“Keep low,” says Tony DeCorso.
“Keep your elbow up,” says Stephen Gazzola.
“It’s just like bowling,” says John Ostetto.
It’s the kind of advice I need as I prepare to represent GuelphToday in the Festival Italiano’s Celebrity (their word, not mine) Cheese Roll contest.
Given that my mom was considered a bit of a star in the Acton 5-Pin Bowling Lane’s Tuesday Night Ladies League 30 years ago, I figure I have an edge on the field.
Seven of us will take turns rolling a 5 pound wheel of firuliano cheese the length of Ferguson Street. First one to cross the line 725 feet away wins.
After convincing Ostetto to somehow pronounce my profoundly English last name with an Italian inflection to help pander to the crowd, I assess my competition:
- Mayor Cam Guthrie: homegrown Guelph boy came into the event as the early 2 to 1 favourite. Asks a lot of questions in warm-ups, seems focused and confident.
- Police Chief Jeff DeRuyter: height could be a disadvantage but a natural athlete. Says he prefers team sports. Never underestimate a man in uniform.
- Deputy Police Chief Paul Martin: job security likely will prevent an earnest effort. Clearly brought along to distract the field for his boss.
- Lisa Richards of Magic 106: the lone experienced cheese roller in the group seems to have inside info. Brings cheering section for moral support.
- Emily Richards, Guelph’s own celebrity chef: this woman knows food, clearly a technical advantage. She’s also the lone Italian in the field, clearly a cultural advantage.
- Kithio Mwanzia, Guelph Chamber of Commerce CEO: unorthodox grip but very impressive footwear. If you’re into longshots, Kithio could be your man.
The women start the contest as the crowd roars. Well, a couple of people stop to see what’s happening. Their cheese wheels start off well, but curve quickly.
The Police Chief delivers an impressive first effort, his Deputy not so much. Mwanzia’s unorthodox cheese grip creates issues. My first effort is decent, but not in the top three. I refocus.
Second rolls separate the contenders from the pretenders. Controversy erupts when the Police Chief’s roll flounders feet from his hand and he is given a do-over due to lack of distance. It may result in an appeal being filed.
My second launch puts me right in the hunt. I even get a couple of “nice roll”s as I make my way up the street. I’m feeling stoked.
But all of a sudden it’s over. The Mayor launches a Herculean effort, an aces roll down the centre of the street that then bounces off the curb before rolling on for another 25 feet.
Crushed, I try to match, but it’s not my day. I don’t get the Mayor’s bounce off the curb and I think I hear the moan in disappointment from the curbside gathering. Or maybe it was just me.
I wind up finishing third, behind the Mayor and the Police Chief. I promise myself things will be different next year, that this year’s disappointment will fuel me to roll better, stronger and straighter next year.
I wander off down the street, cheese in hand, in search of chef Richards.
I need some cheese recipes …