The race approaches. We have time enough to perform one run-through and then devote ourselves to thinking up a team name. Suggestions range from the obvious Cod-forsaken to the oblique ACLU (cod-carrying members) before we finally settle upon A Fish Called Anda. We will run in the third heat of four. I handicap the Mil-bridge Fire Department foursome as the favorites in the 11-team field. After all, they're familiar with the gear. And if firefighters do not dress quickly, who then? Chipman, a member of the MFD team, generously offers the rookies some advice. "Bathe yourself in talcum powder so your boots and jacket slide off easier," says Chipman. "Oh, and those nasal-strip thingies? Bad idea."
After two heats the Berwick Boys have had the fastest time (2:30.24), five seconds ahead of the firemen. Sheryl notices that the hydraulic barrage from the fire hose has rendered one of the cod, which at $4.50 a pound are reused for each heat, less than whole. "Its innards are hanging out!" she cries.
I seek out Parsons. What is done in the event of one's cod becoming cod pieces? He cites the official rules: "If fish is broken in one or more pieces, all pieces must then be retrieved & carried to completion of race. Failure to do so will cause disqualification." Parsons grins. "No guts," he says, "no glory."
Our heat begins, and fortunately we land a firm, whole cod. A good racing cod. Jeff, despite his 6'4" stature and the concomitant difficulty of fitting into the boots, stakes us to an early lead. Sheryl holds it. As she undresses at the end of her leg, one of her hip boots stands up on its own and Anda, displaying the agility that made her a three-time All-America skier at Colorado, steps into it, no hands. It is, in codfish relay racing, the equivalent of Willie Mays's circus catch of Vic Wertz's shot in the 1954 World Series. "She's a natural," Handrahan will later remark.
Our lead has become insurmountable. Upon reaching me, Anda surrenders the cod. For the briefest of moments, I feel the pride of a father just handed his firstborn. Despite mismatching my boots, I anchor the team to a 2:21.91 finish. Not a record, but good enough for us to win the race.
"Congratulations!" says Simons. Her surprise, nay, shock, is genuine. Can it be that her faith in the sport has been restored? That despite all the regulations, codfish relays can still be reduced down to their core elements: man, woman, fish, grease and firefighter's gear? Or is she stung by the fact that the sport's newest darlings are a bunch of bottom feeders? "I'll have to put a team together next year," she says.
Watch out, Debra. We'll be back.