Remembering Columbia Fencing Coach George Kolombatovich

An excellent conversationalist.

Knowledgeable.

A gentleman.

An opportunity maker.

Kind.

A fencer’s advocate.

A bow-tie wearing badass.

 

When I was preparing my remarks for today, I asked some of George’s college coaching colleagues and some of his former fencers how they remembered him, and these are some of the words and phrases they shared.

 

An excellent conversationalist.

Knowledgeable.

A gentleman.

An opportunity maker.

Kind.

A fencer’s advocate.

A bow-tie wearing badass.

That last one is probably my favorite – and it came from Oriana Isaacson, an epeeist and team captain, class of 2009 – it’s probably my favorite because I can’t remember ever seeing George without a bow tie.

And George was a badass.

You always knew that having George strip-side was the equivalent of having a member of royalty in your corner. Your ref was going to make sure he got things right.

Like a lot of fencers who would come to join the Columbia lions family, I first really met George at Summer Nationals, in between my Junior and Senior years of high school – it was a “recruiting meeting.”

Fencing was relatively new to me. I had only started as a freshman in high school, but fell in love with the sport and threw my heart… and my parents’ money (I’m still paying them back)… into it, full throttle. I earned cadet and junior points quickly, but I was for all intents and purposes a no-namer… untested…

I wasn’t on the World team, I was captain of my HS fencing team…That meant something to George.

I had visions of gold medals, and Ivy League rings, and NCAA rings, and Olympic rings… I had aspirations.  That also meant something to George.

So, in our meeting we probably spent about 15 minutes talking fencing… about what I had done and what I wanted to do… And then I mentioned I was a classically trained violinist. Well, then we spent the next 45 minutes talking about art, and Joshua Bell and opera and Paris…

George was an exceptional conversationalist.

Over the following months, I’d have a few other conversations and emails with George, and then came the famous phone call. You know, the one that goes like this:

George: Are you sitting down.

Athlete: Yes.

George: Well, I just wanted to call you to say that I can’t call you to tell you that admissions has reviewed your application and accepted you to Columbia University. I can’t call you to tell you that, so I’m not calling to tell you that. Happy Thanksgiving.

Now, for some context for the current team… getting recruited in the Ivy League was a different process 15 years ago. There was no such thing as a “letter of intent,” and there was no “signing day.” Sure, you’d have a verbal commitment, but there were “horror” stories of fencers who had verbal commitments, only to find they were rejected by admissions. We were like every other non-sword wielding muggle who had to submit an application and wait. Hanging over our heads was a certain degree of uncertainty that we’d get accepted. So that phone call meant a lot… and then we had to keep quiet about it.

This was because the Ivy League didn’t believe in recruiting. The ethos was that to be scholar-athlete in the Ivy League was to be a Scholar above all.

George felt differently… because he knew differently.

In that first recruiting meeting he told me about Olympian Ann Marsh – who happened to be and continues to be one of my fencing sheros — how in between bouts at World Championships she’d be reading her organic chemistry textbooks, studying for the MCATs. He took pride in her prowess on the strip and in the classroom. Later, once I was a full-fledged lion, George introduced me to Ann at a NAC. A couple of hours later, I would have, let’s call it the pleasure of drawing Ann in a DE… and while she was really pleased to meet me, she was also really pleased to beat me.

Without the benefits of scholarships and meal-plan perks, George made Columbia fencing among the most sought after collegiate program in the country because he believed with all his heart that it was possible to be a scholar and an athlete in equal measure… and to be equally exceptional in both.

My time as a scholar-athlete at Columbia is punctuated by a two-year captainship, first team All-Ivy, All-American honorable mention, third place team finish at the NCAAS, and what is perhaps my most memorable experience at Columbia, an Ivy League Championship. I traveled with George to World Cups. in fact, at one, I had food poisoning and George in his capacity as head referee made sure I had a strip near the bathroom, so I could throw-up between bouts… not the same as Ann studying Orgo between bouts, but it does show how George took care of his fencers at home and abroad. I was also Dean’s List, a 2x Academic All-Ivy, a staff reporter for the Spec, and a class marshal at commencement – anyway, listing this is not really to tell you about me, it’s to testify to how George made personal success possible.

And I think about my teammates Emma Baratta and Jeff Spear among others, who were not only on the national senior teams, they were Academic All-Americans –  Like, they were the smartest College Athletes in America.

George loved boasting that Columbia’s fencers were Olympians and All-Americans – I think he had 150 over his career. But he also loved to boast that our team carried the highest GPA of all athletic teams at Columbia. I think Mike loves boasting about that too.

All this to say, you wanted to go to Columbia because you knew you’d have the support, the resources, and the access to be a collegiate athlete, a world class athlete (if that’s what you wanted), and an academic. You know, have your Ivy League cake and eat it too…

The Scholar-Athlete equilibrium built into the DNA of this program was built by George. Everyone who comes into this fencing room, and gets to sing “Roar, Lion, Roar” is a beneficiary of that legacy. And I applaud Mike for his commitment to ensuring this legacy.

George was one of the advocates for establishing the Ivy League round robin tournament. Before that, you’d fence each school in the League whenever it got scheduled, so often athletes vying for spots on national teams would have to make a choice – world cup, or meet v. Cornell, World cup or meet v. Harvard… essentially, National Team or college team. The Round Robin made is so that those athletes traveling to World Cups didn’t have to choose between college team and national team. Have your fencing cake and eat it too…

He also believed you didn’t need to have a team entirely made-up of National Team members to win championship titles. To make a Team you need more than just wins. You need heart. And so he created pathways for athletes who loved the sport and who loved being part of a team to be on this team. This is what coaches at NYU and St. John’s admired most about him: He made opportunities for good kids.

George was an exceptional conversationalist.

He was an athlete’s advocate.

He also had a sense of humor.

The night before we’d ship off for an away meet, he’d circulate the traveling squads. Now, if you know me, you know my mother. My mother came to all but 2 of my college meets, and is herself a member of many Veterans World Championship Team, and goes way, way back to old Fencers Club days.

So the night before we traveled to Penn State for a set of duals, he posted that Diane Reckling would be starting against Notre Dame, instead of me… honestly, I was totally fine with that… My mother was pretty flattered…

I will always remember our captains’ meetings in his office, surrounded by stacks and stacks of papers and more lions than in all the prides in Africa.

I stayed at Columbia to do my Masters in Art History – which I jokingly referred to as a “trophy wife degree…” George thought that was pretty funny, and would send me punny art cartoons, often to that effect. But he also set-me up as a phys ed instructor, so I could earn some extra money towards all those expensive art books.

There are probably more lows in sport than there are highs. But in lows, George always found the thing to say that made you believe your next “feels” would be a high. I think it’s easy as an athlete, sometimes, often, to look back and focus on the success you didn’t have, rather than the things you did do. Especially when you’re surrounded by such incredible, high-achieving people. If your goal was First Team All-American, and you didn’t make it, or if it was to be an Olympian, and you weren’t, you start to think this is how you’ll be remembered – for the things you didn’t achieve. When I found out I was going to get my picture on the Wall of Fame, I was actually kind of surprised. I mean, I knew what my Teammates had done – James Williams won a silver medal at the Olympics – and the other fencers on the wall, Dan Kellner, Erinn Smart, these were the people I looked up to. I didn’t think what I had done was as deserving. But George just looked at me and said, Common Kathleen. Look at all these things you did. You deserve this. George always made you proud of your successes, because they were yours.

Just an aside about the wall, since this is the first time I’ve been in here in a while… when my picture did go up, it went up with the class of 1937. Right. Like, women didn’t GO to Columbia in 1937. I was with the class of 1937 because the wall was full – I mean look at it. But, I’m not really sure why I was the one that ended up in 1937 – it wasn’t based on the alphabet, because I’m pretty sure Williams comes after Reckling… but I guess if you have an Olympic silver medal, you get right of way, so OK, I’ll let it go. Anyway, it became a bit of a running joke with George whenever I’d come back to campus. George, I know I study old pictures, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang on the wall with ‘em.

I never once heard him yell at a fencer on the team, and he genuinely took joy in watching an athlete improve from season to season.

If I’m making a list of “best days of my life,” the day George called me to say he wasn’t calling to say I had been accepted into Columbia ranks at #1. Because that was when I was given my Columbia family.

I am so grateful to George because he gave me an opportunity to attend this incredible institution, and to walk onto campus with the comfort of knowing I had a built-in group of friends – my teammates – who really were the most amazing support network throughout college and since. I am grateful for his kindness, for his unwavering cheerleader support of me even when I’m not sure I deserved it… and for his pride in who I was on and off the strip.

 

An excellent conversationalist.

Knowledgeable.

A gentleman.

An opportunity maker.

Kind.

A fencer’s advocate.

A bow-tie wearing badass.

 

This is how I too will remember you, George.

Thank you.

Roar, Lion, Roar.

 

 

 

Kathleen Reckling

December 2, 2018

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Considering Types: Dating your Ex’s Doppelganger

Text: Do you like 1970s British comedy?
Reply: You mean like “Are you Being Served?”
Text: I mean like Monty Python.
Reply: Yes. Yes. Yes.
easy-formula-for-grant-writingThis was the text message exchange that got me to Flatbush, Brooklyn on a rainy Sunday night when I should have been tucked away at home with a pot of tea, a bottle of gin, and a grant application due three days later.
I had been invited out by a German data privacy lawyer I had right-swiped on and who I will hereby refer to as Konig. We were going to travel together to Flatbush, Brooklyn and the absolutely gorgeous Kings Theatre to a screening of  “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” followed by a Q&A with John Cleese.
We had moved pretty fast from swipe to date, but my right-swipe had not been immediate. Konig was a dead ringer for the Admiral, my Ex (with a capital E), and that made me uncomfortable.
At some point in my early days studying French, a teacher forced my class to sit through an adaptation of “Les Miserables” which implied that the stories in Hugo’s novel were the only stories that existed and ever would exist in the history of mankind. It was very French. However, that idea stuck with me and I’ve sort of translated it into a dating theory: if you’ve been single long enough, you will have two, maybe three “great” romances that play on repeat, in mild variation over and over again over the course of your unattached life.  The Admiral and Frank Hampshire are absolutely those for me.

Besides the physical similarities between Konig and the Admiral, there were other similarities that amused me. Their shared interest in film was one, but isn’t everyone into film? They shared the same birth order with the same number of siblings, with the same genders in the same order. They both earned their first Masters degrees from the same uni in London, only a couple of years apart. They belonged to the same young museum patron program. They both took suiting seriously, though this is where Konig had the upper hand — he was the most beautifully dressed man I had ever met. There were perhaps other similarities, but this is enough… you get the picture. Before I’d even met Konig, I was afraid I repeating history and would once again receive a flunking mark.

Prior to meeting him, in the hopes of settling some of my nerve I did a little social media due diligence. MISTAKE. I stumbled on a relationship past that made an eyebrow raise — a blue-eyed Ex named Cat who was also a fencer. That’s where, as far as I can tell, the similarities between myself and his Ex with a capital E end (she’s a 5’11 runway model.) Every picture I saw of them, he looked madly in love. I wondered, would this be an issue?
It was a treacherously rainy Sunday night. The kind of rain that not only soaks you to the bone, but renders street lines completely invisible. I got pulled over on the drive home for trying to drive straight from a left turn lane. Konig and I said good night after a couple of hours of lively conversation that book-ended the screening. He was the first person I’d met who got as excited as I did about the Seagram’s building… We made plans to see each other the night before he was set to leave for a month in Europe.
And then he cancelled. It was complicated, he said. He could explain more if I wanted, but he didn’t think it was wise for us to move forward.
In a nod to Carrie Bradshaw… I couldn’t help but wonder:
While the similarities we find between new prospects and loves past may only be surface deep, does our awareness of them affect the way we allow the relationship to develop? Had I been superimposing the less admirable traits about the Admiral onto Konig because of a shared surface level biography? Was he doing the same with me? Were we both looking for better variations on a theme, only to find it was better to explore an entirely new tune?

when-your-ex-59ce96
This is actually a meme that exists out there…

 

Fresh to Market

When I started this blog, I was in my 20s — a woman who came of age watching “Sex and the City”, trying to decide if she was a Carrie or a Miranda (or maybe a Samantha, but definitely not entirely a Charlotte) and whose actual generation had yet to be defined by “Girls.” It was the era of “Gray’s Anatomy,” and not yet “50 Shades of Gray.” Tinder and Bumble had yet to hit the online dating market, meanwhile the bottom had just fallen out of the stock market.

All my friends and I were dating. The longest term relationships anyone had been in had been ones that started in college, when life was easy and a twin bed was good enough. Now, my friends are partnered-up, maybe toddler-totting, and likely mortgage paying.

So, in case you didn’t get where I was going, when I started “They Told Me a Rich Husband,” it was a different time. And I was living through a different life decade.

i-dont-even-want-a-boyfriend-meme1.jpgPutting aside that I’m now more likely to be matched with someone by my thumb than by a friend, I realized that dating in your 30s is different. It’s different not because the dating pool is smaller (to be honest, I’m not sure it’s any smaller… it’s just shallower, and access to the deep end is more frequently denied… and  when you are let in, you don’t trust that there will be a lifeguard on duty to throw you one of those red floaty rescue things if you need one.)

By the time you’ve reached your 30s, you’re either frantic for a partner, or accepted that you’ve been single most of your life, are happy and can handle being on your own for the rest of your life… or you vacillate somewhere between the two. Dating in your 30s is different because more often than not, you or someone you’re dating is just getting out of that relationship that was supposed to last forever… but didn’t. No one walks around wearing a sign that says “emotionally damaged, handle with care,” and yet more often than I can count since crossing the decade line, I have found myself trying to date someone who was only fresh to market and suffering broken engagement PTSD.

That was me at 27. I get it. And we often don’t give men enough credit for having feelings, or broken hearts, or for loving deeply.

” Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death,” says Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s final masterpiece Persuasion, a story of a rare second chance at love. “…there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating.”

In one of my online dating profiles (because now I, like, have them all) I close by saying: “We’ve both done this before. It can’t hurt any worse than it did that last time. Let’s give this a go?”

 

 

 

 

My Right to Bear Arms is One I’m OK with Losing.

There was another shooting at a school in America this week. You’re watching the story, and you’re listening to the politicians and the pundits and the victims and the survivors. And if you’re like me, your heart hurts. And you’re mad.

I don’t really have the words to talk about Parkland directly, so instead, I am going to protect myself inside the framework of this blog — a blog about my personal experiences and human relationships — to tell you about my human relationship with guns…

Chad and I had been dating a couple of months when he suggested taking me shooting one afternoon. I don’t know why I agreed to go, but I did. Watching him thoughtfully select which weapons (because he owned many) would come with us before he methodically loaded his ammo cases made my heart pound so hard and fast my eyeballs and the tips of my toes hurt. He handed me a magazine clip. I swallowed air instead of inhaling it in a cartoonish “gulp.”

The truth is, I knew exactly why I wanted to go to the gun range: I wanted to understand what it was that made gun owners so passionate about owning and shooting guns that they were able to render our government impotent in passing gun control legislation.

Gun violence doesn’t have to lead to a funeral to ruin a life, or destroy a family. I experienced this first hand when I was a teenager, and I was desperate to understand why the Second Amendment was so worth fighting for.

My father briefly served in the South African military. When he talked about it, he talked about driving tanks. Today, he doesn’t have any ephemera from that time in his life, but in my early youth he still had his army-issued rifle. I remembered being about 5 and stumbling on it in the basement. It wasn’t too far from my mother’s fencing foils. The next time I saw my father’s rifle, I was 13. He was walking to his car, hurt in his face, pain in his body, and the vintage firearm in his hand. Its destiny was permanent disposal.

“There will never be another gun in or anywhere near this house,” he said before pulling out of the driveway.

That was the day after my cousin, his only nephew, nearly killed my father. Luckily, my cousin was a terrible shot when he was drunk (this, of course, is the flip and abbreviated version of the story.)

We can talk as much as want about what types of guns or magazine clips should or shouldn’t be on the market, but what I learned that night when I was 13 is that it only takes one bullet to change a life.

My experience with Chad nearly two decades later also taught me a lot. First, it turns out I’m a pretty damn good shot: a bulls-eye on my second shot. It was a rush of adrenaline, pulling the trigger, hearing the pop and watching the casing fly. I was profoundly aware of the power in my hands, and a competitive side in me wanted to keep shooting for another bulls-eye. It was addictive. Once I got my breathing under control, I understood the appeal.

And then I ran out of bullets.

img_8758Chad pulled the target in and handed it to me. I ran my fingers over my “trophy,” and suddenly I was 13 again and standing in my cousin’s apartment, now a retired crime scene, running my fingers over the holes in the wall from the bullets that had been aimed at my father, but missed.

Those bullet holes have since been spackled and painted over, probably more than once. But spackle is only a patch. The holes are still there. Physically and emotionally.

What my own experience shooting confirmed for me is that firing a gun is inherently a destructive and violent act. When you pull the trigger, the goal and end result is to remove a part of a whole. You will never convince me that I have or need the right to remove a part of someone, a part of some family, or a part some community in such an irreversible way.

 

The Blind Date Who was an Hour Late: a Time Out NY Undateable Follow-up

It’s official. I’ve entered that elite circle of New York Singletons — I’m a Time Out New York “Undateable.”

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Just in case you were wondering, that’s me on the left. And the swing coat is vintage-ish, circa 1980. Made in Ireland. The photographer, who was great, was totally baffled by what to do with me in it. My date, Lucas is on the right, and he wore a very similar outfit on our date. I’d say, we both look pretty sharp. Thank goodness for that.

I was 2/3 of the way through a nasty cold which was accompanied by a debilitating cough when an email landed in my inbox from “Undateables” writer, Will Gleason. Was I free to go out to a restaurant and a Broadway show (M Butterfly) tomorrow night?

Was I?

Technically, yes, but I was also a walking mucus factory… perhaps I had better ask for a rain check when I was feeling more myself? It had taken nearly 6 months for my turn to come up in the queue. I consulted my co-workers, and that one friend who I can count on for sage direction…

Reply: M Butterfly? Sign me up!

An hour later, M Butterfly was off the table, but the date was on. A

All I had was a meeting place, a time, and a name: Lucas. It was a blind date in the most extreme sense: No common friend. No over zealous great aunt who fancies herself a match maker and decided her plumber was a viable candidate. No idea what each other looked like. Not the foggiest about age or profession.  Not even a phone number. All I knew about him was that he was single, lived somewhere in New York, and that we shared a certain degree of bravery, and perhaps a total lack of ego (or a deep need for attention?)

Dinner at 6PM at Lincoln Square Steak.

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Isn’t this how you prep for every first date? #fluseason

I read the Zagat review of the restaurant, and decided it warranted a dress. I pregamed with a Claritin-D, a partial dose of prescription cough medicine, and a puff on my inhaler. Because in the “First Impression” section of the column timeliness or tardiness is always noted, I planned my travel so that I would be 5 minutes early. I planned too well, and was in the neighborhood 15 minutes early. Despite the wintry bite in the air, I took an extra lap around the block, and regretted not wearing nylons. I noted the apartment building where I used to go for SAT tutoring.

Inside the restaurant, I was escorted to an over-sized round table with a sweeping view of the entire space… and the door. I was the first one there.

The clock struck 6PM. I had already read the menu twice. An older gentleman with distinguished white hair and a pinstripe suit walked up to my table looked around like he was lost, then walked up to me and stuck out his hand.

Oh, my god. I thought. This is my date. This is Lucas. I am older than their usual undateable candidates, and this is what I get. That’s OK. It’s OK. Right? This is OK.

In a thick Italian accent, he introduced himself: “Hello, I am Marco…”

Phew. Not my date. Just the Owner. He explained to me how to order, suggested a few of the dishes they were “famous” for and then we spoke a bit about Chappaqua and grandchildren.

It was now 6:15. I asked for a Tanqueray martini, with a twist.

At 6:20, I took out my phone and sent out texts to the friends to had been primed for post-date debriefs.

He’s late. Am I being stood up?

I emailed Will.

6:25PM Text : Oh! I think he’s here… he has a beard… and he’s short…. oh. no. not him.

6:35 Text: This must be him. He looks about 20…. No. not him either.

6:40PM Internal dialog: I can’t believe this. I’m being stood up. I should probably leave. Where am I going to go? Maybe I should just go home? I think I have some Kraft dinner… Fuck it. Someone else is paying. I want pork belly. How come a steak house doesn’t have pork belly? Oh! There’s bacon. That’ll do.

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I call over the waiter, and order the “Sizzling Canadian bacon” and a “Petite Fillet,” medium rare, with a side of roasted brussel sprouts.

“A glass of red wine?” the sommelier asks.

My martini sits only half drunk — there was too much vermouth.

“Yes, please… what is a good…”

“You will have a bottle.”

“I don’t need a bottle. He’s not coming. I just need a glass.’

“You will have a bottle.”

giphyThe somm brought over a bottle of Frog’s Leap cab, and decanted it before pouring me a glass. The bacon appeared, and I unabashedly dug in. Perhaps I would drink the whole bottle. Or maybe I would go to those bars nearby that I used to go to with the guys when I was in college. At least one has a dart board, and I was in the mood to launch sharp pointed objects at something.

“Hello!? Kathleen!?”

I could feel a drop of pork fat slide across my lips as I looked up. I tried not to choke on my surprise or my bacon.

It was 7PM. Lucas arrived.

“I emailed Will and called the restaurant to tell them I was on my way, but the restaurant wouldn’t put me on hold. I was stuck on the subway. I’m so sorry. I just moved to New York from Boston. I’ve never been this far north on the West Side.”

From Boston? That explained everything.

Four hours later, we parted ways. Conversation had flowed as easily as the wine, and I was grateful that he had been both good looking and an easy talker… even if he had been an hour late.  While the hour wait had been emotionally taxing, it had turned into a convenient ice breaker. And so the question remains — is there, has there, or will there be a date the second? TBD.

 

TFW You Step on the “Text Messages with your Ex” Landmine

I got a new phone this past October, just before I left for a two week sojourn in Germany and the UK. It was supposed to be faster and have a better camera than my previous phone. It had a lot of improvements and features I expected, and a few I didn’t… like all the text messages from my old phone. It seems that in transferring all my contacts, apps, and photos, I also transferred thousands of exchanges between myself and friends and family and exes.

I’ve said it in past posts, but I’ll say it again: text messages and emails with your exes are emotional landmines. Even when you think you’ve got them all safely contained, you stumble on one unexpectedly, and boom! Some part of you get obliterated in a cloud of smoke and verbal shrapnel. mobile.revolution

In this case, I had stumbled on an exchange between myself and Clark. It had been just about a year since we had dated and then not dated, and a few weeks since we had crossed paths and decided to start anew with a different tone. And then there they were — every text message sent from our first to our last.

One thing I’ve gotten very good at is moving on after something ends. With Clark, it was difficult, largely because we ended abruptly.  I had allowed myself to fall fast and hard for him, knowing that eventually, I’d hit the ground and that it might hurt. The ground came up on me faster than expected.

Lights on.

Lights off.

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I didn’t linger long on or pine for the sweet moments we shared. I stood up, shook it off, and pushed forward… with a visible emotional limp that would handicap me in what came next: a real relationship.

And then I read the texts. All of them. Separated from the exchanges by a year and a serious relationship, I was now a detached 3rd party — a voyeur looking into someone else’s relationship. I was sad for the couple in front of me. There was so much joy and promise in them. The chemistry was palpable. Then the final “hey. You up?” from her which triggered the break up email from him, and then a month later she said: “hey, I have mono. Pretty sure you gave it to me. #SoThisIs30.”

Now that we’re safely just friends, I’ve been tempted more than once to delete them all — especially the ones where he calls me beautiful or says how much he’s looking forward to seeing me or talks about kissing me in the ocean. I don’t want those around when I’m trying to forget that at one time, I thought I might have found a forever guy. And then I read this one and decide to keep them, because this is a good reminder of how I want to feel with each new “something”:

You can never tell if things are going to work at the start, but if we get to be our best selves for a while, then it will have been worth it. You make me smile.