Oh what a Trip!!!!
A good movie has a great plot, great actors, an exotic place where few have gone, mystery, drama, suspense.
I received a call from the President of Kick International several months ago about possibly taking a USA Team to fight against Cuba. Chip Post, the President had talked about it to me many times before.
I know Chip pretty well. We talk almost every morning at 7:00 am Central time; I live near Chicago, 8:00am Eastern Time, Chip is in Florida. We talk just about anything, from paddling a Kayak from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, which is on our bucket list, to him feeding his horse, me training my sled dogs, wives and children, fighters and friends. Philosophy, science, poetry, and warfare, nothing escapes our early morning conversations. I have to admit that a trip to Cuba had me really interested.
Questions were popping in my head like Jiffy Pop popcorn. Fighters, our best kick boxers, not a problem. We had a core group that has traveled the world winning everywhere. We have a great group of coaches, Pete “SugarFoot" Cunningham, David Diquollo, Tommy Alcozer, Bert Rodriguez, Rob Hulett, and myself. Deciding who goes and who doesn't isn't really a problem. Our staff have to pay their own way as do our fighters, so money will cut down our numbers.
All of us of course wanted to go. I told Chip right off that even though I wanted to coach the team in this historical event, I couldn't go. I had just opened a new school in Princeton, Illinois and also was recently diagnosed of having a neck injury of Myelomalacia. Great a grappler, and fighter that can’t grapple or fight. I knew I had problems because my arms kept going numb at night when I slept. My good friend, Dr. Dave Smith had been warning me for years that if I wasn't careful I would be pissing out of a tube.
The money was another issue, Chip figured it would cost each coach and fighter $1500 each. My wife, whom had supported Team USA by buying Uniforms for us in Brazil and Russia was skeptical yet she was also interested in going to Cuba. I promised her that I would take her. Teresa speaks perfect Spanish and would be a huge asset on the trip to Cuba. Chip and I both speak Spanish but we are not at all fluent, even though we try to do our best.
So the cost would be $3000 for my wife and I? I better get to work. That's a lot of new students to sign up, a lot of marketing on Facebook, Yelp, Yodel, internal marketing and prayer. I needed to focus and start getting our top fighters, to start getting sponsors. I needed to contact our coaches to see who could maybe swing it. We at times took turns taking the team abroad because of the monetary burden splitting it up, so we had a great team wherever we roamed.
I love coaching and Chip was being persistent. How could I turn him down, he was fighting cancer and his stubborn disposition was helping him to beat cancers ass? I told him that I would try my best but couldn't promise him. He knows me very well and had me hooked, line and sinker. I swear he had his Marine Corps background imbedded in him as he gave me a speech about my duty to the team, the coaching staff, to God and country.
Chip was making this historical event come together, he was doing something that had never been done before. He started to get some big business men to help out by going with us to Cuba, possibly to seek out business opportunities. I got my old Marine recon buddy Eric Vincent Holt AKA "Kelly" to go along. Kelly was always a great guy to have along if you got into a tight spot or in a dangerous situation, I could always count on him to have my back. He is now a very successful business man, inventor, and still a bad ass. Who knows what could happen in Cuba, we might need another warrior?
Chip also had other business men join in and help out Jim Osceola and his son Drew from the Hard Rock Cafe, Darin Odey from USA Equipment Solutions and a few other business men and women that I never really got to talk to. Jimmy, Darin, Drew, Eric and I all became friends on this awesome excursion into the unknown.
The extra money that these business men helped sponsor the team with, went to the college boys working their way through school, fighting at the world class level and getting grades that would make anyone jealous. I knew how difficult their lives where and how driven these great athletes and leaders are. A testament to the Olympic spirit of honor, enthusiasm, and dedication.
The team was forming, but I had a hard time convincing one of my top athletes Carlos Hernandez Jr. to go. He had just finished his soccer season at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he is on a full ride with a GPA over 3.75. He had finals coming up and he was broke. My wife Teresa always says, where there's a will there's a way. I broke out the inspirational music as I talked to him about this historic fight. I told him that he would make history. I guess I wasn't as convincing as Chip, so I called his Dad. Carlos Sr. had been one of my loyalist students ever, and by the time I was done combining inspirational quotes from Shakespeare, Patton, and George Washington, Carlos was hooked. He got on the phone and Jr. was finding a way to deal with his teachers to allow him to represent the good ole US of A.
Our team was coming together nicely our coaching staff was Pete, David, Bert, and I. The fighters were representatives of the coaching staff for the most part and I had helped coach all but three before in some part of the World. I knew most of them well and was looking forward to this event.
Cuba day one was like a trip back into the sixties. The cars where classic Chevy’s, Ford’s, Cadillac’s, and Pontiac's. Big, classic, beautiful, stinky, smelly cars without emission control or catalytic converters. The buildings were in disrepair and most could really use a coat of paint. The smell, the cracked sidewalks, I felt like I was a kid again back on the block in Chicago.
I had to use my Spanish immediately, and I was surprised that I was doing okay, in fact I did a whole lot better than I thought I would. My wife Teresa wasn't there to bail me out I had to think in Spanish I had to put on my big boy pants and do my best. Teresa had decided that we were really not able to spend $3000.00, so she bowed out and sent me packing, to do what I do best, coach! With her blessings and barely enough money, I was off on my own.
Eric and I made it up to our room and the smell of the car emissions seemed to settle in our second floor room. I closed the window to turn on the air conditioner but the air conditioner didn't work, so I figured I would call room-service to fix the air but the phone didn't work. Tired from a long day, and a little nauseous from the emissions, I turned on the TV you guessed it, the TV didn't work. I turned on my phone to get the Wi-Fi, yep no Wi-Fi! I fell asleep on a hard mattress with the smallest pillow after taking a shower, which took a delicate touch to get the cold water turned on just enough so the hot water didn't turn me into a Lobster.
I woke up the next morning and my arms weren't numb, the secret must have been that tiny pillow it kept my neck straight. My body didn't hurt, had to be that hard mattress.
We worked out after eating at the restaurant in the Hotel. Well the food wasn't bad, and there was a lot of fruit, which made me happy and the coffee was good. The flies were pesky but due to my time in the jungle while in the Marine Corps, I knew I could handle them. The staff at the restaurant were helpful and polite, in fact everyone I met in Cuba was polite and happy. The treasure in Cuba isn't the classic cars or the fat cigars but the lovely happy friendly people of Cuba. They seemed to be interested in us and we were interested in them. I met a colonel who was working security and a pilot who worked security, both were my age and no longer in their chosen profession but happy being security. I met a doctor that makes $20 per month, most of the people get $15 per month from the government. The rich guys are the cab drivers; they make a month’s salary in a couple of decent tips.
We saw the sights of Cuba, we walked and talked to the people, we started to display affection for the people with some generosity. Darin Odey must have looked like a giant, he was loud and was probably frightening to the Cubans but while in a store shopping, a mom was instructing her daughter to put some items back. I think Darin turned into a giant Teddy Bear and gave the family some money, which was probably equivalent to three or four months of salary.
Eric was so generous with a cab driver that he called Paulie, because he looked like Paulie from the Rocky movie, that every morning Paulie became Eric's personal driver. Paulie's car broke down and Eric paid about three hundred bucks to have it fixed.
I was feeling under the weather from the emissions and my trying to deal with my neck issues, that I stayed back when everyone else went out. Waking up at two in the morning by dance music, I threw on some shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt and went downstairs. To my surprise, there was a dance going on in a large room in the hotel.
I walked inside and no one from the US was in there, but I love to dance Salsa so I started to dance with a group of girls. I was tapped on the shoulder, so I turn around and it was Caesar. He was a Cuban bus driver that had taken us on a tour, he handed me a beer and gave me a fist bump. I danced with the girls finding out they were a family three cousins, an aunt, a mom, and a god mother. We danced until the wee hours of the night and then while everyone was sitting around talking, I bought the burgers for all of us. It only cost $40 including drinks and a tip.
By the time we left, we left as victors. Coaching a team in competition is always draining. The individual fights one fight, you as the coach fight every fight. Last week in Cuba I fought nine cliff hangers we won 5-4. I was exhausted. Elated, hungry, excited, proud, disappointed, angry, frustrated, all at the same time. A roller coaster of emotions surging through my body like a tsunami! Damn I love coaching!
- Coach Bob Schirmer
This has now become an annual competition between the US and Cuban fighters. The US team will be going at the end of May 2018 to take on the Cubans once again. GO TEAM USA!