Making of a Greasypole Champion

24 03 2012

There I stood on Pavillion Beach watching what was, and stands to be one of the greatest greasypole walks ever, in my own eyes anyway. I loved watching the greasypole event during the St. Peter’s Fiesta when I was a boy. Eventually I would love walking the greasypole myself.

I remember standing on the beach that day, staring out at the pole and at the walkers slipping and sliding, bouncing and smashing, and splashing awkwardly into the water below. I saw the men full of grease from the event. I saw them swim to the beach. They were shivering. Their faces told me that they were very tired-or hurt. Still, they picked up this man, a champion and my newly found hero, and carried him up onto the beach, then into the streets headed toward town. I was eight years old.

Watching the events of St. Peter’s Fiesta, and that memorable walk, the shear glory I saw as the men celebrated, inspired me. It may sound foolish to some, but I wanted to get that flag on the end of the greasypole. I wanted to be carried up that beach after victory like the few who have done so in the past. I wanted to be a champion. I wanted to win the greasypole event more than anything I can remember.

Sleeping that Sunday night was difficult. I remember dreaming of being out there. I needed some way to get out to the pole. At eight years old. I could not yet swim out to it. Somehow I missed the “forest through the trees”…I could drown on the way out there. I could smash myself on the pole with a bad fall, like the flailing and crushing wipeouts I had witnessed a day earlier. I was in the third-grade. That Monday morning I stood in front of my house, thinking of some means to get to the platform.

“An inner-tube!” I thought. “That’s it! I’ll get an inner-tube; one of the big ones from the cement company!” And off I went. I was in luck. Sure enough I found an inner tube in the cement yard. The man at the company was nice enough to let me have it. I told him I was going to use the tube to get out to the greasypole. He said I would drown. I told him that I would someday be a champion. He filled the tube with air for me. I headed to the beach, struggling with a very large inner tube that was bigger than myself.

At the beach I found that I was not going to be alone out there on the pole. Many of my friends had the same idea. Not only did they share my quest, they wanted to do it just like it was the day before. They had with them shampoo, soap, lard, and Vaseline. Anything that was slippery and that they could get for free from their homes was going to be on that pole. They wanted their own event to be just like it was in the real competition. You name something slippery and they had it and were spreading it on the pole.

I remember there were seven friends of mine there that sunny Monday afternoon, and a few kids that I did not know. All that were there that day would later walk in competition. A few eventually went on to win the greasypole event. Most of them would swim back to the beach exhausted, and covered in grease, which, along with some great memories and injuries would be their only prize.

It would be nine long years before I stood on the pole ready to fulfill my dream as champion. I would be walking as a “protégé” for Phil Verga in 1987. This would be my first walk in competition. Phil was a former champion that did not walk any more. As a champ, he was allowed to have somebody walk in his name. It was my hope that Saturday afternoon that I would make him proud. I did not get to the flag. Now I wanted it even more.

It would be another two years before I would win. It was Saturday in 198_ that I became a champion. I was walker number 28 on the pole that day. It would be another 18 years, and many bumps and bruises before I would be a SUNDAY Champion. In 20_ _ my Sunday dream became reality. I grabbed my second greasypole-flag with seeming ease, running straight through it! I guess when it’s your day… it’s YOUR DAY! The tired, shivering greasy platoon launched me up into the air and onto their shoulders. I remember being overcome with joy. I saw myself as that hero I witnessed back in 1977. I looked down to see that now my hero was carrying me on HIS shoulders!

I have never experienced any other feeling like I did that day. This feeling is and always will be a part of me. I could now retire from walking-a Sunday Champion…

This year will mark my 24th year walking the pole. Incredibly my hero still walks too! Maybe I will retire with him someday. His picture standing next to the flag back in 1977 is still on my wall. He is five-time Greasypole Champion Anthony “Matza” Giambanco.

Why do WE keep walking the pole to get the flag? We walk for the patron saint of the Fishermen, St. Peter. He is OUR collective hero during the Festival named for him.
To all who have walked before, and to all those who will walk in the future…good luck and…VIVA San Pietro!

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