Story and Photos by Christian J Stewart. (christianjstewart.zenfolio.com)
As part of our Island Sports News (ISN) coverage of the Victoria Royals this season, we will be doing a series of “One-on-One” interviews with their players and staff. In this light, we thought it would be great to begin by interviewing a key returning player (so-to-speak), Marty the Marmot, the beloved Mascot of the team, and the former Mascot of the ECHL Salmon Kings.
ISN reporter and photographer Chris Stewart had a chance to sit down with Marty last week to get some in-depth insight into Marty’s career to date and what it takes to be one of the best mascots in the business (Interviewer’s Note: As Marty does not say much in the course of his day-to-day activities, he was sure to make up for this in his answers to some of my questions, so please forgive some of his wordy responses! I never knew marmots actually talked so much!).
Marty, tell me a little about your background, where you come from and your life as a young Marmot.
I was born on Mt. Washington (like all Vancouver Island Marmots that are in the wild) about 370 metres due east of the Blue chair-lift (for all you skiers & snowboarders that visit my home every winter). As a young pup, my life was very fulfilling, but I think my parents knew at a young age that I was different. You see, while most of my brethren are about the size of a large house cat, I was about the size of a Great Dane after a few weeks old. I don’t know whether it was something in the water or what.
Anyway, that made the den kind of cramped and the colony (that’s what a group of marmot families is called by the way) started to wonder how they could manage to feed a pup of my size, one that required a LOT of food storage when foraging.
I also discovered that human sport, particularly the game of hockey, was possibly the best thing I had ever seen! You see in marmot terms – you could call me an insomniac – I didn’t sleep during the winter like all my other marmot friends did. It was my first winter up on the mountain, and despite the cold, I just couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned for a good four to six weeks and then one evening thought that maybe I should try and climb my way up through the snow and take a walk.
So I extricated myself from my large den (remember the whole size thing with me) and walked down towards the ski lodge, where all the humans were scurrying about. That is where I heard people cheering and hollering and then heard the words that would inevitably change my life forever – I think it was Jim Hughson with the call that night – the words – “SHOOTS, HE SCOOOOOOOOOOOORES!” I only needed about five minutes of viewing after that and I…was…HOOKED!
Since I was having no luck sleeping, this proved to be a prophetic encounter with humans too. Keeping myself as out of sight as a marmot of my size could, I would spend that entire winter adapting to the pattern of the humans I was observing, including their need to sleep for just seven hours per night or so (although some of the young adults visiting the mountain seemed to need to stay up very, very late and then sleep a long time into the day).
Fortunately, I found sources of food to keep me sustained and I found that I kept on growing too, so it was getting harder to stay hidden. But all through this phase of my life, I kept looking forward to Saturday nights and the staple of Canadian hockey on television, that familiar “Hockey Theme” song. Ahhh, the memories.
Then along came my first spring, and the magic that’s called “Playoffs!” I knew then I was hooked for life and that once my family woke up from their winter hibernation, I would need to talk to them and be honest with them about my dilemma – my un-marmot like addiction to this wonderful game of hockey and my full entrenchment in human behaviour patterns.
What about education? Any particular special marmot schools you went to? Or did you just blend in to the general population somewhere?
Education for Vancouver Island marmots is mostly about learning what plants are good and bad for us, and how to build dens, and most importantly for my regular sized marmot family – avoiding predators. Even though my species is the largest of the squirrel family- yes I am related to Squirrel Nutkin in a far, far removed way – there are still threats out there. And since we are all herbivores we aren’t exactly at the top of the food chain.
But anyway, my first winter experience with the game of hockey also led me to the discovery of mascots. Now this was becoming such an obvious natural fit for me, I was still increasing in size – largest Vancouver Island marmot that I know of – so I figured I could become a mascot and blend in so easily with humans. Mascots don’t speak, nor do I, mascots are large and furry (generally anyway) – yeah that describes me. But the question was how to get myself into “the game”? Enter – the University of Fan Frenzy ! Actually there is no proper campus, no dorms and no proper classroom, it’s simply called -WATCH A LOT OF SPORTS and as many sports as you can. Learn the rules of each of these sports, observe the fans and their fuzzy supporters – this is how my education in “Mascot U.” began.
Why did you want to become a mascot? How did your parents react when they learned you wanted to pursue this career track?
I kind of explained why becoming a mascot was written in the stars for me in your previous questions, but I can tell you that my parents, indeed my whole family was very supportive. When I explained the situation of what had happened to me over that first winter, I think they generally were a little baffled at first as to how I could adapt to human patterns so quickly! After all, this was a fundamental shift in 10,000 years of marmot evolution (yes we began to evolve as a species here about that long ago). But when I told them about mascoting, and when they realized how my change in behaviour patterns along with my increasing size would be a benefit in that field, I think they knew that it was something I had to pursue. I left the mountain with their blessing you could say.
Any particular mascot that was your inspiration in your youth? The San Diego Chicken? Philly Phanatic?
Mascots that I’m inspired by? There are a lot that I have tremendous respect for and admiration of. Philly Phanatic and the Famous Chicken I think are the ones that everyone knows the antics of, and that’s a testament to how good they have been. They’ve both been around since the 70’s. Timeless for sure! But there are lots of mascots who are very, very good at what they do. “Harry the Hawk” from the Atlanta Hawks is one of my big time favourites. Also, the work of “Slapshot” from the ECHL’s Reading Royals (great team name by the way – ha ha!) is of very high quality. “Benny the Bull” from the Chicago Bulls is pretty awesome too! But Harry for me is probably at the top of the list.
Did you go to mascot training school or receive any specialized training in becoming a mascot? Or are marmots just naturally zany?
Not officially, no. A lot of observation combined with love of sports, plus letting my own “Superfandom” shine through is all the training I’ve had!! I think that a mascot’s job is to connect with all fans, from the youngest to the slightly above young. Everyone attending that sporting event is there because they love that particular sport, and want to support their team and have a great time while they’re there, me included. I am the projection of what the fans are feeling at any given moment, elation when we score, dissatisfaction when the calls are unfairly made, you know what I mean?! I also think it’s important for all the fans to be entertained, and that’s my job too! If we lose, I still want people to leave with a smile on their face, maybe because of some crazy antic I did, or maybe just because I stared down an opposing player. If you leave the arena generally happy and feeling like you enjoyed yourself – mission accomplished! (But I prefer when we win too, just saying).
Tell me your thoughts when you first got the call from the Salmon Kings telling you that they wanted you as their mascot? Your family must have been proud?
When I got my first call back in 2006, I was thrilled to say the least. Finally all the time spent being a crazy hockey fan was going to pay off. I knew that all I needed was one shot to show that I could do it. And yes, the family was proud, although they weren’t sure if it would be a boon or bust to be honest.
What was that first night on the ice like? Butterflies? No problem? Do you recall fan reaction? If I recall I was there and I think things went really well?
I was nervous about that opening night, I won’t lie! The ATV entrance, the fact that I was new to the city sports scene, plus the team was still relatively new, so it was a little tense before the debut. I remember that as the crate I was in was pushed out onto the ice that night, that no-one knew what kind of mascot it would be, and I knew that a lot of people were expecting it to be some kind of fish. Then as the Star Wars music blared through the arena, they were using fire extinguishers to create the “fog effect” and the ATV nearly conked out a couple of times because of course what does the foam do, removes oxygen, so the poor ATV nearly stalled out from no air flow. BUT it all worked out, just kept the revs up, then burst out, did a couple of donuts, and the crowd’s reaction was good for the most part – cheering and applause. Again bearing in mind that most people were expecting a fish, the reaction was pretty good.
What has been a highlight or two of your career so far?
For me personally – the highlight of my career was being invited to the Vancouver Canucks Super Skills competition last year. When little lowly Marty gets invited to the big boys table, I am all in! Getting to play musical chairs with 3 NHL mascots, one from the CFL and other locals from Vancouver in front of 18,000 people at Rogers Arena, how can that not be top of my list?? Came down to me vs. Fin for the final chair spot – and I came oh so close to scoring the upset! Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but it was a blast nonetheless!
From a hockey stand point – watching “The Goal” unfurl in front of me was incredible [Marty refers to a TSN Highlight of the Night goal that the Salmon Kings scored against Bakersfield one night]. Watching the reaction of hockey fans across North America as it went to over 1 million views on YouTube and get top props on TSN, Sportsnet, and ESPN down south was pretty gratifying. There are others but those are probably the top two for me!
Any particular low lights that you want to share?
Low lights? I suppose because I am a very competitive mascot, a loss on any given night could be considered a low light. But I think you can be competitive and still be a good sport. Recognizing that some nights things just don’t go quite the way you plan, but you give your 9% effort every single time you compete – never ever quit!
Any particularly embarrassing or funny moments that you’d like to share?
I think looking back that the funniest and most embarrassing moments were also at that Super Skills competition in Vancouver when I realized that Fin and Bernie (Colorado Avalanche) and SJ Sharkie (San Jose) had me suckered into believing that I could actually pull off the victory. They had me fooled pretty well. I honestly had no idea that they were going to run in and hold me back while Fin just nonchalantly sat down on the lone chair remaining. I was mad at that moment because I play to win – full stop! But after listening to the crowd cheering, I realized that it was a good laugh for everyone, including me!
When news of the Salmon Kings demise hit, were you concerned for your career? Or did you have a feeling the Royals would sign you?
Of course I was concerned. I thought that perhaps it was back to the mountain, or that maybe it was time to maybe expand my horizons. I had a couple of job try-outs you could say, after all I had to earn a living to keep me in Logan-Berry Smoothies! I honestly didn’t know what the future was going to hold for me.
When the Royals did agree to bring you back, tell me about your reaction then? Not too many mascots get a second chance with a different team…you must have been thrilled?
Well the Royals came to me with a contract offer and I was flattered, but I knew that there were some other potential candidates out there. I had to know that it was going to be right. I had my legal advisor look things over and after dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s I signed on the dotted line. I simply couldn’t leave the city without a championship and couldn’t leave without knowing that I had left my mark on the city! The only other mascot I know of who got a second chance with a team in the same city is Youppi from the Montreal Expos. He was adopted by the Montreal Canadiens after the Expos were moved to Washington to become the Nationals, so I count myself pretty lucky.
You seem to appeal to fans both young and old. Part of that must be your handsome marmot features, but what are some other characteristics you feel you have that make you so appealing?
I guess the fact that I’m not an “aggressive” mascot when I approach the fans. When I say aggressive, it’s not getting up so close that you invade a personal space. For the more veteran fans – play it cool, understand that not everyone is down with a mascot at a hockey game, shake their hand when they come to a game, instead of a fist bump (or paw bump in my case) or a high five. I think it shows a level of respect to them. Now with the youngest and smallest of our fans, the approach has to be different. If you’re only 2 feet tall, I look simply enormous. So that’s why you will usually see me crouch down to kind of see them more on an eye-to-eye level. And I don’t go running up to them either. If they want to come up to me, it’s up to them.
I don’t think I have ever seen a child be afraid of you? Or have they and I’ve just missed it? How do you handle that when it happens?
If they’re scared, I’ll hide my eyes so they think that maybe I’m a little shy too. I want them to be more at ease. But if they’re still scared and hide behind Mum or Dad, I just wave at them instead. I guess it goes back to what I said earlier though, I emote and kind of echo what the feelings of the fans are during the course of the game and make a few jokes at the oppositions expense! Ha Ha Ha !!
Do you find yourself cheering any differently, or doing any antics differently for the Royals, than you did for the Salmon Kings?
Nope, the same old me!! The teams and logos are different, but my motives are the same. And let’s face it, some of the jokes I play, the props I use, and the gestures I make – they work in any sporting arena.
Tell me a little about some of the community service you do on behalf of the club. What have been some highlights of this? Why do you think it is important for you to be there?
The community service portion is HUGE to me. Since arriving on the scene back in 2006, I have dedicated myself to being a part of the community and showing how much I love and admire the people of this city and their amazing capacity for doing amazing things. I want to make sure they are recognized for their efforts and what they do day in and day out, without any hesitation. Those are the people and groups that deserve the recognition.
I’ve been privileged and honoured to be asked to come to so many events, and every “off-season” the list of places I am asked to come to gets longer and longer. Anytime I can, I want to be there for them. It’s important to show them how much our team supports their efforts to make our community a better place, and so long as I’m around, I’ll be out there supporting them.
What’s been the highlight that stands out the most though? Easter Seals Drop Zone 2010 – rappelling down the CIBC Building on View St. not once, but twice! The fact that people donated over $2000 in my name for kids to be able to attend Camp Shawinigan -best reward ever…brought tears to my eyes!!
What has been the most moving or emotional thing you have experienced at any of your community service events?
The most moving or emotional moments are when I go to events like the BC Cancer Society Relay For Life, or the CIBC Run for the Cure and you hear the stories of survival and that “never quit” attitude of people who stare down bigger opponents than I’ve EVER faced. That is what drives me to show how much I need to give back to the city. I also look forward every year to the Easter Seals 24 Hour Relay – those are amazing kids! You don’t see kids with disabilities, but with amazing abilities!
I notice that you wear goalie skates when you are on the ice. Does this mean were a goalie in your younger days (or maybe still are?) or are goalie skates just a more stable platform for marmots to skate on?
A skill I learned before taking my shot at being a hockey mascot. A necessity if you really love the game of hockey the way in which I do, but yes I consider myself a proficient puck stopper! To my knowledge I’m the only skating Vancouver Island Marmot, so I guess it was just a matter of “it just felt right.” Besides, who wouldn’t be impressed by a great glove save or slide across and stack-the pads save by a marmot!
I don’t think the Royals fans have been treated to “Dancing Marty” yet…any chance of a featured routine at any games in the near future?
I’m always working to improve my routines – I won’t say when, but I have plans – let’s leave it at that! 😉
Finally, you are often mistaken for a bear of some sort. Does this bother you? And do you somehow manage to educate those that don’t know you are a marmot?
I’ve been mistaken for a bear, chipmunk, badger, otter, muskrat, and a cat. It doesn’t bother me anymore. My thoughts on people who don’t know what I am? It simply tells me that I haven’t made a good enough impression on them yet and my work is not yet completed. As long as the Vancouver Island Marmot remains on the Endangered Species list, it’s very crucial to me to bring their plight to the forefront and protect my family up there, still living about 370 metres due east of that same Blue chair-lift where I was born!