The Discus Thrower and his Dream Factory
Chapter 6. Discovering a New Life in Massachusetts
Amherst, Massachusetts, in the Berkshire Mountains, is an intellectual, bustling, lovely town full of bookstores, winding streets, New England clapboard homes, and lots of trees. We were met with the Splendor of a New England Fall as the leaves turned yellow, red, and orange and it felt as though we had entered a painting. We rented an apartment in the University complex and I began my two jobs. My primary job was as a graduate student working towards a Master’s of Science degree and the second one was my teaching assistantship which supported my family.
The subjects I was assigned to teach were weight training and physical fitness. Since I had experience working in Physical Therapy during my Army service at Tel Hashomer Hospital in Israel, I also was assigned to help in the Physical Training room. Here, the University athletes were treated for injuries or had their joints taped prior to their practice. In addition, I occasionally assisted several professors grading the undergraduate student exams.
Shortly after arriving at the University, I happen to be walking near some sports training fields and saw several athletes throwing the discus. My heart beat a little quicker as I watched the throwers and saw the discus land on the green grassy surface. After studying one of the athlete’s throws, I walked over and commented that he was not holding his arm at the proper height. On his next throw, he raised his arm and the discus went farther. He was quite thrilled with this improvement in his throw.
He asked me, “How did you know that?”
This comment seemed to provide more credibility to my coaching comments. “How far can you throw?” he asked me.
“One of my better throws was 192 feet,” was my reply.
Suddenly, another man joined our discussion. He introduced himself as the University’s Head Track Coach, Ken O’Brien. He had happened to overhear our conversation and was happy to have an opportunity to meet me. “You must be Gideon Ariel, the Olympian from Israel,” he said. “Someone told me that you would be here at the University in the fall and I was looking forward to the opportunity to meet you and pick your brain about various events.”
I was pleased with the recognition and to have the opportunity to meet the Head Coach. I had hoped that there would be an opportunity for me to maintain my discus throwing skills. I responded to Coach O’Brien that I was indeed Gideon Ariel and confirmed that I had competed in the Rome and Tokyo Olympics as a discus thrower. The athletes chatted enthusiastically with this news and immediately plied me with questions. The result was the coach offered me a job as his assistant for the throwing events. I would continue teaching my other subjects for my assistantship but I was more than happy to become involved with the Track Team.
School started in September and my courses were much more stimulating than I had anticipated. I especially enjoyed the classes in Physiology, Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Statistics. My intention was to finish the M.S. degree in one year rather than two. For that I had to register for 24 credit hours in addition to a six-hour research project. At the time, I did not realize the tremendous demand on my time this academic load would require.
The department of Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts did not have a Ph.D. program at that time. My plan was to finish the M.S. degree in Exercise Science and apply to another University to work toward a Ph.D. I had not decided where that school would be or exactly what I intended to study. I was confident that by the end of the year both questions would be answered.
Yael was extremely dissatisfied with my plan. She wanted me to go back to Israel after I finished the Master’s degree and start working to support our family. In fact, she had spent most of the cross-country drive from Wyoming to Massachusetts trying to convince me to return to Israel as soon as possible. Yael saw little value in education. Her plan was for us to return to Israel where we could live by our hands rather than by our minds. To be sure, throughout her life, she was, and continues to be, quite successful as a jewelry maker and a clothing designer. Both careers were viable for her since she could combine her creative mind with her highly skilled hands.
My priorities, on the other hand, were education first and family second. Perhaps this is an abnormal choice for some people but it seemed perfectly logical to me then as well as now when I reflect on my decision. “How can you have a comfortable and productive life with a healthy family without a first-class education?” I asked. “For me, the choice is to be a leader or a slave. As a slave, you work all your life for others and you will always have a boss. I would prefer to be the boss. Education will afford me the ability to become the boss whereas the lack of education will doom me to be a slave to others. Therefore, I choose education.”
Clearly, these were extremely contradictory outlooks on life. It was not a situation where one choice was right and the other one was wrong. It was a deeper divide with little or no place for compromise. Yael and I began having serious problems. We had never been particularly compatible. She had traveled to the United States because I had been lonely in Wyoming and I was obsessed with her beauty. Yael had agreed to visit me in Wyoming initially expecting it to be for a short three-month visit. Had the Brody family not pushed for the marriage, she probably would have returned to Israel and that would have been the end of it.
I had lived in America for three years, traveled around the country as an athlete representing the University, successfully graduated with honors, and worked during the summer vacations. I definitely wanted to continue my studies in the U.S. I may have been undecided about what I would do after completing my education but there was nothing that I would allow to interfere with this educational path. I still considered Yael to be the most beautiful woman in the world but I was not willing to sacrifice my education for her.
On the other hand, Yael had not attempted to broaden her horizons of interests or her skills. She was naturally skilled in artistic endeavors but did nothing to enhance those talents nor to broaden her academic knowledge. She maintained the status quo that she had brought from Israel in 1963. We began to argue constantly with many traumatic scenes. We were a young couple with unstable upbringings and childhood experiences. Furthermore, we were uncertain about the future for our daughter or ourselves. Eventually, Yael moved to her own apartment in Amherst taking Geffen with her. We struggled to find some accommodation with each other. We shared a daughter but this connection could not bridge the huge gulf in interests, future plans, or even our daily schedules. It was an awkward situation, which persisted for several years until it ended in divorce.
Meanwhile, my studies at the University were dramatically opening my eyes. Ironically, my course in Kinesiology, with Dr. Robert James, was the same textbook which I had devoured at Wingate College, “The Mechanics of Athletics” by Geoffrey Dyson. Dr. James focused more on the scientific aspects than what we had at Wingate. For the assigned class project to calculate different movement parameters, I selected several of the Track and Field events.
Professor Ricci, renowned in his field, was my professor in physiology. For the first time, I began to more thoroughly understand the basics of muscle action. I realized that regardless of what technique I used to coach my athletes, it still came down to the basics that their arms and legs must be moved by forces created by the muscles. In the physiology class, we studied the basics of the chemical changes which occur in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and other tissues in the body. Physiological changes are not the only cause of success in athletics. There must be a coordination of physiology and biomechanics which creates optimum performance. I wanted to be able to measure these parameters quickly and efficiently.
In addition to the academic classes I took, I also had to execute a scientific project, commonly referred to as a “thesis”. The class work and the scientific project were both required elements for the Master’s degree. Professor Harry Campney was the main advisor for my Master’s thesis. I had some ideas for my thesis project which I presented to Dr. Campney. He agreed with the general idea, but suggested that I try to enlist Dr. Ricci’s interest, particularly, since Dr. Ricci might have some additional funding available.
Professor Ricci had received a substantial grant of money to conduct research projects and he enthusiastically agreed to be a committee member for my Master’s Degree thesis project. I needed to choose a subject and Dr. Ricci would want me to conduct some experiment in physiology since this was his area of expertise. However, my interest was more in the mechanical parts of the analysis of movement. I wanted to know more about quantifying things such as why, raising or lowering the discus throwers arm produced throws of different lengths. Those discus-throwing results could not be due to a physiological reason but must have something to do with the angles of the arms or legs or maybe even more complicated interactions. My dilemma was how to combine both aspects of movement, the physiological and the mechanical to satisfy Professor Ricci.
In one of the physiology courses with Professor Ricci, we had covered a subject that included a famous physiological test of performance efficiency. The Harvard Step Test (HST) was a test of aerobic fitness which had been developed by Johnson, Brouha, and Gallagher in the Harvard Fatigue Laboratories during WWII. The features of the test were it simplicity to conduct and minimal equipment requirements.
The test was presented as a method of judging the general and cardiovascular fitness of the individual. Each test subject was required to step on and off a stool 20 in. high (50.8 cm) at the rate of 30 steps per minute for a total time of five minutes. At the conclusion of the test, the subject sat down and the first heart rate was taken after one minute of rest, then after the second minute, and finally after the third minute. The fitness index was a ratio of the sum of the three pulse counts and the duration of the exercise in seconds according to the formula outlined in the original report.
For my interest, it seemed that this Step Test would fulfill both scientific aspects. The Physiology portion measured the heart’s response to stress and the mechanical portion evaluated the person’s step. One of my specific thesis questions related to the height of the step and how the knee joint angle affected the performance. Obviously, shorter people need to flex their knees more and therefore exert more effort than taller people. I proposed the study to Professor Ricci and he agreed that this would be an excellent topic for my Master’s Degree Thesis.
I conducted the test utilizing two different step heights. One step was set at the fixed distance described by the original Harvard University researchers. I devised an adjustable step which could be changed for each individual. In other words, this step could be adjusted so that the subject would always begin the test with his knee at a right angle. This specialized step is shown in the photo on the left.
I selected 30 volunteer subjects from among my various classes. After analyzing the data, my study revealed that short people must exert much more effort to perform the standard Harvard Step test than the effort required of taller people. In other words, shorter people produced higher heart rates resulting from the increased amount of work required to complete the test. The standard Harvard Step test was only accurate in reflecting fitness levels for people who began the test with their knees positioned at right angles. It was unfair and biased against any individual whose knee joint was not at the right angle at the beginning of the test.
After conducting the test, analyzing the results, and presenting the conclusions, I submitted the study to my Thesis Committee. They were quite impressed with both the Thesis question and the way I addressed the discrepancy in the original Harvard test. They perceived my study as novel work and cheerfully awarded me the Masters of Science Degree in 1967.
Dr. Ricci was proud of me and my accomplishments during the previous year. He asked whether I would be interested in publishing my thesis study in an internationally refereed journal. He assured me that if I published the results of my Thesis, it would be easier to obtain a scholarship to a university to pursue a doctoral degree. My answer was an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
Coincidently, Professor James was leaving for his sabbatical year and he asked if I would run his Therapeutic Center at the University. This position would allow me to earn extra money and to remain at the University of Massachusetts. I would have time to publish my thesis study and take additional courses in engineering and mathematics. Thus, when school resumed in the fall of 1967, I would have a whole new goals and tasks. I could hardly wait.
Although I would be earning more money during the school year, I needed to supplement those funds during the intervening summer months. I obtained a job as a camp director at Camp HES (Hebrew Educational Society) located in upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains. I was hired because I was an Israeli and had camp experiences. Camp HES was the only Jewish camp on a large beautiful lake which was shared by about five other, non-Jewish camps. Every year Camp HES endured a variety of pranks perpetrated by residents from the neighboring camps. The HES Board of Directors in New York City believed that an Israeli would know how to handle this yearly plague of unwarranted practices. In anticipation of the pranks I had been warned to expect, I hired were some of my Israeli military friends as counselors.
Every year, one of the favorite pranks was to sneak under cover of darkness and cut the underwater connections which held the swimming rafts securely in place. Without the proper tethers, the rafts would float down the lake into the river. Not only was it time-consuming and arduous work to retrieve the rafts but the water activities were disrupted for days.
One of the counselors I hired with this situation in mind was Dany Tal, who had spent his Israeli military service as a frogman. Another counselor was Yaron, who served in the Israeli Army as a paratrooper. In addition to being very popular counselors with the kids attending the camp, they were part of my” counter-terrorism” squad. The day finally arrived when the kids went down to the lake for the water activities only to stare in shocked silence at the empty waters. Our rafts had been cut just as they had been every year before. A few of our counselors now had to find the rafts, somewhere down the lake or into the river, catch them, and tow them back to camp. This task usually took several days which meant our water sports had to be curtailed or eliminated.
That night, Dany, Yaron and I mobilized our resources and went into action. Under a black sky, Dany, with his frogman’s gear, rode in the boat with Yaron and me. At each dock, Dany slipped into the dark water and severed the ropes holding the dock in place. We quietly circled the lake “liberating” 24 rafts.
As each camp around the lake awoke, the morning’s calm was filled with loud and angry shouts in addition to gesticulating and screaming people. Boats from every camp were on the lake with people trying to locate rafts and shouting at one another through bullhorns. It was a collective disaster and filled the beautiful bucolic area with noise and commotion.
The local police set up a meeting with all the camp directors. I wore my yarmulke and introduced myself to all the other camp directors. After a long discussion about the rafts being cut, I mentioned that our rafts had been cut the day before and I speculated that perhaps it was the same group who had cut the other camps’ rafts. There were no conclusions drawn that day. Likewise, there were no leads on the perpetrators of the vandalism. Therefore, all the camp directors returned to our individual camps and things continued normally until the morning of July 5th.
On July 5th, one of my counselors discovered that a swastika had been painted on the Rabbi’s car. This was another annual event, which the Board had warned us would happen. Although we could not see the faces of the people in the other camps, most assuredly, they were laughing hysterically at this, amusing to them, prank.
That night, about 3 a.m., Dany, Yaron, and I once again went into action. We sneaked into each camp and dismantled the wheels from the cars. The wheels were thrown into the lake and all the bolts were carefully immersed in jars of jelly and left on picnic tables in plain view.
The following morning the police, once again, requested that all the camp directors meet. After a lengthy discussion about who could have been responsible for this crime, I addressed the meeting wearing my customary yarmulke. “Perhaps you are all aware that we are a Jewish camp. First, our rafts were cut and then, miraculously, yours rafts were cut soon afterward. Then someone committed the terrible act of painting a Swastika on the Rabbi’s car. I think removing tires from cars must be an act of retribution from G_d. In fact, G_d came to me at night and warned me about what was to happen. Therefore, I have no reason not to believe that G_d has answered our prayers.” After this short speech, I sat back and waited. Each of the directors and the police chief stared at me as though I had dropped out of the sky. They looked at each other in silence. The meeting was concluded with no other ideas presented regarding the cars losing their wheels to the lake.
The summer progressed without further incidents. Our rafts were never cut again and the Swastika was never again drawn on the Rabbi’s car. The children enjoyed the rest of the summer and I was rehired as Camp Director for the next year.
After my summer camp adventures of 1967, I returned to Amherst for a new and entirely different school experience. This was the first time, since my Army days, that I was less of a student and more of a teacher in several of my new roles. I was responsible for Dr. James’ Therapeutic Center, which was primarily a physical therapy experience. Because of my work at the Tel Hashomer Hospital in Israel, where I had worked with wounded and recuperating soldiers, I was easily able to work with injured and recovery athletes. I was back in the physiology laboratory conducting experiments based on my Master’s Thesis funded by grant monies from Professor Ricci. I also attended engineering and math courses and I continued to work with Coach O’Brien and the Track and Field team. Needless to say, I was quite busy all day including weekends when I worked with the track team.
After a few months, I submitted my experiments to the Ergonomic Journal for publication. This is a refereed journal which means that every study is presented and reviewed by a peer group. The scientists who read each anonymously authored publication are selected according to their individual academic and scientific expertise. In this way, each study is examined by a peer professor familiar with the topic as opposed to a professor in Physics trying to make an evaluation of an experiment in Psychology. This allowed better comprehension and decision-making based on the merit of a submitted study’s content. Also, since the reviewer must judge the article unaware of its author, blatant bias against the writer is avoided. Fortunately, my publication was approved and published.
My days were full of work and study. I still had time to train with the discus and work out with the athletes in the exercise room. I filled out and mailed many applications to universities throughout America in hopes of finding a good school to pursue my doctoral studies. Dr. Ricci was quite helpful with this effort. With his help and my excellent academic record, I was offered a full scholarship in the Anatomy and Physiology Department at Indiana University, beginning in the fall of 1968. I was relieved and excited about this new academic adventure.
Before the semester began in Indiana, I returned to Camp HES for the summer. Fortunately, the annual pranks which had previously plagued this camp for many years were not repeated. I guess the message from G_d had carried over the winter into the camp season! There was the usual mixture of Israeli and American counselors and the summer began with beautiful warm skies.
Every year, I invented some crazy idea to trick and entertain the campers. This year, I had read that there would be a total solar eclipse. Of course, it was going to occur in the South Pacific but for my purposes, this was irrelevant. The first order of business was to organize the counselors and the sequence of events. We created a completely imaginary injury to someone who slept with their watch on their arm. Because of this injury, I announced that everyone must remove their watch before bed and leave it on the small tables next to their beds. After two weeks of removing their watches before bed, none of the campers gave this ritual any thought. It became an automatic nighttime routine.
For the next phase of the scheme, I arranged for the local shop to print some newspapers, filled with the accurate local news but to include an additional article concerning the solar eclipse. Of course, the staff and I had decided the day that the reported solar eclipse was to occur. The day that the newspapers were delivered to the camp all the counselors read the articles as did many of the campers. Imagine my joy when some of the campers discovered the article about the eclipse that would occur at seven o’clock the next morning. That evening after dinner and before the evening events, I announced that since tomorrow morning there would be a total solar eclipse, we would have to begin our day in the dark. However, we would still have the usual activities although it would be dark for the ones at the beginning of the day.
That night, after the campers had fallen asleep, the counselors quietly crept through the campers’ bedrooms moving the time on the watches forward by four hours. I had enlisted the cooperation of the cook and other staff members to be part of this eclipse event. They were thrilled to be part of this potentially hilarious hoax and readily agreed to arrive early and prepare the food.
At the actual time of 3 a.m., the alarms set for 7 a.m. went off all over the camp. The bugler blew the wake-up call and, in the complete blackness that is found in the woods away from city lights, the campers arose. We proceeded with the normal early morning activities including the flag raising ceremony. Everything was done in the darkness of the “total eclipse”.
At breakfast, I asked if any of the campers had been awake to see the moon cross in front of the sun. If so, would they please describe the event for those of us who had missed the eclipse? There were many hands in the air and each of these campers described with graphic details the drama of seeing the moon passing across the face of the sun and the day going into the night. Suddenly, one of the campers shouted that the sun was coming up! Now, as dawn rose around the camp, the total solar eclipse was no more. As the realization of the trick that we had played spread around the dining room, there were cheers of joy and uncontrollable laughter especially from the campers who had seen the eclipse take place before their eyes.
Camp continued for the rest of the summer with the normal fun and games. As usual, our sports teams lost every game they played during the annual “Camps Olympics”. Losing every year was always a low point. But, I tried to overcome these losses with other activities for the kids within Camp HES like the eclipse event.
Following my summer adventures, I set off for Indiana University to pursue a doctorate. The Department of Anatomy and Physiology also provide a path for those who wanted to become medical doctors. I was intrigued with the idea of becoming a physician. Perhaps this was an option that I might seriously pursue. After all, I was a good Jewish boy and, secretly in my heart, I harbored the idea that this would prove my worth to my father. I tried to imagine myself as a doctor as I drove across New York State to Bloomington, Indiana which is the home of the famous Hoosiers.
I began my studies and hoped to become involved with the Track and Field team. Shortly after arriving in Bloomington, I introduced myself to the Head Coach, Mr. Bill Perin. I told him about my two Olympic competitions and that I would be interested in working with him and his throwers. Coach Perin was receptive to my coaching his throwers which was a wonderful opportunity for me to continue my association within the track and field realm.
I very much wanted to go to the Olympics in Mexico City which were to be held in October that year. This would be my third Olympic games but this time I would be a spectator rather than a participant. As luck would have it, Coach Perin and I were able to travel to Mexico City and secure tickets for the Track and Field events. Luckily for me, Coach Perin persuaded the Olympic officials to let me stand on the field so that I could film the events unimpeded by fences, flags, or the spectators’ heads in the cheering crowds in the stands. I had taken a movie camera to record the best performers and hoped I would be in the right place at the right time. This was the first time in Olympic history that a scientist was allowed to collect real-time data at the Olympics. Before my appearance, the only films collected on the field were for television coverage or historical productions like those produced by the great filmmakers, Bud and Cappy Greenspan.
The choice of Mexico City to host the Olympics was controversial because of the city’s high altitude, 7585 feet or 2,300 meters. The high altitude proved an advantage in such explosive events as sprints, jumping, throwing, and weight lifting. But the rarified air had the opposite effect on those competing in endurance events since it was more difficult to breathe.
I was lucky enough to capture Bob Beamon’s World Record breaking performance in the Long Jump. His landing, at a spectacular distance of 29 feet, 2.5 inches, was an amazing world record which stood for 22 years.
It was interesting to watch Bob Beamon as he completed his jump, looked at the scoreboard, and then displayed little emotion. However, after he was told the converted distance from meters into feet for his jump, he was enthusiastic with joy and elation.
The overall experience for me was exhilarating and, as I enjoyed the Games from the spectator’s viewpoint, it was far less stressful than my previous experiences. I also had an opportunity to reunite with many of my old Israeli friends and coaches. I was invigorated by seeing and sharing their Olympic experiences, as well as, chatting about friends and places in Israel. When the Games ended, it was bittersweet to part with old friends but I needed to return to my studies.
I returned to Indiana ready to work and began my second Anatomy course. This class was designed for those students in the pre-med program. I was not aware that the class included a laboratory section in which we had to dissect dogs. The first laboratory session involved slicing into a dog’s chest and removed the beating heart. That was too much for me! I loved dogs too much for that kind of experimentation. In addition, there was more blood and cutting into living beings than I could endure. I immediately realized that I could not seriously consider continuing a medical career. My nascent calling as a physician was immediately terminated that day!
At this point, I had to consider what other options were available for me to pursue. The most logical step seemed to be to return to Amherst and study there while I searched for another program. As I drove east towards Massachusetts, I decided to look at the program possibilities at Kent State University in Ohio.
Kent State had an excellent program of Exercise Physiology under the guidance of Dr. Lawrence A. Golding. Dr. Golding had heard about me from Dr. Ricci and offered me a scholarship. Since I was aware that the University of Massachusetts had not begun a Ph.D. program in Exercise Science, I decided to say at Kent State and continue my studies.
Of course, one of my first destinations was to the Track Coach with offers to assist training the athletes. My offer was readily accepted and I successfully helped some of the team members improve their results. In fact, several of them eventually became members of Olympic teams. Jacques Accambray, the weight thrower, competed for France. American Olympic team members included Al Schoterman, in the hammer throw, and Sammy Walker, as a weight lifter.
Jacques Accambray threw the 35-pound weight and achieved All-American status seven times between the years of 1971 to 1974. He won three in the indoors weight throw and four in the hammer. Al Schoterman was both weight and hammer throws on the collegiate level and represented the United States in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Sam Walker finished ninth in the weightlifting event in the 1976 Montreal Games.
To supplement my assistantship, I worked at the local Jewish school where I taught Jewish culture. I was quite happy to teach the children about Israel and the culture of my homeland. Since this was a school rather than a summer fun camp, it was unnecessary for me to create eclipses or invent other forms of entertainment.
Shortly after the first quarter ended at Kent State, I received a telephone call from Professor Ricci. He was excited to tell me that the Governing Board of the University had approved the Ph.D. program in the Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts. The first doctoral candidates would be admitted beginning in the fall semester of 1969. His question was whether I would like to be a member of that first doctoral study program. Also, he assured me that there would be assistantships available for those students who needed them. This was wonderful news and I responded with great enthusiasm that I was more than interested. I would complete the necessary paperwork for the fall semester and send them to him. I told him that I would plan to return to Amherst at the end of the second quarter classes at Kent State. I also told him of my intension of working at a camp in the summer before the classes began in September.
That summer, I was once again the Director at Camp HES. The weather that year was particularly rainy. Needless to say, it is not as much fun to go to summer camp and have torrential rain forcing everyone indoors. The counselors and I were continually stretching our creative minds to invent active and fun things to do inside rather than in the great outdoors which everyone had looked forward to enjoying.
Finally, after nearly two weeks of rain, I decided to contact the local weather bureau regarding the forecast for the near future. I hoped to gain some insight so that we could try to find indoor things for the campers to do. I listened with increasing relief to the description of the weakening low-pressure center which would be moving eastward during the night and would clear to partially cloudy skies by noon. Then the extended forecast was for a period of warm and sunny summer weather for a few weeks.
I could not let this opportunity pass without capitalizing on the weather. The counselors and I put our heads together to find an appropriate end of this seeming endless monsoon of rain. Finally, we decided to have a “Flood” to rival the one experienced by the biblical Noah.
The next morning the rain continued to fall. After breakfast had been eaten and the dishes cleaned up, I announced with great sadness that the entire World was flooded and our camp was the last place still on dry ground. This was a repeat of Noah’s flood and we should prepare for the worst. The children began to cry and ask what were we going to do. The counselors moved around the room with paper, pens, and bottles complete with stoppers. We told them to write their thoughts and dreams, their names and address, and any final wishes. We assured them that someday in the distant future those bottles would be opened by archeologists and they would discover what had happened to our camp.
After the children had written their messages to the future archeologists and stuffed them into the bottles, we arranged for each group of campers to drag the canoes from the lake up into the basketball court. Then the campers, with their paper-filled bottles, climbed into canoes to await the rising waters. The counselors and I would walk around among the canoes and murmur words of encouragement.
Suddenly, the sun began to peak out from behind one cloud with a hint of blue sky nearby. As the sky became brighter and the sun shone through the remaining clouds, the counselors and I made a circle the canoes and began to sing and dance. The song and dance are a famous Israeli melody called, “Mayhem, Mayhem” which means, “Water, Water.” As we cheerfully sang and danced, the campers slowly realized that the whole “Flood” was another one of my creative events. They climbed out of their canoes, wiped away tears, and joyfully joined the circle of dancers.
That evening after dinner, any campers who wanted to share their messages could read them aloud to the group. Some of the messages were hilarious and the whole dining hall rocked with laughter. To this day, I am sure that none of those kids will ever hear that specific song and not smile while they explain how they survived the “Flood”!
Soon thereafter, a new problem developed. On the signup sheet for the dance and drama activities, too few campers had registered to act in the annual camp play which was performed near the end of the camp season. How, I pondered, could I solve this problem? Inspiration led me to announced at dinner that Camp HES was privileged to have been one of the camps selected for the Hollywood directors and producers’ tour. A group of Hollywood representatives would watch our play and would most likely select one or more of our talented actors or actresses for future roles in Hollywood. Currently, all the roles were filled but, perhaps because of this fantastic opportunity, the dance and drama counselors would be able to expand the number of positions if anyone else was interested. The play that had been selected for that summer was “Fiddler on the Roof”. Miraculously, by the next morning, the signup sheet was filled with willing campers.
As the summer drew to a close, I arranged with six of my friends to arrive in large, expensive cars to judge our talented players. They arrived on the appointed day wearing dark sunglasses, scarfs tied around their necks, and clipboards for note taking. They were quite serious as they sat at the front of the audience which was comprised of the campers and most of their parents. We watched with enjoyment as “Fiddler on the Roof” was performed. Afterward, the producers interviewed the performers and made many notes. Following declaration of encouragement, these Hollywood directors drove away leaving many pleased and happy campers. As the camp director, I was one of the most pleased at the success of the dance and drama portion of Camp HES.
Following the summer at Camp HES, I drove to Amherst to begin the Ph.D. program at the University. My job that year, 1969, was to be a graduate assistant for physical education classes. Also, on my own, I created an “Exercise for Your Life” class which was open during the lunch hour for everyone in the university. I usually had 30 to 40 men and women of all ages attending this class. I was quite pleased that few people dropped out and, in fact, the roster swelled slightly as the semester continued. In addition, I worked with Ken O’Brien and his Track and Field Team. I focused primarily on the field events including discus, shot put, hammer, and the jumping events.
In addition to my assistantship work, I had a full academic load of classes. One was a Statistics course with a wonderful Canadian professor, Dr. Gail Oakland. His background studies in Canada had involved wheat and other grains which were surprisingly not that different from human beings when you examine them statistically. In class one day, Dr. Oakland asked a question that hung in the air unanswered for an elongated pause. Finally, one girl raised her hand and answered the question perfectly as Dr. Oakland proudly noted. Since I had absolutely no idea what the answer was when posed by Dr. Oakland, I approached the girl after class. I inquired how had she known the answer since I had studied and not found anything like that. She stared at me without smiling, calmly asked if I knew where to find the library, turned on her heels, and walked away. I was shocked and dumbfounded and, worse, I still did not know where to find those kinds of statistical answers.
Another course I took that first semester was Motor Integration with Dr. Walter Kroll. His field of interest involved understanding how the nervous and the muscular systems worked together. My personal interests were inclined to the mechanical portion of the human performance but it was important to understand how the nervous system controlled functioned. The nervous system controlled when the muscles pulled on the bone levers to produce movement. I wanted to ask Dr. Kroll a question that had been discussed in class the preceding day.
Dr. Kroll was the only man who had an office in the Women’s Physical Education Building. He had a large office downstairs and an even larger laboratory for his research. Apparently, he was the only male faculty member who could get along with the teachers in this building. My walk across the campus began at Boyden Building where my office was located. It was a long walk since the powers that be had put Boyden, the men’s gymnasium, as far away as possible from the women’s building, where Dr. Kroll worked.
Dr. Kroll’s office door was slightly ajar. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. I peeked inside to make sure he was not there and pondered my next step. His laboratory was just down the hall so I decided to check there. I knocked loudly on the door and nothing happened. After a brief pause, I knocked again much harder this time in case Dr. Kroll was at the back of the laboratory. Suddenly, the door was flung open to reveal the same girl that I had seen in Dr. Oakland’s statistic course. I asked it Dr. Kroll was there. The girl scowled and nearly sliced me into pieces with her fierce, “I don’t know. I am not his secretary. Can’t you read?” and slammed the door in my face! Now that the door was in front of my face, I read the large, colorful, poster-sized, sign on the door, which read, “TESTING, DO NOT DISTURB”. “Oops” came to my mind and I still had not located Dr. Kroll to ask my question.
One of my independent projects was to analyze the Olympic athletes I had filmed in Mexico City. I was particularly interested in Bob Beaman’s jump since it was a World record and one that was probably not going to be broken for a long time. I had a close friend, George Dales, who was the Head Track and Field Coach at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. George was a very intense person and devoted to the athletes and coaches in track and field events. In addition, he was the head of the International Track and Field Coaches Association and published a Quarterly Journal for this organization. His goal was totally focused on how to help coaches train their athletes and how athletes could better understand their events. This meant the articles which he published were to help his target audience not for the aggrandizement of the scientist writing the article. George has worked tirelessly with this goal for as long as I have known him and he has not slowed down although he is now in his nineties. He is almost as strong now as he was then and he continues to practice what he preaches with daily exercises. George published my article about Bob Beamon’s record jump. This was one of my first, of many, articles published in the Track and Field Quarterly Review.
During the spring semester of 1969, I happened to be in the hall outside of the weight lifting room in the Boyden Building. Just as I had my hand on the doorknob, I heard a shout from a friend of mine, Jim Selidas. He was waving at me and there was a girl walking just behind him in his shadow. Jim said that he wanted me to meet his friend, Ann Penny, who had heard so many stories about “Crazy Gideon”, but insisted she did not know who that was. I was stunned to see the same girl who had refused to answer my statistics question and had slammed the lab door in my face. Based on her facial expression, I could tell that she did not remember these encounters. We politely shook hands, chatted for a few moments, and then I had to begin my class. Little did I know that we would meet again.
Classes concluded at the end of May, so I set off again for Camp HES for the summer. Each year there was a kind of “Olympics” among the camps around the lake. All the camps competed in different sports such as basketball, swimming, and various running events. Our Jewish camp always had terrible results. The other camps beat us mercilessly in every event. I had decided that this year things would be different.
Applications to attend the camp arrived at the beginning of the summer. I took the opportunity to meet and select the 100 kids whom I wished to be campers for that summer. Only kids who excelled in basketball or soccer, or ran fast, or swam like fishes were accepted. My goal was to choose 100 “Spartans” for a camp that summer. I separated them, not by age, but by sport. I only hired counselors who could coach sports. I did not hire counselors for art, drama, for Jewish activities. This year, Camp HES was going to be an “Olympic” training center.
We trained every day for hours in preparation for the last week of camp when the Camp Olympics would take place. I minimized the other normal camp activities in order that there would be more time to train. For example, instead of studying Jewish prayers, the Rabbi coached the soccer team.
About a month before the Camp Olympics, I organized the annual “Maccabiah Games” for Camp HES. The actual Maccabiah Games are quadrennial Jewish Olympics held in Israel the year following the Olympic Games. Every four years, the best Jewish athletes from throughout the world compete in Open, Masters, Juniors, and Disabled competitions.
The concept of the Maccabiah Games was the brainchild of 15-year old Russian-born Yosef Yekutieli. The teenager had been so energized by news of the 1912 Olympic Games that he conceived the fanciful notion of a worldwide Olympics for Jewish athletes in Palestine. With little encouragement, and not a small amount of ridicule, Yekutieli spent the next ten years developing details of his unique idea.
The first Maccabiah was held March 28 to April 6, 1932. Its overwhelming success guaranteed its permanent future. Originally conceived as a quadrennial event, Maccabiah II was moved up a year to 1935 because of the rising tide of Nazism in Europe. The rumblings of World War II forced postponement of the third Maccabiah. The delay was 15 years. The Games were reborn in 1950 in the new State of Israel, and Maccabiah #4 was held in 1953. Thereafter, the Maccabiah established its current quadrennial formula, held the year following the Summer Olympic Games.
The Games today are organized by an International Maccabiah Committee and are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and World Federation of Sports. The Maccabiah Games, ranking among the five largest sports gatherings in the world (in number of participants), are considered Regional Games by the International Olympic Committee.
This year I wanted the Camp HES event to be especially meaningful so that the campers would be even more inspired to continue to train for the Camp Olympics. A few mornings before the big event, I announced I had arranged for the Prime Minister of Israel to come to our camp and officially preside over the opening Ceremonies. The campers were ecstatic with pride and joy. They prepared songs to sing and flags to wave for him. We purchased a large floral arrangement to present to him when he arrived.
The day dawned with beautiful sunny weather. The campers were dressed in their sporting clothes and eagerly awaited the arrival of our important visitor. About ten o’clock, a large black limousine drove around the corner of the administration building and the campers burst into song and enthusiastically waved their flags. When the door opened, the Prime Minister stepped out of the limousine in formal wear with dark glasses protecting his eyes from the sunlight and a black hat on his head. He graciously accepted the flowers and waved at the campers and counselors. He was escorted to the place of honor and in halting English read the proclamation opening the Camp HES Maccabiah Games of 1969.
Shortly after the first events began, I announced that the Prime Minister had to leave to conduct some important official duties. The campers waved and cheered as his limousine disappeared around the building. The Prime Minister then returned to his real job as the owner and director of the local funeral home.
In 1969, there were no cell phones. People did not spend their lives calling and texting everyone all day and night as is common practice now. In fact, the campers were not allowed to call their parents unless there was an emergency. Apparently, one of the counselors went into town after the Games, had a meal at a local diner with friends, and from there the tale spread. The only phone in camp was located in the administrative office, so I was quite surprised to receive a call from the Chairman of the Board of the Camp in distress over my failure to tell him that the Prime Minister of Israel had been at Camp HES. As I described what had happened and who the Prime Minister was, we both had quite a laugh about the whole episode.
Finally, the biggest event of the summer was about to take place. The campers from the surrounding camps congregated at one of the camps for the annual Camp Olympics. As usual, our kids overheard snide comments and saw smirks from other campers in anticipation of their forthcoming victories. I confess to being quite nervous because of our history of failures. Just because we had trained for the whole summer did not mean that we would be successful. As the day progressed, each event ended with Camp HES campers proudly standing on the victory stand in first place. There was first place in basketball, then soccer, then track, events. Finally, we took first place in each of the swimming events. I was so proud that we had won every event. The kids and the counselors were crying and I had tears in my eyes. All of us enjoyed these victories which had eluded the Camp HES campers for so many years before.
After camp ended, I was fired. Why? The committee in New York discovered that although the campers may have become excellent athletes, they had not become particularly great Jewish scholars. It seemed that skipping the Jewish education part and the early morning prayers to train for sports was unacceptable to the parents and the Board. My career as Camp Director at HES ended.
Despite the end of my career as a camp director, there was a silver lining. During the summer, I shared the camp director’s house with several of the counselors including Dany, the Frogman, who had returned every year since the infamous raft-cutting events. Dany had met a stunningly beautiful Israeli girl, Esti, who was a counselor at another camp. As the summer progressed, I watched their relationship evolve. Although I did not discuss the situation with Dany, it appeared that he did not seriously care for Esti and, in fact, seemed not to respect her. I was much more of a gentleman with women.
One hot day late in the afternoon when we had a few hours free before dinner, I offered to drive down to the local ice cream parlor to buy milkshakes for the group of counselors lounging in the living room of my house. This offer was met with enthusiasm and I made a list of everyone’s favorite flavor. When I returned with a box filled with milkshakes, I neatly wrote a message on Esti’s cup, “You are so beautiful.” I carefully handed her the milkshake so that she would immediately see the message before she had the first sip. At first, she had a puzzled look and then smiled. As the summer progressed, Esti parted ways with Dany and became my girlfriend. When the summer ended, she came to live with me in Amherst.
This residency was short-lived, however. Although Yael and I had lived separately for three or four years, Yael was not willing to let go of me. During that same summer, Yael and Geffen had gone to Israel. She learned about Esti and me since gossip mill runs across miles of land and oceans. Yael was outraged and paid a visit to Esti’s family in Israel informing them that she would never divorce me. She made it very clear that Esti could never be my wife.
Esti’s family was extremely distressed by this news and soon thereafter an uncle was dispatched to Amherst to discuss the situation. Esti was persuaded to return to Israel and wait to see what happened between Yael and me. It is difficult to maintain a long-distance relationship, so Esti and I gradually drifted into our separate lives.
Esti and I have remained good friends for many years, however. In fact, once when I was visiting Israel, Esti wanted me to meet her fiancé. I was surprising to find that he was one of the injured soldiers that I had rehabilitated during my Army time at Tel Hashomer Hospital. We continue to meet whenever I travel to Israel or she is in the United States. Esti is a wonderful person and still beautiful.
Academic life, working as an assistant, training in the weight room, and working with the Track and Field team filled my days. I focused on these things and pushed Esti into the back of my mind. Fortunately, I was extremely busy and, over time, obsession with my work overtook thoughts of Esti. I discovered more academic areas of interest and began to intensely focus on many new things. I had another surprise, about this time, when I discovered a new and fantastic friend.