Reflection: Gator Teammates Always


Gator Reflection

This past week I had the honor of attending  the 2012 University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame Induction ceremony and banquet in Gainesville, Florida.  I was in my Alma Mater town for a mere 5 hours and yet the experience was so impressive that I wanted to share in a short post with my fellow Gators and even non-Gator others as what I experienced can be parallelled in other people/circumstances.

When I reflect on my collegiate years it was a mini-career in academics and athletics that provided me a framework to work off of as I barrelled through the rest of my twenties and onward in life.  Moreover, the friendships and colleagues I accumulated in those years also influenced my social trajectory.

Being back on campus this past Friday, I was immediately slammed with the shadow of the life that was when I was there as it was paled by the stark reality of the present moment.  I remembered the spring alumni weekend as it was when I was a student-athlete there and was seeing folks dressed in black tie formal entering the Ben Hill Griffith football stadium for some event (Hall of Fame banquet) that on this particular evening I was attending in my long dress with baby in tow.

Meeting up with my lady Gator teammates was a refreshing familiarity that made it seem as if no time had passed by except for the funny details like marriages, children, careers, break-ups and the countless other things we’ve respectively thrived in and endured in the decade or more since we all went our separate ways.

Upon entering the Touchdown Terrace in the football stadium, a surreal buzz came on while greeting my former coach and teammates and seeing so many faces I recognized from those Gator days and now here we were all dressed and grown-up!  I came for my Gator sister track and cross-country teammate Hazel Clark Riley as she was being inducted into our Hall of Fame.  It was an added treat to witness other Gator greats like Alex Brown, Udonis Haslem, Jeff Morrison,  Stephanie Nickitas and Abby Wambach also get inducted–these were fellow student-athletes whom I crossed paths with during the same years at UF by way of our weight room, Gator dining, sharing the same athletic facilities and split moments like exchanging words of congrats in the hallways where we all passed through during our time together.

Everyone’s acceptance speech had a similar thread of common truth–we all had gone on after our Gator days to compete in our sports professionally or to other professions like corporate work, military, government, education, raising families, coaching et cetera but our hearts had always stayed true to what we forged in our collegiate days.  Certainly there is an obvious Gator alumni pride but for many of us there is also brother/sisterhood that we still foster and cherish no matter where our respective lives take us.

Hazel’s acceptance speech hit the tone right on: part of us is ready to suit up again in our Gator uniform and jump back into the race/game and at the same time we are grateful as we continue to grow and navigate our newest adventures in life to embrace what those years together gave us.  We’ll always be teammates from that time together and whether or not we stay in touch I feel that we are able to pick up from where we left off.

Perhaps I’m a little over-optimistic in this topic but I can’t deny that I was so overwhelmed with joy to see Gator teammates that evening and even to link up over the social media tools to celebrate a Gator sister.  Life in general can be like this for us when we bond with others over a common goal and regardless of our differences achieve greatness and endure failures as well.  For instance, our track and cross-country team during the late 1990s and early aughts saw some amazing victories and some painful disappointments—but it made our time together solid and real which we will always have as a memory and a foundation for future rendezvous.

In closing of this personal reflection I’d like to post a poem I wrote as a fledgling college sophomore during one of our UF cross-country seasons.  Congratulations again to Hazel (Peachy) Clark Riley and our other Gators for their 2012 induction into UF Athletic Hall of Fame!

Ramona V. Saridakis Bean

“Workout”    10.1.1997

Heat is beating down on me,

through my sweat I can hardly see.

Blood is rushing in my legs,

heart is pumping way too quick.

My muscles are screaming for relief,

have to stand more of this heat?

The air is thickened with fatigue-

I look at my teammates and believe

they are tired, just like me

in this humid, hilly feat.

Coach gives the signal…

…and we’re off!

One more repeat…

…this is rough!

Once we’ve finished

we soak up water

like the driest desert sand

and congratulate each other

with a clasp of the hand.

The workout is finished,

there’s no more to run.

Yes, no more to run

’till tomorrow’s one.


Florida’s QB Tim Tebow is the Real Deal

Go Gators!

On a lighter note, my husband, son and I had the joy of hanging out with hundreds of other Florida Gators at the Downtown at Palm Beach Gardens this past Saturday.

Tim Tebow was in town on behalf of his Foundation and in exchange for a fee you could get a personal autograph and/or photo with him.  $160 for autograph and $75 for a photo, some package deals available as well.  At first this seemed to be quite the stiff fee but then when I thought about it, I told my husband it probably would be a worthy cause and we’d have a fun photo in our family lore.

Initially I sent my husband and son T.A. to go get the ticket and planned that they would go together for the photo.  Once Saturday came around, however, I started to feel my Gator orange and blue pulse and wanted to be a part of it!

Our photo group ticket was scheduled for around 3pm, but when we arrived at the open court area we sensed that it may be a while longer.

It was a sight akin to a small carnival: there were tents with tables representing various local businesses, games and activities like a bounce house for the kids, guys walking around making balloon animals and orange and blue laden folks everywhere as far as the eye could reach in a 360 degree area.

We approached the line of being “on deck” waiting and found out that they were still working through the autograph groups (they were before the photographs).  Judging by the group number (3) for autographs and acknowledging that we were group 6 of photographs, we took T.A. and sought out the bounce house by A Latte Fun.

While helping our son mitigate the most adult-type of waiting time, we got to chat with other fellow Gators.  We began to hear all the stories that were already unfolding from events earlier that day.  There was evidently a Gator Walk where Tim Tebow walked for the Foundation along with other Gators and he was careful to make sure he greeted everyone in the group.  Those who had received autographs already were more than happy to wait for the photograph they also purchased because it meant sealing a great experience that had begun with a most personal autograph session.

The refrain we kept hearing was that Tebow was the “real deal”, he genuinely gave his attention individually to everyone, he helped people onstage, he had a great sense of humor as he gladly participated in fun poses with some people like doing a Heisman pose or faking a football move.

One story that made a national cable news hit this past Monday was about a guy who gave Tebow his engagement ring (which Tebow held for a good 45 minutes before the guy and his girl arrived at the head of the line). When the couple approached, Tebow literally pulled out the ring box and opened it in front of them. The girl dropped her mouth as her boyfriend dropped to his knee and proposed to her in front of Tebow.  Of all the shouts and whoos we heard that day, it was the loudest feedback from the crowd when this couple and their engagement was performed in front of Tebow. The jokes were consistent afterwards that they should have just had Tebow preside as minister for an impromptu wedding ceremony while they were at it!

It was nearly 7pm by the time our photo group finally was ready to be seen for a photograph with Tebow.  Mind you, the event itself was supposed to last from 1-5pm that Saturday.  Thankfully, Tebow was determined to honor all tickets and even though you could tell he was getting a little tired, he had hardly taken any breaks during the day-he is a strong football player and could see a prolonged autograph/photo session through.

Our son T.A. was also a trooper. We’d exhausted all the kid activities, most tents were now gone, the kitchen store Sur La Table had witnessed our presence multiple times (I bought some measuring cups on sale to at least say thanks for tolerating my pot and pan fanatic son), we’d treated him to some chamomile tea and even ice cream.  We’d continued to show him the lines, the stage where the action was at and every time we mentioned Tim Tebow, he’d point to the football posters abounding in that area and say “boom!” while pushing his hands forward in an almost tackling motion.

We made it to the front finally and Tebow warmly greeted us. I had brought my Gator cross-country and track gear and greeted him as a fellow jock. T.A was placed next to him in my arms and we had a couple of photos taken. We noticed that the photographer was very nice and attentive to our son which we appreciated as we knew this guy had the longest day of work going on as well. We shook hands with Tebow again and congratulated him, I thanked him for being a great Christian witness and he was very humble in his gracious response.

Yes, Tim Tebow is the real deal. We wish him the best in all his endeavors, whether they be football, people, family and life in general.


Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"