Garrard masters polo, cycling

Auburn resident a threat by land or sea
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Seven broken noses, a shattered windpipe, a torn rotator cuff, a broken rib: And Jay Garrard is still chomping at the bit to get back in the water. The Auburn resident may have a brutal scorecard of water polo injuries (some of which he has administered to others), but the full-impact sport has kept him coming back for more since he was 12. He first played as a youth, then later for John Muir High School, in Pasadena, and UC Santa Cruz as a college student. When Garrard, 43, relocated to Auburn in the early 90s he traded the sun-drenched, Southern California pools for an aquatics complex in West Sacramento. Over 20 years later he still satisfies his craving to play with the Gold Country Water Polo Club. Garrard’s love for water polo boils down to something pure, fierce — and a little primitive. “The aggression — you can get in the water and beat people up,” Garrard said. “I’m a defensive player, so I get to dish out more pain than I have to take. It’s just a good, physical sport. Some describe it as a cross between soccer, basketball and wrestling.” In his bout with Gold Country, the team has placed third in the nation and hosted the national championships in 2005, despite changing practice locations from Folsom to West Sacramento. The team competes in seven to 10 tournaments a year and practices twice a week. Some of Garrard’s teammates played water polo for schools with powerhouse teams, like Stanford and UC Berkeley. On top of having incredible endurance, water polo players need the strength to withstand constant contact by opponents. “Treading water isn’t the hard part, it’s treading water with a 220 pound guy trying to climb over your shoulder,” Garrard said. “My wife says she doesn’t even see me for half the game because I am under water.” The Men’s National and Women’s National Water Polo Teams, which represent the U.S. in the Olympics, are selected from among masters teams all over the country. Divisions begin at ages 20 and up and extend all the way through ages 60 and up. Currently, Garrard is out with an injury, but he hopes to be back in the pool by September. In the meantime, he helps coach the team and referee practices. “Kind of whoever is hurt will referee and take over coaching,” Garrard said. Gold Country often combines its practices with the West Sacramento team, having up to 50 men in the water at a time. Garrard said the teams in the Sacramento-area are close-knit, practicing with one another and sharing pools. Any brutality is purely a by-product of healthy competition, according to Garrard. “It can get aggressive,” Garrard said. “It’s not violent for the sake of violence.” When he’s not fending off opposing teams in the water, he’s outgunning them on the road. Garrard has raced on the Victory Velo’s bicycle team for five years. Before the Stage 3 Start of the Amgen Tour of California, he donned his Speedo in the parade as part of a superhero costume to show his spirit for professional cyclist and friend Chris Jones, of Auburn. Dan Tebbs, who owns Victory Velo Bike Shop in Auburn, has been cycling with Garrard for 20 years. “His best specialty is that he has a big body, so he is an easy draft and we can just set up behind him and let him pull us,” Tebbs said. “He is a team player, even on the cycling side. The few races we have (ridden) together he always wants to know what he can do for me.” Garrard said he is glad to see water polo is gaining popularity locally. “It was so popular in Southern California,” Garrard said. “What’s been awesome to see is how much it’s grown in Northern California.” Reach Sara Seyydin at