A masters love story: Larry Barnum and Aussie bride’s U.S. quest

By Ken Stone 

When Larry Barnum stood on the awards platform at Riccione last summer to receive his world championship golds in the 400 and 4×400 relay, his wife, Carmel, wasn’t present to cheer and show her support. She couldn’t travel to Italy. And for good reason: She might not have been allowed back in America if she had.

Carmel Papworth-Barnum, managing editor of National Masters News for less than a year, was born in Melbourne in 1965. And in August 2007, as an Australian citizen, her U.S. residency was, well, iffy.

Her immigrant status was a closely held secret until recently, but now she’s good to go – legal here and abroad. The proud wife of a Reno psychotherapist. The following interview discloses publicly for the first time the roller coaster the Barnums have ridden since they met at the 2005 World Masters Athletic Championships in Spain.

My thanks to both of them for their courage in sharing, honesty in detailing and incredible good humor in tag-team replying. Enjoy.

Masterstrack.com: How did you meet Larry at San Sebastian?

Carmel Papworth-Barnum: An Aussie friend recommended a restaurant, near the track, so I went there with three of my Australian teammates. We waited for a long time for service and after finally sitting down and ordering, a group of Americans walked in, immediately took charge, pushing tables together, grabbing menus and getting a waiter. We couldn’t believe how they did it and this started a playful conversation between the two tables. For me it was truly “love at first sight” as unbelievable as that might sound. Here was this charming, witty, handsome American who could run so fast; I was hooked. We spoke that night and then met up at the track a few days later when I came to watch Larry run his 800 semifinal. We then went to the beach and had dinner. The rest, as they say, has been creating our history.

Larry and Carmel posed after their wedding in Reno in January 2007. She got into America originally by saying she had a series of meets to compete in. She couldn’t let on that she had a boyfriend born in 1943.

When and where did you two get hitched?

Larry Barnum: We were married in Reno on January 5, 2007. A good friend of mine,

a judge, married us. There had been a huge snowstorm the day before; the bride
did not wear white, but the city did.

Did Larry have any earlier marriages? Any kids?

LB: I’ve had long-term relationships but no marriages and no children. Carmel’s my FLOW.
First, Last and Only Wife.

How many hoops did you jump through to attain U.S. residency status?

CPB: The process gets long, complicated and bureaucratic. It’s pretty frustrating. Patience and a sense of humor helps.

LB: Sometimes it was embarrassing, almost intentionally user-unfriendly. As an American, I wanted this to be an inviting experience, where my wife would feel welcomed in her new home. People still think if you marry a Yank you automatically get a green card as a wedding present.

CPB: Instead, we were drowning in paperwork. And every time you have to submit another form it requires another big check. It gets pretty costly. Although I guess we were lucky; the fees have since doubled.

LB: Yeah, ever since Spain, where we met, it’s been like this 400IH or steeplechase with one more barrier to leap over.

CPB: After worlds, Larry came over to Australia in November 2005 and then
again Christmas.

LB: Her work was great, instead of sick leave, they’d give her “love leave.”

CPB: In February 2006, I came to America when my job gave me a partially paid “long service” leave. I had to go to the American Consulate in Melbourne, and wait much of the day to get a tourist visa. Although I was approved for six months, it’s not official until you get interviewed at the U.S. point of entry.

LB: When Carmel got to LAX, the welcome wagon guy in the uniform didn’t want to give her that much time in the States.

CPB: I explained I was coming over as an athlete, and had a list of meets I was competing in. We’d been advised not to say I was visiting a boyfriend or they might not let me in, afraid I’d never leave.

LB: But you know, she’s a charmer. We all fall for that accent, so they let her in.

Carmel smiles as she races at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She continues to smile at her good fortune in marrying Larry and finding a way to stay with him in the United States.

CPB: I stayed with Larry until August 2006, and then went back to Australia for a couple of months. I returned in November 2006 to celebrate Larry’s birthday.

LB: And she just stayed. We got married in January 2007 and had an incredible honeymoon in Paris.

CPB: When I came back through customs, they extended my tourist visa until July 2007; and I started the paperwork for Resident Visa for Spouse. We sent our personal details and proof of our marriage, wedding photos, and affidavits from family and friends. They gave us a case number so we could go online to see where we were in the queue.

LB: There was about a nine- to 12-month backlog at Immigration Services. Some other types of visas had like a 2-to-5-year backlog.

CPB: At the rate they were going, the earliest they’d review our residency visa request was in November, but my tourist visa would expire in July 2007, so I applied for an extension.

LB: A daughter of a friend of ours works in Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office in D.C. She put us in touch with a staffer here in Reno, a woman who specializes in immigration visas, who could directly contact immigration services and speak to real people. She got our case reviewed earlier and they moved us up the line.

CPB: Then once again, they asked us for our contact details. We’d already done this but we did it again. Our actual physical address. Our emails. Our mailing address. Telephone and mobile numbers. So they knew how to get in touch with us. Then they mailed us a letter, to our mailing address, of course, telling us that the government now wanted to provide us with further instructions and wanted to know where they should send this information.

LB: They sent us a letter to figure out where they could send us a letter. This was frustrating but made us shake our heads and eventually laugh.

Carmel debriefs Larry after a race at Occidental College. The couple, then wed only six months, endured long waits and bureaucratic hiccups on the way to gaining longterm U.S. residency status for Carmel.

CPB: While Larry was at the worlds in Italy, I hadn’t gone to Riccione as there was a risk that I might not get back into the U.S.; they denied my application to extend my tourist visa. They told me to leave the country within 30 days, but sent the denial letter to the wrong address so it actually arrived after the month’s deadline. I was now here illegally.

LB: So I’m already feeling guilty about going without her and now she’s getting kicked out of my country, the country I’m running for. She’s scared, while her husband is relaxing along the Adriatic. At the same time, our bank warned us that for some reason our joint accounts were to be frozen under the Patriot Act.

CPB: We then got some legal advice. The penalties are pretty serious for violating immigration laws – a 3- to 10-year ban from entering the U.S.

LB: It’s like there were two very different government departments handling our case – one rejecting her tourist visa extension and another processing our spouse residency application.

CPB: Since we’d processed all the paperwork in a timely manner, followed all the rules, done everything they’ve wanted, the immigration lawyer said we were probably in good shape. Even though my visa was expired, he said, technically we now had six months before I’d have to leave the country. And hopefully in that time we would get an interview appointment.

LB: If we got an appointment, it wouldn’t be at the immigration office here in Reno or even San Francisco, but at the U.S. Embassy in Sydney. We’d have to leave the country, go back to Australia, to be interviewed by the Americans there, to see if they’d give her a resident visa. Don’t ask why or try to understand.

CPB: We didn’t know how long it might take. We had to be interviewed before February 2008, when I had to leave the country, or I’d be in real trouble. So we waited.

Larry battles Stephen Robbins in the M60 200 final at Orono. Now Larry helps his wife, Carmel, battle deadlines at National Masters News, where he serves as associate editor.

LB: And that’s all you can do. You can’t cry, beg or move it any faster.

CPB: Finally, in late November, we got the letter; we had an interview with the U.S. Embassy in Sydney, Australia, January 14, 2008. And I had to get a police report from Melbourne and my fingerprints checked, which we had to take here and send there, and my shot record of all the childhood vaccinations and a bunch of other shots.

LB: Like who has that handy?

CPB: And I had to get a complete physical exam, but it had to be done by one of only two approved doctors in Melbourne. Couldn’t get American doctors to do it here. We had to arrange for an AIDS test, chest X-rays and other blood tests. One of the offices was closed for the Christmas holidays; the other assured us, since the doctor was Jewish, he would be open. There was just enough time to get the results back before our interview.

LB: So we booked our flights. We could only get flights out Christmas Day. We tried to make it a holiday. We visited family, even ran in an all-comers meet but still the interview was in the forefront.

CPB: Meanwhile, the doctor’s office calls back. The office is going to be closed and changes the appointment. There may not be enough time now to get everything done.

LB: We drive all over Melbourne, dropping off samples, picking up results, hand-carrying records. They misplace some documents but finally we get all her results back. We’re ready for the embassy.

CPB: It’s essential to prove the legitimacy of the marriage so we were advised to keep a scrapbook filled with letters, cards, movie tickets, trips taken together, photos, etc.

Larry joins Roger Pierce (left) and Ralph Souppa in lactic-acid exhaustion after their close finish in the M60 400 final at Orono nationals. Larry’s marathon race to assure a life with Carmel is over as well. They won.

LB: We had to go through metal screening, waiting in line, even though we had an actual appointment time. When the first person vetted us, she saw that Carmel’s tourist visa had expired back in July. She wondered if that would keep her from getting the new resident visa. She sent us back to sit and wait for the next interviewer. We’re only thinking positive thoughts, visualizing our celebration.

CPB: If they say yes, it’s one of the few times the government actually works quickly. They can make the decision right then and there and I can come back the next day and pick up my Australian passport with my new American Visa in it.

LB: Concentrate. Think Green.

CPB: We got to the second interviewer. He smiled and welcomed us in. We’d made it.

LB: In Sydney, the Americans understand that Australia’s a great country. It’s not like everyone’s suffering there and is scheming to get out or has to marry an American for a green card to have an OK life. We’ve been told that interviews in this country, done by Homeland Security, often seem like you’re guilty for being here and the U.S. wants to keep you out.

CPB: The U.S. immigration process is not unique. I have a Welsh friend, a world-class runner who also met her partner (an Aussie) at a world championship, in Gateshead. Although she’s from a Commonwealth country, she experienced a similar situation to gain Australian residency. Having worked for a government department in Australia, I understand how bureaucracies work, sometimes very slowly. It is a wonderful feeling to finally have my U.S. residency and a relief that it is all over.

Congratulations. Will you apply for citizenship?

CPB: Eventually. I’m not really eligible for citizenship for a number of years. I’m not sure how many, but I’ll apply when I meet the criteria. Right now, I have U.S. residency, which is conditional for two years (the condition: She has to stay married). After that time, I’ll apply for permanent residency, which is just a matter of filing the paperwork.

Can you now travel abroad with Larry anywhere and be assured of OK to return to the States?

CPB: Yes, now I have a green card. I’m legal and can travel in and out of the U.S. We were hoping to go to France but are looking instead to Lahti (Finland, site of the 2009 WMA outdoor world masters championships).

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April 2, 2008