This month the British Columbia Seniors Games will be held in Richmond, and Cam Varcoe, a long time resident of the city will compete for Zone 4. Though Cam excels at a number of different sports and would ideally like to be able to compete in more than one during the Games, the rules stipulate people are only allowed to participate in one sport or activity each year. In addition to competing, Cam hopes to take part in all the Games have to offer, including the opening ceremonies, which will be held in the new Olympic Speed Skating Oval.
“Since the Games are going to be in my backyard, I feel like I might as well march in with the other Zone 4 athletes for the opening ceremonies so that I can savour the moment and create some special memories,” says Cam.
The Games offer three different cycling events and Cam plans to try his hand at all three, just like he did at the first Seniors Games he attended in 2003 in Chilliwack. At that time, he did not win any medals, partially due to equipment deficiencies, but hopes for better results this time around.
“When I raced in those first games,” he says, “I was still using a much older steel bike. Many of the guys I was racing against not only had better equipment, but some of them even brought three different bikes with them, one for each race. Most of the guys are pretty even from a fitness standpoint, so often having the right bike can make a big difference. I now have a carbon fibre bicycle, which only weighs around 17 pounds [7.7 kg] - at least eight pounds [3.6 kg] less than my old bike.”
In only one of the three Seniors Games cycling competitions do the cyclists race directly against each other on the same course. That event is called the road race and it consists of a 60-kilometre race pitting the cyclists against each other for the duration of the race, like spectators might see in the Tour de France, though on a much smaller scale.
The second type of race is called the time trial. In this competition, participants challenge themselves by trying to complete a 16-kilometre course as fast as possible without any competitors nearby. Cyclists are racing the clock rather than their competition.
The third race is called the hill climb and, like the name implies, has cyclists each take turns going up an incline, again racing against the clock. For each of these races the cyclists are divided by gender and into five-year age groupings.
Though Cam loved sports while growing up, cycling is not the activity he thought he would be enjoying competitively.
Raised in the Toronto suburb of Weston where he was the eldest of four children, he was the son of a schoolteacher father and a mother who left nursing to raise her family. Though his parents were not notably athletic, his maternal grandfather was an Allan Cup winning goaltender, so Cam surmises that the athletic genes in his family may have skipped a generation and settled in him. Of the city he grew up in Cam remembers, “Weston was a hockey mad town. The Toronto Maple Leafs were everything to young boys in that part of the world and Weston was the home of their Junior B team, the Dukes. Many of the Leafs prospects came to live in Weston and went to high school with us while they were on their way to the NHL. Players like Dave Keon, Bob Nevin and Ron Ellis lived in Weston while playing there. I used to go down to the arena two hours before game time to wait in line to buy a standing room ticket to a game.”
Cam played hockey and baseball while growing up, but the sport he most enjoyed was golf. He took up the game and wound up working summers at the local course as a caddy. The pay at the time was two dollars for a round but the paycheque was nothing compared to a couple of unforgettable experiences.
In 1955, the Canadian Open Golf Championship came to Weston Golf and Country Club for the first time and, in those days, the caddies were paired up with the golfers by having their names pulled out of a hat. Thirteen-year-old Cam was thrilled when he was picked to caddy for a 25-year-old golfer who had won the US Amateur Championship the year before, a young professional named Arnold Palmer. A few days later, Cam was congratulating Palmer on his first-ever victory on the PGA tour!
“Most people had not really heard of him at that time,” Cam remembers. “I knew who he was, but he hadn’t really made too much of a name for himself yet. I had to walk the entire course all four days of the tournament prior to us going out for his round, so that I would know all the pin placements. After the win, he gave me two dozen balls and 200 dollars, which was a lot of money for a 13 year old in those days. Following the tournament, I walked around on Cloud 9 for at least a couple of weeks.”
On one other occasion, during his caddying days, luck smiled on Cam. The club decided to bring in one of the most famous hockey players in the world for a round of golf, and Cam was drawn to caddy for Maurice, “The Rocket” Richard.
“He was a real good golfer but he was very serious and didn’t talk to me at all,” says Cam. “I was very intimidated by him and had no problem believing that opposition players were in awe of him. At least I got his autograph, something I had failed to do with Palmer.”
Following high school, Cam found work as the assistant golf professional at a local club, which allowed him to golf free at courses all around Toronto. He enjoyed this life for a couple of years, and even took up tennis during this time, but eventually he realized that this was not how he wanted to make his living.
“I did not have university marks, but I wanted to go as far as I could, so I signed up for a Business Administration course at Ryerson College,” says Cam. “It was a good course and took three years to complete. Once I finished, I found a job managing a restaurant near Windsor for a year before moving on to a job selling educational films to schools across the country.”
It was while doing this work that Cam discovered two things he would fall in love with: Vancouver, when he travelled to the city, and his future wife when they met on a blind date in Toronto. The couple was married and moved west to Calgary when Cam accepted a position as the sales manager for Western Canada with the leading film distribution company in the country. A year later, their young daughter accompanied them to Vancouver in 1975, the city they would call home until moving across the Fraser to Richmond in 1980.
The ease with which he sold their first house impressed Cam so much that he decided to go into real estate. He studied for and took the exam in short order and still has his licence today. For the next several years, he stayed active in his spare time with tennis and golf, primarily for recreation.
A little more than 10 years ago, a friend introduced Cam to cycling by inviting him to join the Cross Country Cycle Touring Society.
“When I started cycling, I really enjoyed the camaraderie and the feeling of freedom in being out in the fresh air,” says Cam. “There was a great feeling of freedom in being able to talk to people and travel around at your own pace. I enjoyed cycling with the club and I still do go out with them sometimes, but I wanted more. My whole life has been about competition and I have always wanted to be the best I can be. A few years after joining the Society, I hooked up with the Velovets, which is a group of seniors from their late 40s to their early 80s. They are a lot more disciplined when they go out. You have to go at the same speed as the rest of them and you have to keep up. Everyone takes a turn leading the group and you learn to cycle in a peloton, which is a group of cyclists. The racing part of it appeals to my competitive nature.”
About a year and a half ago, Cam was struck by a car while riding his bike and he wound up needing surgery on the rotator cuff of one shoulder. He is undaunted as he continues to enjoy his sport and anticipates taking part in the Seniors Games.
“I am looking forward to the fact that some friends from the Velovets will be competing in the Games this year since they do not have to travel. The territory is familiar and that should be an advantage for us. I will also know some of the tennis and golf competitors and will be able to catch up with them.”
Many people enjoy playing team sports, but Cam is not one of them. “I really thrive on being on my own,” he says. “When I play individual sports no one is pushing me and telling me what to do. I really like the fact that the total responsibility for how I do falls on my shoulders, just like in real estate. If I do well, I can pat myself on the back. And if I do poorly, I have no one to blame but myself.”
SEPTEMBER 2009 - VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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