The Journey of Orlando Golden Classic’s
Through the pigeon racing sport, we have met many people. People from all over the world, various countries, cultures, and backgrounds. Roby Delgado was one of those people. Still in the infancy of our racing loft, we attended the Hoosier in 2018. Hoping to win big for our charity, with our one bird entry. We attended the Gala with little hope of fitting in, after all those in attendance had solid relationships formed over years of acquaintance. Ignoring the lack of social decorum, we invited ourselves to sit with a small group of strangers. There were four others at the table, and they too graciously ignored our lack of invitation; making room for us and smiling those uncomfortable smiles reserved for just such times.
Roby sat across from us, quietly observing the room. Occasionally speaking to the gentleman next to him. As the evening wore on, we slowly delved into conversation. Going around the table like school mates introducing ourselves.
Roby lives in Orlando Florida, USA but was born and raised in Sancti Spíritus, Cuba. Roby explained, seeking a better life, he had climbed into a boat with nothing but the clothes he wore and made the five-day journey to America. He came here
with nothing, became a citizen, and built his successful business. Stunned we sat listening to this young man in his thirties tell of a history that legends are made of. The subject faded and as with all pigeon sportsmen our attentions were drawn back to the sport and the upcoming race. While we didn’t win with our single bird, Roby did quite well. We parted ways but Roby and his incredible journey had gained a place of respect in our lives.
When I approached Roby asking permission to share his journey and the incredible race he has built, I hadn’t imagined how much my research on the subject would affect me. Roby tells the story of his migration with quiet dignity. I could not have imagined the dangers, terrors and sacrifices he endured to begin his new life here in the United States.
Currently in Cuba, people can travel internationally, due to changes created following Castro’s rule. But for a long time leaving the island was a crime and was subject to up to ten years in prison. A prison sentence often meant living in a 200-foot cell with several other men, one open toilet, and 2-hours a week to see the sun. The government claims that their prisoners have rights such as visits with family, adequate food, payment for work, a right to request parole; but, police and prison officials have in reality denied these rights, beating, neglecting, isolating, and denying medical treatment to prisoners. This includes those convicted of political crimes such as defecting and those who expressed views that countered the Political doctrine.'' Beyond the worry of jail time, in Cuba often a family would have been targeted for punishment as well.
Cuba is rumored to have one of the largest prison systems in comparison to it’s population in the world, with approximately 100,000 prisoners in it’s suggested 200 prisons and labor camps in an area that is slightly smaller than the State of Pennsylvania. The numbers quoted are not a true representation as the Cuban Government does not release data, nor does it allow any inspections of it’s prison system. This high imprisonment rate would have been a terrifying prospect for a young man considering getting into a boat escape to the United States.
''Here, people get thrown in prison for anything,'' Roca said in a telephone interview from Havana, adding that breaking the law is often a matter of survival in a country where the government's monthly food rations last less than two weeks and the average wage is about $10 per month. ''If you kill a cow to feed your family, you go to jail,'' Roca said. ``That's part of the government's method to maintain control over the population.''
Owners of private restaurants known as paladares can land in jail if they sell lobsters -- officially reserved for tourist hotels and government-owned restaurants. So can those who exhibit behavior deemed by authorities as ''dangerous'' or who sell their homes or cars without government approval.3
All of this is a high price to pay to have a better life.
I imagined what that day was like; it must have been heart wrenching for Roby. But he boarded the boat, determined to seek a better life in the United States. Here was a life-altering decision, without any certainty that he would see his family again, since returning might land him in prison; but determined he entered a dangerous sea where you could die of drowning, dehydration, or shark attacks; if you were caught by Cuban authorities, you would be sent to prison, and if you reached America, he would encounter a totally different society with no money, job, contacts, nor any grasp of the English language. Everything Roby knew, his friends, family, the country, and culture he had grown up in would be left behind.
I wonder if he anticipated the battle that was ahead of him, the dangers he would encounter, beginning with the first 12 miles. Owned by Cuba, and patrolled by officers who might have shot them on sight.
Past that first 12-miles, looms international territory, The Florida Straits’ are rife with dangers that include, deadly coral, sharks, huge ocean waves, heat during the day and freezing wet temps at night.
Congress had passed the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966, allowing Cubans who touch US soil to be eligible for citizenship, but from the point of leaving Cuba and the ultimate dream of arriving on land in the USA was a horror film-esc scenario, one that Roby survived.
But that was not the end of his journey. During our awkward conversation those many years ago, Roby had spoken passionately of his dreams of running his own OLR. Within a couple of years, Roby had made that dream a reality. As Roby had done with every aspect of his life, he has tenaciously created his dream, The Orlando Golden Classic. We weren’t surprised when the first year of his race was a stunning success.
Based in Orlando Florida, the Orlando Golden Classic OLR, offers a four-race series. He has maintained that commitment to providing the highest level of communication and transparency.
In every update and race one can clearly see the amount of effort and work that both the birds and Robby put into the series. The final race update stated,
“…the first 6 birds of the 501-mile race had spent 9 hours and 15 minutes on the wings”. Much like Roby’s own journey across the water all those years ago, determination and grit was what was displayed by those first six birds, but also work ethic and consistency on the part of the handler. Just like his journey through his life, he has pushed forward, working to bring his family, his own loft and now the OLR birds to the success. The second race series for 2021 is currently underway, I can’t help but smile when I think of Roby as he was at that dinner party in 2018. His eyes alight with hope and his voice alive, as his dream spilled from is lips. How honestly humble he was as he skimmed over his journey here, his impossible climb from nothing to success, that humbleness and integrity is still present.
In every aspect of his life and OLR, I read his words, part of an update on Wincompanion Home Page (wincompanion.com) :
“Good morning Breeders,
… I can’t wait to start receiving the 2021 youngsters and to officially commence our 2nd Season. I also want to thank all new breeders who have subscribed to our race, and for those who are returning breeders this year, you are the reason we are blessed to do what we love, THANK YOU AGAIN!
Thank you all for the support and I look forward to a great year of racing here at Orlando Golden Classic”.
But While Roby has seen one of his aspirations come to fruition, other dreams are still in the making. As discussed, Roby left Cuba to create a better life; he left behind his family and loved ones. After a ten year separation, Roby and his sister were reunited. Her visit to The United States was a joyous occasion for everyone.
This reunion came on the cusp of a major crisis in Cuba. Cubans protested against the Communist government that has oppressed so many generations of Cuban citizens. Roby shared his hope for change with his friends and acquaintances. That hope is tempered with the consequences for the Cuban citizens in Cuba. With an insistence that the United States was responsible for the protests, the Cuban authorities have shut down the internet and, communication with anyone from the Island has been limited. 1
However, the protests were inspired by a shortage of food, power and medicine; leaving Roby and the rest of America concerned for those who live within Cuban. The hope for change is certainly being weighed against the price. Like Roby the path to a new life for those who are pushing for change will be treacherous. And, like Roby, the first steps while difficult are not the only dangers.
The Cuban government steadfastly denies allegations of abuse, instead pointing to the strict embargo on the island that has been imposed by the US since 1962, which according to them is the main cause of the great economic problems of the island. 2
While the unrest has mostly settled within Cuba, a spark of hope for change has been ignited. Change within the Cuban boundaries, but also here in the United States. The light that has been shed on equality will hopefully spread, to encompass those like Roby, who came seeking a better life and have faced repudiation for their origins.
Despite the unknown of his homeland, the uncertainty of his loved ones, Roby continues to push forward. Running his OLR with humility, transparency and honesty; loving his family and friends with respect and kindness and, living the life he sacrificed so much to achieve.
I end this article the same way as I began, with absolute respect for Roby and his incredible journey.
For more information on the Orlando Golden Classic: Orlando Golden Classic - Welcome
“This will be a great race!!! We need experience handler doing race like this Good Luck”
“You will get one of the best flyer in Orlando handle your birds. One of the best pigeon in Orlando is who takes care of your pigeons.”
Kelly Jo Stone
3. ( NANCY SAN MARTIN, firstname.lastname@example.org) Cuba's many prisons may hold 100,000 (latinamericanstudies.org)