Bay Area Reporter
Copyright © 2006 Bay Area Reporter, a division of Benro Enterprises, Inc.

Jock Talk
Goodbye to all that

In the overall scheme of things, this will go down as a rather routine week in the world of sports. The effervescent Oakland A's vied with the Detroit Tigers in the American League division playoffs, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers both put a heavy dose of shut-up in their critics' faces, and one or two NHL games were able to be completed without calling out the SWAT and paramedic teams.

But on a far more personal level, this has been a week of poignant and memorable moments for me, the kind that make me burst out in spontaneous laughter one moment, then choke back impulsive tears the next. When the Federation of Gay Games announced Monday, October 7 that it had selected Paris to host Gay Games X in 2018, it provided a symbolic and emotional end to my decade as a volunteer in the world of LGBT sports.

Okay, my job as journalist compels me to report a bit about that news story before I ramble on with my personal thoughts, and my mandate as a commentator requires me to share my thoughts and observations on it. Paris, which had lost eight years ago to Cologne when it bid for the 2010 Gay Games, was selected by the FGG membership in ranked-choice voting over first time bidders London and Limerick. I knew Limerick was considered a long shot heading into the bidder presentation and there were serious questions about the ability of its infrastructure to support such a large multicultural and sports festival. But then they spoke about their struggle to gain acceptance in Ireland, their desire to seek allies in their fight for equality, and the heart found itself tugged.

The London bidders came in with perhaps the most conservative budget, a big plus in the eyes of a federation that has struggled with fiscal losses by several past hosts, and it was obvious in my conversations with fellow voters that they scored big points with their corporate presentation.

But in the end, it was the loyalty of Paris to the Gay Games after the city's defeat eight years earlier that probably tipped the scales. They put forward an incredibly optimistic and ambitious budget, which likely made many voters leery, and they count very heavily on revenues generated by parties, always a risky proposition for the Gay Games. But they countered that with a decade of having hosted an annual multi-sport festival; an array of world-class venues to rival the Olympic-studded lineup offered by London; heavy political backing; and the visible engagement of virtually every local LGBT sports organization.

Before the final vote was announced and the cheers erupted, I knew no matter which city was chosen, there would be challenges ahead but there could be no bad choices. I was going to be happy no matter who won. Not a bad note to leave on. (London finished second in the balloting. If Paris does not sign an agreement with FGG within 90 days, talks would begin with London.)

Which brings me back to the personal saga I am inflicting on you, dear loyal reader, promising as always to make it worth your while by closing with cogent thoughts.

In a few days I shall turn 60. Six-oh. My life will be neatly dissected into halves, the first half virus-free, the other a daily battle against an unseen virus determined to wreak havoc on my being.

The last 10 years, I have fought that battle principally by volunteering and participating in LGBT sports. I began by helping SF Fog rugby raise funds by working as a cashier at beer booths and ended by coaching wrestling at Golden Gate Wrestling Club, serving as a board member of the FGG and Team San Francisco, and chairing the international group Wrestlers WithOut Borders.

All of this, of course, came as a shock to my significant other, who had never seen my sports competitor side since we started our relationship in 1991. And a bit of a shock to my doctors as well, especially since they told me in 1997 that my kidneys were failing and in 2001 they chopped my hips out and replaced them with the latest titanium rods. Avoid strenuous sports that tend to twist you into a pretzel they said as I headed off to my first wrestling practice.

Alas, the decade of athletic, post-adolescent indulgence is over. I have been on peritoneal dialysis for three years and though my spirits soar as ever, my body becomes more pudgy and fatigued with each passing day. My doctors agree sports have been a lifesaver for me, but there comes a point when exhaustion finally rules.

I've had moments when I've thought of being petulant or depressed, minutes of considering bitterness and anger.

And then I close my eyes.

I hear the husky breathing of my wrestlers after they've run three flights of stairs with a teammate on their backs and are waiting patiently for the last rookie to finish, see the steam rising from their sweaty gear. I see my feet magically twisting around a teammate's neck as I catch him in an undesigned and very creative pin I could never diagram or duplicate. I see a girl jumping for the sky after hitting an underarm spin I taught her two years before to pin her male opponent for an unexpected but much celebrated win. I see a man approaching middle age, just a few years ago timid and retiring, now speaking before a room of athletes, confident, a leader of men.

And I realize this decade of coaching and volunteering, of fund-raising and publicizing, of negotiating and calling and praising, has been the most joyous and rewarding of my life.

Fact is, my health issues have curtailed my daily hours of productivity, and I have to cut back on my commitments. I can only coach occasionally now, and am going to devote what few hours I have each day to writing and tending to my coaching network. Oh, yeah, and to my significant other. But all those hours of serving as an officer and trainer and administrator and politico ... that's all done.

Sigh. (Spontaneous choke in the back of my throat, then a brief smile.)

Allow me to end this tale with one piece of advice: Go forth and do likewise.

If you're not playing a sport now, start. If you're playing a sport, start coaching. If you don't think you can coach, help run the club by standing for office, selling cookies, whatever. Help stage events.

You will never do so much for yourself as when you lend a hand to help someone else. You will never change your life so much as when you change the life of another. You will never make so many friends as when you coach a stranger.

Trust me, I know. I'm 60 (almost). You get to know these things at that age.