Imagine competing in the Olympics for the first time in a competition you love. Add to that the fact the Games are going to be held in your own country, in the very city in which you live. The sense of anticipation and excitement would surely build as the Games approached. And then imagine your dream is dashed and the Games taken away. Not by injury or illness. Not because another competitor was better, but by the bureaucratic bungling and interference of the police in your own country! Hard to fathom, and yet this is what happened to Joseph Incantalupo when he was getting prepared to compete in the 1976 Olympic Games held in Montreal.
For Joseph, it all started at his high school in Brooklyn, New York.
"One of the kids I went to school with was this guy who always was putting his hand up in class. He wanted to be a radio announcer. I knew him as Lawrence Zeiger and had no idea how successful he had become until I saw Larry King on television and realized it was the same guy!"
While there, Joseph discovered he had a talent for shooting.
"I organized the rifle team in my high school," he says. "Before I started, we had no range and there had been no team. I went to the principal and convinced him to start the club. We needed to get a teacher sponsor, so we did. We would go to competitions; four of us with a teacher on the public transit bus with our rifles riding to another school to compete. I ended up doing very well. Our own personal rifles were not as good as the school rifles. I did as well shooting with my gun as the other kids did with the better weapons."
Following high school, Joseph went to Brooklyn College for a short time, and eventually graduated from a technical school as a draftsman, though this career path was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. military.
"I started my athletic career while in army," he says. "When I showed up for boot camp, I was slowest guy there. By the end of the camp, a few months later, I was the fastest."
Joseph's impressive work ethic was instilled in him by his mother and father.
Although not well educated, they were very hard working. His Dad was a commercial printer, while his Mom stayed at home. "She was the economy lady. She squeezed the pennies and made every cent count. Dad was the breadwinner and brought home the envelope. We had no TV set growing up. I was, however, at the 1939 World's Fair in New York and saw the first television set. It was round and on the wall with a grainy black and white picture."
Joseph nearly saw action while serving his country. His orders to ship out to Korea had already been cut when a superior officer who had noticed some potential in the young man sent him to NCO school instead. When he finished, Joseph was sent off to join the occupation forces in postwar Austria. While there, he continued to compete as a shooter. "I knew more than the instructors in the military. They told us to put our feet flat on the ground, which is wrong. I won the rifle championships in Europe for entire U.S. Armed Forces. I had the highest score of everybody who competed. I was a cocky young man with an attitude, so I never got the recognition I deserved. I knew what I was doing but I didn't go about it politically. I didn't play the game."
Once he was discharged, Joseph was free to pursue his drafting career, and he wound up with a choice of three destinations: Cape Canaveral, California or Montreal. His first choice was California, but he changed his mind when his mother objected because it was too far away. Instead, he ended up in Montreal, where a chance meeting in an elevator changed his life forever.
"I met Gabrielle in an elevator about two weeks after arriving in Montreal. Her English was not very good but we managed the best we could. Her father is Italian, and that is my background though I don't speak it very well. We talked in mixed English and Italian. Love is blind. We got married within less than a year. She drove me crazy then, and she drives me crazy now," he says with a smile.
Joseph joined a rifle club in Montreal and started entering competitions. At one in Ottawa, he did so well, he was invited to join the National Team. This meant he had to become a Canadian citizen.
"I was okay with that and said to myself 'I'm not going back, so I might as well become a citizen where I am.'"
Joseph stayed on the team for 13 years and achieved some great success as a shooter including one year when he won the Canadian National Championship from three positions (prone, kneeling and standing).
Joseph won two bronze medals at the Pan American Games, which meant he was automatically on the Olympic team for the 1976 Games in Montreal.
Two months before the game, the police started showing up at the rifle clubs. They took rifles from some of the members who could not prove they had bought them legitimately, and seized Joseph's rifle even though he produced his bill of sale. The problem was the bill of sale did not include the serial number for the weapon. Joseph immediately got the company to call the police to ensure them that this was the rifle they had sold him, but the police weren't buying it. More than a month passed before the paperwork arrived from Germany proving that the rifle was sold to him legitimately and legally, but still the guns were not released, until local newspapers started to get wind of the story.
Joseph was officially part of the Canadian National team for the 1976 Olympic games, and still has his bib number, but he never competed.
"I felt betrayed by the police that didn't know what they were doing," he says. "Here I am, trying to represent our country, and I was devastated. It was very poor judgment on their part. I was disillusioned by the whole thing and wondered 'What am I doing here?'"
During his years on the National Team, Joseph qualified three times to compete at the World Championships, though he only went once, to Switzerland in 1974, because he had to pay his own way. One competition he did not miss was the 1973 Canada Summer Games held in Burnaby and New Westminster - his first visit to British Columbia.
"I really liked the place. I shot a Canadian record of 800 (two days shooting, perfect score). This set the Canadian record for the Games that still stands to this day."
A few years later, Joseph moved his family to the Lower Mainland where they settled in North Delta. Following his retirement, Joseph missed being in good condition and decided to try his hand at tennis because of his excellent hand-eye co-ordination.
"What shooting did for me is give me a place," he says. "I wasn't on the basketball team but I'm an athlete as capable of winning a medal as anyone else. [I had] to hold a rifle that weighed up to 16 pounds [7.25 kg] steady for three to six hours, taking 120 shots from three positions, so I had to be in good shape."
Joseph started to get involved in the BC Seniors Games and when he spoke with the tennis organizer for his zone, realized the man didn't even play tennis. When Joseph offered his assistance about five or six years ago, the man gave it to him on the spot, and Joseph has been the zone director for tennis ever since.
He feels strongly that the only way players improve is to play against better competitors, but when he first took up the game, Joseph found that not many good players wanted to play against him and others who were less developed.
"I was always keen on trying to improve, and the way to do better is to play with better players. I worked hard to create a different attitude to get people to play people not as good as them. The last few years, I have made strides with this to the point where people I once looked up to I am now better than. I had the will to do better and when I played the better competition, I improved."
Joseph is a competitor in every facet of life, and will battle for what he wants. "I had a knee operation 20 years ago on a Wednesday; the doctors told me I wouldn't be able to work for a month, but I went back to the job the following Monday."
One change Joseph has instituted for the tennis players in Zone 3 is team building. "We get all the players together and have them meet each other. Zone 3 is a huge area. I have a pre-game get-together prior to the games for the tennis players. They all like it. It's good for team building because it's a team sport."
One way or another, Joseph has always been a competitor. Despite his Olympic experience, he keeps moving forward with his life.
"Tennis means I can remain active," he says. "I am a perfectionist type and so I analyze the game, study it. I am intense. I am telling my mind to hit the ball a certain way. It's a technical game. I went on vacation to the States, visiting and playing in clubs. I paid attention to everything. If you think about it as you swing, you can do it."
JUNE 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER
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