Walt Gervais started riding when he was in his mid fifties.
- At the age of 69, he won his first novice horse trials in eventing.
- At 70, he moved up to training level.
- At 72, he rode in his first preliminary level horse trials.
- At 75 he rode in his first long format preliminary three day event.
People hear about Walt, and make comments such as, “Well, there’s hope for me yet,” that kind of thing. But underlying the “inspirational story” is a hard reality, and it was made clear to me one hot summer day when Walt was about 80, and I saw him driving a tractor from the main hay storage barn with a bucket full of bales, to one of the other barns. I said something like, “Hot day to be lugging hay,” or some such. Walt replied, “You know how the kids complain when they have to unload the big hay trucks into the loft? Well, I handle every one of those bales when I take them around to the barns. It’s not that I like doing this. But I know I’m doing myself some good.”
You see the message, I hope. Walt, a life-long athlete, a boxer in the US Navy in 1942, 25th in the Boston Marathon in 1946, had long ago made a decision to embrace, rather than to avoid, the most fundamental reality of what it takes to be an athlete.
It gets right down to that nitty-gritty truth, “no pain, no gain.” Most of us feel athletically induced discomfort, panting, heart rate going up, sweating, muscles aching, and our instinct is to slow down, back off, avoid the strain.
Walt, in contrast, had trained himself to feel those same signals of discomfort, and to press right into them head on. There is no free lunch about this. Nobody is going to struggle through the pain for any of us. “We can’t pay someone else to do our push-ups,” is another saying. We either make a self pact to accept this truth, or we don’t.
This, this right here, is the biggest difference between the non athlete and the athlete, the acceptance or the rejection of uncomfortable physical exertion as the coinage we have to pay for strength, fitness and agility. Walt had learned early on that he had what it took to pay the price, and he was unwilling to trade that for more ease and comfort.
One last Walt story to hammer this home.
A few years later, Walt developed a breathing/lung situation which would eventually end his life. One evening, he was maybe 85 or so, I saw him sitting in a lawn chair next to the pond, and I thought to myself, “Amazing! Walt has finally learned to relax and enjoy the scenery. As I got closer, I saw that he had a ten pound dumbbell in each hand. He was doing curls.
A warrior code is a warrior code, and if your goal is to be like Walt, you have to embrace some part of that if you hope to go where Walt could go.
Tamarack Hill Farm
Strafford, VT & Southern Pines, NC
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