Category Archives: Sports

Polo Rivalry Comes To Westport — And You Can Win

There are many great sports rivalries: Yankees-Red Sox. Michigan-Ohio State. Man U-Man City.

Let’s not forget Gold’s Dragoons vs. Squadron A.

That’s a classic polo match-up. And local residents can watch the two sides battle it out Sunday, August 26 (1 p.m.) — right here at Westport’s Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Exciting polo action comes to Westport.

The full day of fun includes family activities, a polo skills demonstration, music by Green Eyed Lady, plus prizes for best ladies’ hat (a day of pampering at Kate Burton Spa) and best tailgate (a horse weathervane and cupola from Good Directions).

A great VIP lounge features cocktails, beer, a traditional Argentine asado buffet — and “06880” readers can win 2 tickets for full VIP access.

Just click “Comments” below. Pick your team; then respond in 50 words or fewer: “I’m rooting for Gold’s Dragoons (or Squadron A) because…” The deadline is 12 noon this Monday (August 20).

Decision of the judges (Dan Woog and Diana Kuen) is final. Let the games begin!

(The polo event benefits the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation’s REACH Program, an outpatient psychiatric program for children and adults. For more information and tickets, click here.)

Some people dress up to watch polo. But you can come as casually as you like.

Saugatuck Rowers Win At Worlds

Alert “06880” reader and proud Saugatuck Rowing Club supporter Debbie McGinley reports from Racice, Czech Republic:

Today — thanks to great help from Saugatuck Rowing Club competitors — Team USA finished at the top of the medal count at the World Rowing Junior Championships.

Six SRC athletes were on the U-19 teams — including 4 from Westport.

Kelsey McGinley, captured gold in women’s (non-coxed) 4-. Harry Burke won silver (men’s 8+), as did Alin Pasa (coxswain, women’s 8+). Noelle Amlicke brings home a bronze (women’s 4+).

Alin Pasa (bottom right) and teammates celebrate their silver medal.

McGinley, Burke and Pasa graduated from Staples High School in June. Amlicke is a rising senior.

This was the 3rd world championships for McGinley and Burke. Both medaled in their previous 2 competitions.

The fun of the event is seeing many countries coming together, from Belarus and Romania to China, Australia and South Africa. Fans are decked out in national swag, with flags of all colors flying.

The McGinley family — includinig parents and grandparents — traveled to the Czech Republic to cheer on Kelsey and her fellow rowers.

Heather Grahame: ALS Triathlon Champ

If you missed your most recent issue of the Helena Independent Record, here’s a story worth noting.

The Montana paper reports that Heather Grahame is one of the top female triathletes in the nation in her age group. AT 63, she recently finished 4th in the 60-64 division at the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Denmark.

Amazingly, she’s done the very grueling event for only 6 years.

Grahame entered her first triathlon because she’s always been a competitor. Four years later her brother Tom was diagnosed with ALS. Now she uses triathlons as fundraisers.

Heather Grahame in action.

Grahame’s been an athlete all her life. As a member of Staples High School’s Class of 1973, she captained the field hockey team. She played 2 more years at Mount Holyoke College, then transferred to Stanford University.

While there, she looked for a summer job that paid well and involved adventure. She leveraged her experience as a Compo Beach lifeguard to teach swimming, water safety and first aid in rural Aleut and Eskimo villages. The state of Alaska funded the program, to combat a high drowning rate.

She’d get dropped off by a small bush plane on a gravel airstrip. She had to find a place to sleep and a pond, then start an education program. Grahame showed different degrees of burns by roasting marshmallows, and used walrus bones to demonstrate how to stabilize human injuries.

She loved the challenges, the mountains and the Bering Sea. Stanford did not start until late September, so when the program ended she worked in a cannery (earning enough money to cover much of her tuition), and backpacked in Denali National Park.

After graduating from the University of Oregon law school, Grahame moved to Anchorage. The economy was booming. Support for education, arts and trail systems were strong. Her daughters enjoyed a public school with 2 teachers per classroom, 2 Spanish immersion programs, and one in Japanese.

Grahame focused on public utility law. With so many complicated rural utility issue, she had plenty of work.

Heather Grahame (Photo courtesy of Helena Independent Record)

In 2010 she moved to Helena to become general counsel for NorthWestern Energy, a publicly traded utility serving Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Nebraska and much of South Dakota. Later, she added the title of vice president in charge of regulatory and federal government affairs.

She’s on the road a lot. But she finds time to train for triathlons. Though she began when she was 56, it’s a natural for her.

In the 1980s, Grahame competed in bicycle racing on the US Women’s Circuit. She trained at the Olympic Center, and in 1988 finished 6th at the Olympic trials.

She and her family then became competitive sled dog racers. Her top international finish — 6th — came at the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

As for triathlons — well, okay. Grahame actually did a full Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

But when she learned that Team Challenge ALS was participating in the 2017 New York City Triathlon, she signed up. She raised over $3,500 for the ALS Association.

“Racing is a completely different experience, and far more satisfying, when you can use it as a means to help others,” Grahame says.

She also raises funds by logging her workouts with her phone’s Charity App. Miles earn dollars donated by various businesses.

A typical sight, on a typical Heather Grahame training ride.

Grahame does not get back to Westport often. But she looks forward to attending the next Compo lifeguard reunion.

For one thing, her time on the Compo chair helped get her to Alaska — and paved the way for the many fulfilling athletic endeavors that followed.

For another, those long-ago Westport guards have contributed to her ALS fundraising efforts.

“The generosity of the human spirit is amazing,” Grahame says. “The support has come from many people I haven’t seen since I was 18. I cannot thank them enough.”

(To contribute to Heather Grahame’s fundraising efforts, click here. To read the full Helena Independent Record story, click here.)

Westport Celebrates The Legendary Laddie

Dozens of former Staples High School runners — along with friends and fans from the Westport road race series and Pequot Runners — came from as far as California today to honor Laddie Lawrence, and his 50 years of coaching.

It was supposed to be a surprise. But when you’ve touched as many lives as Laddie, the secret was bound to get out.

Still, it was a wonderful and emotional afternoon. In half a century as the town’s running guru — including not only Staples cross country, indoor and outdoor track, and the summer and fall races, but also Thursday evening age group meets — Laddie has created a community of runners of all ages and abilities.

Former Staples teammates from his Class of 1964 were there. So were rival coaches — and Paul Lane, the former Staples coach who first introduced him to track. Parents came too. But most of all, there were runners, present and (recent and distant) past.

Laddie’s Staples classmate, artist Miggs Burroughs, gave him a special gift: this lenticular photo of him, back in high school and today.

He’s won an insane number of championships. His athletes have become All-Americans, and earned college scholarships. But today was a time for everyone, of every speed, to gather together and say “thanks” to a mentor and friend.

Best of all: This was not goodbye. Laddie is not retiring.

Actually, knowing him, he’ll coach another 50 years.

Laddie Lawrence: forever young, and forever loved.

Help Will Hotch Jump Again

Early last month Will Hotch captained the Staples High School volleyball team to an undefeated season, and the state Class L championship.

A couple of weeks later, Will graduated from Staples. He headed off for a summer as a counselor at an overnight camp. He looked forward to college in the fall.

Will Hotch (left) in action for the Staples volleyball team. (Photo/Justin Weekes for Meriden Record-Journal)

Suddenly last week, he became gravely ill.

His body and immune system were adversely affected by Epstein-Barr virus. Antibodies attacked his immune system, leading to post-infectious myelitis.

Will’s spinal cord was damaged, causing severe numbness below his neck. He cannot feel or move his legs at all.

He will undergo a second procedure as soon as possible, to stabilize him and start him on his road to recovery.

Will hopes to attend college, and return to his active lifestyle.

He and his family have endured a lengthy ICU stay. It will continue for the foreseeable future, with several expensive procedures. When he starts to improve, he will require in-patient rehabilitation.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help defray those costs. It will also be used to help with missed wages for his parents as they support him during this difficult time. Many Westporters know Will’s mother Denise — she’s a group fitness instructor at the Westport Weston YMCA.

Click here to help Will, and his family.

Saugatuck Rowers Make Waves At Nationals

The Saugatuck Rowing Club continues to pump out national caliber athletes.

And a good number of them live right here in Westport.

Eddie Kiev was a coxswain on the US Under-17 junior national team. He helped his boat to a silver medal on Friday, at the US Rowing Club National Championships in Camden, New Jersey.

Eddie Kiev, national team coxswain.

Parker Cuthbertson was a member of the CanAmMex junior national team that won a gold medal last week in Mexico City.

Sven Herrman and Sam Kleiner were part of the men’s high-performance team, which also competed in Camden. Sam won a bronze in the U-19 4+ event.

And keep your eyes on these guys (and gals): Harry Burke will row for the men’s U-19 worlds team, and Kelsey McGinley, Alin Pasa and Noelle Amlicke are on the women’s U-19 worlds team. Both boats compete in the Czech Republic on August 8.

All are Staples High School students. And all of “06880” congratulates them for their great work!

Danny Fishman: From Goldman Sachs To Guitar Tracks

In 2015 — straight out of college — Danny Fishman landed what many Westporters consider a dream job: Goldman Sachs.

It seemed like the perfect segue: from Staples High School and Tufts University, to prestige, stability and happiness.

Except it wasn’t.

Fishman had always been successful. At Staples, he was part of state and FCIAC championship volleyball teams. He snagged a Goldman internship in college, the summer before senior year.

Danny Fishman, Staples High School volleyball star.

Yet, he says now, that internship — and the subsequent job offer — was just “a retreat to safety.”

His good friend Andrew Accardi died during Fishman’s junior year at Tufts. “I did a lot of soul-searching,” Fishman says. “I felt lucky for my own life, and terrible that his had been cut short. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I didn’t want to drift passively.”

He set his sights on finance, as “a challenge. I thought I’d find purpose and direction there.”

He moved to Battery Park. He was assigned to the prime brokerage branch in the securities division. He learned the ropes and earned greater responsibilities, including client interaction. There was plenty of socializing with his fellow hires.

However, he says, “I didn’t identify with the values of the people around me. The uniformity, the hive mind, the mentality of what success looked like — it was omnipresent.”

He did not fit in.

Danny Fishman

“From an abstract point of view, I don’t disagree with the sense of vicious competitiveness,” Fishman explains. “I just didn’t see myself that way.”

He felt “beat up, exhausted. I didn’t know if I had a ton to offer, or if I should offer what I had.”

Though it was “a pretty miserable experience from the get-go,” he does not want to exaggerate the experience. Half of his best friends now are people he met at work.

He had made a commitment to himself to stick it out — “if I get good at this, will I feel better about it?” he asked himself — but when he got a how-you-doing postcard from Accardi’s mother, he took it as a sign.

After a year and a half at Goldman Sachs, he quit.

Fishman moved back home to Westport (an option he knows is not readily available to many). He “let go of the fear of trying to pursue something in music” — a hobby that had always brought him joy and energy, but that he had never committed himself to.

He studied the craft of performing. He wrote music. He took a cross-country trip, crashing on friends’ couches and stepping up at open mic nights in Nashville, Austin, Denver and Los Angeles.

Wherever he stopped, he made new friends.

Danny Fishman on stage.

Fishman recorded a demo of songs he’d written. He “stumbled forward,” learning about promotion and booking.

His first single got 28,000 plays on Spotify. His second got 9,000 in just the first 5 days.

Back home, he met Katie Noonan in a doctor’s waiting room. They chatted; he learned she was a musician too. He had his guitar — he brings it everywhere — and sang for her. She’s offered plenty of support (including a gig at her 50th birthday party).

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Fishman has learned. “And failure doesn’t feel bad when it’s in pursuit of something you want to do.”

When he “failed” in finance, he says, “I beat myself up. In music, failure leads to something productive.”

The music community, he found, is not a zero-sum game. He has been helped by many performers, writers and producers, and tries to help others.

Danny Fishman and Katie Noona

I told Fishman that a story like this will bring negative comments from readers, lambasting him for turning his back on a well-paying job he got in part because of his background, then returning to that very environment.

“I am super, super lucky to have parents with a home I can come back to,” he says. “Westport is a beautiful place, with lots of resources. I know I’ve been blessed in life.”

But, he continues, “Having money doesn’t make everything easy. If people don’t view my experiences as legit, nothing I can do will change that.”

So, if he went back to counsel himself as a Staples senior in 2011 — not knowing what he wanted, or how to get it — what would he say?

“Try not to worry so much about what other people think of you,” he says. “Be who you are, even if it doesn’t conform to the image of success others painted for you.”

Meanwhile, Danny Fishman will continue to record and tour. He’ll try to “stay true to what I want, and pursue it maturely and responsibly.”

Sounds like a recipe for success, in any field.

Steve Obsitnik: Westport’s Gubernatorial Candidate

Here are 2 of Westport’s best-kept secrets:

  • There’s a primary election for governor on August 14.
  • And there’s a Westporter on the ballot.

Steve Obsitnik is that candidate. A Connecticut native, Naval Academy graduate, entrepreneur and CEO, he got enough votes at the state Republican convention to battle the party’s endorsed candidate, Danbury mayor Mark Boughton.

Obsitnik’s name might be tough to remember (and spell), but he’s familiar to local residents. He was president of the Westport Weston YMCA, served on the Republican Town Committee, is involved with the Saugatuck Rowing Club — and in 2012 he ran his first political campaign, against incumbent Congressman Jim Himes.

Obsitnik’s RV — covered with signatures and words of encouragement — is familiar around town too. The other day it was parked in the Imperial Avenue lot. The candidate pulled out 2 lawn chairs, invited me to sit down, and chatted about himself and his campaign.

Among the signatures on Steve Obsitnik’s RV: Ned Lamont, the Democratic Party-endorsed candidate for governor.

He’s a Stamford High School graduate and soccer player who still has nightmares of Mike Clifford leading Staples to an 8-0 drubbing. Obsitnik was recruited by top schools, and won an appointment to Annapolis. Vision issues limited his collegiate career, so he concentrated on engineering (and graduated with honors).

He spent 5 years as a nuclear submarine officer, earning 8 medals for distinguished service. He served in Groton and South Carolina, and the Mediterranean during the first Gulf War. He also chased Russian subs under the North Pole.

His next stop was Wharton, for an MBA. On his first day of classes he met Suzy Tager, a 1986 Staples graduate. “We walked for hours through Philadelphia,” Obsitnik says. “We’ve been walking together ever since.”

She got a job with Bain Capital (and now heads their retail consumer products practice). He joined the Stanford Research Institute, helping create technology for the government.

Steve Obsitnik, his wife and daughters.

Moving on to Sarnoff Labs and Qinetiq, Obsitnik helped create products like video on demand, artificial intelligence — and Siri.

In 2005 — after 4 years in Minnesota — he and his wife felt it was time to “come  home.” They moved in with her parents on Imperial Avenue. When he started Quintel, which manufactures smart antennas, he realized that despite all Connecticut offered, it lacked the ecosystem to develop and sustain companies like his.

In 2011, after a 2-day trip to India, he suffered a pulmonary embolism. His 2 daughters were young. He reassessed his work-life balance, while wondering how he could put his entrepreneur and engineering skills to work to help his state.

After his Congressional defeat the next year to Himes, Obsitnik started Imagine Connecticut, a non-profit whose goal was to make this a Top 10 job-creation state within 10 years.

His travels took him to every corner of Connecticut. He listened and learned about economic, infrastructure, transportation and education concerns. Having lived in 4 state zip codes — and looking at the field of gubernatorial candidates — he threw his hat in the ring.

“For the past 40 years there’s been a lot of self-interest” in Hartford, he says — “both Republican and Democratic. We need a big vision to keep people together. That’s one of the lessons I learned from my leadership positions.”

Obsitnik’s big vision: create 300,000 jobs in 5 years.

Steve Obsitnik

A primary election is very different from the general. Republicans make up just 23% of voters statewide, Obsitnik says — and only 100,000 generally vote in primaries.

Advertising in this area — the New York market — is prohibitively expensive. So he’s organized a ground game. He’ll knock on as many doors as possible. He will follow the Mitchells model: find your customers, “hug them” and hold them.

If he wins the primary, he says, he will not change his message for the general election. He’ll continue to emphasize job creation. “I don’t want to win the battle, and lose the war.”

Obsitnik is unfazed by his party affiliation. He points to the job creation efforts of Massachusetts’ Republican Governor (and former businessman) Charlie Baker as a model.

“I’m a military veteran. I support our commander-in-chief, whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump,” the Westporter says.

“I’m running for governor of the state. Trump didn’t create Connecticut’s problems, and he won’t solve them. This election isn’t about Donald Trump. It’s about housing prices, the amount of time every day I lose to my wife on the train, and jobs.”

It’s a message Steve Obsitnik will repeat all around the state, every day through August 14.

And, he hopes, all the way to November 6.

FUN FACTS: Westport State Representative Julie Belaga won a Republican primary, and ran for governor in 1986. She lost to Democratic incumbent William O’Neill. Westport Republican John Davis Lodge served as Connecticut governor from 1951 to 1955. 

Mr. Pickleball Turns 90

Tom Lowrie is “Mr. Pickleball.”

A tireless promoter of the game — and the driving force behind the Compo Beach courts — the longtime Westporter turned 90 years old on Tuesday.

Naturally, he celebrated it with pickles — er, pickleball.

About 30 picklers showed up to honor Tom. And they gave the new nonagenarian a great gift: a pickleball bench in memory of his wife Jean, who died just a few months ago.

A pickleball cake for Tom Lowrie.

Tom had a great time, with his many pickleball friends.

Then he went right back to work, pushing for more courts, clinics and programs for Westport picklers of all ages.

(Hat tips: Leslie Gallant and Patti Brill)

Unsung Hero #55

Today is July 4.

Westport jumps the gun a bit on our fireworks celebration. We held ours Monday night. It’s the town’s biggest and best party of the year.

The cost is just $35 — and that’s only if you want to park at Compo. (Plus, you can pack as many people as you want into your vehicle.)

Otherwise you can park at Longshore, the office complex on Greens Farms Road or a friend’s house, and walk to the beach.

Still, people complain.

The $35 — a price that has remained the same for years — helps fund Westport PAL. They’ve sponsored the event for years. Recently, Melissa & Doug have helped out, ensuring that more of the money goes back to PAL programs.

Under the direction of Westport Police officer Ned Batlin — and a small group of volunteers — PAL does plenty. For example, they provide:

  • Youth sports teams and clinics. Each year, over 2,000 youngsters participate in 20 or so programs, including football, wrestling, cheerleading and much more.
  • The ice rink at Longshore (one of Westport’s favorite winter activities, for people of all ages and abilities).

The PAL Longshore Ice Rink.

  • Equipment and other needs for a variety of Staples High School teams.
  • College scholarships (more than 300 graduates so far, and counting).
  • Support for Toys for Tots, DARE and other programs.

That’s just the tangible stuff. By partnering with so many efforts, Westport PAL shows kids that the police really are their pals.

Westport PAL is our July 4th Unsung Heroes.

And every other day too.

Officer Ned Batlin, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and Deputy Chief Sam Arciola all help Westport PAL go.