PCA 2013: One-time champion in biggest fight of his life
John Gale ate a lot of Tic Tacs--the orange and wintergreen mix--as he sat at the 2005 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. Why that image stands out in my head, I don't know. Maybe it was something about how a grown man was pouring candy into his mouth like a happy child. It somehow told a story about a man relaxed and starting a new life.
Today that life has changed in a way Gale's smile never would've foretold, and the 2005 champ is in a fight for his life.
It's going on eight years since the one-time business consultant won the second PCA. During his run, he established himself as one of the gentlemen of the game. He hugged everyone he eliminated. He commiserated with the most unfortunate. He was the type of poker champion you rarely see anymore--endlessly thankful, relentlessly driven, always smiling...and seemingly always eating Tic Tacs.
Gale was an amateur in 2005. He won a $37 satellite that sent him to the Bahamas.
"I still vividly remember the first day of play in Atlantis, sitting at the table, looking around the room seeing all the greats that I had only seen on TV, and thinking 'what on earth am I doing here?'" Gale said.
What he was doing was beginning a tournament that would end in a championship and begin a new career in poker.
"Whatever happens in the future, I do not think anything will ever compare to winning the PCA," he said. "It was the most fantastic day of my life."
Today, Gale thinks a lot about the future, and wonders how long it will last.
It hasn't been too long ago that the one-time champion was sitting at his home card room in London, the Vic, and fell victim to a freak accident.
"A very unfriendly camera stand decided to fall over and bang me on the head," he said.
It should not have been a very big deal. He survived the bump on the head, but continued to have headaches bad enough that he went to see a neurologist. The camera stand wasn't the problem. An MRI revealed Gale had a brain tumor.
The difference between 2005 and today is stark. Gale's brain may be affected by the tumor, but he's not forgotten that day nearly eight years ago and the excitement of going home as a champion.
"Life was unbelievable," he said. "I had complete strangers coming up to me to talk about the win, and I almost had to go to the doctor to have the smile on my face surgically removed."
His fortunes shifted a lot in the ensuing years. An ugly end to a business relationship with a friend was a bitter pill, but didn't manage to break Gale's spirt.
"Like everyone else, I've gotten older," he said. "I now have grandchildren, which is daunting, because in my head if not my body I still think and act like I'm six years old."
That's why as Gale undergoes treatment for the tumor, he thinks about the sun, beach, and best day of his life in January 2005. He dreams of the day he can return to the Bahamas. If the drugs don't shrink the tumor enough, he'll need surgery. He doesn't know when he'll back to the PCA, but he's planning the trip regardless.
"I would dearly love to go back and pray history would repeat itself," he said. "It's impossible to say at present (when I will go back), but if not next January, then hopefully the year after, all being well."
And it's with that attitude that one of PCA's champions goes forward--forgetting the business struggles and working to move beyond an affliction that's taking up too much of his precious time today.
"Life's too short to dwell on the past," Gale said. "And I'm still young, relatively speaking."
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging