The Last Game

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Los Angeles nearly 21 years ago, we were Kings hockey fans. We became hockey fans when the great Wayne Gretzky took the city by storm and turned Los Angeles into a hockey town. But with the move north, we soon started attending the games in Vancouver, B.C., just 45 miles across the border and soon traded our Kings sweaters for Canucks colors.

At the time, we had three little boys, one of whom was already playing hockey and a second who began not long after we relocate. Travelling to Vancouver for a hockey game became a special family outing. The boys quickly memorized the names of all the players and, in the case of my oldest son, even recognized the referees.

Together with two of my sons who, like me, became Canucks fans at one of the games we attended together.

Gradually, we learned the best route into downtown Vancouver where the arena is located, the places to eat before or after the game if we didn’t want stadium food, the time to leave to insure we arrived in time for the first face-off, and, most importantly, where we could park the car for without paying a hefty $20 to $30 lot fees near the arena. For a while, we took the Sky Train in and out. And after the Olympics in 2010, the adjacent neighborhoods changed bringing new restaurants, shops and traffic patterns, especially around the Olympic Village which completely revived that decaying area.

A pair of our tickets from this year’s season. Will miss our seats.

It wasn’t long before we bought season tickets located in the upper level, attacking end of the ice near the gate and up high enough so that the protective netting above the glass didn’t interfere with my camera angle. I became pretty adept at shooting the action on the ice from far away with my point-and-shoot cameras because cameras with removable lens aren’t allowed inside. One of my best shots was the one when Alex Burrows fired a game winning goal in overtime past the shoulder of the Chicago Blackhawks goalie to cinch the play-offs for the Canucks and send them to the Stanley Cup finals.

I captured the winning shot by Alex Burrows that sent the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

There are other memories as well.  Like the New Year’s Eve we took the boys for the then traditional game against Philadelphia and stayed overnight in the Vancouver Hotel. The next morning, the boys and I snuck into one of the hotel’s ballrooms where a party from the night before was still strewn with discarded party hats that we then put on our own heads and danced around. Or the year that my youngest son’s hockey team got to come out on the ice during the first period break and play a quick ten-minute game for the home crowd. After the Canucks game, they were escorted down to the locker room waiting area where they met Matt Cook, then a rookie, who signed autographs for them. My son later had Cook’s name stamped on his Canuck’s jersey. Cook was later traded but has since retired back to Vancouver.

I won’t forget the first time the Sedin twins skated onto the ice making their NHL debut. They’re now the ‘old men’ on the team but still dominating.

Of course, we won’t forget the first time that the Sedin twins from Sweden—Henrik and Daniel—first skated onto the ice to join the team. They were only 17 and celebrated their 18th birthday with a crowd of 18,000. The Sedins are now 36 and Henrik, who’s currently Captain, is the team’s all-time leading scorer.

We were there for the retirement of Markus Naslund’s number but missed the raising of Trevor Linden’s banner due to an ice storm. Our Vancouver friends got our tickets instead.

The 2016-17 season opening night line-up. In recent years, the Canucks games have become known for their production quality.

Then there are the not-so-great memories like the terrible incident with Todd Bertuzzi in 2004 who assaulted an opposing player whose injuries ended his career and Bertuzzi’s too with the Canucks. And Manny Maholtra who fans loved and who unfortunately received a serious injury to his left eye from a puck and lost significant vision. He’s now back as a Development Coach with the Canucks.

My son, Marshall, studies the game whenever he goes to see the Canucks. One reason he probably became such a good player himself.

There are memories too of the crowd cheering “LOOOOOOOOU” for goalie Roberto Luongo and the standing ovation the fans gave him upon returning from the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal win in 2010. Memorable too was the moment of silence our Canadian friends respectfully paid to the U.S. when the season opened after ‘9-11.’  The sympathy we received from our seatmates who knew we drove up for the games from the States was touching and overwhelming. And the friendship we developed over the years with Terri and son, Calum, who sometimes meet us for dinner, join us for a game or take our tickets when there’s a game we must miss.

Waving white hand towels, as my son demonstrates here, is a play-off game tradition that began with the Canucks.

We were there for the start of traditions such as twirling white hand towels above your head during play-off games. Or laughing at the antics of the ‘green men’, covered head to toe in green skin-tight body suits. Or watching the giant Orca blimp bob high around the arena dropping prizes to fans below until one night the remote-controlled balloon dive-bombed the crowd and lost its job.

Only once did we catch one of the T-shirts propelled by an air gun into the stands by Fin, the team’s Orca mascot. Once was I caught momentarily on the big screen when the camera turned on to our section. Never did we win the 50-50 cash raffle benefitting Canucks Place, the team’s charity for critically ill children. Never did Fin stick our head into its giant tooth-lined mouth as it did with other fans although I managed to snag a photo with the oversized Orca once during a period break.

During a period break, Fin managed to snag a photo with me!

The memories will continue but the season tickets will not. At least not for now. Last night was our last game as a season ticket holder. Forty games a season is just too many for us to make with our sons no longer around to The league also has changed the scheduling so that the Canucks, who must travel further than any other NHL team, are away for long stretches then back home to play games almost back-to-back. That much back and forth for us to Vancouver is more than we can fit into our already busy lives right now.

So as much as we hate giving up those great seats, we’re not taking them again next year. We’ll still go to games to cheer on our Canucks. But won’t be there as often and may not be sitting in ‘our’ seats. For us, it’s the end of a season and the end of an era. It’s been fun. Thanks Canucks!

The last game of the season marked the end of an era for my family.

 

Crewing for TIME at ’84 Olympics

I wasn’t a kayaker in 1984. I had never sat in a kayak, never seen a kayak (except on TV), and didn’t know the first thing about paddling one. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest that I became a passionate paddler.

Likewise for rowing. Growing up in the Midwest, rowing just wasn’t the sport that it was on the coasts even though my youngest brother was on a crew team for Washburn University which had and still does have a respectable rowing team.  I never had the opportunity to watch a race firsthand.

Canoeing was something I may have tried once or twice as a kid on a lake with my Girl Scout troop or vacationing with my family somewhere. But I have little memory of it so the experience must not have been impressive.

The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.
The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.

Given my extensive background in each of these sports, I seemed the natural choice to be the reporter to cover those events for TIME Magazine when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. Once again, my home location then, on the north side of the San Fernando Valley, proved to be to my advantage. To me, this was plum assignment. I had to drive every day during the competition up to the Ojai Valley, about 90 minutes north, to Lake Casitas Lake where the kayaking, rowing and canoeing events were staged. The drive was relatively traffic free as I whizzed up the north side of the Valley and cut across to the 101 freeway to head on up towards Santa Barbara and Ojai.

Traffic during the ’84 Olympics was one of the big fear factors.  People were urged to work from home, to stagger their work hours if they had to go into the office, to take the time off and go to the Olympics in order to help minimize clogged freeways. In fact, many Angelenos left town, renting out their homes to Olympic ticket holders and cashing in on the demand for housing. So the dreaded deadlock on the freeways and city streets never materialized.  In fact, it was some of the fastest-flowing traffic that I could remember in all the years that I lived in that car-loving city.

Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a 'mini-resort' to the athletes.
Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a ‘mini-resort’ to the athletes.

The athletes competing in the Lake Casitas events were located in the Olympic Village in Santa Barbara. Initially, many of the teams complained that the distance between the Village and their venue was too far. But those concerns too soon vanished as people settled in and began to enjoy both the venue and the trip there.

As I wrote for TIME: “The site itself inspired festivity. Bright, Olympic pink roadside banners mark the two-lane highway as spectators near the north short venue. The spectator viewing area is bursting with vivid color. More than 31,000 annuals, marigold and petunias were trucked in and planted along with several sycamore and alder trees to create park-like setting. Spectators spread their blankets on a grassy knoll where they have apanoramic view of the 2,700 acre lake.”

The Swedish women's team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.
The Swedish women’s team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.

To the athletes, it was, as then Olympic rowing commissioner Barry Berkus put it: “almost like a resort.”  Because their primary quarters was located 28 miles away, a mini-village was created at the sight that overlooked the lake complete with a pool built especially for them.

The big names on the U.S. rowing team that everyone was pinning medal hopes upon were John Bigelow from Seattle. Bigelow’s chance for a medal chances was washed away by Finland’s powerful Pertti Karppinen but Brad Lewis from Los Angeles and his partner, Paul Enquist, also of Seattle, considered ‘dark horses’ surprised many by taking the gold in their doubles race. All three rowers figure prominently in journalist and author David Halberstam‘s masterful book about the ’84 men’s eight row team, “The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal.”   I recently read Halberstam’s book, right after having finished another good book about the sport, “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown. Both are excellent books, set in different time periods (Brown’s takes place before and up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and detailing the drama behind the dream.

A member of the Australian women's coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.
A member of the Australian women’s coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.

But it was the women’s eight who  thrilled the crowd by taking the first gold medal in for the U.S. in that event. Champagne flowed. Fans cheered. Autographs were signed. As I overheard one observer say:  “How things have changed in rowing. They’re getting autographs. It used to be lucky to get anyone to come.”

Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.
Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.

Indeed, the sport of rowing has grown even more popular. In 1981-82, only 43 NCAA schools had women’s rowing teams. Today, that number has more than tripled to 143, including Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I live. Over the years, I’m proud to say that several members of the women’s Division II championship crew teams have worked with me as my studio assistant.

As for the ’84 Olympic teams, the U.S. took home eight medals tying with Romania, one of the only Eastern bloc countries to participate in those Summer Games.  In fact, the Romanians took home more gold medals in rowing than any other country. They also cleaned up collecting ‘gold’ onshore from spectators as they sold Romanian t-shirts and model wooden shells to earn money to buy and take back with them stereo sound components.

The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.
The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.

Lake Casitas is again vying for to be the venue for the Olympics in 2024 if Los Angeles is selected in what would be the 40th year reunion of the Olympic Games. If it’s successful, I might see you there!

 

 

Serving Up a Wimbledon Memory

The Fourth of July holiday always brings back fond memories for me of family celebrations sparked with fireworks, BBQ and homemade ice cream.  But it’s also the final weekend for the championship play at the celebrated Wimbledon Tennis Club http://www.wimbledon.com.  I’ve spent more than one Fourth of July glued to the televised match. I crossed another item off my “bucket lis”t a couple years ago when I finally had the chance to go to Wimbledon during the championship tournament.  Of course I always thought that I might be stepping onto one of those grass courts as a competitor when I got there, but I by the time I arrived my chances of doing that had long since passed.

The Big Board
Wimbledon’s Order of Play board is located just inside the main gate to the club’s courts. The excitement of the tournament hits you as soon as you step inside.

For tennis players, going to Wimbledon is like making a pilgrimage to a holy shrine.  No sooner had I arrived at my friend, Nancy’s home in Wimbledon, after a trans-Atlantic flight, than we headed out the door for the 15-minute walk from her place, tucked back on one of the less noticeable side streets in town,to the club.  With tickets in hand , we walked up to the gate, missing the long queues at the entry as we went late in the day. Play had been long underway. Stepping inside, you are met with the big scheduling board detailing which players are on what court and at what time. There’s no shortage of games to watch.

Sandra Swings
Player Sandra Zahlavova hits a return during play on Court 7. With seats so close to the court it’s possible to capture the action without using a telephoto lens.

The biggest competitors, of course, can be found on either the renown Centre Court or Court 2. You must have a ticket for those courts specifically in order to get a seat there.  But every other match is open to everyone with the price of a general admission ticket, as ours was. And the seating for these matches is right there at court side, unlike the stadium seating for Centre Court and Court 2. You hear the swoosh of the racquet as the player comes down on their serves and strokes. Needless to say anyone with a camera is pretty much guaranteed of getting excellent action shots of the players made even more up close with a telephoto lens. With the audience sitting or standing so close, the concentration level of the competitor must be a challenge.

Of course it’s all still very proper.  Ball boys and girls wear uniforms sporting the club’s purple and green colors. Linesmen and women wear the tailored and traditional blue blazers and white pants, socks and shoes.  The grounds are immaculately kept, just like the grass courts. There are gardens and green spaces where you can go sit, eat a bite and watch the action on the large television monitors.

Wimbeldon's Wall of Champions
It’s fun to read the club’s Wall of Champions which tells the history of the tournament and its winners year by year.

At one time or another all the tennis greats have donned their tennis whites to take their place in tradition at the famous British tennis club. A few have made it onto the club’s Wall of Champions. Viewing that wall is to see a pictorial history of the sport.  It’s a thrill just to look at all the names of players, past and present, who took home one of the championship trophies.

Inside the  club museum you can peruse exhibits between matches although I didn’t make it there. Unfortunately for us, the rain started to fall not long after we had snared a court side spot at one of the matches.  And while everyone else fled for the food service area or the gift shop, we stayed covered up by our rain jackets to watch the very well choreographed grounds crew quickly roll out the cover across the court. That in itself was entertaining.

Trophy Window
I spotted this jewlery shop window display while riding on a bus. Although I never made it back to check, I assumed that these were replicas, not the real trophies.

Even if you don’t attend a single match, you can participate in the festive mood of the championship just by being in the town of Wimbledon.  Street signs remind drivers that the tournament restricts curbside waiting times. Shop windows are cleverly decorated with the tennis theme.  Restaurants and pubs of course celebrate with offerings of the tournament’s famous dish of strawberries and fresh cream as well as the other standard pub fare. And everywhere you spot vans or cars shuttling players and coaches to and from their places of lodging to the courts.

Shuttles like this one, carry players to and from the tournament courts and if you're lucky, you might get a glimpse of some of the Wimbledon competitors as the come and go.
Shuttles like this one, carry players to and from the tournament courts and if you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of some of the Wimbledon competitors as the come and go.

If you’re lucky, you may see one of the current or former stars of the game, as we did when Martina Navratilova walked into the restaurant where we were having dinner one evening. Locals seem to take it all in stride, some even leave to let out their homes during the tournament,but I couldn’t imagine missing it. My one visit there was a treat and a dream come true. Not even a little rain could dampen either my excitement or the thrill of the finally getting to experience for myself the traditions of Wimbledon.

he club's green and purple colors can be found everywhere in Wimbledon during the tournament including, of course, the tennis club's logos.
The club’s green and purple colors can be found everywhere in Wimbledon during the tournament including, of course, the tennis club’s logos.

Olympic Memories

Like many of you, I have spent the past few evenings,enjoying the Olympic Winter games in Sochi via television in the comfort of my home.  As a journalist, I covered the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles as part of TIME Magazine’s team.  It was a thrill to report everyday to my assigned events of kayaking, rowing, canoeing and water polo and write about the day’s competition and behind-the-scenes activity of the athletes for the reading public.

It’s not often that the Olympics take place in your backyard so when the Winter Games came to Vancouver, Canada four years ago, I took the opportunity to go.

Going to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was a big thrill. Guess I can cross that one off my'bucket list.'
Going to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was a big thrill. Guess I can cross that off  my ‘bucket list.’

Vancouver lies just 45 miles from Bellingham,Wa. where I now live and work. While I was no longer a ” working  journalist” I wrote about my adventures at the games for my friends and followers on my personal Facebook page. (I’m happy to share some those stories with you if you’d like). I encouraged everyone living within two hours of Vancouver to go whether or not they had a ticket to any of the events because there was so much to see and do at the Olympics.

The Olympic spirit is contagious. You can catch it just being around the venues or any of the many special events, concerts and spectators who come to cheer on their athletes. There is plenty to see, experience and photograph. In order to attend the actual competitive events, you must enter your name and choice of events into a lottery for the tickets alloted to your country. I ordered mine a year and  a half before the actual Games. Any leftover tickets are placed for purchase at ticket booths at the Games.

I was fortunate to pick up tickets through the lottery for speed skating and a preliminary game in women’s hockey.

American skater J.R. Celski in fourth place closes in on Canada's skaters Olivier Jean in first in the final laps of the men's speed skating relay race. in the 2010 Vancouver games.
American skater J.R. Celski in fourth place closes in on Canada’s skaters Olivier Jean in first in the final laps of the men’s speed skating relay race. in the 2010 Vancouver games. The men’s team took the bronze in the event.

On the day that I went to pick up my tickets, I was lucky enough to bump into another American who had two extra tickets for the women’s Gold Medal hockey game that he wanted to sell. I didn’t hesitate. What a thrill it was to sit in the arena–the same one where Vancouver’s NHL team, the Canucks, regularly play, and cheer for the American women’s team as they played against the Canadian women. The game was fast-paced and close with the Canadians taking the gold in the end. Even though the Americans had to settle for a silver medal, I couldn’t help but be excited for the Canadians who were jumping and up and down over their victory.

The entire arena erupted along with the skaters on the ice when the Canadian women's hockey team took the Gold Medal against the Americans during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
The entire arena erupted along with the skaters on the ice when the Canadian women’s hockey team took the Gold Medal against the Americans during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The entire Winter Games in Vancouver was a huge one for Canada as they took more gold medals that year than any other country and in events that they had never won. Canada also broke the record for the most golds won by a NOC at a single Winter Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee. The previous record was set by the Soviet Union in 1976  with 13 gold medals and then was matched by Norway in 2002.  Overall, the 2010 Olympics created  a huge boost of national pride in Canada. It was a privilege to be there to share in some of it.

Returning from the gold medal women's hockey game, I ran into members of the women's hockey from Finland who had just picked up their bronze medal. They were more than happy to stop for photo and to show off their hard-won prize.
Returning from the gold medal women’s hockey game, I ran into members of the women’s hockey from Finland who had just picked up their bronze medal. They were more than happy to stop for photo and to show off their hard-won prize.

I carried my camera with me wherever I went..There was so much to capture, just as I’m sure as is the case for all those now attending the Winter Games in Sochi. In Vancouver, I was able to take my professional camera with an excellent telephoto zoom lens into the events. Whether or not that’s the case in Sochi, given the elevated security concerns, I don’t know. I recorded some wonderful images of the Vancouver competitions and of the activities surrounding it all. Now, as I watch these Olympic Games I remember all that I did at the games in Vancouver. Those memories along my photos has made viewing the 2014 Games even more personal and compelling.

An enthusiastic group of Russian fans at the 2010 Olympics were ready to host the 2014 Games in Sochi.
An enthusiastic group of Russian fans at the 2010 Olympics were ready to host the 2014 Games in Sochi.

I hope that one day, you’ll experience the Olympics firsthand for yourself. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy revisiting the Vancouver Olympics through the lens of my camera. You can see more of my images from the Vancouver games on my blog’s Portfolio page: https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/portfolio/  Or simply click on the word ‘Portfolio’ at the top this page and you’ll go directly there!