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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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?”

 

 

 

 

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. 

What you already knew about other people’s weddings.

“How do you feel at weddings? Because I feel pretty fucking awful at them.”

Oliver was hungover and sitting in a Midwest airport, a few days after his 30-something birthday and the morning after a close friend’s wedding. He continued before I could answer, drawing a comparison to being 30 and single at a friend’s wedding to being 80 at a friend’s funeral. Suddenly you’re aware that you’re the one left behind — the loneliness is palpable.

“I love weddings. And I love flying solo at them,” I chirped in when he done with his melodramatic imagery. But then again, I had accepted the possibility of a life lived sans co-pilot. He was a chronic monogamist, who for as long as we had been friends (now more than a decade) was always pining for a wife.

Our conversation brought up a few memories…

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It’s really easy to be that kid at someone else’s wedding. Really easy.

Memory 1: When my best girl got engaged, I was terrified about how I would feel at her wedding. I expected to feel a mixture of sadness and jealously — both selfish responses to your best friend finding a happily ever after. I was present when she met her now husband, and as we all joke, I get to take some credit for their meeting (it was my idea to go to that bar, after all.) But there’s another way to tell the story: two girls walk into a bar. One walks out with a husband, the other with a hangover. I never think of it this way, but I was afraid that come her wedding day, I would. I was the only unattached bridesmaid, and wasn’t offered a plus-1. Would I feel all alone?

When the day arrived, I was relieved that all I felt was happiness — happy that I was there, happy that I got to be a part of the day, and happy that the friend who was like a sister to me was happy. (If I was starting to feel low, it helped that one of the groomsmen asked if he could take me to dinner one day…even if he was nearly 20 years older than me, and was rocking a soul patch… soul patches are unforgivable facial hair decisions.)

Memory 2: It was the middle of October and I was milling about the first floor of one of Amsterdam’s most luxurious department stores, stocking up on Christmas cards with yuletide greetings written in Dutch (because, of course.) A text message came through — my Ex with a capital E wanted to know what I was doing on Saturday.

Kat: Flying home from Amsterdam.

Ex: What time will you be back?

Kat: Why, what’s up?

Ex: I wanted to know if you were free to be my plus-1 at my sister’s wedding.

Kat: That’s rather short notice! Suddenly feel like you need moral support?

Ex: Don’t need moral support. Just want someone at my side who I would want at my side at these kind of important things…

I didn’t make it back in time to be his plus-1, but if he had asked me sooner, I would have been willing to book an earlier flight. Not because I wanted to fall back into the role of girlfriend, but because I understood.

When you’re single, other people’s weddings trigger complex emotions. We get a front seat in a real-life fairy tale, and that can inspire in us everything from hope to despair, happiness to loneliness. We can revel joyfully in the moment of the party, or wander aimlessly down memory lane, reliving all the relationships that could have made it to the alter. The ones that got away are specters that hang behind centerpieces and under place cards. For some singletons, all they need to weather that whirlwind of feels is a strong drink (or an open bar) and the right song to dance to (all hail the Wedding Singer!) Others meanwhile need a companion. My Ex and Oliver are of the latter. I’m in the group that hands them a drink and makes them join me in the macarena/hokey-pokey/electric slide. At least, that’s where I am for now.

 

Taxi Driver Horoscopes: A Second Date, Unsolicited Advice, and a Two-Bite Brownie

We were standing on the corner of Houston and Allen Streets. We had covered the entire west side and a good portion of the lower east side. My feet didn’t hurt, my hair still had a few good hours left in it, but the mist was beginning to turn to rain — a signal perhaps that it was time to call it a night.

Should we lyft, subway, or splurge on a yellow cab? Red asked.

IMG_20150602_082913I looked around. Houston was uncharacteristically jammed with “ready to hire” cabs. I answered the question by hailing one and said the fare was on me.

Red and I had talked freely all night, and continued to swap stories, each of us sitting as close to the windows and away from each other as possible. Like two kindergartners who were afraid of catching cooties.

As was my luck, I had picked a cab with one of those drivers who decides to pop-in on your conversation, then shares his life story, then offers you advice. He was wearing a powdered blue suit. He had class.

Are you two married?

Ha! No! We both replied.

Boyfriend and girlfriend?

Nope. Again, in unison.

Then Red: We’re friends.

Good friends?

We both remained silent and looked out the window. Our hazy night was reflected back to me in the silhouettes of NYC’s buildings zipping past.

Your date is so seeeeexxxxy! Red’s friend Leanna drunkenly announced when we dropped in on her Cinco de Mayo party. Keeeep herrrrrr!

Marry her! Another random party-goer said to Red when I sourced ladles as shot glasses.

We looked the part of couple, but were d-level actors at it.

It was a second date that should have been a home run given the success of our first and a long list of shared interests. I hadn’t been this excited about someone since Clark Kent, the museum exhibition manager with the kryptonite touch from the summer before. This one felt written in the stars. And yet, everything fell entirely flat. We were having a good time, but we would have been having a good time whether or not we were with each other. We were out together, but not really together.

The man should chase the woman, our dapper taxi driver said at one point.

It was perhaps his wisest remark of our northbound drive. I had quasi chased Red, and while I don’t believe in following all the standard rules of engagement in love and lust, experience had taught me to let the man take the lead.

Outside his apartment he gave me a firm hug.

I like you. I had a great time. You’re really sweet, but I don’t think we have much in the way of chemistry.

No. It seems we don’t.

We have a lot in common, and we should totally keep in touch.

Absolutely. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

As I walked to my car, I remembered I had a two-bite brownie in a hidden pocket of my purse. I sat in the driver’s seat. Cranked up some Beyonce. Ate the brownie in four bites, then drove off into the rain.