By Sharon Robb
The Polo School, a USPA-sanctioned club at Grand Champions, is growing by leaps and bounds under the direction of Juan Bollini.
The Argentine pro and former 8-goaler is enjoying life as a cancer survivor and sharing his love for polo with his students of all ages.
Bollini was diagnosed with colon cancer on June 2, 2016 after undergoing a colonoscopy. His doctors told him the treatment he needed and the following day he found the best care he could find and began treatment.
“The first thing I said was why God did you put that in my way and then I said now you have to come with me and we do this together…I will fight it but you have to fight with me,” said Bollini, who will be 56 in June. “When that news came to me it was a sign for me not to take my life for granted.”
The first eight weeks he underwent chemotherapy and radiation in June and July. He then left for Aspen and the summer season at Aspen Valley Polo Club, Grand Champions’ sister club. Despite losing 18 pounds, he played in August and returned to Wellington where he played during the fall season at Grand Champions.
On November 1, doctors removed a large tumor from his colon. After that he had to use a colostomy bag that helped collect waste products while he recovered for six months. He rested for three weeks and then started chemo again, every two weeks for three hours.
“Before the operation I was saying I prefer to be dead to live with that bag but like all human beings, you get used to things. You have to be positive, it’s a better way to look at things.
“I was lucky, after chemo in the morning I would come back to the barn to ride and stick-and-ball,” Bollini said. “I never tried to feel weak. I wasn’t going to let being tired or not feeling well stop me with my life. I think being very active in my job helped me forget about it.”
His fitness level and regimen in the gym helped Bollini withstand the chemo and still be able to work.
“My doctor couldn’t believe I would go to chemo and then to the barn or the gym,” Bollini said. “I think my body was prepared for that treatment because I was fit. I was lucky. I did lose weight but I didn’t lose my hair.”
Bollini has been an inspiration to family and friends.
“Basically, my life didn’t change,” Bollini said. “My family, my wife, my kids were always there for me, that was always important. Marc and Melissa Ganzi gave me the option to work or not to work. They just told me to be well. They didn’t want me to feel any pressure about my job. That really helps you relax in your head. Sometimes I think part of the cure is just to be relaxed, not put more stress on yourself.”
His life-threatening experience has enabled Bollini to appreciate life more.
“People talk about what they learn from their cancer and I say you have to enjoy every single moment of your life,” Bollini said. “When you wake up just be pleased. If you believe in God or anything just be thankful, go day-by-day and enjoy. Just be grateful for what you have and enjoy what you have, that’s what I learned.
“My attitude is you are going to die sooner or later, only God knows when. Everybody has a ticket but nobody knows for when. I’m not afraid to die.”
Bollini got a clean bill of health from his doctors on May 5, 2017. He goes back for a check-up every four months and “everything is perfect,” he said.
Bollini’s mother, Madelon Bourdieu, died of cancer. This month’s 6-goal tournament at Grand Champions is named in her honor. Bollini is competing with his youngest son, Santos (Tato), and two of his Polo School students, Will and Charlie Jacobs.
March has been National Colon Cancer Awareness Month to help raise awareness about colon cancer which effects 150,000 Americans every year. Colon cancer does not have symptoms at an early stage which is why screening is so important. A colonoscopy should be made on those men and women who have reached the age of 50. Colon cancer is preventable 90 percent of the time. Colon cancer also ranks as the second death-causing type in America.
Bollini will share his story with anyone who needs advice or help and will volunteer his time talking at hospitals and clinics.
“Now I want to share with people that it’s not the end of the world, it is a terrible disease to live with but you need to be positive and not sit home and feel sorry for yourself,” he said.
At 55, Bollini is still able to play at a high level of polo.
“I am crazy about this game, it is a passion,” Bollini said. “It is my life. Playing at the level I am playing, it’s just about the passion and love of the game.”
Bollini’s vision for The Polo School is to share polo with the masses and build for the sport’s future by producing new men, women and youth players at every level.
“It’s been incredible,” Bollini said. “We started it with Melissa and Marc Ganzi. We put a lot of attention and effort into it. We take pride in what we do and make people feel very welcome. The whole organization cares about the school. It’s just not me giving a lesson.”
Bollini hopes to play polo as long as he can. He played with John T. Oxley when he won a 26-goal tournament with his 81-year-old teammate at Royal Palm Polo Sports Club in Boca Raton.
“As as long as my body holds up I will play,” Bollini said. “I am not going to retire from polo, polo is going to have to retire me. As long as I am healthy and can get on a horse I am going to keep playing.”
The Polo School will host the PTF Florida Junior Committee’s Coaching Chukkers event on Saturday, March 31 at 10 a.m. Nine junior players will be selected by random draw on Wednesday, March 28. Teams will be comprised of three junior players and one Team USPA player for a four-chukker coached game. All interested players should email Jennifer at email@example.com to be entered in the pool before Tuesday March 27 at 5 p.m.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
The club features monthly 6, 8 and 12-goal tournaments and women’s weekly league play during the winter season in addition to two 16-20 tournaments, $50,000 National 12 Goal, $100,000 World Cup winner-take-all 0-40-goal tournament, WCT Tournament and USPA National President’s Cup.
Grand Champions caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.