Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart – Island Sports News
September 28, 2013, Victoria, BC – Island Sports News first sat down to talk with Victoria Royals Mascot Marty The Marmot just over a year ago and we caught up with him again recently, to get some in-depth insight into his career to date and what it takes to be one of the best mascots in the business. Surprisingly, for someone who does not talk at all in the course of his day-to-day activities, he sure had a lot to say!
Watch for this article in the first edition of the Victoria Royal’s program, The Blue Line, on sale for $2 at all Royal’s home games.
Since he first emerged on the scene with the Victoria Salmon Kings in 2006, Marty-the-Marmot, now the official Mascot of the WHL Victoria Royals, has always been a highlight for any fan attending a hockey game at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
In fact Marty, through his in-game antics, as well as through the innumerable community appearances and events that he participates in, has become one of the most popular, loveable and recognizable mascots that this area, and in fact, dare we say this continent, has ever seen. Marty has become synonymous not only with the Royals, but also with the entire Victoria region, serving as a most impressive ambassador wherever his travels may take him.
Marty, here leading the Royals on to the ice for their first ever game in Victoria back in September of 2011, can be found on the ice before every home game, urging fans to make some noise for their hometown Royals.
This was most recently recognized when our beloved Vancouver Island Marmot was honoured this past summer as the mascotinsider.com’s Favourite Mascot of the Year, collecting a whopping 37,352 votes in the final round of the contest and beating out a number of well-known mascots from the North American sports world.
First and foremost Marty, tell us what it was like to win the Favourite Mascot of the Year contest.
“Winning the MascotInsider.com 2013 Favourite Mascot of The Year against the likes of Bailey (NHL’s L.A. Kings), Benny (NBA’s Chicago Bulls) and Staley (NFL’s Chicago Bears) was a definite high-light of my career!! All thanks to the Victoria Royals family!! ROYALS FANS ROCK!!!”
Marty the Marmot, the Victoria Royals mascot, has been an icon in Victoria since his debut with the Salmon Kings in 2006.
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). 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. 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.
Marty says he first learned to interact with humans and develop his zany antics by secretly watching their activities in and around the slopes of Mt. Washington where he was born.
How did you become interested in hockey?
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! I knew 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. 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.
Marty appeals to fans both young and old. Here he poses with Australian visitors Brian and Makayla Vellacott at a game in 2011.
How did your parents react when they learned you wanted to pursue this career track?
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 and I left the mountain with their blessing.
Any particular mascot that was your inspiration in your youth?
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 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 oldest. 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!
Tell me your thoughts when you first got the call from the Salmon Kings in 2006 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. BUT it all worked out 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.
When the Salmon Kings departed and the Royals agreed 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!
What has been a highlight or two of your career so far?
Well obviously the Mascot of the Year award is the most recent highlight, but before that, the highlight of my career was being invited to the Vancouver Canucks Super Skills competition a few years back. 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!
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 110% effort every single time you compete – never ever quit!
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 Mom 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!
In addition to claiming he is a decent hockey goaltender, Marty has often been spotted around town playing a quick nine in between his mascot duties.
Tell me a little about some of the community service you do on behalf of the club. 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 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 usually 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!
Marty, here greeting golfer Mike Turnham at a Victoria Disabled Golfers Association tournament last summer, feels that his community service and involvement is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job as a mascot.
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!
Finally, what are you looking forward to the most for the 2013-2014 Victoria Royals season?
JUST DROP THE PUCK! The fans will take care of the rest!
Be sure to visit Island Sports News (www.islandsportsnews.net) for more on Marty as well as comprehensive news and game action photography from the Victoria Royals 2013-2014 season.