before they'd get their chance. However, it appeared that Sean and Marco would make it to the Olympics. Four years before they'd considered retiring so that they could devote full time to being students at UND. However, they found that they could keep up with their skating as well as their studies. They took enough extra courses and summer courses, so that they could take the fall semester of their senior year off to prepare for the Olympics. They remained on schedule to graduate in 2010. At Tim's and my insistence, they'd continued to live at The Hideout. While we certainly thought of them as possible future members of the Gang, we decided to wait until they figured out their post-college plans. Thus far they'd given no clue about future plans.
Skating trials were held at three different locations. The first was the short track speed skating, held at Marquette, Michigan, in September, 2009. Sean and Marco did well, and their main competition was Apolo Ohno who'd taken three Olympic medals in Turin in 2006 and two in Salt Lake City in 2002. He was still a force to be reckoned with, and Sean and Marco were glad to be on the U.S. team with him.
The long track speed skating trials were held in Salt Lake City at about the same time as the short track trials. The Gang and folks from the Fred had to choose between the two. Fred went to Salt Lake City and Marty and Andy went to Marquette. Tim and I elected Marquette, because we were eager to see the match up between Sean, Marco, and Apolo.
Fred got an interesting telephone call about a month before the trials. "Fred, this is Harry Covington. I suppose that I don't have any choice but to accept your hospitality as my son and his three roommates skate in Salt Lake City. OK, you win on that one. But this is just to let you know that I've arranged airline reservations for all of the parents to get to Salt Lake, and you can play host beginning at the airport. Deal?"
Fred said, "I really ought to refer you to my partner, Marty, who makes all decisions for me, but it appears that you've already made the decisions here. Fine, I accept. And I'm looking forward to seeing you again." He continued, "You'd better get your tickets for next January soon. However, There'll be a charter starting in Chicago, so all of you folks fly there. Except I think one family is from California, they can fly direct."
"I like the way you do business Fred. I've been your sporting goods customer for years; I'm glad to get to know the man I've been dealing with. If you need a good lawyer in Washington, Covington and Burling is always available."
"I don't keep my hands in the business very much any more. But I think that Andy told me that Covington and Burling already represent us in Belgium, out of your Brussels office."
"It's a small world. See you in September."
In Salt Lake City Harry, his wife Rita, Fred, Marty, and Andy spent more time together, just getting to know each other, than they did watching the skating, but they did see all of their kids' races. On the last day Fred asked, "Are you two in any hurry to get back to Washington? How would you like to come by Grand Forks, spend a little time with the kids–they won't be as busy there as they've been here. We'd like to get to know you both better, and we'd like you to have a chance to meet more of the group that your kids're now part of."
"We'd love that; I'll just get our tickets changed."
"Route them from Grand Forks. We'll fly from here on the charter."
"You do do things in style."
"With forty-eight passengers, the charter is actually cheaper than tickets. And it's a lot more fun and comfortable."
On the flight back to Grand Forks Andy, Jim, Kara, and Amy made it a point to talk with Harry and Rita and let them know that the four of them had the same arrangement that Fredie and the others had. Harry said, "I have to ask, did they know about your arrangement before they worked out their own?"
Andy answered, "As I understand it, they worked out their living arrangements, and when they told Shel he said, 'You've got to meet my extended family.' We were delighted to have them for dinner. The difference between their arrangement and ours is the public image. While they don't make a big deal out of it, they don't deny that they all live together in a four-way relationship. On the other hand, the public image for the four of us is two married couples living next door to each other in a duplex. Attitudes have changed, and your kids have had no trouble at all. We would have back then, and now we don't see any reason to change our pattern. Of course, the Gang and our close friends know the whole story."
Harry said, "I'm glad to know that I'm numbered among your close friends."
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held in January, 2010, in Spokane, Washington, and were the basis for the selection of the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. Shel, Randy, and Sissy easily captured places on the team, leading the competition. Lew and Janey found themselves second behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White. They came back from Spokane excitedly talking about Meryl and Charlie's spectacular skating and of how easy it'd been to get to know and like them. They quite frankly said that with Meryl and Charlie in the competition the best they could possibly hope for was silver, and that looked doubtful.
The actual Olympics weren't that exciting. Marty, acting for Fred, had the usual mob–flown out from the Midwest on a chartered jet. When Fred had told Marty that he was to begin acting for Fred, Marty's first task had been to organize the trip to Turin. And immediately following Turin he'd started to think about future Olympics, including 2010 in Vancouver. He knew that the Canadian railroads had built grand hotels through western Canada for their passengers, and he was sure there was one in Vancouver. He was right, it was the gigantic Hotel Vancouver, which was, in fact, the third railway hotel with than name. The grandest, the second Hotel Vancouver, had been torn down in 1949. Marty had booked 150 rooms for the period of the Olympics, and was prepared to house all comers. For many of us, the hotel was as exciting as the Games.
So, what's to tell about the Games? Shel was Shel. Some of the other top figure skaters were hopeful that they might beat him, having mastered the spins and jumps he'd showed off in Turin. But Shel never sits still, and he was showing the next generation of impossible feats, while his competition was four years behind. The kid–we still think of him as a kid but he was twenty-seven and very much an adult–skated like a dream, and it was hard to dream up figures that he hadn't already added to his inventory. His coaches, Ham, Dick, and Brian spent their time in Vancouver worrying about whether Shel would attempt a quad Axel, which he'd attempted often in practice and sometimes hit. He contented himself with the first ever in competition quad lutz, much to the relief of his coaches. As far as the competition was concerned, lutz or Axel, they couldn't compete.
For the rest of our figure skaters, think silver. For Fran that was an improvement from bronze, and she was delighted. For Randy and Sissy it must've been a disappointment, in that they'd gotten silver in Turin. But you'd never have known it. They seemed both delighted and astounded that they'd gotten silver two times running. Tim almost cracked ribs as he hugged them–much more for attitude than skating success! Lew and Janey accepted that it was their fate to get a silver behind Meryl and Charlie. It reminded us of Willie accepting that it was his fate to get silver behind Greg Louganis. Lew and Janey readily accepted that Meryl and Charlie deserved the gold–they were, simply, the best.
Sean and Marco didn't do as well as they'd hoped. Sean did manage a bronze in the 1,000 meter, but the best that Marco could do in individual competition was a fifth place. That didn't seem to bother them, because they were so excited to be on the team with Apolo Ohno in the 5,000 meter relay, in which they captured the bronze. They found Apolo to be a delightful young man, and they enjoyed their time with him, and were sorry when they had to go their separate ways following the Closing Ceremony.
And that brings us to our four residents of The Icehouse. In Turin they'd captured six medals, but no gold. They were determined that one of them would get a gold in Vancouver. They each had two races and each managed to get a space on a podium, but not the top spot–this included Nicole and Rydia getting bronze in the team pursuit. The final opportunity for gold was Ivan's race in the 10,000 meters. This'd never been his best distance, but the fact that it was their last chance for gold seemed to drive him. It's a long race and halfway through he seemed to be tiring. Then he seemed to get his second wind and started going like a bat out of Hell. By two hundredths of a second he had his gold medal–I should really say that he had their gold medal, or The Icehouse's gold medal. It is proudly displayed, along with all of their other Olympic medals, over their mantle.
I need to acknowledge that the U.S. Women's Ice Hockey Team won the silver medal, adding the Lamoureux sisters to the roster of North Dakota and UND medalists.
So the Fred went home with two golds, four silvers, and four bronze, and to that you can add the Ice Hockey silver, but the Ralph, not the Fred, gets the credit for that one. However, it's hard to count medals–in a country count, a pairs or team competition is one medal. But all members of the pair or team get a medal. Since our skaters had won two pairs medals and had two skaters on two different winning speed skating teams, and two more on the ice hockey team, our total individual medal count was two golds, eight silvers, and six bronze. And I have to point out that if North Dakota had been a nation it would've come in tied for seventh in the medal count with eleven medals, the same as China and Sweden.
Coming home from Vancouver a lot of the athletes realized that they had some important decisions to make about the next four years. Just how many years does one want to devote to the pursuit of Olympic fame and fortune? As they sat together on the plane home, Shel snuggled into Brian's arm and said, "Hey, lover, that's three in a row for me, and five in a row for the two of us. I think I'm up for number four, can you stand that?"
Brian answered, "Sure, lover. But, somewhere out there is a budding young skater that's going to be better than you. He may be waiting in Socci. Can you deal with that?"
"If he's better than I am, then he gets the gold. But he's going to have to work his damn ass off for the next four years, because you better believe I am. Dammit, Brian, I want to end it all with the quad Axel."
"Is that a promise, Shel?"
"No, I'm not going to promise to quit, and I'm not going to promise a quad Axel–some people believe it'll never be done in competition, but they're wrong. Brian, I want to do it, and I want to do it in Olympic competition-nothing less."
"And then, I suppose, you'll be dreaming about a quint?"
"Oh, Hell, Brian, you know me too well!"
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