Conchs Have Their Day

Remar Sutton
Special To The Washington Post
December 21, 1998; Page C4

TORTOLA, B.V.I. -- Sharon Schumacher, grandmother to nine, after tentatively touching the six-foot shark hanging by the bar at Smuggler's Cove, marched into the water with no hesitation. What's a 2,000-foot swim to her? Heck, in 1989 at the Key West Conchathon, Sharon, an Arlingtonian, swam a mile in the open ocean. And she'd heard the shark was a very realistic fake. Silver Spring teacher Carl Leverenz, walking from Long Bay for the swim and kayak legs of our Quadrathon, hesitated just long enough by the cross-eyed goat with the evil eye (now tied to a majestic palm) to know that the goat was real.

Carl grabbed a kayak and smiled. He was wearing a T-shirt signed by his students at Wayside Elementary School in Montgomery County. "This race is for them!" he yelled, pointing to the shirt as he paddled away on the one-mile course.

Marlene Platt biked faster than she planned to through the lush banana tree forest just behind Mrs. Scatliff's house and restaurant in Carrot Bay, thanks to a persnickety pot-cake, a mongrel dog who took a real interest in Marlene's rear wheel.

Marlene didn't look back. She had a mountain to climb to make it to the finish line. And she'd heard that pizza, along with a dose of Bob Marley, were being served on the cliff-side deck of "Conch Central" up the hill from Sebastian's Hotel.

Allison and Tom Kenton stopped by Nan's Art Stand in Little Apple Bay to check out a handsome bowl made from a calabash picked from an ancient calabash tree on an island on the far horizon.

Hand-in-hand they then strolled to the starting line for the run. It began at Capoon's Bay, right by Bomba's Surf Shack, where they had danced barefoot in the sand the night before.

In May, when Allison started training in Rockville for The Last Stop at Long Bay Quadrathon, she had not walked for three months. This day, she ran nonstop.

District resident Kitty Thuermer overcame a lifelong fear of the ocean and rose sputtering from the water after swimming unafraid through a swarming school of bait fish, millions of them, to proclaim, "God forbid, I'm in danger of becoming prone to athletic tendencies!"

Myrna Aavedal made friends with the dozen squid lined up in front of her like a choir in pristine Brewers Bay during our Conch snorkel trip. "Since I talk to animals anyway, I decided to sing `We wish you a Merry Christmas,' " Myrna says.

It didn't bother Myrna at all when a nearby snorkeler broke out in laughter. Chris Warden had trained nonstop for the Quadrathon. For the first time in 35 years, she had bought a bike and biked hundreds of miles. She and her best friend, Susan Hester, had taken kayak lessons.

And then on Oct. 30 she was unexpectedly hospitalized until the very week she was to leave for Tortola. "They were afraid I couldn't walk without assistance, much less get on a bike."

Chris came anyway and cheered her best friend on. "I couldn't do the event, but I realized I had already achieved my goal. I was here! I go home with strength to fight toward the future and a return trip when I will participate."

Sisters and mothers and daughters and couples and best friends and total strangers from the Washington area squeezed every drop of excitement and energy and holiday happiness out of the Conchs' week in Tortola.

And while everyone had a magnificent time, I'll bet no one can tell you who "won" any leg of the quadrathon. Being first isn't the idea. Everybody that trained, whether they came to Tortola or not, wins in our game.

Carl Leverenz summed it up: "What a renewal I feel in me!"

That's what Conchdom is all about, and renewal is what we all wish you this season.