I was training for the 1992 Olympics in La Seu D’Urgell, Spain for the Barcelona Olympic Games in a training camp there with the rest of the USA Team. It was the typical training camp, where we would go and train for a few weeks and then return home to train in DC. We flew in and out of Madrid because it was cheaper than Barcelona, even though it was 4 hours further to the airport. Somewhere in the mix of the training camp, I managed to lose my passport. My training was my primary concern, so I didn’t waste any time figuring out how to get a new one, but instead, just kept on training and hoped it would show up. In my last workout of the training camp, at about 6:30 am on a cold November day in the Pyrenees Mountains, after a hard camp, and not enough warm up before I started paddling hard, I came into an upstream gate and through in a super hard draw stroke and something went “pop” in my shoulder. I was riding with Rich Weiss, Scott Shipley, and Bryan Brown to the Madrid Airport immediately following the workout. I got in the back of the rental car and couldn’t move my arm. We headed to the airport and stopped at McDonalds on the way and I literally couldn’t use my left arm to eat with and had to keep it by my side. I was so bummed as I was paddling really well and was looking forward to hard training at home. We arrived in Madrid and got our boats, etc.. To the gate and I remembered that I had lost my passport. Typically they check for your passport at the check in counter and don’t let you go past there without one. I had a different idea. I would talk them into letting me check in with my bags, and try to talk the border police into letting me go through. They agreed, saying, “You’ll be back”. They weren’t going to help me with my ticket if I couldn’t get on the plane, and I had no money to stay overnight, or get a new ticket. I didn’t use credit cards until 2004, and this was long before I had a credit card in my wallet.
The team, which included Marty McCormick, Elliot Weintrob, and others were all there and heckling me already from my “Ilegal Alien” status and were repeating my 1984 story and suggesting that I was about to get in the same trouble and they all seemed amused by it all. My plan was being formulated and I was getting some agreement. I would simply create a “crowd” at the cubical where they check your passport and kind of slip through un-noticed next to another team member. I hung with the bigger guys, like Elliot and I think it made them a little nervous, but they were innocent by-standers. Right as I was next in line with my blocker, it occurred to me that this would not work as they were already looking at me to “back off and stop crowding the line”. I happened to notice when we got in line that a long white hallway went in the same direction as the flow of people leaving the passport control area. I was convinced that the hallway was a bypass for the line (not one that was supposed to be used, but it went the right way). OK, I couldn’t just pace back and forth and expect to succeed at any plan, so I had to move fast. I walked back past the white long hallway, and saw that it was clear and looked both ways and nobody was paying any attention to me. I bolted in full sprint down the hallway and made it 1/2 way when two guards stationed in little hidden cubby holes near the end of it popped our with their cool looking machine guns. I didn’t get phased and ran up to them saying, “Bano” for bathroom and held myself like I really had to go. They were 1/2 convinced and asked for my passport, of which I said, “bano!” They walked me by my elbows to the head of security/Police and took me in his office, guarding me with guns ready. The head of security spoke English and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was running down the hall way because I didn’t have a passport, and that I really had to go to the bathroom. Luckily for me this guy had a sense of humor and recognized that I was willing to tell the truth and just laughed. I asked him if he would put me on the plane, and you could tell by his expression that he was going to say yes. He said, “I will put you on the plane, but you’ll never make it into the USA at New York, and they’ll put you on a plane back and make you buy that ticket. ” I said, “THANK YOU!” and he personally walked me onto the plane, with his hand firmly gripping my elbo and put me in my seat. When I got on the plane, escorted by the head of police, the faces of the other USA Team members was priceless, each one with the “No #$%$$# WAY!”. They really didn’t think I was going to get very far, and when I bolted down the white hallway, well… I was feeling much better that I was on my plane, with my last few dollars in my pocket, and no chance they could make me buy another ticket as I had no money to buy it with! I sat all smug in my seat, and tried to think of how to get into the USA and all I could come up with was, that if Spain was willing to trust that I was who I said I was, couldn’t my own country? Somebody on the USA Team told a loved one back home that “EJ lost his passport and won’t likely be on the plane to NY.” That person called my wife, Kristine, and she knew that drama was underway. When the plane landed and we walked up to immigration at Kennedy international airport, all eyes were on me once again, waiting for the drama to get bigger. I walked up to the counter like everybody else and when they said, “passport please” I said, sorry, I lost it in Spain and hoped my drivers license would suffice. Bewildered and ready for confrontation, she looked at me and I just said, “yes, I’ll probably need to talk to a supervisor.” A supervisor came to the counter and asked what was up and I told him the entire story, prefacing it with “I am trying to break back into my home country” . He was shocked that I made it on the plane and when I told him how cool the head of police in Madrid airport was to let me on, I think he took it as a challenge to equal that guy’s cool factor and looked at me and asked a couple of questions, like “where do you live? And who is picking you up?” I added to it, that I was on the USA Slalom Kayak Team, and wore the red/white/blue proudly in international competition and was training for the Olympics the next year, if I could paddle again, being wounded in training. He was convinced and looked around as if he was making sure nobody noticed and waived me by. I came out of USA Customs after the other USA Team members and they had their same faces on, the “what the #%&?” I explained what happened and made our way to the plane to DC and I was back where passports are not needed. Kristine picked me up and was thrilled that I made it but suggested that I keep better track of my passport. I haven’t lost one since! My shoulder took three months to heal and by February of 1992 I was still only turning to the right, literally. I would do workouts and only do right hand turns. I made the USA Olympic Team in April that year, after 2 months of normal training.