February 20th, 2018

Statue well deserved, by George

By Submitted Article on November 14, 2017.

A ‘Good Sport’ column by Dylan Purcell

The statue depicts the release point, the exact moment an athlete lets a javelin fly and subjects it to the randomness of the elements and the ground below.

The power and release angle of a javelin rest completely within an athlete’s control.

That is why when George and Carole Gemer started designing the statue which sits near the bus loop on the U of L campus, they wanted it to show the point of release.

Carole died more than a year ago and George, the venerable track and field coach, finished the final preparations without her. He had the sculpture built from a small thing into a grand metal being. It was transported from Medicine Hat to the University of Lethbridge on the day Carole died and there it sat until it was recently – and finally – installed on a plinth with a plaque commemorating George, Carole and their 47 years educating students in track and field and fencing, at the university.

The statue’s place was officially marked on Sunday as George worked the crowd, posed for photos and then, as always, retired indoors for a few “The hell with it” toasts and some hubertus, his famed Hungarian drink.

It was a happy day. It was one to celebrate this man, whose youth was marked by an athletic career cut short by Soviet cruelty and man’s basic inhumanity toward each other. He wrote a book 20 years ago about his days as a “horse in Bryansk,” detailing the days and years he spent being treated as less than human. Now, after a lifetime of supporting and encouraging youth, a statue bearing his distinctive profile will sit in perpetuity in an institute of higher learning, the same kind of school he was denied of because of his time in a gulag.

George, who survived five years in Soviet labour camps and their lice and starvation and constipation and beatings and endless work, has said since Carole died that “Bryansk was bad but this is much, much worse.”

George found Carole when she showed up to a track and field practice. He was 17 years older, a scandalous age difference but one made negligible over time and by the way George fawned over his bride every moment they were together.

“Never forget, tell her you love her,” George said on Sunday at the U of L. He had stretched his arms around my wife and I. “Life is too short, you have to tell her, don’t forget to tell her you love her.”

Then he walked over to the table of Hubertus.

“I had young wife, Carole, she was so much younger than me, I know, I should have been first. Now? Now, she is gone so young and I have to be here.”

In George’s book, he talks about moments when he thought he would die. From a brother lost to Soviet air raids in the Second World War to falling down, starved and exhausted, in a field of hay, there were moments George knows it could have or should have been his last gasp of life. Bryansk, as he says, was hard but life without his love is much, much harder.

The gulags could not stop George. He made his way to Canada and became a coach of Olympians and champions at every level. He inspired the creation of the Lethbridge Track and Field Club and West Wind Gymnastics Club.

He got involved as a Hungarian and an immigrant. With help from friends, he got the statue he and Carole worked so hard on set up in the shade of a tree near a vital through-way on the U of L campus.

The statue has George’s face. Carole traced it from a projector, and if you’ve ever seen George Gemer’s bald pate tipping back a shot of hubertus, you know it’s his face.

George has started going to live music shows at The Geomatic Attic. He wanted to follow a band to Medicine Hat for a second show. He’s found another gasp of life despite pain and heartache, as we all knew he would.

As for his statue, the one wearing his face? It’s legacy is his.

Work hard. Struggle through pain. Persevere through adversity. Get yourself to that release point, to the moment before it’s out of your hands. Then watch it fly and be ready to do it again.

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