Statue well de­served, by Ge­orge

Lethbridge Herald - - HERALD SPORTS - Dy­lan Pur­cell

The statue de­picts the re­lease point, the ex­act mo­ment an ath­lete lets a javelin fly and sub­jects it to the ran­dom­ness of the el­e­ments and the ground be­low.

The power and re­lease an­gle of a javelin rest com­pletely within an ath­lete’s con­trol.

That is why when Ge­orge and Ca­role Ge­mer started de­sign­ing the statue which sits near the bus loop on the U of L cam­pus, they wanted it to show the point of re­lease.

Ca­role died more than a year ago and Ge­orge, the ven­er­a­ble track and field coach, fin­ished the fi­nal prepa­ra­tions with­out her. He had the sculp­ture built from a small thing into a grand metal be­ing. It was trans­ported from Medicine Hat to the Univer­sity of Lethbridge on the day Ca­role died and there it sat un­til it was re­cently — and fi­nally — in­stalled on a plinth with a plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing Ge­orge, Ca­role and their 47 years ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents in track and field and fenc­ing, at the univer­sity.

The statue’s place was of­fi­cially marked on Sun­day as Ge­orge worked the crowd, posed for pho­tos and then, as al­ways, re­tired in­doors for a few “The hell with it” toasts and some hu­ber­tus, his famed Hun­gar­ian drink.

It was a happy day. It was one to cel­e­brate this man, whose youth was marked by an ath­letic ca­reer cut short by Soviet cru­elty and man’s ba­sic in­hu­man­ity to­ward each other. He wrote a book 20 years ago about his days as a “horse in Bryansk,” de­tail­ing the days and years he spent be­ing treated as less than hu­man. Now, af­ter a life­time of sup­port­ing and en­cour­ag­ing youth, a statue bear­ing his dis­tinc­tive pro­file will sit in per­pe­tu­ity in an in­sti­tute of higher learn­ing, the same kind of school he was de­nied of be­cause of his time in a gu­lag.

Ge­orge, who sur­vived five years in Soviet labour camps and their lice and star­va­tion and con­sti­pa­tion and beat­ings and end­less work, has said since Ca­role died that “Bryansk was bad but this is much, much worse.”

Ge­orge found Ca­role when she showed up to a track and field prac­tice. He was 17 years older, a scan­dalous age dif­fer­ence but one made neg­li­gi­ble over time and by the way Ge­orge fawned over his bride ev­ery mo­ment they were to­gether.

“Never for­get, tell her you love her,” Ge­orge said on Sun­day at the U of L. He had stretched his arms around my wife and I. “Life is too short, you have to tell her, don’t for­get to tell her you love her.”

Then he walked over to the ta­ble of Hu­ber­tus.

“I had young wife, Ca­role, she was so much younger than me, I know, I should have been first. Now? Now, she is gone so young and I have to be here.”

In Ge­orge’s book, he talks about mo­ments when he thought he would die. From a brother lost to Soviet air raids in the Sec­ond World War to fall­ing down, starved and ex­hausted, in a field of hay, there were mo­ments Ge­orge knows it could have or should have been his last gasp of life. Bryansk, as he says, was hard but life with­out his love is much, much harder.

The gu­lags could not stop Ge­orge. He made his way to Canada and be­came a coach of Olympians and cham­pi­ons at ev­ery level. He in­spired the cre­ation of the Lethbridge Track and Field Club and West Wind Gym­nas­tics Club.

He got in­volved as a Hun­gar­ian and an im­mi­grant. With help from friends, he got the statue he and Ca­role worked so hard on set up in the shade of a tree near a vi­tal through-way on the U of L cam­pus.

The statue has Ge­orge’s face. Ca­role traced it from a pro­jec­tor, and if you’ve ever seen Ge­orge Ge­mer’s bald pate tip­ping back a shot of hu­ber­tus, you know it’s his face.

Ge­orge has started go­ing to live mu­sic shows at The Geo­matic At­tic. He wanted to fol­low a band to Medicine Hat for a sec­ond show. He’s found an­other gasp of life de­spite pain and heartache, as we all knew he would.

As for his statue, the one wear­ing his face? It’s legacy is his.

Work hard. Strug­gle through pain. Per­se­vere through ad­ver­sity. Get your­self to that re­lease point, to the mo­ment be­fore it’s out of your hands. Then watch it fly and be ready to do it again.

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