In 1983, my SJSU teammate (and for a year, my epee coach) was seeking a berth on the US Olympic team. He had a number of strong finishes, but really needed to get some European competitions under his belt, both for the experience and hopefully to get some international points to increase his chances of making the team.
To raise money for the travel, training, etc., he put together and printed a pamphlet to give to potential donors. Peter asked me if I could check with my brother, Garrett Nichols, to see if he’d be interested in taking the pictures for the pamphlet. Garry worked at a place called The Darkroom and had all the necessary equipment readily available for a photo shoot of this kind.
As in most things, Peter enjoyed himself, and we all had a good time getting the shots he needed, and some he didn’t need quite as much.
Peter’s pamphlet became a useful tool for his (successful) fundraising efforts and he was asked to put on a number of demonstrations and participate in quite a few group presentations. Usually he would go to these with the assistance of Dean Hinton as a fencing parter and Scott Knies, then Director of San Jose’s Fencing Center, as a speaker. On one particular occasion, Scott was unavailable and Peter asked me to fill in.
“It’ll be easy. While I’m getting dressed, you talk about fencing, and then they’ll feed us lunch,” said Peter.
“Ok,” I said. I mean, how hard could it be? Plus lunch? In!
We arrived at a hotel and were ushered into a ballroom filled with the 200-plus members of the San Jose Downtown Business Association, be-suited and tied. And hungry for lunch. We were the appetizer they were to observe prior to dining. At a nod from the coordinator, Peter got Dean and me. “Ok,” said Peter. “Dean and I will go change. You keep ‘em busy.” And off the two of them went.
I was introduced. “…and Doug Nichols will talk about what we’re about to see.” Polite applause.
Now, I should mention that I achieved my Associates Degree from Cabrillo College as a Speech major, and had done some plays in Junior High, so this was not the first time I had been in front of an audience. But it was the first time I’d been in front of an audience with absolutely no idea as to what I was supposed to do next. Juggle? Dance? No, no, Peter said ‘talk about fencing’. The first words out of my mouth, if not completely incomprehensible, were probably non-sequiter with zero interpretable meaning. I babbled for a bit, completely intimidated by this vast sea of silk ties. Peter and Dean were nowhere to be seen. Had they been changing for an hour? Had they gotten on a bus? Been arrested?
I paused. I looked down at the podium. Then, Peter’s words came back to me. “Just talk about fencing.” I cleared my throat, said “Excuse me.” And started talking about fencing. The realization hit me, in an all-too-rare moment of clarity, that whoever was in those suits out there, they probably knew less about fencing than I did, not much about trying to train for an Olympic team and nothing about Peter. So, I talked. Five minutes? Ten? No idea. But by the time Peter had come back and taken over the presentation, I was relaxed enough to have conveyed some information without putting everyone to sleep. Peter and Dean showed off fencing, we all got a nice round of applause, they seated us at separate tables throughout the room and fed us a nice lunch.