Sunday, 23 September 2012

Corporate Rowing Challenge - 2002

Cam! Steve! Beata! Chubby JJ!

Well, looky looky!  I was thinking about this photo the other day and, amazingly, was able to find it.

2002.  A young(er) fresh-faced JJ was working in Winnipeg at a fancy-dancy law firm.  A big one!  Classy!  First year of practice!  Registering security interests!  Drafting contracts!  Lots of "hereinafter referred to as BLANK."  Right?  What, you aren't a lawyer, so you don't know?  Well I'll tell you!  Yes!  Lots of that!

The law firm I worked at? It's called Pitblado now.  Pit-blay-do.  If you've never heard of it before, I am sure you wanna pronounce it "Pit-BLAD-o".  I know I did!  But that's wrong.  When I was there, t was called "Pitblado-Buchwald-Asper" (hereinafter referred to as "PBA" Ha ha, get it? Lawyer talk!).  "Asper", you say?  Like "Izzy Asper"? Any connection?  Well, yes, I am glad you asked!  The same one!  He was a partner in the firm at one time! Sort of.  Like my firm was an amalgam of two firms that had existed previously....zzzzzzzz.....  Sheesh, I am boring myself.

Anyhoo, the only reason I bring it up, is because I heard a story once about Izzy and another member of the firm at the time...Mr. Gerry Schwartz!  Yes!  The Onex guy is from Winnipeg and he and Izzy were partners at the same law firm!  History!  Their high-rise (by Winnipeg standards) office at the time didn't have air conditioning.  So if it was hot they would open the windows.  One day one of them had their window open and a gust of wind blew in and blew an original contract out the window! Yikes! So    next thing you know, there were Izzy and Gerry, future captains of industry and rich dudes, on the roof of the adjoining building picking up the loose pages!  Just goes to show you, kids...I dunno really.  Maybe it's a dumb story.  Everyone I've ever told has basically given me the equivalent of "cool story bro'".  Probably a reason for that...

Anyways, where was I?  Oh yes, working at PBA.  There was a elderly partner at PBA.  Joe Barnsley.  Very nice guy.  I feel like he could be described as "kindly", and few people would object.  He had some sort of connection with the Winnipeg Rowing Club, and I guess it was some sort of tradition that PBA would have a team in this charity event called the Corporate Rowing Regatta.  Boats of four people each, with at least one woman.  He puts out the call for volunteers.  Something like 8 practices and then the race.  What do you have to pony up?  Nada!  It's on the firm!  Well why not, right?  I am in pretty good shape.  Just look at the picture!  Ha ha, I wasn't in that great shape.  Or possibly I was in good shape...for a fat guy?  Anyways, I volunteered.

Now, this was 10 years ago, so I can't give a blow by blow of all that happened throughout the experience, BUT...there are definitely some things that stick in my mind.

The first practice.  The team you see in the picture was not exactly the final team.  My 2001 call-mates Kim and Cam, and articling student Steve.

The place?  Winnipeg Rowing Club.  On the Red River.  A couple of hundred feet from one of the main bridges that transport folks downtown.  For anyone reading this who isn't from Winnipeg, the Red is a muddy river with a pretty sizable current.  It's not like it's called the death river or anything, but you gotta watch out if you fall in.  And nobody swims in it, as far as I know.  'Cause it's a bit gross.

We meet our coach for the eight practices.  He is from Germany.  His name?  Dieter (of course! Although we never got to touch his monkey!).

Ok guys, hop into the boat.  Kim: "Uhhh...what about life jackets?  Don't we get life jackets?"

Dieter:  "Yes! Sort of!  You get these tiny inflatable life jackets that you can clip around your waist!  Full life jackets would get in the way.  But don't worry, these boats are extremely steady.  I have NEVER seen one of these boats tip over!"

Kim: "Ok."

"Never, eh?" I says to myself.  Well, all right!  And I nonchalantly toss the inflatable life jacket at my feet.  And we are off!  Coach in an aluminum boat in front of us, telling us what to do.

Now, you have seen one of these rowing-type boats.  They are pretty skinny.  Not naturally steady.  What makes them steady, I know now, but not at that first practice, is the oars being fully outstretched.  They are about 8 feet long.  You stick those out on both sides? Steady as a rock.  But.  If those oars are flat against the side of the boat?  Not so much.

We are out on the water.  Trying to figure out what Dieter wants us to do.  Not having much success.  Then all of a sudden, one side of the boat has the oars out, while the other side they are trailing in the water, flat against the boat.  It's feeling unsteady!  Really unst...sploosh!  We are in the river.   And it's a bit crazy for a few seconds because when you get in the boat, you place your feet in these strappy things that kinda lock your feet in.  So had to disengage from that first.   And maybe I shoulda strapped that life jacket thingy to me, because now it's a kilometre downriver. Or on the bottom.  Luckily we have Dieter in his Lund and other spotter boats to come fish us out, right quick!  We are soggy, but ok!

Dieter is playing concerned coach, asking if we are ok.  But I can tell he is thinking: "I can't BELIEVE these losers tipped the boat! Guh!"  I bet he still tells the story.

As for the team mindset, we are still pretty positive.  Except kinda for Kim.  Her vibe is like "that...was...super...uncool..."

Practice over!

Practice two!

Hop in the rowing boat!  Dieter in the Lund. Go!

This time we are rowing away, sort of getting it.  JJ has his inflatable life vest clipped on!

We row up the river, against the current.  Then we learn how to turn!  And turn around and row back with the current.  Oh!  There's the bridge, better turn!  Ok, guys, remember how to turn?  Ok, guys, gotta start turning a bit quicker, the current's taking you towards the bridge.  Really guys, you gotta hurry, the bridge is coming up fast, and there is a bunch of tree deadfall there that you could get caught up in... Row! Row! Row!

Too late.  Our rowing boat is jammed under the bridge, stuck amidst what seems to be an entire tree that fell into the river and drifted into the bridge.  Three of us: "this is pretty funny...we must be the worst rowers ever."  Kim: "super uncool....super uncool...super uncool..."

And here is Dieter again, playing the part of concerned coach as we humiliatingly have to be towed away from the bridge: "It's ok, guys! It could happen to anyone! (This has never happened before, you are losers)  We'll get it next time! (You guys are hopeless...)"

Practice over!

That week, Kim hands in her rowing resignation.  One river swim and one tree-bridge crash are enough.  She is out. "Later, losers!"  Not really.  She just wasn't to crazy about the whole drowning to death scene.  I can dig it.

But the bad news rowers need a new fourth!  A woman!  Beata, corporate paralegal extraordinaire steps up!  We are whole once again!

The rest of the practices go more smoothly.  At least in terms of dumping and bridge crashing.  We even to start a race!  At first Dieter is like: "Ok, now we have to learn how to start a race"  And then he remembers that we are the guys who dumped and bridge-crashed.  And he is like "on second thought, maybe you guys should just start rowing normally when the race starts."

But we are all "Yo, Dieter!  Our dumping and bridge-crashing days are behind us! Tell us the secret!"

And he relents!  Tells us the secret!  Which, as I recall, is that when the gun goes, you have to row like a maniac for the first twenty strokes or so.  But in time with the other rowers.  To make sure we were all in unison, he would say "yah!" for each stroke.  I can still hear that word, spoken in a German accent, in my head.  "Yah! Yah! Yah! Yah!"

Race day!  The photo at the top of the post was taken before we started to race.  How do I know?  Because right before our first race Cam ripped the sleeves off of his complementary t-shirt.  Had to show off the guns, I guess.  I tried to do the same, but after a few pulls decided that my shirt must have somehow been made of tougher material than his, because it wouldn't rip.

First Race!

Line up!  The horn goes!  Yah! Yah! Yah! Yah!

To be honest, I don't really remember how we did. I think we made it to the second level finals and came in fourth or something?  So we didn't get a medal or prize or anything.  And I remember that racing was ridiculously difficult, at least for a fattish dude.  The races were like 3 minutes long or something and I think I just about blacked out on the last one.  Had to go home and eat an entire cheesecake!  Not really.  I don't even like cheesecake!

But I feel like we did Joe Barnsley proud.  And raised some sort of amount for charity.  And got the firm's name out into the community.  And dammit, isn't that what matters?



  1. I can't believe you bored yourself writing all that stuff about the history of the law firm! When you end every sentence with an exclamation mark! I always pictured you being really excited when you make each point!

    Seriously though, I always thought you were as thin as you are now. Scandalous.

    1. I had to put the exclamation marks on just to stay awake!

      Articling was not good for the JJ waistline. And not only was I once chubby, but I was even chubby the first year I was in Ottawa. It was only after Gabriel was born that I svelted down.

  2. "Their high-rise (by Winnipeg standards) office..." hahahaha

    1. T, just to be clear, no TO judgment there! ("I mock your puny buildings!") Winnipeg is built on clay not bedrock and so it's very expensive to dig the piles deep enough to support a tall building.

      I am pretty sure I heard that somewhere.