Category Archives: Sports

Water, Water Everywhere …

As Westport prepares for heavy rain and possible thunderstorms tonight — with  coastal flooding and shoreline impacts from midnight through 4 a.m. — alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti forwarded this text:

His only comment: “Kinda ironic.”

Pic Of The Day #906

Greens Farms Elementary School softball field (Photo/Tim Woodruff)

“Andrew’s Army”: Video Documents A Life Well Lived

From the time he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma — a very rare childhood cancer — at age 5, until his death 15 years later, Andrew Accardi battled hard.

He was a valued member of the Staples High School golf team. He vowed to walk across the stage on Graduation Day, 2011 — and did. He amassed a legion of friends and admirers, with his big heart and even bigger spirit.

Andrew Accardi

Andrew died on October 31, 2013. His friends — in Westport and at Villanova University, where he was a finance and marketing major — and family members, who called themselves “Andrew’s Army,” had already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for neuroblastoma research.

In the 6 years since, they’ve done even more.

The latest: On Saturday, October 26 (6:30 p.m., Town Hall), there’s a special screening of a documentary, “Andrew’s Army.” A reception at Tavern on Main follows.

It was a labor of love by Sam Bender, a longtime classmate and friend. The talented filmmaker created it as his senior thesis at Emerson College. (At Staples, he earned renown as the first videographer for the boys soccer team.)

Sam Bender (left) and Andrew Accardi, in high school.

The 30-minute film touches on the personal and private parts of Andrew’s life. He kept quiet about his health struggles. He was adamant about being treated “normally” by his peers.

Andrew never asked for sympathy or preferential treatment; he only wanted to live his life to the fullest. The documentary shows how hard his fight was — and how hard he fought.

Sam interviewed Andrew’s family, Westport and college friends, the Villanova president, and doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia who treated him so long and loved him so much.

It’s an inspiring story. Andrew’s Army marches on!

(Click here for tickets to the October 26 film screening at Town Hall, and reception at Tavern on Main. All proceeds go to neuroblastoma research at Children’s Hospital. You can also donate on Venmo: @andrewsarmy.)

[OPINION] Fred Cantor’s 24 Hours In “Our Town”

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime Westporter — Fred Cantor hears frequent laments about the changes in town since “whatever decade people grew up here in.” Of course, he admits, things are different.

But, Fred notes, the small-town feel that existed when his family moved here in 1963 is still alive and well. As proof, he offers a series of events that occurred recently, in just one 24-hour period.

Bruce Davidson, from his Staples High School yearbook.

It started with a visit to a local periodontist which, believe it or not, proved enjoyable overall. That’s because he’s Dr. Bruce Davidson, Staples High School Class of 1965, a family friend from back in the day and a former soccer teammate of my brother Marc. Bruce has practiced for decades at the same location on the Post Road, near Sylvan Avenue.

After a thorough exam and patient clarification of potential issues raised by X-rays taken in California, there was time to catch up and hear, among other things, about the status of a documentary film by Bruce’s brother, Doc (Staples ‘70).

After my appointment I drove to Cohen’s Fashion Opticals to pick up new glasses, which were almost ready. No problem: It was close to lunchtime, so I headed a few doors down to Gold’s. Owner Jim greeted me warmly.

I had a delicious turkey salad sandwich. The food at Gold’s is every bit as good today as when my parents first took me there in the 1960s — and the setting seems exactly as it did back then.

Jim Eckl and his wife Nancy have owned Gold’s since 2003.

Later in the day, I enjoyed a timeless outdoor Westport scene: a large crowd gathered on the hill to watch a Staples soccer game, on a beautiful Friday afternoon.

I had not arranged to meet anyone there. That didn’t matter. I sat with Bill Mitchell (Staples ’61) and former soccer coach Jeff Lea. We shared a few laughs and some entertaining stories. Dave Wilson (a Staples captain in 1974) was there too.

The ageless Laddie Lawrence (Staples ’64) also joined us for a while; so did former Westport Late Knights soccer teammate, Alex Anvari. Somehow Alex’s little boy Emerson has grown up — he’s 6-1 now!—to be a Staples senior who, to my delight, is on the varsity team.

Enjoying Staples soccer on the Loeffler Field hill (from left):L Fred Cantor, Jeff Lea, Bill Mitchell, Laddie Lawrence.

It was the last weekend of summer, with near-perfect temperatures, so after the game my wife Debbie and I headed to Compo to enjoy the sunset. As often happens, we ran into a couple of longtime Westporters.

I also had a nice chat with Joey Romeo, the owner of Joey’s By the Shore. He is every bit as friendly as any Main Street storeowner was in the 1960s.

Compo Beach sunset. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The next morning I was walking on Bridge Street toward the train station. A car pulled over. The driver was Staples alum Mike Elliot; he offered me a ride. I explained that walking is my regular exercise these days.

As I neared the station, another car stopped. Staples classmate Bob Uly wanted to know how I was doing health-wise.

It was just 24 hours. Nothing truly out of the ordinary happened.

But those little slice-of-life occurrences demonstrate, at least for me, that certain “Our Town”-like qualities still very much exist here.

Minuteman Yacht Club Welcomes All

Half a century ago, Joe Schachter bought a boat. He, his wife Irma and their young kids loved leaving their slip at Longshore, and heading out on the Sound.

Except when they couldn’t get out, because the basin was silted over. In fact, the only time that worked was half tide or more.

A few similarly disgruntled boat owners started talking. They realized their individual complaints to town officials went nowhere.

Meanwhile, over at Compo, there wasn’t even a real “marina” at all. Boats were tied to buoys. After a day on the water, boaters blew air horns, then waited for a tender to fetch them from the gas dock. On busy days, it took an hour.

They formed a group, to advocate for all Westport boaters. They named themselves the Minuteman Yacht Club.

Irma and Joe Schachter

It took 30 years, but they finally got action. Twenty years after that, Schachter — now 94 years old — is still involved.

And, in a measure of how far the Minuteman Yacht Club has come, one very important town official — 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — attends many of the group’s events.

The organization’s efforts paid off in the renovation of Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach. A gangway — to walk to boats — replaced the old blow-your-horn-and-wait-for-a-lift system. Both it and Longshore were dredged, dramatically increasing their capacities.

Compo now has “one of the best marina set-ups of any town on Long Island Sound,” Schachter says proudly.

Ned Dimes Marina.

He should know. After a career change from advertising, he developed a concrete flotation system that completed 400 projects around the East Coast. Compo was his last major one.

But — like so much else in Westport life — boating has changed in the 50 years Schachter has been involved.

Whether its clubs Minuteman or Kiwanis, “it’s hard today to keep them going,” says Barbara Gross.

She should know. A Westonite who does not own a boat — she’s a kayaker who loves the Sound, Cockenoe and nearby islands — she enjoys Minuteman Yacht Club for its social events.

The calendar is filled: Commissioning Day party, post-race parties, clambake, reggae party, commodore’s reception, change-of-watch dinner, even a winter holiday party.

“There’s a real camaraderie, a fun spirit,” Gross says.

She hopes families with young children will consider joining Minuteman Yacht Club. “It’s important to give kids a taste of boating,” she says. “And this is a great way for parents to have fun with them. You don’t even need to own a boat.”

It’s a good way too, she says, to introduce youngsters to the wonders of Long Island Sound.

And maybe they will grow up to be — like herself, Schachter and many others — the voice of sailboat and powerboat owners, all over town.

(For more information on Minuteman Yacht Club, click here.)

Liz Fry Swims North Channel; Completes Amazing “Ocean 7”

In April, “06880” reported that Liz Fry successfully swam Cook Strait — the dangerous waters separating New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

That meant she had conquered 6 of the 7 major open water swims worldwide. The only one left: the North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland.

Liz Fry

It’s the most challenging of all: very cold, infested with jellyfish, but no wetsuits allowed.

No problem! Last month, Liz — a 1976 Staples High School graduate, longtime Westporter and frequent visitor to the Westport Weston Family YMCA, where she trains — completed the North Channel swim.

She joins a tiny, elite group of men and women who have accomplished all 7 swims.

Here is Liz’s report.

It’s Monday in Donaghadee. The sun is coming out after heavy fog earlier this morning. I went to the starting point at 5:30 a.m., to send off the 4 other swimmers attempting their crossing today.

It’s hard to believe yesterday at 5 a.m. I was scrambling across jagged rocks to find a clear rock to leave from. It was pitch black except for the lights from phones held by the Chunky Dunkers (the group I trained with in Ireland) at the water’s edge to see us off. Quinton, my pilot, has a quick start. You board his boat, and in 15 minutes you are in the water.

Liz Fry (2nd from left) with her crew in Donaghadee harbor.

My crew was incredibly efficient putting on sunscreen and “butt paste” for chaffing. Next thing I knew my cap, earplugs and goggles were on. I jumped in the cold abyss.

I followed the lights on shore and spotlight and managed to avoid many of the sharp rocks, although one got me good. I found a rock that was clear and raised my hand, signaling the start.

It was still very dark. Unfortunately my first hit in a Lion’s Mane jellyfish bloom was in the first 10 minutes. My whole left side took multiple hits as I swam through tentacles, but luckily only one hit across my face.

I felt like Harry Potter. I felt these stings the whole swim, but the pain subsided to tolerable fairly quickly. Salt water is the best medicine. I knew it was only the beginning so I had to keep my head together.

A swarm of jellyfish.

I had my first feed after 1 hour, which is my typical feed schedule.  I don’t usually feed well as I am a sinker and struggle to stay above water. However, with the water so cold (12-14 C) we planned to go with 45 minutes after the first feed.

Calories intake were critical. I asked for and received a lot of advice from North Channel swimmers all over the world. I used all I could remember.

With daylight, my crew helped me navigate around the lion’s manes. Several times when I tried to follow, each person on the boat pointed in a different direction.

The jellies were moving towards me faster than I could swim out of the way, or the blooms were so big there was nothing they could do to help. I slowly slid between the jellies and long tentacles as best I could. My crew was brilliant and saved me from so many hits.

About 5 hours in, the impact of the jelly hits affected my breathing. My inhaler for my asthma provided some relief initially. but later did not help. I could not help to think about Attila who spent nearly 3 weeks in the hospital after his attempt last year.

I stayed close to the boat, just in view of Quinton and the observer who never stopped watching me.

Despite the breathing issue I felt very good. My spirits were great, I wasn’t cold, and my crew was brilliant. At 12:30 we saw the lighthouse. Nora kept the whiteboard filled with well wishes from around the world, from friends and family. This is the first time I have had active whiteboard. It was fantastic.

I am happy she didn’t mention the shark fin they saw around 2:30 p.m. It was likely a basking shark — the second largest, but not a carnivore.  At my 2 p.m. feed Quinton said, “at this pace we’ll be done in two hours.”

With 2 miles to go, a thick fog rolled in. I could no longer see Scotland or the two boats behind us for a few minutes. The only thing the crew could see was the lighthouse, and hear the foghorn.

The fog lifted above the shore, and I saw where Quinton was trying to land me.  I hit the rocks on the shore of Scotland and raised my hands to the sound of the horn. I finished: 11 hours, 13 minutes.

Liz Fry nears the Scottish coast.

As I swam back to the boat, I could only think about how many people helped get me to those rocks. Not just the 6 oceans before, but all the swims and training sessions. I am so grateful to each and every one of you for your support.

To say the ride back to Ireland was full of exuberance is an understatement. Even now it is still surreal.

We arrived back to a large welcome crowd of Chunky Dunkers, who had a beautiful blue cake with the number 7 candle. It was fantastic!

After the swim, Liz reported:

All the Channel swimmers I spoke to said my sleep the night after would be restless, due to the jelly fish stings. They were right!

Despite more antihistamines, the stings fired through the night. I burned up one moment; the next I was freezing cold.

It helped that as soon as I got on the boat, I was covered with shaving cream and scraped with credit cards (expired) to remove the barbs and tentacles from my skin.

No words can express my deep love and gratitude for all who traveled to Ireland to support me in this craziness.

It is impossible for me to adequately thank my family, friends and swimming community that supported me, at home and around the world.

Liz Fry (right) and her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples High School graduate, at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Every swim has its own level of stress and emotions, but none more than this.

I was terrified, seriously questioning whether even if I could tolerate the cold, would I endure the venom of the Lion’s Manes and other jellyfish?

I did everything I could to prepare for the worst, but still feared that this last Ocean 7 swim could be truly my last. This fear went away soon after I arrived in Donaghadee, not because the threat was no longer there but because my swims in the harbor calmed my anxiety and brought happiness.

I feel so blessed to have swum the North Channel. So the question always is: “Would I do it again?”

I think my next big swims are to complete the Great Lakes. I’d like to start next summer.

(Hat tip: Debbie McGinley)

Stop The Presses! Bikers Stop At Stop Sign!

“Drivers never give us any room!” Westport bicyclists complain.

“You never stop at stop signs!” motorists counter.

It’s not fair to paint either group with a broad brush.

Here’s proof — at least for one side.

This afternoon, a group of riders stopped at the Hillspoint Road sign by Elvira Mae’s.

And — just to show that’s how they roll — they sent a smiling selfie to “06880.”

(Photo/Gary Julien)

Westport Paddle Club Surfaces On The Saugatuck

When Downunder closed earlier this month, kayakers and paddleboarders mourned the loss of a rental and launch facility on the Saugatuck River.

Karen Jewell mourned the loss of her job.

For 9 years she ran the Riverside Avenue shop, and worked as an instructor. The day before it closed, Robbie Guimond — owner of Bridgebrook Marina, just a few hundred yards away — and his wife Taryn Bolotin saw Karen at Garelick & Herbs. He asked what she’d do next.

“I’m not sure,” she said.

On the spur of the moment — justlikethat — Taryn suggested she run something similar out of Bridgebrook.

Karen Jewell gets ready to paddle.

That was the day before Labor Day. Last Saturday — at the Slice of Saugatuck — Karen’s Westport Paddle Club opened for business.

Quicker than you can paddle, she had created a website, made an Instagram account and printed business cards.

She provides many of the same services as Downunder: kayak and paddleboard rentals, lessons and tours. Next year, she’ll add kids’ camps.

Westport Paddle Club is not a retail outlet. But Karen will help people buy kayaks and paddleboards — making suggestions, and offering resources.

With a 30-foot dock, Bridgebrook is a perfect spot. And the location is even better than Downunder. There’s a beautiful view of the Saugatuck Rowing Club next door; it’s further from I-95 than the store was, and the entrance is away from the busy street.

Westport Paddle Club is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 10 to 5, and weekdays by reservation. Click here for the website, email karen@westportpaddleclub.com, or call 203-998-1519.

Life on the Saugatuck River is good!

Great Team Triumph At Triathlon

Last year, only 1 myTeamTriumph captain participated in the Westport Kiwanis Club Triathlon at Compo Beach.

MTT is a program for children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities who otherwise could not participate in endurance events like triathlons and road races. Volunteers “ride along,” helping them compete in — and enjoy — those endeavors.

What a difference a year makes.

Last weekend, there were 10 captains. Five got out of their wheelchairs and — with assistance from their angels — walked across the finish line. One — a frequent participant in MTT events — crossed on her own feet for the first time.

Another captain completed the entire 5K run by herself. An angel ran beside her.

Over 40 angels and volunteers took part. Nearly half were Westporters.

Here are some scenes from that great day.

Setting up at sunrise.

Captain Wolf finishes the swim.

Another leg of the triathlon.

Many captains are non-verbal. The friendship between Captain Austin and Andy is beyond words.

Captain Alexei switches events.

A determined Captain Sami completes her first walk across the finish line.

Captain Wolf enjoys her trophy.

Captain Bella and her angel are all smiles.

Captain Charlotte and her equally proud dad.

Captain Jack and angel Adam share a special moment.

(For more information on myTeamTriumph — including how to get involved — click here. Hat tips: Karen Strauss-Ziebell, Curtis Lueker and Andy Berman.)

John Daut Conquers Haute

The movie “Icarus” — about performance-enhancing drugs in the bicycle racing world — focuses on the Haute Route. The brutal 7-day, 480-mile, ride in the Pyrenees — with 60,000 feet of climbing —  is the amateur equivalent of the Tour de France.

When John Daut saw “Icarus,” his competitive juices started flowing. He’d been biking since 1998, the year a knee replacement forced the longtime athlete to find a low-impact sport for rehabilitation.

After seeing “Icarus,” the Westporter — whose day job is in airplane sales — spent 9 months training for the Haute Route. In all kinds of weather, he rode all over Connecticut and New York.

As in, all over. A typical day included a ride to Bear Mountain; biking up Bear Mountain, and a ride back to Westport. He’d be home, Daut jokes, before his kids were out of bed.

His hard work paid off. Daut just returned home (by plane, not bike) from Europe. He finished the Haute Route.

John Daut on relatively flat terrain …

But that’s like saying Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong “finished” the Tour de France. Daut won the 60+ men’s division. He was the 4th fastest of the 28 Americans who completed the course — and 61st overall out of all 280 racers.

There was no photo finish. Daut finished first in his age group every day — and won the full race in his age group by an astonishing 1 hour, 20 minutes.

This was definitely not “Breaking Away.”

… biking in spectacular scenery …

Daut trains with Westport’s two cycling centers. Eneas Freyre of Total Training & Endurance “very subtly turns people into real riders,” Daut says, while Jean Paul Desrosiers of Sherpa helps with things like heart rate and power. In June, Daut joined Desrosiers’ 410-mile ride to Montreal.

Like many bikers, Daut can’t get enough of riding. He loves the rush of endorphins and adrenaline, and the sport feeds his competitive nature.

But there’s a social aspect too. The 61-year-old enjoys riding with the 200 or so other bikers who regularly take to the local roads.

Of course, Compo Hill is hardly the Pyrenees.

Daut knew the Haute Route would be the toughest challenge of his life. Over 400 riders signed up; half were “ultra-competitive” like him.

… taking a well-deserved rest …

Going in, he admits, his mindset was “fear.”

“I’m pretty good in New England,” he says modestly. (In fact, the week before the Haute race, Daut won the Connecticut state 55+ championship.)

“I ride 1,000 miles a week, including the winter. But I do maybe 50,000 feet of climbing a month.” This was much more — in much less time.

But on Day 1, Daut realized he could compete.

He won his age group — and finished 70th overall. From then on, he says, “I got more aggressive.”

The third day was the toughest. It was cold and wet. And much of the race was downhill.

That sounds okay — until Daut explains that, going down a mountain at 35 miles an hour in those conditions, “you and your bike are shaking badly. The curves are frightening. You just want to climb, to get your heat back.”

… and this is far from the worst weather.

Day 4 started out even worse, with a torrential downpour and temperatures in the 30s. Over 60 riders abandoned the course.

Other days were “beautiful” — though “long and hard.” Daut pushed through. He flew like Icarus (thankfully, with better results).

Now, Daut is riding back in Westport. So how does the Post Road compare to the Pyrenees?

“Lots of people want to ride with me,” he says. “They sit on my wheel. I get some credit from my buddies. And a lot of guys want to beat me to the top of the hill.”

(Hat tip: Iain Bruce)