RUMFORD — A local man pitched himself into horseshoe-tossing history Monday night when his ringer stopped in midair on an iron stake.
Horseshoe players told Mark Gaudet of Rumford they’d never seen anything in four decades of playing like his gravity-defying ringer.
“It was just one of them once-in-a-lifetime shots, really,” Gaudet said Wednesday.
Despite sticking the horseshoe in midair, he said it was only worth three points in the game at the Hosmer Field Complex.
“It was still just a ringer,” he said.
The amazing pitch happened about midway through a Rumford-Mexico Horseshoe Club game between Gaudet and Dick Dubois of Rumford, and opponents Steve Worcester and Artie Taylor, both of Roxbury.
Gaudet said he and Dubois were leading by 15 points and had thrown 16 to 18 shoes. He said he was using Dubois’ specialized horseshoes, which had big hooks on the ends.
“Around that time in the game, I think we had 13 ringers in a row between the four of us,” he said.
In the whole game, he said Worcester and Taylor threw 18 ringers, while he and Dubois pitched 17.
“I’d been hitting ringers pretty good and those weren’t even my horseshoes,” said Gaudet, who has been playing horseshoes since 1988 when he got out of the U.S. Navy.
“I hit it high on the pole and it was swinging around on its way down and all of a sudden, it just stopped dead right in the middle of the pole, like it hit a burr or paint buildup,” he said Wednesday.
Only there wasn’t any such catch. One side of the shoe was caught fast on the stake while the other end of the metal shoe hung in midair.
“It wedged itself pretty good on there between the hooks,” Gaudet said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He said 16 guys playing their own games stopped what they were doing for closer looks at the oddity.
“I’ve never seen it happen before at our club,” said Eric Giroux, who photographed the stuck shoe with his cellphone. The image is being shared on several Facebook sites.
“I was in the next pit over,” Giroux said. “Everybody stopped their games. We all had to go look at it.”
Club President Artie Taylor said Thursday, “I’ve been playing horseshoes for over 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like that. It was amazing. We all stopped playing our games and went over and took pictures. It was unbelievable.”
Trying to describe it, Taylor asked, “You know what a horseshoe looks like? Where it curves, she just froze (on the post) right there.”
Normally, when it hits like that, it will spin off the pole, he said. “But this stayed on there. It was just like a magnet. It just stayed there. You know, you think about this: I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, you know, in all the games they’ve played in years and years and years.”
Taylor added, “You put that in the paper and I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the country that will see it and say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that before.’ It just doesn’t happen. It’s just unbelievable. That will be talked about until we all die. I’ll never get over that.”
Bob Dolloff of Peru, who witnessed it, said there was nothing fake about the toss.
“Yeah, it really happened,” he said. “It was unbelievable. That hit the pole about 6 inches off the ground and hung right there. The way it hit the post, it just happened to hook on. It’ll probably never happen again.”
Hank Maifeld of Rumford, another witness, said Thursday that he was stunned by Gaudet’s stuck shoe.
“It was amazing,” Maifeld said. “I don’t know how it happened. Everybody just stopped playing and looked at it. It wasn’t staged. It was the real thing. I’ve been playing (horseshoes) about 50 years and never saw anything like it.”
Jim Roy of Dixfield, another witness, agreed.
“Yeah, it happened,” Roy said Thursday. “I’ve been playing there for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Roy offered what he called a plausible explanation for how a metal horseshoe weighing more than 2 pounds could hang in midair from a post.
“Artie Taylor had spray-painted those posts before we started playing,” Roy said. “And all those coats of paint made it thick enough for when that shoe hit that post, the fit was so tight and it hit it just exactly right to suspend that horseshoe about 2 inches off the ground.”
It was the funniest thing he ever saw, Roy said. “People were laying on the ground and taking pictures of it. When that shoe hit that post with that buildup of paint, I think it made it such a tight fit.”
Viewing photographs Giroux took of the “miracle pitch,” retired physics teacher Bitsy Ionta of Dixfield said Thursday that scientifically, what happened is possible.
“It looked like the post may be a little tapered and the horseshoe slid down it and the little part by the end (of the shoe) stuck,” Ionta said. “The post is probably pitted and rusted, so that would probably help it. So, I think it’d be possible. Stranger things have happened.”
Comparing it to a golf oddity, Gaudet said, “It was like a bizarre hole-in-one, like one of those where the guy whacks it off the top of the tee, and it goes off and bangs off the top of the pole and drops straight down into the hole.”
At the time it happened, Gaudet said he and Dubois were winning by several points, but they still lost the game.
“We were beating them by 15 points, I think, at that point, and we gave them the incentive to come back and beat us,” Gaudet said. “We were winning really good and after that, I fell apart. After I made that shot, I kind of lost focus and they ended up coming back on us.”