Gary Jobson: Life defining moments

Published on May 7th, 2020

Gary Jobson

As the coronavirus pandemic significantly impacts the global community,  inspiration is on short supply during this period of health and economic struggle.

But inspiring moments can occur when we least expect them, and on the 50 year anniversary of one such event, Sailing Hall of Fame inductee Gary Jobson shares his life defining moment:

The date is Friday May 8, 1970 and I am preparing to race for the America Trophy, college sailing’s Middle Atlantic Spring Championship, with the top two teams advancing to the Intercollegiate Nationals a month later in Wisconsin.

One day earlier, my coach at New York Maritime College, the late Graham Hall, moved me up to skipper in A Division. It was a big test for me.

This was during a difficult time in American history. Just four days earlier, four students were shot on the campus of Kent State while protesting against the Vietnam War. It was a devastating story that resonates today during our current health crisis.

That Friday night was also Game 7 of the NBA Championship between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Madison Garden had a policy that if you showed up at a back door of the Garden wearing a military uniform, they would find you a nosebleed seat to watch the game. I would occasionally benefit from this privilege, and my father advised me to always give the usher a tip. For me, this was usually $2.

But for Game 7, when the usher came to the door he had bad news. “Gentleman, the Garden is completely sold out. I suggest you go to a bar to watch the game.” I was among 40 soldiers and sailors who uttered a collective groan, but as we started to walk away, the usher grabbed my elbow and said, “Son, you wait here.”

He remembered my tip, and about 10 minutes later he returned. I gave him $5, which was a fortune for me, and he sat me behind the bench of the Knicks… next to actor Dustin Hoffman.

It was an inspiring night. The Knicks were in control of the game from the opening tip. The Knicks’ star center, Willis Reed, had missed two games with an injury but was there for the game just before it started. The noise was deafening. Reed got the first two baskets and the Knicks never looked back and won 113-99.

As the game ended, Dustin Hoffman and I got swept up with the team and went running with them – right – into – the – locker – room! There I was with my heroes. I got all their autographs and listened to commentator Howard Cosell doing the post-game interviews. I was so inspired that I went out on the water that weekend, easily won A Division and our team qualified for the Nationals.

But, my story does not end there.

Fast forward 33 years and I am laying in a hospital bed at the University of Maryland Medical Center going through a bone marrow transplant in my effort to overcome Lymphoma. It had been an eight month battle up to that point, I had lost 60 pounds, could barely walk, and I was depressed. It felt like my time was slipping away.

One afternoon a nurse walked into my room, saw me in a fetal position, and made it her mission to activate me. She told me to sit up and turned on the television, and then started channel surfing. She came across ESPN Classic and there on the television was: THE GAME. Yes, Game 7 of the NBA Finals was on television.

I watched every play and completely forgot about my hardship. The Knicks won again. After the Game, ABC television went down to the locker room for the post-game interviews and there I was on TV, in uniform, listening to Cosell interviewing Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, and Dick Barnett. All my heroes… again.

I remembered how that game had inspired me to sail hard the next day. At that moment, I resolved that the cancer was not going to take me down. From then on I fought hard. I am still here 50 years after that magic weekend of basketball and sailing to tell the story. It’s amazing how an inspiring moment in your youth can be helpful in a time of need.

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