20 Years Later, and You Can’t Take That Away From Me

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((This is another non-Alaskan post, I know you are getting a lot this month but I am sweaty Houston for cripes sake.))

August 21st, 1993 I was standing perfectly still waiting for an announcement.  My eyes locked on two volunteers, their hands gripping each other’s so tight I could see the man’s eyes bulging from the pressure of the much smaller much older woman’s hands.  I was sweaty from a 13 minute workout completed less than a half an hour before while wearing a thick uniform.  My socks had water seeping in from the rain that fell earlier that night and ate their way through the leather shoes.  I waited anxiously, because all of us knew on that football field, that announcement had the potential to re-define my life from that point on.

In this blog before, I told you at some point about my involvement in the marching arts activity, specifically the elite level of the activity Drum & Bugle Corps (Drum Corps for short).  Wednesday of this week represents the 20th anniversary two significant event in that history for me.  Back in those days one couldn’t march the top level (Junior Drum Corps) if you were 22 years old.  August 21st, 1993 was the last day of the last season I was eligible to be a marching member of a junior corp.  So, by rule this activity was being taken away from me.  That’s the first significant event.

My last two years, 1992 & 1993, I marched with what was then called the Cadets of Bergen County – a group that over the previous 10 years could be considered the elite of the elite.  From the moment I first saw them perform on a public TV video in 1987, they were an organization I thought would be a dream to be involved in.  For the next five years, I busted my tail trying to learn what it took to be a part of that group, but really didn’t think I had a chance even after a disastrous series of problems getting to and from audition camps in 1992.  Making the group was an achievement of a lifetime, what I didn’t know that the work I had ahead of me.  That first year in 1992, we busted out tail, was short on talent, and was against some of the most exciting groups that the activity seen — yet our little band of brothers still was able to pull of reaching 2nd in the World (that means only one group in the whole of the activity world wide was better).

Marching with the Cadets was the hardest thing I have ever done, hands down, not even close.  From a move-in date in May, we slapped ourselves in a routine of early morning wake-ups, 6 to 10 hours of rehearsal,  pack-up, warm-up, perform a show, re-pack, then sleep on a bus until you reach the next site where you are lucky to get sleep on a school gym floor — if we didn’t have to perform, rehearsals ran into the 14-16 hour days.  The shows were extremely tough to add to it.  As a contra (aka Tuba in the Key of G), I had to run at just over a jog with a 25 pound unbalanced slab of metal on my shoulder without losing my breath.

If you ever did something that hard, you know that it comes with great lessons.  Nothing did more to form and develop me as that activity did, and that organization did.  I learned that hard work means results.  I learned world is full of competition for what you do, but if you are accountable for what you are asked you did what you can.  I learned the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.  I learned that perfect practice makes perfect.  I learned what brotherhood is, what fraternity means, and what it is to have people who are just as crazy as you can do if we all have the same singular goal.  Being a member of the Cadets meant accomplishing something extraordinary by going on and by honest hard work and determination; ideas that people can’t take away from you once you take the uniform off.  Once you were a Cadet, you were Always a Cadet.

Anytime … and I do mean Anytime … that someone compliments my work habits, my drive, and my focus; I think of what I learned those two summers.

That steamy summer night 20 years ago in Jackson, Mississippi; we all waited to find out who was going to be named the champion for 1993, for my final year; and I remember that moment 20 years ago like it was yesterday.  By the closest of margins, by one tenth of a point, from that point I could I could always say:

I am a World Champion.

and nobody can take that away from me.

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