The Gay Games 9 in Cleveland August 9-16 was a rousing success. The venues, the people, the city all opened their arms for a welcoming week of athletics, community, and fun. I can’t say enough positive things about the organizing committee, the hundreds of volunteers and the citizens of Cleveland who really were happy to see us there.
First, a confession. I was not born athletic or have or had any natural talent. In Jr. High School I forged sick notes to get out of running laps, swimming, basketball, you name it; I avoided it. To this day, I do not understand football, tennis, or basketball and rarely follow any professional team sport. I am a retired 63-year-old Jewish dentist from Kansas City, who up until a few years ago led a fairly sedentary life. Five years ago, for reasons still not clear to me, I took up martial arts: Kempo Karate and Mixed Martial Arts. I am presently at red belt level, a few months away from my black belt. My self-confidence, balance and general well being have taken a gigantic leap forward. I urge anyone who has an interest to consider taking up this sport at any age or any physical condition.
A year ago I decided I was going to compete in the Gay Games hoping to just make it through the competition. I have returned to Fort Lauderdale with two gold medals in Forms, open hand and weapons. Forms in Karate, or Katas are a series of detailed moves simulating attacks from different directions. There are hundreds of variations of Katas each with specific schooling. The competition is divided into age and experience brackets with both men and women’s divisions, with two to five athletes in each division.
After packing my gear, gi (uniform), weapons, and courage I started thinking about how I would feel if I made a fool of myself, tripped, forgot my routines, or just plain froze in front of a group of strangers. My partner, Dr. Raphael Klarfeld, a retired psychiatrist assured me that the reward was in the journey, not the final destination, and that I was far ahead of the pack just putting myself out there. It didn’t help. I seriously considered writing another note pretending to be sick and just staying home with my normal routine.
All my fears vanished when we arrived at our hotel in Cleveland. A huge welcome sign with the 50 states and 45 countries represented greeted us as well as the organizing group from Paris promoting the next Gay Games in 2018 in France. I suddenly felt part of something, a member of a team, a recognizable group. I was a competitor in the largest inclusive LGBT sporting event in history. More than 9,000 athletes and 20,000 spectators would be participating in something that would truly change the world. Yes, sports do matter. They are a physical challenge of course, but they also have the ability to bring together men and women who otherwise would never meet and create a community of respect and admiration. Yes, I have two gold medals earned at the Gay Games, and yes, they will have to include that in my obituary. But what I learned about myself was the most valuable. You can always do more than you think you can.