Going cross country for cross-country

Robin Short
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Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty kilometres. For 16 minutes and 14 seconds’ work.

There’s the Saturday morning drive to the rink or gym. And the weekend road trip.

Then there’s the colossal trek the kids on the coast of Labrador tackle two or three times a year, all for the love of the game.

Kids like D.J. Rumbolt, a 14-year-old runner from Mary’s Harbour, a boy who brings new meaning to the word desire.

D.J. ran in the provincial cross-country championship last weekend, at Danny Williams’ Glendenning Golf Course in St. John’s.

Now, scampering around a golf course in November — especially last Sunday, when it was so cold ( as my friend Duey would say), the lawyers had their hands in their own pockets — is crazy enough, but nothing compared to the sacrifice D.J. and his buddies on the Labrador coast make a couple of times a year.

Last Friday morning, D.J. and his father, Denley, climbed into the family’s very own Peterbilt — an ’05 Ford Escape — and turned south for Blanc-Sablon, two-and-a-half to three hours, most of it over dirt road, on the other side of the Labrador-Quebec border.

The winds were up that particular Friday, and the ferry bound for St. Barbe in Newfoundland — or as they sometimes like to say in Labrador, the Newfoundland part of the province — was delayed. So D.J. and his father killed time driving around Blanc-Sablon, which we can’t imagine takes too much time.

All in all, nine hours in the car waiting for the ferry.

Only to learn the crossing was cancelled for the day.

So off they went back to Mary’s Harbour, the kid’s plans of running in the provincial championship swept away with the high winds.

Except ...

“I said, ‘D.J., you’re going to be too tired to race if we leave tomorrow,’” recalls Denley Rumbolt, a carpenter in the Mary’s Harbour area. “He said, ‘Dad, b’y, I’d really like to go.’

“The next morning, we said, ‘Let’s give her a go again.’”

Off they went, at 6 o’clock Saturday morning, catching the 10:30 ferry to St. Barbe, arriving on the island at 12:15. About 11:30 or 12 that night, father and son pulled into St. John’s.

The next day, D.J. Rumbolt sped to a third-place finish in the midget boys’ 4K run, finishing in 16:14.

That afternoon, the Rumbolts returned to Mary’s Harbour, landing in St. Barbe at 4 a.m., and on their own doorstep in Mary’s Harbour by 4 o’clock Monday afternoon.

Two thousand, eight hundred and 80 kilometres over three days.

“And we enjoyed every minute of it,” Denley Rumbolt says.

D.J. Rumbolt attends St. Mary’s All-Grade school, where 87 of the 400 or so residents of Mary’s Harbour go. There are 14 kids in D.J.’s Grade 9 class, one of the bigger classrooms in the school.

“In another four or five years when they go off to university,” fears Denley Rumbolt, “the school will be cut down to 40-50 kids.”

There are no rinks — indoor ones, anyway — in Mary’s Harbour, no curling clubs and probably no baseball field. There’s definitely no field turf in town.

But the kids of Mary’s Harbour have their new recreation centre where they can go play basketball or badminton or ball hockey, all for a dollar. If there’s five kids playing badminton, $5. Twenty kids shooting hoops, $20.

If no one else has the court booked, they can play all night.

It’s a focal point of the community, where all the building’s expenses for the year are taken care of from money raised through the summertime crab festival.

There’s a lot to be said for the simple, yet fulfilling, way of life.

“Me and D.J., we play ball hockey together. He was eight or nine when he was a goalie on the adult ball hockey team. I was the other goalie,” Dad says.

“Sports keeps us together as a family, which I think is really important. On a cold winter night, why not go to the hall and play something?

“No, we don’t have any malls here, but we have cabins and we go snowmobiling. In the summer we go boating.

“A lot of people think our kids don’t have the opportunities that they have in St. John’s. I think kids here actually have a greater opportunity than most kids in St. John’s.

“It’s good fun. Good, innocent fun.”

Denley and his wife, Sheila Pye, were runners back in the day, and both competed in the Labrador Games in biathlon. It’s how their only boy — they have two girls — started running.

Today, he sprints through town and outside of town. Most of it on dirt roads.

It’s another reason why competing last weekend at Glendenning was a treat — not too often does the lad get a chance to scoot about on grass.

Running isn’t D.J.’s only passion. There’s basketball, and while he missed out on making the provincial team for his age group last year, he plans on trying out again.

Next weekend, in fact, there’s a tournament in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a mere five hours away.

A joke, at least when you’ve trucked down the Labrador coast and across the province for a pastime.

Last season, D.J. and the basketball kids from the coast made two trips to Goose Bay, one to Labrador City and three to St. John’s. That’s not including his ventures to the island for running.

In fact, last year, D.J. and his father were on their way to Ferryland for the cross-country championship when they learned, while in Gander, the meet had been postponed because of the H1N1 outbreak.

So they went to St. John’s anyway, spent a few days in town, and headed home.

Needless to say, Denley Rumbolt’s rig isn’t leased.

Us spoiled townies, who think a ride to The Glacier in Mount Pearl is a long haul, could learn a thing or two from the Rumbolts and others from the Labrador coast who have figured out what passion and commitment is all about.

“Me and his mother,” Denley said, “we’re lucky. Sports has kept his marks in the 90s, and that’s a blessing, too.

“He’s a fine young feller. He is to me, anyway.”

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: All-Grade school

Geographic location: Labrador, Blanc-Sablon, Goose Bay Happy Valley Ferryland Gander Mount Pearl

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