Learning to Lose

16 men. 10 sports. 3 days. 2 bathrooms. 1 house.

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.” -Reese Bobby

For the past dozen years, a group of friends has gotten together to celebrate camaraderie and competition. In those years, the Pseudo Decathlon has evolved into a 3-day-weekend extravaganza with brackets, a clipboard, a trip to Costco and memory cards full of pictures.

About nine years ago I met Todd, one of the founders of the Pseudo Decathlon and one of my closest friends. We worked for a sports statistics company where our main duties included playing Yahoo! Pool, seeing who could throw the most consecutive balls of paper into the garbage bin, and helping the NASCAR faithful set their lineups for their fantasy sports team. I don’t recall the first decathlon I was invited to attend, but Todd weaved a narrative of “the greatest weekend ever.”

That first year I witnessed the glory. The majority of the events are held at the co-founder’s house. For one weekend, his house is converted into a mix of Animal House and the Average Joe’s gym. As the years passed, I inched closer and closer to a coveted spot on the sweet 16 of competitors. Then, one year I got the call.

“Andrew, can you fill in for a decathlete?”

At this moment I realized my high school counselor’s sage advice was coming true: It’s not where you start, but where you finish.

My performance the first year was far from stellar. In fact it could best be described as abysmal. I lost every match of every sport. To quote Ron Burgundy–something that happens nearly hourly– “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.” I’m pretty sure the decathlon was designed as a forum for people to share Will Ferrell quotes.

Last year I was asked to compete again. OK. “Compete” was my word. In reality I was probably asked if I could reliably show up for three days to take my lumps. It was last year that I discovered my calling. Cooking.

The structure of the weekend tournament is double elimination. If you lose quickly there is a lot of downtime–time I spent watching and reciting Princess Bride. If you win, so I hear, you spend more time playing games. But if you lose, you spend time eating Doritos and reflecting about your life choices. Or in my case, manning the grill. Or person-ing the grill, as Renae, the former clipboard carrier and resident egalitarian might suggest.

I fully embraced my role as Head Chef for the weekend. But last year was also notable for being my first near arson. I’m not sure if it was the perfect storm, but I nearly blew up a neighborhood. Or at least one house, depending how gullible you are. The outside temperature was flirting with triple digits. I was greased up with sunscreen wearing only my gym shorts and boat shoes while flipping burgers. Enjoy that visual for a moment.

After flipping the burgers, I had gone inside the house to cool off. Upon returning to the grill, I noticed the thermostat on the silver hood of the gas grill had red lined. The temperature inside the grill exceeded 700 degrees. I’m no scientist but I think the sun is like 600 degrees. There were also flames kicking out of the back of the grill. As I lifted the hood, one of the hinges broke making it impossible to lift the grill open. I went inside for an oven mitt and when I came back out the grill had transformed into one of Dante’s circles of hell. Thankfully, one of the decathletes had just completed a fire training course, grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the blaze. After the decathletes heard of the literal adaptation of Hell’s Kitchen and saw the aftermath of Carbon Tetrachloride on the burgers, one competitor remarked “Andrew, I wanted mine with cheese.”

I likely will never live down almost burning down the house. And I don’t think I want to. Fast forward to this year. There was a new grill. There was also some doubt connected to whether I would ever grill in this town again. But the competitors were hungry and I had free time.

There are moments in your life where your calling becomes clear. Mine is to cook.

“You find the right job and it uses all of you.” -Mackenzie Bezos

Cooking is one of my happy places. There is a supreme satisfaction in being able to feed the masses. I’d compare it to winning an event in the decathlon, but I have yet to experience that joy. I’m friends with most of the competitors through Facebook. Subsequently they see the incessant stream of food pics I post. Through this blog and my ubiquitous food photography, friends come to me with cooking questions and trust that I’ll create something delicious for them. At one point I was snapping a pic of my plate of food and one decathlete jokingly remarked, “Are you taking a picture of your food? This is why I had to hide you on Facebook.”

This year I planned some menu items with Emma, the host/co-founder’s wife. In addition to burger and hot dogs, I added mexican-themed turkey burgers, salsa verde, a cilantro/lime sour cream dip/salad dressing, and a pasta salad. Emma whipped up some flavored mayonnaise options: sriracha, chipotle and basil pesto.

While I finished near the bottom in all the events this year, my true victory was learning my calling to cook and teach others the simplicity to cook for themselves and their loved ones. And I didn’t burn down the house.

My philosophy of life is that if we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose – somehow we win out. -Ronald Reagan

The decathletes
The decathletes
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