Gymnasts and syntagma

Monday, 23 August 2004 — 9:09am | Scrabble, Tournament logs

You know you are behind schedule on the path to being someone important in the world when your peers include Olympic gold medallists.

Yesterday – as almost the whole country should know by now, even Summer Olympics hermits such as yours truly – gymnast Kyle Shewfelt claimed Canada’s first gold medal in Athens. This came as a surprise, not in the sense that I didn’t expect the representatives of my dear country to ever get back on their feet, but because Mr. Shewfelt was one of my elementary school classmates at Queen Elizabeth. (Queen Elizabeth Jr./Sr. High, that is, not the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Elementary… it’s complicated. Suffice to say, that was back when GATE was all housed in one school, not eight.) We never knew each other very well, and it is unlikely he remembers me, but he looks pretty much exactly the same today as he did eleven years ago, aside from having hit puberty sometime along the way. Back then he had a reputation for being the resident gymnast, much like how many of the other students had reputations for their respective special hobbies and super powers à la Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, only they haven’t won Olympic medals, now have they. Somewhere in this paragraph lies the moral of the story, that indeed, real people around you can be national heroes. Then again, they could also go into politics.

The closest I’ve gotten to winning an Olympic gold in the past few days, or an award of any sort, is the Most Outrageous Successful Phoney prize at an eight-round tournament I played yesterday, in which I finished second place in my division with a 5-3 (+381) record. At big events like the Western Canadian Scrabble Championship, this earns nothing less than a statuette of a horse’s ass, but all that one-day mini-tournaments bestow are bragging rights – and what bragging rights they are. I played BETRAYS for 99 points just the turn before, but it was challenged off because I tacked it onto an ill-advised hook in a desperation play, putting the S on CAW to make SCAW*. Then my opponent opened the triple line by playing PEES, but it was too low for me to play BETRAYS with the E making EPEES, so instead I confidently dumped the other word I spotted. No, not BARYTES. At 97 points on a triple-word score, BREASTY* is a horse’s ass of a play if I ever saw one.

The great thing about Scrabble is that unlike gymnastics, it is one of those things that you can master without having to start at the age of six. Athletics are not alone in differing; despite not being quite so intertwined with physical conditioning, the visual and performing arts are harder to get into than one would think, should one have no experience prior to leaving high school. The stars we hear about in all these fields invariably started early with a premonition of a destiny to fulfil and pursued it from the beginning. As somebody who is drawing-impaired but holds private aspirations of a brief foray into animation someday, I challenge thee: just try to get into an art college that does not expect you to come in fully armed with a portfolio at the ready. Entry level it ain’t.

There are a few exceptions, of course. The film trade, with the considerable resources that it demands, offers next to no opportunity to get hands-on experience as a child or adolescent. Novelists almost exclusively start late in life, though who knows how many years they spend trying to nail a breakthrough manuscript. And correct me if I’m wrong, but a few sports – curling, for instance – are more amicable to latecomers, though playing a few bonspiels in youth clubs undoubtedly offer a head start.

In most cases, though, it is already too late to shift gears into a new pursuit. Now go do something useful in your life before it’s too late.

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