It was Spring Jr. Nationals 1985 when the Blue Dolfins (Central Florida Stars) had one of the largest teams ever going to the meet in Syracuse, New York. We had an outstanding meet, everybody (all of you on Facebook know who you are), as well as Coach Don Prokes and Bob Anderson were really fired up about our success. So what did we do to celebrate? We drove to Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side, and stayed a couple of days as a reward.
Now, this story isn’t so much about the success at the meet as it is about the memories of being part of a team. This memory in particular deals with a great guy and really good swimmer named Henrik Jangvall, who was an exchange student from Sweden. (Henrik, I know you are reading this in Sweden and will get me for it!–ha)
First of all, I’m not sure crossing the border with an exchange student at the time was commonplace, but we had a van full of athletes and all they did was ask us where were we were from; I guess they wanted to hear our voices and accents. “U.S.” was the answer…Henrik tried to do it without his Swedish accent. Ha—we were crossing our fingers they wouldn’t notice. Somehow he passed! Whew, that was close one.
So we all went to see the Falls and then moved on to the tourists shops and restaurants. This all got boring pretty quickly for a bunch of high school boys. So, the coaches relented and gave us some of our own time. We were walking on the main avenue and came up on Ripley’s Believe it or Not. (This was long before we had one in Orlando!)
Henrik wanted to go in, as well as a few others, so we talked our way in with minimal cost. (I think we sweet talked them to get in…we were good at that!) Anyway, we went to check out all the crazy sights and stories collected from around the world. Boy! We really did see some weird things, but this one takes the cake… We stumbled onto this curtain with a sign out front that said, ‘Tallest Living Woman Here Today at 2:30 pm.”
Now, picture this: a bunch of gawky, hormone-laden teenage boys and you’re advertising the tallest WOMAN in the world to them!? So of course we waited….
The curtain finally opened and Sandy Allen was sitting there–all 7-foot, 7-and-a-quarter inches of her–and she was smiling all the way seeing us staring at her. Henrik’s eyes were sparkling, as well as all the rest of us, not because of infatuation, but because she was absolutely huge and we just couldn’t take our eyes off her!
Sandy started the show by talking about her incredible life as an extremely tall woman. She then joked with us, took pictures with her arms resting on our heads, and we all had a great time. Then it happened…Henrik asked a question that we will all never forget: “Can I kiss you?”
All of us looked at each other: WHAT?! WHAT!!!
Now, even as a teenager, Henrik was no slouch! He was probably over 6” 5” tall! (A great 200/500 speedster from Lake Brantley High School.) Smiling, Sandy Allen said, “Oh why not?” and asked for Henrik to step over next to her as she sat in the huge chair.
We were all thinking, “NO WAY, Henrik! NO WAY!”
Undaunted, he walked over and faced her. Her head was absolutely mammoth next to Henrik’s. He then slowly approached, picturing a quick peck on the cheek or mouth. Suddenly, this giant hand comes around and grabbed Henrik’s head, like a mom holds a newborn baby’s head—she had Henrik in a death grip! She then pulled his now-unwilling face towards hers and locked lips and kissed him for what had to be at least 10 seconds!!!!
Unbelievable! We were all floored!!!! To this day, I still can’t believe it!
When he was finally let go, Henrik had dark red cheeks and was completely shell-shocked. Quickly recovering though, he spent the rest of the day laughing! (And, yes, we cracked on him for months after that.)
After all was said and done, we walked Sandy Allen to her late model van, which was modified to handle her large frame. Thinking back, she was an extremely nice person despite having been looked at as an oddity her entire life. She passed away last year at the age of 53. The trip ended up being a great weekend after our speedy Jr. Nationals Swim meet in Syracuse, but I don’t think the coaches had any clue what HUGE things we got into!
However, this story shows the importance of creating memories on a team. The camaraderie that it brings over the many years of training together, growing up together, and travelling together are immeasurable.
By the way, I haven’t told the “night story” yet in Niagara Falls, but I will keep that until next time or down the road a bit. Enjoy swimming and training with your team—many of them will be your best friends the remainder of your life!
And here’s a picture of the late, great Sandy Allen: