The banter had almost become boring when, between the main course and desert at supper on the second night, the Young Guns shot their mouths off yet again.
“Tell you what”, said the greying Gonza, “we’ll challenge you and sort this matter out once and for all!” The impetuous Ismail guffawed ungraciously. And that’s how it came to pass that a corporate team strategy off-site entered the multi-sport arena.
Here I was, lucky me, facilitating the team’s workshop at Chobe Safari Lodge, deep in the Murchison Falls National Park in central Uganda. Innocently co-ordinating the team processes during the day, enjoying the crisp white linen, the whirring ceiling fan and belching hippos at night and the bountiful buffets overlooking the rushing Nile River in-between, I was of course, in no way responsible for either the age war nor the manner in which it was resolved.
A Great Debate ensued until the rules were eventually set in stone. It was to be a simple affair – a relay race with one outright winner: sprint, swim 1, swim 2, 30 sit-ups, 30 push-ups, beer 1, beer 2. In the event of a draw, a penalty shoot out on the soccer field would clinch it.
The first leg was a sprint of about 150 meters along the river bank. Young Ismail himself, the same one of the ego over-extended by youthful enthusiasm, turned out to be quite a sprinter and, running like a lion, he opened up an early lead for the youngsters. That being said, Edrisa, who is nervous of hippos, slipped on a dung midden half way up the steep hill but did a sterling job of hurdling over the small fence into the pool area to keep the gap as narrow as possible.
He touched my hand and I dived long and fast. You will be proud, my dear readers, of how I played my part in catching up and even buying Bruce, our second swimmer a little time too. Daniel, my direct competitor in the pool, later claimed his shortness of stature as the excuse for his splashing about as furiously as he did, but truth be told - it was his roundness.
Bruce toyed with our newly won lead by wandering around a bit before finding clear direction. None the less, he boosted our sit-up specialist, Alex, to be a good few reps ahead by the time Tutu (who played rugby for Uganda and undoubtedly scrums better than he swims) handed over to Geoffrey.
Even the best athletes cramp, and so it was that the youngsters were able to gain the lead yet again - and Geoffrey is a machine too, it should be said.
An over-enthusiastic Gonza began his push-ups a mere split second too early and was severely penalised 5 reps by an overly stern Salwa who was quite clearly biased in favour of the more youthful competitors.
Unperturbed by the penalty, he quickly established an incredible pace and, very bravely, put us in front yet again.
Meanwhile, Deon, the team medic, was nursing Young Joseph whose push-ups were more akin to fall-downs.
And so it was that Jim lifted the beer first. The Bell lager hardly touched sides as the ex British army sergeant opened his throat and literally poured it down.
That put our Great Athlete, the Venerable, the Supreme John K, on a downhill last leg. Like any athlete worth their salt he had thoroughly warmed up with a few bottles before and he seemed to be sipping demurely when, on behalf of the Bull Elephants, he swallowed the last froth of victory.
As a student of organisational effectiveness and leadership development, there were many lessons for me in this experience. The best team building happens when it isn’t forced. When people get beyond working together and become people together, then the real magic of synergy happens.
Another truth is that you can plan good teams but you can’t compel or impose them. Honest processes that let people have real interactions with one another allow authentic development.
But my biggest lesson by far was as a lover of multi-sport. I was reminded that the real power of our schizophrenic sporting habit is an attitude. The passion to be ready to run, swim, spin, push or sit up for the sake of being fit and able to, is what defines us.
It is not club membership that motivates us, nor a particular up-coming event. We are driven by our own desire to be strong and able to engage our varied physical environment with our selves: mind, body and spirit. We don’t have to be experts; we just have to be there.
And a last lesson worth noting, for the benefit of the youngsters out there: Someone once said that grey hair is “God’s graffiti”. Those of us who play in the multi-sport space for many years get tougher, if not faster; and we don’t easily let a challenge pass us by. Put us together and we’re fairly formidable. And you will eventually join this well seasoned, sinewed set if you keep mixing it up, and stop eating all those simple carbs, Ismail.