Tag Archives: Intensity Fitness

Sure And Begorrah, Eddie O’Rourke’s A National Champ

Everyone in Westport knows Laddie Lawrence. He’s 72 years old; he’s coached Staples High School’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams for 50 years, and won dozens of state and New England championships.

Hardly anyone knows Eddie O’Rourke. He’s 74, and just won his first state title.

But he has an excuse. This is only his 2nd year of coaching.

Eddie O’Rourke

O’Rourke immigrated from Ireland to America in 1984. His wife’s sister was here; they visited often, and liked it. The O’Rourkes spent 3 years on the green card wait list. When their number came up, they had just 3 months to sell their house, and move.

Back home, O’Rourke had driven a double-decker bus. There’s not many of those here. He found work on golf course construction in Wilton, but missed driving.

Two months later he was hired by Connecticut Limousine. He loved that. Yet in the aftermath of 9/11, the company went from 130,000 riders a month to 8,000. They laid off nearly everyone.

He worked for a while in a liquor store, then retired at 66. “I’m living the life now,” he says, in a brogue undimmed by 35 years in the States.

That life revolves around squash.

Back in Ireland, he had been a good handball player. A friend convinced him to try squash. O’Rourke had never played — but beat him.

It was an easy adjustment. Both sports are played within 4 walls. Shots are similar.

Squash is “a brilliant game,” O’Rourke says. “It’s a great workout. There’s nothing better than a good runaround. And you can play it well into your 80s.”

For 32 years, he played at Southport Racquet Club. But Equinox bought it 2 years ago, and did away with the squash courts.

The 260 players were distraught. The nearest courts were in Stamford and New Haven.

Intensity — the tennis club on the Westport/Norwalk border — agreed to create 4 courts, with one provision: 120 players had to join.

They got 134. In just 2 years, that’s ballooned to over 200.

Intensity formed a junior program too.

Last year, 34 Staples boys and girls signed up. Some had played before. Others never had. They placed 2nd in their division.

This year, over 60 Wreckers compete. There are separate boys and girls varsity teams, boys and girls JV squads, and a club team.

Eddie O’Rourke, coaching on the court.

They play from Thanksgiving to mid-February. They train Mondays through Thursdays, with matches on Fridays. “They’re great kids,” O’Rourke says. “They really help each other out.”

This winter, the boys varsity went unbeaten in the Fairwest League. Then they won the Division 8 HEAD US High School Team Championship.

Not bad for a 2nd year squad — and their equally new coach.

Coach Eddie O’Rourke (left) and the national champion Staples High School boys squash team.

O’Rourke’s route to the head spot began when Southport Racquet Club charged members $60 a month. He could not afford it, so the manager told him to pay whatever he could.

O’Rourke suggested $25 a month — adding that he’d be happy to teach new members how to play.

So when Staples needed a coach, he was the natural — and easy — choice.

“I’d have done it as a volunteer,” O’Rourke says. “But they offered to pay!”

It’s money well spent.

Though O’Rourke will never catch Laddie Lawrence in the number of championships won, he’s got a national championship at age 74.

And — based on the enthusiasm of the program he’s helped build, and the passion he brings to the sport — there could be many more trophies ahead.

Kibberia Fills Stomachs — And A Middle Eastern Niche

Some restaurants open in Westport with all the hype of a Hollywood blockbuster. The Little Barn, Post 154, Bartaco, Spotted Horse — you’d have to be living without a stomach to not know they’ve arrived.

For a couple of months though, another restaurant has quietly served some of the best — and freshest, and healthiest — food in town.

KibberiaKibberia opened in the former John’s Best Post Road West location, on the Norwalk line. The name is a takeoff on kibbeh, a delicious Lebanese dish of ground lamb with bulgar wheat, onions and seasonings — think “kibberia,” like “pizzeria.”

But that’s where the comparisons with John’s Best end.

Owner Nick Iskandar took out walls, added colorful chairs and nice lights, and created a warm, comfortable space. Workers flock there at lunch from nearby offices; families love it for dinner.

Finally, Westport has a Middle Eastern restaurant to complement all our pizzerias and hip gathering spots.

Nick’s sister-in-law Carole Iskandar is the chef. She came to the US 30 years from Lebanon to study, landing in — of all places — Louisiana. Her cousin lived there; besides, French-educated Carole thought the Cajun influence would remind her of home.

Of course, Louisiana is nothing like Lebanon — or the Northeast US, where she moved when her husband got a job with Nynex.

Carole always wanted to open a restaurant, and after her 3 children were grown, she got the chance. Her 1st Kibberia was in Danbury. It quickly developed a reputation for fresh, healthy food, served casually and lovingly (and very inexpensively).

Nick had also gone to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, earning a degree in electrical engineering. He returned to Lebanon in the 1990s, but hoped to come back to the States. When Carole got a chance to open the Westport Kibberia, he came.

The Iskandars -- Carole and Nick -- take a brief break at Kibberia.

The Iskandars — Carole and Nick — take a brief break at Kibberia.

The other day, the pair served up fantastic food. The very popular lentil soup is different from the American variety. This one has no cream or milk — but savory red lentils.

The falafel featured fresh herbs and seasoning. Shish kebab came with a garlic sauce that customers tell the Iskandars to bottle and sell. A lentil dish with sauteed onions, rice and cabbage salad offered wonderful flavor.

Pita bead is thin and moist. There are flatbreads with healthy toppings — a Mediterranean-style pizza. Soups are all homemade; salads are fully customizable. The Iskandars use no preservatives or MSG.

Wines come from Turkey and Lebanon. Kibberia also stocks very good Lebanese beer. But Nick and Carole are fine if customers bring their own favorite bottles. It’s that kind of homey, happy place.

Westporters are sophisticated, Nick says. They know Middle Eastern food — and love its benefits. “Mothers feed hummus to their 2-year-olds,” he notes with pride.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

About that kibbeh: Carole cooks up pumpkin, lentil, potato and vegetarian varieties.

“Vegans love this restaurant,” she says. There’s even a vegan baklava.

Also loving Kibberia: trainers from nearby gyms, like Intensity and the Edge. They eat there — and send clients over. “Trainers know no matter how hard people work, if they don’t eat right, they won’t see results,” Nick says.

He and Carole say some women “force” their husbands to come. “The men, they hear ‘healthy food’ and think they won’t like it,” Nick says. “But once they try it, they completely change. They come back, and now they bring their wives.”

Nick and Carole have loved meeting Westporters, turning them into passionate customers — and friends.

Has anything surprised them about this town?

“People are so friendly,” Carole says. “They even thank us for opening here.”

(Click here for the menu, which includes takeout. Kibberia is closed Sundays, but will open 7 days a week after New Year’s.)