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Toronto Triggerfish take gold and silver at Antwerp World Outgames

Water polo team created in 2001

The Triggerfish celebrate their victory in Antwerp.

The Toronto Triggerfish water polo team have made club history, snagging not only a gold medal at an international tournament for the first time, but nabbing a silver medal as well.

The club sent three teams to the World Outgames in Antwerp, which wrapped up this weekend. It was in the recreational division that the Triggerfish hogged the podium with a sea of red suits, taking first and second place (in the higher division, the club’s competitive team fought hard to defend its bronze medal from the previous Outgames in Copenhagen but placed fourth to Amsterdam).

A few hours after the gold/silver sweep, veteran Triggerfish Lawrence Stevenson let go a big sigh when asked about all the emotions behind the big win. Stevenson is one of the founding members of the club and has grown from player to coach. He’s known for his emotional speeches.

“Years ago I said to myself, I am going to win a medal in this sport, and today that came true . . . I originally thought I’d win in the water, but this is just as sweet.”

For Stevenson this is a journey that has been more than a decade in the making and barely seemed possible back when he helped start the club in 2001.

“We were supposed to have our first practice on Sept 11, so for obvious reasons that didn’t happen.” But a month later the Triggerfish team was born from a group of people who’d never played water polo before. “For several years we struggled to get enough people to [cover the costs] of pool time, and we were very developmental, because we were all adults learning a new sport. Many had never even seen water polo played.”

When new players join even now, that story still rings true for most recruits, but now they have experienced players and coaches like Stevenson to guide them along. It makes this victory all the more amazing, as between the two teams there are six players who, just one year ago, “had never touched a water polo ball” and 11 players who had never been to an international tournament.

That gives Stevenson more than a sense of pride. “I lost a generation of friends to the AIDS crisis. A lot of my contemporaries are gone, so this club is my friends and family.”

Now he wants to give them the same “visceral feeling” that he gets from water polo.

“A lot of gay people have an unhappy relationship with sport for whatever reason — body issues, self-confidence, bad experiences in childhood — and to come together in a healthy way — well, okay, we drink [he pauses and laughs as he takes a swig of his victory champagne] — but to see the joy of people challenging themselves in something new is what gives me pleasure.”

For those interested in joining the Triggerfish, check out the club’s website for the next intake: triggerfishwaterpolo.ca.

(Full disclosure: this journalist is part of the gold-medal-winning team. For the record, it felt awesome. To all the Triggs: Pull my, pull my triggerfish!)