College Kids: Leah + Kiera

There is absolutely no limit to what you can achieve. Whatever you have yet to accomplish, believe that you can do it. Let others underestimate you. Let others overlook your capabilities. That is when you attack with all you have. You may surprise yourself just as much as them.
— JourneyStrength
  My second year as a Thunderbird in the 2008/2009 season. Our second National Championship win before the 6-title winning streak. 

My second year as a Thunderbird in the 2008/2009 season. Our second National Championship win before the 6-title winning streak. 

Greetings friends! 

So one of my 2018 goals was to continue writing a lot and sharing more. As I sit here in my little dormitory / residence / hotel in Jakarta I figure it’s time to get going. I am doing a little revamp of my website (coming soon!) and I was originally planning to post more after that got up but oh well. No time like the present amIriiiiight?

With that being said, I wanted to start off 2018 blog-posts on the right foot so thought why not dedicate it to some of my teammates I had the pleasure of working along side last summer. I really wanted to take a moment (or a blog post) to write about some of these girls that you might not have seen on the court or the roster last summer, but still have a large effect and a large part on our Women’s National Team Program. They are the up-and-comers; the College Kids. Because I took the summer of 2016 off for personal reasons (something along the lines of necessary rest and recovery) I hadn’t met some of these athletes before. Coming back for tryouts last summer was really exciting to see all of the talent that had come out but also quite nerve-racking for an old-sometimes/usually-injured-veteran such as myself. I remember Tammy Mahon telling me last quadrennial that she felt me “biting at her heels year after year” as I fought to over-take a starting spot. I remember thinking how ridiculous is that? How can a veteran (and captain) player be so nervous about a young buck? Yah… I understand now. These girls have extreme talent and a seemingly total-replenishing sense of energy. Like… aren’t you tired?? These girls are the future of Volleyball Canada. You can currently find them all over the country turning heads at their respective universities. If you have the ability to go out and watch a university or college game, I strongly suggest you do. Because before you know it they’ll be big-time ballers on the international stage. So go snag an autograph while it’s still free. Keep your eyes peeled for these stunners at a university near you. And let me introduce you to my College Kids. 

First up this week I want to introduce you to two powerhouse kids: Keira and Leah. In light of CIS National Championships having just concluded a few weekends ago, I figured there’s no better time than to give you a bit of an insider look into their brains to learn a bit more about them. Leah plays for U of C and Kiera for UBC (go birds!!!) They battled it out in the semi finals of the National Championships the other weekend so both girls are respectively on teams ranked the top four in the country. Pretty impressive if you ask me. A Canada-West battle and rivalry during university season but potential teammates in the summer. Wouldn’t want to be on the other side of the net when these two eventually join forces! So now… my girls: 


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Leah Shev 

Position: Setter

Age: 22

Highschool: William Aberhart

University: University of Calgary

Year: 4

Major: Communications and Culture (Minor in Sociology and Eastern Religions)

Hometown: Calgary

Nicknames: Shevy, Chevrolet, Shev Shev, DJ Shevdaddy 

Awards:

  • 2013 Canada West Rookie of the Year 
  • 2013 CIS All-Rookie Team 
  • 2013 University of Regina Female Rookie of the Year

5 fun facts

  • In my down time you can find me at a good yoga class.
  • 5 things I cannot travel without: a roller, my favorite essential oils, fruity gum, my ipod, and tea. 
  • My hobbies include: hiking, snowboarding, and yoga. 
  • My favourite food(s) are perogies and borscht (yes, I’m Ukrainian).
  • I speak French (or attempt to) as I was in French immersion throughout Jr. High and High School.

Tell me a little bit about your college and why you chose to go here post-secondary:

I eventually moved to the University of Calgary after playing my first 2 years at the University of Regina. I transferred because I got to reunite with a bunch of old teammates and coach in my hometown. I love the extremely competitive environment at the U of C and the group of girls are so dedicated and inspiring.

What are your Individual goals for the season?

  1. Be an accountable leader on and off the court. 
  2. Take care of my body and be proactive with injuries and nutrition. 
  3. Maintain the confidence to play and improve my skills at the level I know I am capable of all season. 

What year did you have the most success? What do you think that’s attributed to?

Looking at success by ranking, my first year would appear to be my most successful year as we placed 6th at Nationals. However, even though this current season is only halfway done, I look at this season to be my most successful year. We are a very talented and mature group with so much will-power to be successful. We have a supportive coaching, strength, nutrition and athletic therapy staff that are 110% invested in making this group as successful and healthy as possible.  We have very specific goals that we made together as a team on the steps to Nationals and I fully believe that we will finish this season as a Championship team. 

Game day routine?

Take a nap in the afternoon followed with a nice long stretch when I wake up.  Then blast pump up music with the team once we get to the gym. 

What do you do when you’re not playing your best: 

First I take a deep breath to stay calm and composed. I then reach out to my teammates for support and focus on the great things everyone else is doing around me so I can provide extra positive reinforcement. Feeling that sense of support from my teammates always motivates me to perform at my best. 

What you would tell your high-school self:

To embrace the journey and accept failures as a stepping-stone for my long-term goals.

The biggest lesson you’ve learned in university thus far:

Being able to time manage and balance my priorities and my passions. I think it’s extremely important to keep balance in my life with friends, family, school, leisure and volleyball in order to keep my sanity and be happy. In order to make this possible I have had to time-manage my schedule and weigh my priorities in order to give myself the opportunity to be successful in all aspects of my life. 

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A player you most look up to and why: 

My cousin Christy Hansen (Torgerson).  She played at U of A and competed with the National Team for three seasons. She is one of the most passionate, supportive and talented people in my life. I have always been her biggest fan. She introduced me to the beauty and thrill of volleyball. I have spent many summers up in Edmonton training and spending time with her. I truly believe that her endless support and amazing technical coaching has brought my game to the next level.  

What are your personal goals for 2018?

  1. Make the Canadian National Team this summer.
  2. Do well in all of my university classes.
  3. Win USport Nationals with the Dinos. 

What was your first experience with Team Canada?

This past summer was my first experience with Team Canada and it was very eye-opening. I was cut after the tryouts last May and settled back in Calgary ready to spend my summer working and doing some off-season training for the Dinos. As upsetting as it was being told I was the last cut from the tryout, I reflected back on my week there as an extremely positive experience; I could see myself working very hard and take all the feedback from the coach to train harder and come back the following year. Then there was a sudden turn of events as I received a call 2 weeks after the tryout with the opportunity to go back to Richmond and train with the team. So without question I got myself to Richmond within a week and began training with the team. Being around such amazingly talented and driven women was such a privilege. It was definitely a steep learning curve but I tried to embrace every opportunity to make myself a better player and teammate.  

If you could describe yourself as an athlete/player in 5 words what would they be?

  • Passionate
  • Hard working 
  • Humble  
  • Gritty 
  • Talented 

Aspirations to play professionally? What does your 5-10year plan look like?

It has always been my goal to play professionally ever since I was 10 years old and heard stories from Christy about her experience playing pro in the Canary Islands. The thought of playing the sport I love while having the opportunity to travel the world sounded like a dream come true. I hope to play at least a few seasons overseas then go back to school to become a Recreational Therapist. 

Kyla's Recap: 

As mentioned and explain above, Shev was called back to the team a few weeks after tryouts last summer. Another setter in our group that I felt had a head-turning tryout, I was personally interested in seeing more of what she could do! Upon meeting her you instantly know she's one of those go-getter players that will keep her head down and grind without complaint. She showed up after strange circumstances and yet was still so thankful to be part of the training group and worked her butt off every day on court and in the weight room. She clearly had an outstanding year with the Dinos and what's even more impressive is that she has one more year to go! Very excited to see Shev go at it again at Team Canada tryouts at the beginning of May! 


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Kiera Vanryk

Position: Leftside

Highschool: Surrey Christian School

Age: 19

University/college: UBC

Year: 1

Major: Kinesiology

Hometown: Surrey, B.C.

Awards: 

  • 2018 USport Rookie of the Year
  • Canada West First Team All-Star and USport Second Team All-Canadian
  • 2018 Volleyball BC Excellence Award
  • The Province’s B.C. High School Volleyball Girls Player of the Year, and Head of the Class       
  • 4 MVP's for BC club provincials

8 fun facts:

  1. I looooooove dogs. And chocolate. 
  2. I have 2 sisters Amy (24) and Jocelyn (22).
  3. I have played volleyball for 11 years and my dad was my coach for 4 of those.
  4. I played soccer and the piano for 11 years (unfortunately not simultaneously). 
  5. If I was stranded on an island and could only bring one thing it would have to be either chocolate or watermelon. 
  6. I went on a missions trip with AIA to Haiti when I was 16 years old.
  7. Go to Starbucks order is a Java Chip Frappuccino. 
  8. I have lived in the same house for my whole life. (Heyyyy me too!!).

After being named Head of the Class, how did you eventually decide on UBC?:

I chose to come to UBC because it has an amazing Kinesiology program and the team has a great culture that I really wanted to be apart of.

Individual goals for the season?

My goal for my team is to win nationals and my personal goal this season is to work on my 'in-game' decision making.

What year did you have the most success? What do you think that’s attributed to?
When I was 16 I played for U18 Team BC where we won NTCC’s and Western Canada Summer Games and I was named to the Junior National Team. I would consider this my most successful year because in two months I grew as a player more than I ever had before, taking my game to the next level. I was able to improve so much because I had great coaches supporting me in all aspects of my game and had teammates who were a lot better than me. By having better players ahead of me it created a competitive atmosphere which ultimately helped me work to become a better and stronger player myself.

What do you do when you’re not playing your best:

My mindset is that I will do anything to try and make my game better which often results in me trying harder. However, I have learned that I need to start to “play easy”; trusting my training, my coaches and ultimately my teammates. 

Another thing I do when I can feel myself begin to spiral is using my reset button. I have an external cue that helps me let go of my previous mistakes and look forward to the next action and point.

What would you tell your high school self:

I would like to tell my high highschool self to not be so serious all the time! You can still work hard but also relax and have fun - enjoy your time in high school!

The biggest lesson you’ve learned in university thus far:

Moving from high school to university I have learned how important it is to manage my time wisely. The ability to juggle classes, practices everyday plus a workout, possibly travelling on weekends and missing class (and sleep) while eating healthy, can be a great struggle. Finding my rhythm and routine in order to use my time wisely is very important for me.

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What are your personal goals for 2018:

 My biggest goal is to be apart of the Women’s National Team Program.

What was your first experience with Team Canada?

 My first experience with Team Canada was when I was 16 and I made the U18 Junior National Team.

Favourite coach and why?

I have two: Doug Remier and Dan Huzar.

Doug is an amazing coach who has such a vast knowledge of the game. He continues to help me grow as a player by picking out details of my game no one ever has before. Dan has coached me for three or four years now and he will never shy away from telling the truth which I really respect. Whether or not I do something right or wrong, Dan will tell me how to make each action I make better, which has helped me grow tremendously as an athlete. 

If you could describe yourself as an athlete/player in 5 words, what would they be?

  • Competitive
  • Hard working
  • Determined
  • Focused
  • Committed    
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Aspirations to play professionally? What does your 5-10year plan look like?

Playing professionally has been a goal for me for a couple years now, however, I’m not certain yet when or how long from now I plan to start.

I guess we'll all just have to stay tuned! 

Kyla’s recap:

If you’ve heard of volleyball in the Lower Mainland chances are that you’ve heard of Kiera Van Ryke. First of all, what a swag name. Second of all, I’ve been hearing about Kiera for a very long time now. In fact, a few years ago I had a handful of UBC-coaches drop into my email saying "Kiera. We need her. Message her." (I'm wondering now if I should get paid for my recruitment-skills?). I haven’t YET had the privilege to train along side Kiera but I saw her hit a few balls in tryouts last May and well, let’s just say I’m glad she’ll be on my side of the court. You can find her at UBC absolutely dominating the CIS/USPORT even though she’s only in her first year. When I was coming through university Doug didn’t believe in starting first years – but I guess he has no choice with this one! There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Kiera has a bright future ahead of her and I for one am excited to get to know her on and off the court, whenever that may be! 


Thanks for stopping through and giving this blog post a read! I have a lot of other athletes to post about to stay tuned - another College Kids post will be dropping at some point next week! 

Oh, and if you want to continue reading for the heck of it, continue your scroll and you'll find my most recent post about my season here in Indonesia! And what a different ride it's been! We have one month to go here before we get a chance to snag the championship, something my club hasn't done! I am really hoping that we'll be the first team to bring the gold back to our club!  

And in the meantime, stay happy and healthy my friends. Thanks for all your continued support. 

The battle of Grief + Joy.

Merry Christmas Eve from Jakarta!

It’s definitely a whole new… world over here. And a whole new “thing” experiencing Christmas in a place that doesn’t necessarily celebrate Christmas. Of course, Indonesia is predominately a Muslim country so I don’t think Santa Clause it too big around here. Large decorated Christmas trees can be found in all the malls however, but otherwise I am being very intentional to bring a little bit of Christmas cheer to my hotel/dorm room. Some Christmas lights have been hung around my room and every evening I have some Christmas Spotify playlist playing a variety of sweet holidays tunes.

Even though I am far away from home and far away from anything reminding me of Christmas (it’s still thirty degrees here), my heart has been aching for a few things this month. 

First of all, my soul aches to just be home. There’s nothing quite like celebrating the holidays in the house you grew up in, hoping for that white Christmas snow fall, and celebrating the season with friends, family, and loved ones. My heart is missing the little things: sugar cookie baking and icing with my family (a tradition that my grandma started and even though she’s currently in an assisted living home, we still pull out the santa, wreath, star, and holly cookie cutters), hot beverages all day (literally all day), slow afternoons and games in front of the Christmas tree, decorating the house, walks in Roberts Creek, dad putting on a fire, bundling up on some family hikes, and just being together for all the days. But most of all, I miss my family. I miss my humans. I miss mom and dad, Stuart and Connor. I miss the days that all five of us would and could be together at home. Stuart recently said that we had so much emphasis about being together especially over the holidays, that when the month of December rolls around we are already feeling the sting of missing a member of our family. 

Unfortunately, this sting is ever prevalent in the homes and lives of so many others. And if you’re reading this and experiencing a similar pain, let me just tell you that my heart aches for you. It aches so, so deeply. I know that feeling of dread once December 1st hits, that smile you feel you need to plant on your face for the next month as to not be the downer, and the endless “things” that need to be done this time of year that empty your tank faster than anything else. And the sadness knowing that nothing will be able to take away the pain you're feeling.  

But even though we’re hurting, I encourage you to look around. It may not feel like it, but there is still magic around us. Don’t search for this magic in the big things, the things that you THINK you should be looking towards. But shift your focus onto those seemingly insignificant details; the way a family member laughs, the feeling you have being surrounded by friends, the taste of a rum and eggnog (I am seriously so jealous of all of you drinking this back home!!), children’s excitement around Santa Clause coming, the smell of a Christmas tree, getting outside and breathing crisp air, Christmas mass and the hope that surrounds everyone, the feeling of a thick warm sweater and holiday slippers, relative’s extra tight squeezes (even the relatives that aren't your favourite!), and the Christmas lights that are lighting up the whole city. These things don't need to mask any grief or pain your feeling. And these things certainly don't need to make you feel whole again. But let's see what they can do for you. I encourage you to look around – right now. See what magic is in the air or what’s around you. It’s so easy to get caught up in buying the best Christmas present, wearing the best outfit for a holiday party, stressing about not putting on weight over the holidays, and getting burnt out running from one party to the next, foregoing the self care you really need this time of year. When actually... none of that matters. Isn't that insane? How much time we actually waste stressing over things that don't matter one bit. When really, all we should be focused on is loving the people that are around us (and physically near or far)

Side note to my introverted or grieving friends: it’s okay to say no to a handful of gatherings and events if it’ll make you a happier, healthier human. It's okay to not be okay. You just need to decide how many festivities you can personally handle this season and how much time you NEED to spend recharging your batteries. There is no right answer. And often each holiday season looks a little bit different – depending on how your heart is doing at that particular moment in time. There’s certainly no shame in needing a little down time during the endless hype of Christmas and New Year parties with friends, family, and staff, particularly when you’re overcoming loss. And by overcoming I mean dealing with. Or not dealing with. You get what I'm saying.  

We can understand loss, sure – our brains can compute and comprehend that certain people are gone and they won't be coming back. But part of us still expects them to be there. And when they’re not, that familiar sting of grief comes to the surface. And around this time of year when things are suppose to be perfect, the sting comes extra hard. Or more frequent. 

As with all holidays and special occasions we want to join the celebration. We so badly want to feel the joy that seems to be all around us, filling up everyone except for you. To feel what we used to feel some odd years ago when that loved one was still around. The memories of happier Christmases taunt us. Do we change up tradition? Then it won’t feel or be the same. Is that a good thing? Do we want to do everything as we used to? But then it’s so obvious they aren’t with us. Cue the never-ending battle with the holidays.

Something that I’ve struggled with is finding the balance between grief and joy, and if I’m feeling one and not the other, to let that be and not feel guilty about it. Trying to teach myself that whatever feelings I’m having on a certain day are okay. And even during the holidays when I feel so guilty about not being overjoyed – being so immensely afraid that I’ll be bringing someone else’s mood down with mine – all those things are okay to feel. Because feeling joy during certain moments doesn't mean that we haven't felt the immense pain of heartbreak and loss. Feeling joy doesn't mean that we aren't grieving anymore. And feeling joy doesn't mean that our past memories are somehow gone. We need to learn to be okay with finding pleasure and joy while we’re forever grieving and at the same time allow ourselves to have spiraling moments of deep, dark pain and sorrow regardless of how long your grief journey has been. Whether it's on a random Tuesday or on Christmas Eve. It’s all okay. Yet, a tricky balancing act to master. 

My only advice is to really truly ask yourself what you need this season. You might be letting some people down, sure. But I hope that as friends and family they can understand the boundaries that you have set for yourself. And if you choose to just go to one festivity – great! Go with an open mind and heart and let whatever small joys come across your path, come. Give yourself permission to feel a little bit of that joy. Look for the magic… I promise you that it’s there – even if the magic reminds you of a lost loved one and brings a few tears. These holidays can still be enjoyed and not just tolerated. Just be open with yourself and don’t put too much pressure on the parties, the feelings, and creating “the perfect” anything. There is so much pressure for the holidays to be the best time of year and for a lot of us, that just may never be the case. I encourage you friends: listen to your heart this holiday. Do what’s right for you. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. The magic is found within the imperfections and the little Christmas miracles that can be found in every room.

Believing that the real work of the human heart and mind is learning to hold complicated feelings simultaneously. To feel breathless gratitude for our life and loved ones, while also feeling the deep bruise of grief for those who are no longer here. To pause and take in the beauty of warm-white holiday lights, while also holding the ache of loss for whoever and whatever might be missing from our lives.

And one more thing: do me a HUGE favour would you?

Go give some massive love to those that are around you or those that you'll be seeing tonight. There's nothing quite like having all your friends or family under one roof celebrating Christmas. And whether or not you are grieving - I know the people that ARE around you are special.

So make them feel loved. Give them a huge hug. A big kiss. Tell them you love them.

Hold them oh, so tight. 

You won't regret it - because nobody knows what the future holds. Just be in the now. And the 'now' is Christmas Eve. 

Summer At A Glance.

Summer 2017. Quadrennial Year Numero Uno. #RoadToTokyo

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Change is a hard thing to deal with for a lot of people. 

Even if it’s one little thing. 

One little thing just to throw off your routine a few degrees can have serious effects.

This summer with our Canadian Women’s Volleyball Team we not only had some change, we had the most change ever deemed possible. Can I go as far as saying the most change that this program has ever seen at any given time? 2017 was the start of our four-year cycle, a quadrennial, or the first step in a four year-process to qualify for the (Tokyo 2020) Olympics. I was personally entering into my third quad and my ninth year on the Senior Team (how terrifying is THAT!). Looking back to my first summer making the team back in 2008, our head coach Lupo told me that he saw me having a large role within the team for the next 8-12 years. I actually laughed out loud in disbelief and I remember talking to my mom on the phone after that meeting thinking how crazy he was to believe and assume I would (and could) be playing for three Olympic cycles. Jokes on me. Because here I am. From being the youngest player on the National Team for SO long (I had the duty of checking the cooler on every airplane, dragging to and from every practice, filling it up with ice before we left the hotel, for about four years straight), it truly felt like I blinked and became one of the oldest Senior National players still committed to the dream. Still playing with and for the maple leaf on my chest. 

Since opening in September of 2010, the Oval’s Volleyball Centre of Excellence has helped over 50 athletes who have played for their province, post-secondary school, or the Junior National Team. The co-location of developing athletes and national team members will strengthen Canada’s volleyball system, improving international results in the short term and for years to come.
— John Mills, Chief Operating Officer

So not only did I find myself with a larger role within the team, there was the fact that we were uprooted from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, to the Richmond Oval in Vancouver. The bid committee had worked so unbelievably hard over the last few years to make a competitive bid and 'Bring The Team'. It was a humbling experience having so many people in our Vancouver volleyball community pull together to try and make this happen, try to make our transition easier, and try to provide all the things necessary to foster a competitive, top of the line training environment. Personally, it was a dream come true to come home after living in Winnipeg for so many summers and then have to leave straight to various professional teams overseas. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt returning to Vancouver knowing that this was Team Canada’s new stomping ground. I realize that there are only a handful of players that call B.C. home but I do hope that with our incredible support systems and community in place, everyone will be able to call it home very soon. Our manager Chrissy Benz worked her butt off (and still is to this very day) trying to find the players short and long term accommodations after a key housing-plan within the bid kind of fell through. We were at a hotel within walking distance to the oval during our training camp in May and then most of the selected team was placed with various families in a home-stay environment. Never a dull moment here! Sidenote: we are still looking for apartments / homes / rooms to rent for this coming summer so if you know of any options feel free to send me a message!! We are so beyond grateful for the families who stepped up and took some of our girls in for the summer on such short notice. I know so many of my teammates had wonderful experiences and now will always have a Vancouver-family in the years to come.

The next big change that was implemented this summer is that we received a new coach. Not just any coach but the infamous (I feel like I can give him that title) Marcello Abbondanza. I knew him from his time coaching Fenerbache, one of the most talented volleyball teams in the world that competes in the Turkish and Champions League. They’re always at the top. He also coached the Bulgarian National team for a few years, taking them to the World Championships in 2010 in Trieste, Italy where we actually had our final match against them. It’s funny how when he first got the job and showed up for tryouts a lot of us were doubting and wondering why he actually took it. You think we would give ourselves a little bit of credit after working our butts off for so many years at endless practices and grueling tournaments. But we still doubted ourselves and were left wondering why one of the best coaches in the world was coming to coach us. 

That was one of the most monumental things Marcello taught us this summer; we don’t give ourselves enough credit and our volleyball skills are actually just as good as any other top team. Okay then, so why were we losing games we knew we could win? It was all about our internal self belief – something that he quickly brought to the surface, which had us all pretty shocked. We can fake the confidence in ourselves for the most part, quickly sweep the self-doubt under the rug but come push to shove, it wasn’t where it needed to be especially to have huge success at the international level. Our team went through a period of intense and extreme growth this summer, to say the least. The first two months with Marcello were maybe the most intense in my entire volleyball career. Not only were we working extremely hard on court and in the weight room to refine skills, we were also called to shape our mentality, entire belief system, and take our volleyball level/IQ’s to the next level. So through the many uncomfortable and extremely challenging situations both physically and mentally, on and off the court where at times we were sure that our new coach hated us (have you ever had an Italian coach??), Marcello was also teaching us that he believes in us. So if one of the best coaches in the world thinks we’re a skilled volleyball team, why the heck can’t we think that of ourselves?

I’ve said it before but our Women’s National Team has always had difficulties with confidence. It doesn’t matter the quad, it doesn’t matter the team, it doesn’t matter the tournament or what girls are in the meeting, it’s one of our greatest weaknesses. I’m not sure where it comes from, actually. Maybe as women we are constantly trying to measure ourselves up to someone who we think is more skilled than us. More prepared. More naturally gifted. More more more. Thinking that we are less than when of course, that is absolutely not the case. The funny thing is that we believe so wholeheartedly in each other. We don’t doubt our teammate’s skills for a moment. Yet we are so hard on our individual selves that even though we’ve performed the skill a million and one times, come crunch time we are left wondering if we are ready or can execute what we need to. But our teammate? No problem – they’ll perform absolutely. Of course THEY can do it.

Switching gears for a moment, back to the beginning of May: after tryouts our newly selected squad had about a month to train with each other and get used to our new totally-Italian support staff (head coach, assistant coach, trainer, osteopath). This was yet another thing we had to adapt to; having a full European staff kind of felt like an extension of our professional seasons abroad. I think after a while we got settled into our own groove of things and embraced that this is what our National Team would feel and look like from here on in. We got used to the coaches, how they did things, travelling rules, plus the immense amount of work we needed to do outside of the volleyball court. Not sure what I mean by work? Well on our Pan Am Cup and Grand Prix trip, I don’t know if we had more than 20minutes of down time in our respected rooms. We were busy doing our own scouting of each team and sometimes spending upwards of more than five hours in video sessions. But that’s the thing… you think when it gets that hard, when someone is that hard on you, you’re going to curl up and die. Quit. Think it’s not worth it and bow out (which, he said, was perfectly understandably if you didn’t want to continue – no hard feelings). But none of us did. We gave it our all, we adapted to extreme conditions, and in so many examples, rose to the challenge. 

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After this month of training in the oval we jetted down to Anaheim, California for some practices and a friendly match against Team USA at a high school. The sets were close and I felt like it was a good starting point for our team. From there we trekked down to Lima, Peru for the most grueling tournament: the Pan American Cup. Grueling because you’re playing about eight or nine games in ten days which is a lot for some of these old bodies! I celebrated my birthday in Lima, as I have for the last decade (it always falls on the Pan Am Cup Tournament dates) but by now they’re all kind of blending together – there have been a fair few! But it wasn’t all birthday cake and Starbucks dates – two of our starting players, Marie-Alex and Sarah Chase both went down at the very beginning of the tournament in our game vs. Cuba. I will try not to go off about how infuriating it is when other players come crashing under the net… but oh did we ever feel the grunt of it. So for the most grueling tournament of the summer we were down two players in a 12man roster. Regardless of early tough luck, our team leaned into each other for support and motivation and Giorgio (our then new Italian Osteopath) performed a lot of crack cracks and kinesiotape tape-jobs in order to hold us all together. From there we flew back home, had a quick few days to do laundry and sleep in our own beds, and before we knew it we were back on a plane back down to Argentina for the first week of Grand Prix. We had some early success, beating the home team on the first night in a very intense 5 set match, in which afterwards we somehow found ourselves being THE halftime show and performing some form of Zumba. Marcello gave the announcer the go-ahead and well, you can't say no to BigBoss. Still slightly horrified that happened. 

With some great, successful games in our first weekend we jumped over to Puerto Rico for the second week. Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of success which was devastating because we knew we had the ability to go 3-0 as opposed to 0-3. I think after a long previous couple of months our excessive amount of video watching and sleepless nights were catching up with us. I remember feeling so drained on this lag. My roommate Megan Cyr and I were constantly trying to rally ourselves to push through this week as home was just around the corner. For the third week of Grand Prix we found ourselves at home. As amazing as that was, I was struggling hard individually on the mental and physical side of things. I couldn’t lift my arm more than twenty degrees and felt like I was on the verge of a breakdown. Well, it turns out I was because I had booked a doctor’s appointment with a GP at the oval to discuss some other health concerns and at the end of our appointment when she asked me how I was really doing, I burst into tears. Keep in mind this was the first time I had met this woman. I think I scared her a little bit. But this is the battle that so many (all?) of us face each day as a professional athlete. We have A LOT of things going on in our lives that have nothing to do with volleyball. Yet we still have to pick ourselves up and perform… do our job. And my job wasn’t done for another week. So despite not being in the most optimal of spaces, I rallied, looked for comfort in my teammates who were around me, my family, fiancé at the time, friends, and our volleyball community who were all ready to cheer extra loud for our first National Team games in Vancouver. Of course playing at home is a feeling that you can’t quite recreate anywhere else. To know that your loved ones are in the stands supporting you makes all the difference. Germany, Peru, and Czech Republic were in our pool for that weekend and of course my favorite game was our five-set thriller vs. Peru on the Saturday night. I hope it sparked some interest in the younger athletes that were watching on tv or in the stands and that we’ll have many more opportunities to play some matches in various cities on home soil in the future. The volleyball community is so large that I think our women’s team could really have an impact highlighting Canadian Volleyball as well as inspire the younger age groups. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for more opportunities! 

In the end, Marcello was not satisfied with how we performed for our last game of Grand Prix and neither were we. Feeling so burnt out we just couldn’t pull it together for a win. Unfortunately that loss loomed over us for our upcoming break and resettled once we got back to training. Yet... maybe it provided that extra bit of motivation?

   At our after-party at the Trading Post Eatery! (Some of my siblings-in-law and our favourite Ox, Shaggy). 

At our after-party at the Trading Post Eatery! (Some of my siblings-in-law and our favourite Ox, Shaggy). 

But first, following the Richmond tournament, it was time to breathe. A VERY large exhale. It felt like nobody had done that since May. Through tryouts, getting settled into a new city and new home, working through the kinks along side Volleyball Canada, making the first cut for the California/Pan Am Cup roster, battling to make the Grand Prix roster amongst some changes week-to-week (as coach wanted to see all of us in game-action), and adapt to an entirely new Italian coaching staff. It was not easy. We hit a lot of extremely low points mentally and it was such a battle but through that time we still worked so hard every single day on court and in the various gyms and time zones we found ourselves in. I'm always so impressed by my teammates to withstand such intense circumstances. Now it was time to relax and spend time with family, spend time at home, sleep a lot, and recharge our batteries for three weeks. I’m not sure how ‘re-charged’ I got as Rudy and I were in full wedding planning mode but that of course was thrilling to plan as the day became so close. Back to training for a week, I got married on the weekend, had a three-day honeymoon, blinked, and was back in the gym training for six weeks before our final tournament: the NORCECA World Championship Qualifier. I wont go into too many details – but another chance to play in the Lower Mainland in front of a home crowd – even if it was at my rival-university gym Trinity Western University. We swept the tournament and beat Cuba in the final match in straight sets. A nice little ribbon to tie up the summer with; very thankful we could end on a positive note before we left for our university or professional teams. My wonderful brother in law hosted a gathering at the Trading Post Eatery in Fort Langley where we could hang out with each other and our families one last time! So strange saying goodbye after spending every moment with each other for the past five months. A handful of girls flew to Europe the following day to start their next adventure – something that made me incredibly anxious but they all did it with strength and grace. I swear that these unbelievably females inspire me on the daily, whether or not I’m looking for it or not. Gosh, I love them. 

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I’ve always had a very positive outlook on the future and ability of our Women’s National Team. At first, especially during the first two quads I was part of the team, I attributed it to me being one of the younger athletes on the team. Maybe when I became a veteran player I wouldn’t “believe” in our team as much, especially if we weren’t seeing so much success. Fortunately, that’s not it. I just have an incredible belief in all of my teammates – from the ones I played with this past summer, to the women I played with nine years ago. I am so fricken blessed to train and grow up with such strong, powerful women every single day. There is no other job on this planet that can foster the depth and strength of the relationships I have made. I don’t think you would ever, anywhere, be able to recreate the heartbreaks and the extreme joys that we go through each summer in regards to volleyball or just life, supporting one another every step of the way. 

Through the tremendous amount of change we experienced this summer I really do want to say that we had a lot of success. We took a big step (or a few!) in the right direction with Marcello leading the charge. I have always had belief in my teammates even when I felt like our Volleyball Program as a whole did not. When certain Committees did not and coaches would come back from meetings empty handed. We have always done a great job at coming together. I feel like the women I’ve spent the last decade playing along side still choose to show up every single day despite the odds stacked against us, despite the comments or the disbelief, and choose to get better every drill, every practice, every day. Making the move to Richmond, I hope that people’s belief in us starts to change. If it hasn’t yet, I invite you to talk to Marcello… he’s a pretty persuasive individual. Maybe he’ll be able to change your minds. Or talk to me – I always have a lot to say. 

Looking back, our last Olympic Qualifier in 2016 was devastating for me. I truly believed that the group we had competing was going to be the ones that took our women’s team to the Olympics. We were one game and one win away from doing just that. Just one last win against Puerto Rico would have qualified us for Rio 2016. Last year we saw a lot of turnaround within the program as a lot of our top veterans decided to part ways with the program. But a few of us stuck around. And actually along with myself, Jen Cross, and captain Lucy Charuk, this fall we were invited (for the first time ever) to sit in with Volleyball Canada members and staff to discuss the year as a whole and weigh in with our opinions in order to help the program continue to grow. The meeting was eight hours. And the three of us, along with our teammates who we were advocating for, are hopeful we can help foster some positive change. We have a new, fresh, and determined group to go at this dream once again. We’re committed to doing our best overseas FOR our National Team, not the other way around. Maybe I sound like a broken record saying that I think and I KNOW that our team will get to the Olympics one day. Maybe that’s why I’ve stuck around for as long as I have. I can’t quite find it in myself to step away from the program because it’s just not over for me. It’s not over for us. So if you don’t believe, you better get on board quick. Because things are going to happen fast. 

You can also follow me on Facebook on my Athlete's Page. I'll be posting many more videos as well as keeping you up to date on my current professional season in Jakarta, Indonesia! Click here! 


Athina.

An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born.
 Monastiraki Square. I spy the Parthenon. 

Monastiraki Square. I spy the Parthenon. 

One of the preseason tournaments that we won! 

I have been in Athens, Greece for over three months now and wow - time flies (…most days!). I settled in pretty quickly, enjoying everything that Athens has to offer. My housing and club situation is great and my surroundings have vastly improved from last year. I am living across the hall from Canadian National teammate, Marisa Field, our neighbourhood is bustling with cute cafes and bars, and the city center is only fifteen minutes away. The weather has started to take a turn, but especially during the first month of preseason I had to continually remind myself that I am working here and not on a permanent vacation! The sunshine made it hard to focus. Taking little day trips around the city and heading to the beach clubs with Reese and Justin (Duff [men’s National Team] – who is playing across the city for Olympiacos this season) on our days off, plus a couple of the German girls to make it a crew. Reese and Britt Page are usually whom I end up going on wonderful European adventures with, and my last one was actually to Greece with the two of them this past spring. I had just spent two weeks in Switzerland with Rudy while he finished up his (second) season and on a whim, I booked my flights to join the girls in Greece to explore Athens, Crete, and Santorini. That’s actually how I ended up playing here. While in Athens I met my club’s coach, assistant coach, and manager. They were meeting up with Marisa to discuss this year (she had already signed) and after Britt and I went for our own dinner, we had a drink with them. So what started out as one of Reese’s “master plans”, turned out that things started progressing quickly, and before I knew it I had signed to play here. So here I am! 

Foreigners enjoying some beach time! 

This is my first year doing European preseason as we usually join our new teams in September or October after National team commitments. Preseason was long. And tiring. We had weeks of friendly matches leading up to regular season with no breaks, but our team worked hard and won both tournaments we played in. We have currently only lost one match this season (vs. Olympiacos… but really we won… stay tuned for THAT post) but are still leading the league. My club, Panathinaikos, has goals for this season to rebuild the team and program. We have finished in the top 3 for many years in a row but haven’t won the championship or cup title in recent years, despite having an impressive history. Even though we’ve had some success early on in our season, we are continuing to work hard because we haven’t even come close to our potential (in my opinion). I am really excited to see what we can accomplish this season. My Greek teammates are lovely, and playing alongside Reese and a German outside hitter, Jana, is so great. The club has big dreams for us but I think the players do too.

Not surprisingly, more people have been saying they want to come visit this season. Lucy Charuk is currently playing in Bucharest, Romania and during one of her free weekends at the beginning of season, jetted down here for a quick hangout. TJ Saunders is in Izmir, Turkey, which is only an hour flight (or boat) away so hopefully we can have a Canadian reunion soon. My dad just spent the past 3 weeks here, roaming and exploring Athens. Although, I never did let him drive my car; Roberts Creek and Athens traffic patterns are slightly different. It is definitely so nice when loved ones and friends come to visit in the place you call home for eight months. Not only is it so refreshing to have them around each day with someone to come home to, there is also something special about showing off “your world”. The holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) are usually the hardest time to be away, missing all the fall festivities and other such events. And even though I make sure to stay in close contact with everyone, it is still difficult. Throughout the entire season, it’s necessary for me to have little check-ins with myself to see where I’m at.

There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.
— Kenneth Blanchard

I am here and called to play volleyball everyday. I am in the gym working hard with National Team on my mind and trying to improve my skills each day and each week. In order to have success, I need to stay intrinsically motivated (something our skypleship group has discussed a lot this past month) in order to not find my self worth in performance. It’s so important for me as an athlete and a player to find little joys outside of practice that will help fuel me as an individual, and ultimately help me perform and be a better teammate. I have connected with a church at the beginning of my time here and finding some wonderful people outside of volleyball has been very refreshing. Playing overseas is an ever-changing process that includes multiple self check-ins, and even though this is my fifth year abroad, I am still consistently learning new things about the world and about myself.

Overall, it’s still hard being away from home, friends, and family. However I am excited about the opportunities that this year will bring me, on and off the court. It has been an interesting transition back to playing after taking the summer off. I am continuing to stay patient with myself as I get back into the groove of playing, and ultimately back to my level of play where I left off. Not every day is a walk in the park, and sometimes, things are still difficult and a bit frustrating. But I have a sense of peace and excitement about this season that I haven’t had before. There isn’t a better feeling than knowing you are suppose to be right where you are. I will continue to seek out the little joys that come with each day and see where that takes me this season!


A different version of this article can be found on the VolleyVerse website here.

People often forget that it is your own choice how you want to spend the rest of your life.

Mind, Body, and Soul.

To love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, when your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think. How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you. I will love you again.
— Ellen Bass
 Finding the time to run around in nature. Roberts Creek, BC

Finding the time to run around in nature. Roberts Creek, BC

After so many summers and years spent with the Canadian Senior National team, it was hard for me to even imagine taking the summer off; team comes first!

That’s been engrained in my head ever since I was a child and during the many competitive teams I have been a part of. Year after year I’ve packed my bags to head out and join the National team.

During the end of my high school career I made my National team debut; I played with the Junior National team for back to back summers. After that, it didn’t stop. Every summer after each university season at the University of British Columbia, I met up with our Canadian Senior National Team in Winnipeg. Once I graduated from UBC it was 7-8 months of professional volleyball abroad (Germany, Turkey, Italy, Germany again, Azerbaijan, and now Greece) with about one or two weeks at home to do laundry and repack again for the summer. It really has been volleyball all year round for a very, very long time.

 Pan Am Games 2015, Toronto. Canada vs. Dominican Republic

Pan Am Games 2015, Toronto. Canada vs. Dominican Republic

I was going strong until I had to face the hardest thing I’ll ever have to deal with in my life: one of my twin brothers passed away in an accident three years ago. I left for my professional year in Istanbul, Turkey about one month later, after finishing up with the National Team. Since then, I’ve been continuing on at full-force, mainly because I am trying to keep my brain distracted with something else, but also because I didn’t really feel I could just stop playing.

Coming off an incredibly difficult year in Azerbaijan (for multiple reasons), a very big disappointing tournament in Nebraska for our Olympic Qualifiers in January, and just finally recognizing that my emotional tank was depleted, I decided that it might be time for a break. A time to breathe and be at home with family and friends, and put myself first for once. What a strange thing to think… and then go through with. At first I was just entertaining the idea but the more I thought about it, I knew it was something I had to do. My heart, body, and soul needed it.

But where do you even go from there? How do you begin that conversation with your coach, teammates, and support staff? How do you explain that you still want to be very much a part of the program but just need a little break? I have so many dreams and future goals for our group and want to lead them to success. Will they understand? Don’t we resent those athletes that just “pick and choose” what years they want to play? When they want to take a break? When they don’t put the team first? This very difficult decision was now mine to make.

It was hard. I wont sugarcoat that at all. I was back and forth for more than a month while I was overseas about whether or not I should do it. After my season in Azerbaijan, I decided I had to. I actually thought to myself, okay, you just need to send this email to coach, and then deal with everything else later. Baby steps. One thing at a time. Because this summer was our last time in Winnipeg, I felt like it was the end of an era for my Volleyball Canada time in this place.

The last 8 years of my life (summers, and sometimes very much into the fall and winter), during the most difficult time of my life while I was trying to cope with my brother’s accident and keep afloat, were spent in Winnipeg, with these wonderful people. The email was sent and the reply was not what I had expected. Disappointment and hurt filled my heart and I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision.

Now turning to my teammates to let them know I wouldn’t be with them on the court. There was a lot of turn over with players this summer as we didn’t make it to the Olympics so the bulk of players I played with actually weren’t returning. The ones that were, I felt a little tension, but overall I knew they understood my intensions and why I was doing this. Most of them said I should have done this earlier and I deserved the time to breathe and just be.

What have I done with all this time? I’ve just lived. Lived a more or less normal summer even though I still felt like I was running around, living out of a suitcase. May was filled with a Canadian road trip (Ottawa to Winnipeg to Calgary to Kamloops to Roberts Creek) while seeing a lot of great people along the way.

June was spent at home, attending weddings, relaxing, working out, gearing up for my brother’s memorial golf tournament where it absolutely poured with rain (still a wonderful yet heart wrenching time).

My Team BC "blue" team. I fit right in! 

In July I took on the assistant coach position for one of our Team BC U16 teams. We had a 4-day tryout or “Baden Cup” for you Volleyball BC’ers. From a pool of more than 80 athletes, we took two teams of 12 and trained them for a couple of weeks in Kamloops and then down to Richmond to compete at NTCC’s at the Olympic Oval (this is where our National Team Volleyball center is moving next summer!).

I find myself doing this more and more; getting out into the community to work with these young, aspiring athletes. It is so fulfilling to me. Having once been in their shoes, I understand how important it is to have a positive role model and someone to help guide you to your goals and dreams. I love meeting these athletes, chatting with their parents (ensuring that they stay in Canada to play post-secondary), and hopefully building a strong relationship where I can help them as they continue on their journey. I really do get so much from them.

It was interesting and challenging to put myself into this role, more officially than I have in the past. It was so wonderful being able to work with some amazing coaches and learn different skills from each of them. Chris Dahl was one of the head coaches and each and every day I was totally blown away by his enthusiasm to inspire the athletes and help them get the most out of every single practice, classroom session, and day in general. If Volleyball BC youth are in the hands of coaches like Chris, our future is nothing but bright.

August came like a windstorm; that impending doom of the last month of summer! I’ve been working out hard this summer in preparation to get back on the court and start my season abroad! I am so excited for practices to start up, which is a good thing, because I get to experience that 5-6 week pre-season training we usually miss due to longer National Team summers.

I’m heading to Athens, Greece to play for the club Panathinaikos this coming professional season where they have put together a competitive team with their hearts set on the Greek Cup and Championship. I will be playing with Canadian teammate, Marisa Field, and I am so excited for this new opportunity!

But first – I head to Rio, the last big adventure of the summer. Unfortunately I am not competing, but the boyfriend is, and that’s the next best thing. I have a handful of friends that are also competing in the Games and I cannot wait to go and cheer my heart out.

At first, it was really hard dealing with the fact that I wouldn’t be in Rio competing with my team. I still have it in my heart that our team was supposed to be there. Unfortunately, in January we had a great chance to qualify if we would have beat Puerto Rico. We would have had the opportunity to host a few weaker teams in Canada; teams that Puerto Rico handled more than easily and went on to qualify. A devastating way to end what was an incredible chance for us. That will be on my mind every practice session for the next four years.

Sadly, it’s not our time (yet!), and it took a long time for me to come to terms with that. I prayed for my heart to turn and thankfully, it did! I’m ready to head to Rio and cheer my heart out. I am so extremely proud of all my friends that are competing at the Games. I know the hard work it takes to qualify with the heartbreaks and disappointments along the way and it’s certainty not an easy feat.

So although my childhood dream wasn’t to sit in the stands during an Olympic Games, it’s my time right now to do so. My goal is still to get to the Olympics and play for Canada and I know with a lot of hard work, dedication and drive, we will get there. I’m so glad that I made the decision to take the summer off and start the healing process for my body, mind and soul.

I’m ready to start my next chapter.


If you’re feeling frightened about what comes next, don’t be. Embrace the uncertainty. Allow it to lead you places. Be brave as it challenges you to exercise both your heart and your mind as you create your own path toward happiness; don’t waste time with regret. Spin wildly into your next action. Enjoy the present, each moment, as it comes, because you’ll never get another one quite like it. And if you should ever look up and find yourself lost, simply take a breath and start over. Retrace your steps and go back to the purest place in your heart... where your hope lives. You’ll find your way again.
— Everwood

The original article can be found on the VolleyVerse website. Click here

Three.

It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind the window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses.

Thinking of Connor as I explore Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games. Top left: the Christ Redeemer statue watching over the city.

Three.

A few days ago I landed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Watching the Olympics and being immersed into such a rich and deep culture has been nothing short of amazing. I have had the opportunity to watch many beach and indoor volleyball games with field hockey and athletics coming up soon. Up the Sugarloaf Mountain to take in all the sights of what Rio has to offer. I can see the Christ Redeemer from my balcony. Acai smoothies can be found everywhere. I am the happiest camper and nothing can bring me down. 

Oh wait. What day is it today? I had to catch my breath last night going to sleep, knowing that when I open my eyes tomorrow, it will be three years since Connor passed away. No, please don’t let tomorrow come. Now that it has… what now? Don’t think about it, numb it out, distract yourself, think about him, don’t think about him, ask for help, keep it inside, go exploring, stay in bed. A never ending ferris wheel of emotions. Round and round and round and round you go. 

No. It’s not easier. I thought that saying “time heels everything” would actually mean something in this situation. Maybe time equals 20 years. Half a life time. A full life time. I guess so.. because time is not making anything easier. In fact, the minutes, days, weeks, and years are passing where I haven’t seen Connor. I want to scream, bang my fists against the wall, stop time completely. No. I don’t want to go through what life has to offer without him by my side. No. It’s not easier. 

It shows how powerful grief actually is. Surrounded by the most intense stimulant, the Olympic Games, and yet my mind is always wondering to Connor. “Wouldn’t Con LOVE to see this… He would be BLOWN AWAY by this venue… my brother would be right in there celebrating with the locals…” All of these world-class athletes around me, I can’t help think, or know, that you would have made it too. I brag about you and Stuart all the time; unbelievable athletes that could pick up any sport and within months, be the best. I know one thing is for sure: you would have been one of the best golfers in the world. That’s certain. 

Grief is hard. And it’s not specifically linked to just this one day. It’s everyday. Every damn day. It doesn’t matter that 1095 days have passed, I still think about you all the time. Every damn day. I still wish you were here. Every damn day. And it's not getting any easier.

One article I read today had some specific parts to it that explained things perfectly:

If you were still alive, I wouldn’t have to push the happy memories away, because they’re too painful to replay in my head. I’d just think of them and smile, and then pick up the phone to give you a call.

If you were still alive, I’d have one more person to introduce my boyfriend to. One more person to embarrass me with awkward stories about my childhood. One more person to welcome him into our crazy family.

If you were still alive, there would be one (or two) less tattoos adorning my body. One less date that made me burst into tears every single year. Your birthday would be the only date that reminded me of you, and we’d have a hell of a good time celebrating.

If you were still alive, I wouldn’t have to talk to you through prayers or through my dreams (PS you’re due for a visit, Connor Richey!!). I could send you a text or write you a letter or just show up on your front step in the middle of the night, and you’d be happy to listen to me.

If you were still alive, I wouldn’t have pushed certain people away. There wouldn’t have been a situation that I disappointed them in - an event I just couldn’t make myself go to. And maybe I wouldn’t be so terrified of losing someone again, someone I care about as much as you.

But if you were still alive, I might not have realized that the whole “live each day like it’s your last” mindset is legit. That I need to treasure every moment while I still can and tell my family, friends, boyfriend, that I love them as much as possible.

As much as I miss you, I’m so thankful for what you taught me while you were here, and what you’re continuing to teach me now that you’re gone.

No. It’s not easier. It’s been one hell of a ride and it continues to be. It’s incredibly daunting thinking that for the rest of my life, this week will be the toughest of them all. For the rest of my life, I will be reduced to tears in a single, heart-stopping instance without anything or anyone to warn me. Those little things that remind me so much of you - the strongest reminders that you are still gone. 

A nightmare come true. One we have to live with each and every single day. And most days, that task seems impossible and I won’t be able to do it. I don’t want to bring new people into my life that have to deal with the crazy thing that is my brain. That roller coaster of emotions that I can’t keep level in certain situations. I am a ticking time bomb without knowing how to fix it. Talking through life, pain, grief, with my counsellor this summer - anxiety? It’s never been an issue. But that has come on like a wave crashing down on me and that exact feeling of “I can’t breathe - I’m drowning - swim, Kyla, swim” takes over your body and brain and won’t let you out. 

Hold on. Take a breath. Hands folded together. Head bowed. Pray. Connor I miss you. 

No. It’s not getting easier. I want my little brother back and I want him back for good. 

A life-long game. And I haven’t even begun to learn how to play. 

So as I sit in this wonderful apartment in Rio, my mind is constantly drifting to you. My soul and my heart know that it’s this day faster than my brain does. My heart is constantly reminding me that on this day, three years ago, I was sitting in a chair, holding your hand in the hospital room. Like the older protective sister, not leaving that side of your bed as wave after wave of friends and family came to hang out with you. Came to say goodbye. I never wanted to leave your side. I never wanted to stop holding your hand. Why couldn’t time stand still for us.

We miss you terribly, little brother.

Come visit soon.  

Grief. It never ends... But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith... It is the price of love.
— Unknown

The Next Adventure.

Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that - that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special and if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself.
— Amy Poehler

Baku, Azerbaijan. Photocred: Nelly. 

It’s been about six weeks since arriving to my new home in Baku, Azerbaijan. As usual, I never arrive peacefully. And until about two ago things were still on edge. But a little bit more on that later…

Throwback to the summer with Team Canada. It was the busiest, most tiring, and most exciting summer I have ever had with the team. In five months we traveled to Calgary, Cuba, Peru, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Toronto, Mexico – competing in an exhibition series, Champions Cup, Pan Am Cup (placing 5th - our best finish since 2004), Grand Prix, Pan Am Games, and then the NORCECA Championships. Our two main focuses for the summer were Pan Am Games and the last tournament, the NORCECA Championships. Playing in front of a home crowd (Pan Am Games) during such a high caliber tournament was really a once in a lifetime experience. Toronto did an amazing job getting ready for the Games and everything went so smoothly when we were there - huge thanks to all the organizers and wonderful volunteers. The athlete’s village was unreal. The highlights were definitely our Canada House, the games tent, meeting a bunch of wonderful people at the Faith Center, people-watching in the massive dinner hall, meeting all the incredible Canadian athletes from various sports, making new friends from other countries, our "Canada Moose", and (my personal favourite) the CIBC café that would serve all types of delicious coffee, treats, and smoothies all day. Oh, and the full beauty salon that was taking place beside that… free haircuts and manicures. Overwhelming joy! I got to take my little Jenny Cakes (aka Jenns Lundquist) to her first pampering-session. So. Fun. Casually met Justin Trudeau in the dinner hall when he was wandering around being all cool and stuff. On one of our last nights a couple of my teammates and I went to the “off campus” Canada House to see what was going on. It ended up being the medal ceremony for the Men’s Canada Basketball Team (I swear we didn’t plan that). Bumped in to Steve Nash but we were all too panicky and star struck that we literally ran away. Tough one. We somehow ended up meeting up with the team later that night at a club that was too busy to get in to, but “no problem… say you’re with Team Canada Basketball. Steve will get you in”. Steve Nash? Our new friend, Steve. Alright then. Suddenly we were pulled out from the insane crowd, escorted past the inside lineups and into the club, hung out with new friends, and then finished the evening off somewhere in the middle of raiding a Nike warehouse (legally you guys… come on now) and getting a full restaurant spread sent to us in the lobby of some hotel downtown. My life is cool sometimes. However, that’s about all I can say on that matter. Saarrry. 

My parents were able to come and stay for the whole Pan Ams and it was so great to have them there in the stands. As usual, the parent support we had during the tournament was unreal. Even the support we received from the general public in Toronto, and friends, family, and the volleyball community across the country was overwhelming. Thanks to everyone again for all the love, especially when we did not finish where we had planned. Our goal was to get into the semi-finals and make a run for a medal but unfortunately due to a last minute upset with Cuba beating out Dominican, we dropped from second to fourth in our pool. My teammates and I were extremely disappointed. Personally, it was the most upset I think I have ever been after a loss (dropping to Argentina when we could have secured ourselves in the quarters, when the previous game we played so well against Cuba). I was back at the Canada House watching Cuba vs. Dominican on TV, watching our fate unfold. It was a heartbreaking moment. We had two days off after that, one being completely free to regroup and the following day to have a normal practice to prepare for Peru. I actually had to leave two separate times during practice because I couldn’t stop crying. Hold it together, Kyla, for goodness sake. Mmmm nope. It cut me to the core. Unfortunately we were unable to regroup for Peru; a devastating way to finish such an amazing tournament. However, we had to find a way to become a stronger team after this because our next tournament was NORCECA Championships in Mexico where we had to finish top four in order to qualify for the Olympic Qualifiers, taking place this coming January. There was a lot of pressure riding on these games and this tournament. If we didn’t qualify then the quad was effectively over – our Olympic dreams would be finished and therefore some players would be ending their careers. We were given a few weeks off after Pan Am Games to rest (our first break all summer!) and sit in the sun for a couple days before coming back to train for this tournament. Once we got back however, I feel like our team got put through the ringer in terms of trying to make ourselves and each other better, having unresolved pain and disappointment from Pan Am Games, and a bit of stress and pressure on thoughts of the upcoming tournament. We had a few weeks of pretty strenuous and difficult practices. Not even including the volleyball side of things. But we got through and became stronger for it. We were able to go into NORCECAS and win a 5-set thriller vs. Cuba in game one that would essentially keep us from finishing at the bottom of our pool. We had a tough crossover (after pool play) against a feisty Mexican team that had the home crowd behind them - a must win game to continue on. We ended up just defeating them in 5 as well. Holy stress. Because of these two major wins we were able to finish fourth, qualifying us for the Olympic Qualifiers in January – our biggest goal of the summer. Definitely had some amazing wins and a lifetime of crazy memories just from this summer alone. I am most proud of my team for battling during the hardest times; questionable food on the road, cockroaches falling on me in Cuba during our video session, bedbugs, 14-16hour flying days across North America, sticking together when the pressure was on, battling it out when it was do-or-die, staying together as a team through some pretty tough losses, and recognizing that our success at the very end of the summer was more than just the 14 traveling players. We are, yet again, spread out all around the world in some pretty awesome and prestigious professional clubs. Because of the qualifier in January, our European clubs have to release us at the end of December so we can fly back to Winnipeg and train together for about a week. After that, we hop down to Nebraska to play three games against the USA, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. The winner of this tournament will automatically qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics. The second and third place teams get re-pooled into backdoor tournaments in May, and the team that finishes fourth does not advance. Second place goes to Japan with four Asian teams, two European teams, and one South American team. Third place will host against two African teams and one South American team. It’s another tough task but one that I completely believe that we can accomplish. We’ve been working so hard over the last seven years to take this team to the next level and this group has been such a solid foundation during this quad. Now it’s definitely our time. I am already ecstatic about being reunited with the girls at the end of December. Only three more weeks to go!  

Take every chance in life, because some things only happen once.

I am currently writing this post at Gloria Jean’s… my new favourite American coffee shop. No Starbucks around me so this is filling that void. Arrived in Baku about a month and a half ago in true Kyla-fashion. When I say that, I am referring to the abnormal, absolutely crazy scheduling, stressful, hustle-and-bustle that usually follows me around when I am trying to move across the world. To make things really interesting, I stayed in Mexico for a few days after the NORCECA tournament in Morelia, Mexico with my travel buddies, Britt and Marisa. We flew to Acapulco after saying goodbye to our teammates (although only some because I was still thinking I would be at TC Full-Time Training Center in the fall). Because of our fairy-godfather we didn’t have to pay for much on this vacation and after a couple days in a smaller resort, we got hooked up with a private villa. Personal chef and butler included. Repeat: I love my life. However, in the middle of this trip I heard of the opening on a team in Baku and the following day had verbally committed to the team. Happy dance. Pause. I am in MEXICO. Pause. Panic. Stress. Classic. Luckily I had already planned to fly to Winnipeg and drive my car back to Vancouver as I didn’t think my little VW would survive Winterpeg’s death winter. I had two hours of sleep the night before I flew out from Accapulco (trying to organize and get a flight that would allow me to arrive in Winnipeg the following day, not a full day later). Mama Jan was flying in to Winnipeg at 5pm that day so we could spend some quality time together while we blitzed across half of the country in two days. Thankfully, after many stressful hours, I got a flight that would get me into Winnipeg at 11pm that night – doable. I told mother directions to the best Pho place and tried to make sure she would be okay hanging in the Peg solo for the evening. Texted our favorite Mexican taxi driver aka private chauffeur at 2am to make sure he could grab me from inside the double-gated residence-complex and drive me to the airport a few hours later. Check. Two hours of sleep. Check. Half-delirious goodbyes to Britty and Reese (almost started crying… quick, start the caaaar!). Check. Arrive at the airport and my reservation magically exists. Thank goodness. Arrived too early but that’s better than missing it. Oh wait... surprise!, flight is delayed an hour and half because of the fog in Mexico City. Check check. Good thing my layover in Mexico City was long. Arrival. Confusion as to where the heck I am suppose to go for an international flight. Walk back and forth a few hundred times. Check. On to Toronto… a little delayed. Weird. This is where things get fun. After stopping at David’s Tea to collect some favourites and spend an obnoxious amount of money on tea (it's worth it thought), I made my way over to the gate. We eventually were told that the flight was delayed coming in (which seems to be the story of my day… I mean life). It FINALLY got there, boarding went smoothly, everyone’s snuggled away in their seat, and I am aggressively reading, trying to finish the GoldenFinch so I don’t have to lug the 5kg book to Europe. It was really rainy and gross outside which worried me a bit but I kept my fingers crossed. Then the pilot came on saying the air circulation needed… fixing? Adjusting? Anyhow, some special thing was needed to come and connect to the plane to get that going. 45 minutes. Call mom. Pilot: that didn’t work so we need to bring in a second one. 50 minutes. Call mom. Okay things are good… we get rolling and pull out from the gate… Pilot: "psych". The windshield wipers aren’t working so everyone has to get off the plane and board a new one. Call mom. Good times had by all. Shuffle off the plane, find the new gate, wait another 40 minutes until they’ve got this one ready for us, board, snuggle, read book feverishly, pull out from the gate, pilot: I’m really sorry ladies and gentlemen but if you can believe it, we are having the exact same problem on this plane as the last one. We’re going to need to get off this plane as well. WHO made these windshield wipers? Call mom. This is a sick joke. Everyone off the plane. Call mom. Use my 15$ food coupon at Starbucks because by this time all the stores are closed. Another 60 minutes to wait for the THIRD plane. Text mom. “I’ll take a cab home, you sleep”. Third time’s the charm I guess and by this time I was just laughing. Really, my luck with flights is so disturbing. I got in to Winnipeg at about 3:30 am and was at home just before 4 am. The fun thing about this part of the story is I still had to completely pack up my room and store all my stuff. 4 to 7 am consisted of me doing just that. Unpack my suitcases from Mexico, do two loads of laundry, pack up suitcases of summer clothes, volleyball clothes that I’ll need in December, bathroom stuff, kitchen stuff, food cupboard, repack a suitcase of things I was taking with me in the car and one for Europe, slash organize life. 7am rolls around and Mom wakes up. Good morning! 30 minutes later we were on the road. Delirious. I figured that I would crash in the afternoon so to save Mom from driving the entire day I started the first leg. Leaving Winnipeg heading to Brandon… sirens. Oh crap. Yeup. My first time being pulled over. Clearly this guy had not had his morning coffee because he was pretty distraught on the fact that I was speeding. I just sat there like a scolded child. He took much too long plugging in all my information and I had flash-forwards to them impounding my car and me being REALLY screwed. It just ended up being a $675 speeding ticket. Casual. That’s nice sir, thank you for that. Don’t think, just drive. Continue on. Double espresso venti latte in Brandon and at every Starbucks from there to Vancouver. A little stop over in Calgary (yay for sleep! Finally!) and then on to Kamloops the next day to spend time with baby Stu and Dad who had driven up a few days ago. Family friends let us bombard their home for that evening (they even cooked us a lasanga!) and I went down to stay at baby Stu’s glorified-fraternity house. Oh, how I miss university life. The next day was the most perfect fall-family-fun day. A light 10km run in the morning (I was unfortunately solo for that part), brunch at our favourite restaurant, a walk on the river and through the park, and back to our friend’s place for a little bit more time together. Afternoon rolls around and it’s time to drive to Vancouver. Dad came with me so we could get our father-daughter time and then once in Vancouver, Mom collected him and they went back to the coast. I went to the airport to pick up my man – coming off of their golden NORCECA tournament (congrats, guys!), and then drove back to Langley. There for a day and a half. Bliss. Bliss interrupted with a ticket from Baku – surprise: you’re leave in a day and a half.

Driving to the ferry - the last look of the Coast for the next 7 months.

Sweet. I should probably get organized. Tuesday morning: drive to the ferry, get to the Coast, run errands all afternoon, finally head home to have dinner with the parents, unpack, repack, Europe suitcases are packed in less than two hours, sleep (aka nap), and the next morning mom and I are up at 6:45am and on the 8:20am ferry heading to the airport.

If you didn’t read my last year's flight-to-Europe-nightmare you can read it here. Even though I made sure to arrive with enough extra time, flying with Turkish airlines after last year's mess still gave me a bit of anxiety. Walking to the check in counters I saw the lady that had dealt with me last year. That didn’t make me feel good. New girl. New karma. Chill. The flight path wasn’t going to be the most fun as I was flying Vancouver to Toronto to Istanbul (with a 9 hour layover) and then on to Tbilisi, Georgia. I had to go there first to get a visa for Azerbaijan. However, new check-in-girl asked for my flight leaving Georgia. Dude, I don’t have one - I need to get my visa first. Okay, well they wont let you in to Georgia if you don’t have a flight out of the country. Okay, well I don’t have one and am only staying for a day until I get it. Okay, well I can’t check you in without out. HOLY HECK WHY. Mom went in full panic mode after I wasn’t checked in within the first 25 minutes and came over and had a bit of a stress-break-down. I can laugh about this situation now but at the time I was ready to join her. A more experienced sir came over after 45 minutes with my first lady to try and help and check me in, but alas, could not do it without proof of me leaving Georgia. Meanwhile precious minutes are ticking down until the cutoff time. Flashbacks. Sweats. Not again. Still keeping my cool (not really sure how I did that) I texted my manager with my Baku team, Ilgar, and told him the situation. Luckily he doesn’t sleep and I had a response within minutes. He said it shouldn’t be a problem and just tell them suchandsuch. No no, I really need this or else they aren’t going to let me on this flight and we have about a 20minute window. Okay. Panic from his end. Within 10 minutes I had a flight booked out of Tbilisi to Canada and then minutes later I had another one sent to me going to Baku a couple days later. Covering all angles. Just in case. At least they get stuff done. Mr. Kind Sir put some special sticker on my boarding pass so I could bypass all the lines thru security and good thing he did because by this time I was reeeeeal late. Goodbyes to Mom. Tears. Check. Always. 6hour flight to Toronto. Check. 11hour flight to Istanbul. Check. 9hours walking the small-uninteresting airport, drinking multiple Starbucks, hanging out in a lounge, writing Megan’s blog, then finally boarding the flight at midnight. Arrival in Tbilisi at 3:30am. Meet random person from the club I didn’t know. Check. Drive around for 2hours trying to find a hotel. Check. Get lost. Check. Private midnight tour? 4hour nap then picked up in the morning to go deal with visa stuff, which ended up being on a small random street in a little hole-in-the-wall room no bigger than my European-style hotel bathroom. Someone took me outside, put a camera in my face and said “do not be afraid, this is Azerbaijan." 1) You were really in my personal space and I wasn’t expecting that 2) we’re standing outside – isn’t this photo suppose to be taken in front of a white background? 3) This is actually not Azerbaijan, it’s Georgia 4) I am in fact afraid of you. A couple of meals and a lot of coffee later, we found out that the visa wouldn’t be processed until Monday. It was Friday. As irritating as it was to not have the visa in my hand, I was actually pretty content to stay in one place for more than twenty hours. It felt like I hadn't slept in two weeks which was in actuality, absolutely true. Plus, it was during a Georgian national holiday so everyone was out and about celebrating which was fun. Scroll down a little to see some photos of the city. When was I planning on visiting Georgia in my lifetime? Now I had a 4-day vacation in a pretty cool city. The weekend consisted of lots of exploring (I was right in the downtown area of Tbilisi and the main areas were all within walking distance), dinners with Amil (we became best buds), a few workouts, and of course, finding the best coffee shops. Monday rolled around and Amil and I were back at the glorified visa office, but with more success this time around! Visa! Check. However, I wasn’t going to get off that easy. Flights to Baku were sold out for the evening as well as for the following day. The solution: we would drive from Tbilisi to Baku. Nothing in life will phase me anymore. I was under the impression that the drive was 6hours but once we were on the road we had to stop at Amil’s village to pick up some of his things and stop at a few random places to grab “special cheese” for Ilgar and “special wine” for the coaching staff. Amil’s village (where his family lived) was so out of the way but it was so fascinating to see how some people are living so far from any sort of town or civilization. They were fully living off the land. Weaving in and out of dirt roads, we encountered about five different herds of animals which effectively blocked the road for a good number of minutes. I loved it. 6hours quickly turned to 9hours. We covered some major miles and were passing along near the Armenian boarder… didn’t ever think I would be doing that in my lifetime. It took a couple of hours to cross through the Georgian-Azerbaijani boarder but it was successful nonetheless. We got in to Baku at around 4am, picked up Ilgar so he could let me in to my new apartment, I slept until about 1pm the next day, and then was off to practice with my new teammates in the evening. I guess the rest is history!

There were times of lonliness combined with frustration - it’s hard to foster connections when you don’t speak the language or really know what’s going on around you. Though there are struggles, I was forced to become open to vulnerability and explore new (and old) parts of myself. I highly recommend risk and discomfort of jumping into a new culture. Wander. Get lost. It connects me deeper with the city and my community - it’s another form of communication.

    Since arriving, there have definitely been a few ups and downs (what would professional sports be without those!). I am pretty convinced that I could play anywhere in the world if I could eliminate that first week. Don't get me wrong - it's definitely an exciting time. However, I take a lot from the connections I make with people and obviously in that first week you don't know anybody, you don't understand how things work within the club or your new city, and you're virtually always lost for a good chunk of time. Not many people speak English in Baku - that's always an interesting time. Even within our team, there are a lot of translations going on in practices and meetings (and who knows if we're getting the full story!). I just find it pretty lonely having always come off of a National Team tournament and busy summer with the girls. Suddenly I'm all alone in a foreign place with not a lot of things to distract my brain - which can be a bit dangerous. That first week is a hard adjustment for me to make as I'm missing my family dearly and forced into the realization that I cannot reach out to Connor. Pro seasons give me too much time to think.

But alas! Once I'm settled in, I'm okay. I can adjust. I can play, I can make friends, and I can be excited about what's to come during this new season. The first thing you have to get used to when playing here in Baku is the lack of a concrete schedule. We started our SuperLeague a few weeks after all the European leagues started, as they were trying to add another team to our league, and just straight up hadn’t organized it yet. There are four SuperLeague teams all of which train in Baku. Azeryol (my team), Azerail (our sister team that practices in the same gym as us), Telekom, and Lokomotiv, and the Junior Azerbaijan National team and Georgian National team have joined our league. My team is also playing in CEV and the other three SuperLeague teams are also competing in Champions League. Our first game as a team was also our first CEV match in Targoviste, Romania (photos below). We ended up losing that game which put a lot of pressure on us for the following match when they came to play us at home. We had to win in 3 or 4 in order to force a golden set (after the game is done, a golden set is played to determine the winner – a “winner takes all” set to 15 for all the marbles). We did it – and ended up winning 15-13 in the golden set. Slight stress. At the moment we are 4-2 in the league and are heading to Finland next week for the second round of CEV. Just over a week ago our coach got released from the team and our assistant coach stepped into the head position. Despite this disruption, our team luckily didn’t skip a beat in terms of training hard and keeping our positive atmosphere on and off the court. Regardless of having three different languages constantly going on at the same time – Azerbaijani, Russian, and English - our team is more ‘together’ than I would have expected. It’s so interesting to me that even if you don’t speak a word of the same language with a teammate, you can still come to really care for them as a person and actually communicate quite a bit. Hand-signals for the win. 

Friendsgiving in Baku! #merica

At the time of Canadian Thanksgiving I was frantically driving across Canada to get home so I wasn’t able to celebrate it. I absolutely ADORE thanksgiving and it’s becoming one of my most favourite holidays. I am super fortunate to have three American’s on my team, and one honorary-North American (who’s actually from Germany) which makes up my “American Mafia” crew. I love them. So for American Thanksgiving, we had the day off and cooked an absolute feast. We started preparations the night before and all got together at Lauren and Janelle’s apartment at noon the following day. We really outdid ourselves and the spread looked like something out of Canadian Living magazineOr American Living. Whatever. It tasted like heaven. It was probably the most delicious thanksgiving meal I’ve had. Ever. Wife us up, folks – we nailed it. 

Janelle also informed me not too long ago, that she had come across my blog during the first couple months she was here for pre-season training. A few months later, when the club announced that I would be joining us she realized that it was meeee! "How long do I wait until I tell Kyla that I know her entire life story?" She definitely waited a good long while to tell me (such a creeeeep) but we had a good laugh. Oh, how the world works! 

Three more weeks to go – a handful of league games, a trip to Finland, off for a little Christmas break, on to Winnipeg for National Team training, bus to Nebraska for Olympic Qualifiers, then fly back to Baku for the second half of the professional season! Busy, busy, always non-stop but there’s so many exciting things packed into this next month and a half, especially - I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

Check out some more photos and more tidbits of information on life in Baku right here. I will be adding to it as the season progresses! Keep checking back for the latest shenanigans. 

The only way to live a remarkable life is not to get everyone to notice you, but to leave noticeable marks of love everywhere you go.

Right after we won 15-13 in the golden set vs. Targoviste, Romania. 

Meet Your Team - Megan Cyr

Megan Cyr | #17 | Position: Setter | International Matches: 24 | Hometown: Selkirk, MB | Nicknames: Megs, Meggy-Meg, Cyr, Meggie-Fresh 

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our mind has changed, and that changes everything.
— Jonah Lehrer

I am super happy to have the chance to write this post about Meg. A lot has happened since I was rooming with Megan at the end of last summer for Grand Prix. I remember that time in Argentina as being especially difficult for multiple reasons; we were just finishing up three weeks on the road, we were out in the boonies somewhere in Argentina, and Connor’s one-year anniversary was comin' around the corner. However, with a teammate and (luckily) roommate like Megan, it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been. She has the ability to make anyone around her burst out in fits of giggles and bring the best out in everyone, on and off the court. She is hands down the most hilarious individual I know - her actions, her stories (you get to read a couple of them at the end of this post), and anything out of her mouth is just pure gold. Rooming with her was filled with extra workouts together, morning jogs around the hotel’s “back sixty”/farm lands (I know.. we're weird), recording the sleep-talking conversations that were happening at night, talking about sugar addictions (it’s so real), and really in-depth conversations about life. Shortly after Grand Prix, we found ourselves at World Championships in Italy, which was an incredible experience. That week however, Megan got some devastating news; her best friend’s dad had passed away. Both their families were incredibly close and more than once Megan had referred to her friend’s father as her second dad. Needless to say, it really shook her. She spent a lot of time in mine and Dana’s room as we talked things together and tried to make sense of it all. Her heart is so kind and so strong. Her biggest concern was if she stayed in Italy with us, how could she be supporting the families the way her heart wanted to, but if she left, what that would mean for us. In the end, she finished World Championships and did it with a little more fight and passion. She had told me before that she felt he was and is really with her. That volleyball is what he would want her to be doing. 

Team History:

  • 2011 - present: Team Canada Volleyball
  • 2014 - present: Viteos NUC (Neuchatel, Switzerland) 
  • 2013 - 2014: Allianz MTV Stuttgart (Stuttgart, Germany)
  • 2013: ASKO Linz-Steg (Linz, Austria)
  • 2010 - 2012: NC State University 
  • 2008 - 2010: University of Colorado 
  • 2008: Junior National Team, 2006: Youth National Team 

Meggy-Meg is really an incredible athlete. She grew up and went to school in Selkirk, Manitoba and played every sport that was offered. Her main passion was figure skating but once sports started becoming more time consuming, she decided to focus her energy on basketball and volleyball. At 14 she made both the volleyball and basketball provincial teams but had to choose which one to pursue. How did she decide you ask? Volleyball has less running. So that was that. The summer of 2006, Megan made the Youth National Team and competed in the NORCECA Championship in Florida. She mentions that this was a very large eye-opener for her; it was her first summer away from home and training at the U of M. Despite stepping way out of her comfort zone she was so inspired and took photos of everything – the campus, the people, the stores, and finally decided that she would play college volleyball in the States. Meg went to Lord Selkirk Comprehensive High-school and won the AAAA Provincial High-school Championships every year. They created a club team, which consisted of a lot of their high school team and a few other players from surrounding areas. One special teammate was Tabi Love, who is our starting right side on the National Team. Their club team won club nationals two years in a row in 2007 and 2008. Both girls were huge parts of those wins (and their incredible on-court connection is still so present to this day). After finishing high school with some prestigious awards, she went down to the University of Colorado in Boulder after falling in love with the school during a few on-campus visits the previous year. The summer before heading down to CU, Megan competed with the Junior National Team and then went straight down to Colorado to effectively begin her college career. However, upon arrival her coach told her that she would be red-shirting her first year. Not many star athletes would rise to this new challenge, especially coming off of an incredibly star-studded high school career... but Meg did. Asking her about it she replied with, "I didn’t really know what that [red-shirting] meant but I am so thankful that coach decided to do it. I spent the entire season on the bench and was essentially a practice player. It allowed me to have an extra year of eligibility which I was so thankful for." A hidden blessing as the next year their coaches got fired and as the new ones came in, they were ready to force a large turnover within the team. The year was a disaster to say the least. It was Megan’s first year to play and she remembers losing all confidence in herself and her skills that year. She was emotionally beat down and was forced to play almost every position; setter, defensive specialist, serving sub, and her debut as a middle blocker (I hope we can dig up a highlight reel). Her coaches put her in as a middle against one of the best teams in the Big 12… not her favourite life experience. After barely surviving through her (real) freshman season and being told that 80% of the team’s scholarships would be taken away, Megan transferred to North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The coaches, teammates, and community were so supportive, and it was just what I needed to regain my confidence and become the player I used to be. My first year there was a transition, but by my fourth and fifth year I was playing at the level I always knew I was capable of.

Throughout her five years of college, Meg was back every summer to train with our Canadian National Team. The first summer she was training with the B team, the next summer she made the A team but went back to college early for spring/summer training, and then last year she was part of our Senior A team and traveled to all the major competitions, including World Championships. Two years ago was Megan’s first professional stint playing volleyball abroad. She played in Stuttgart, Germany with Canadian teammate, Becky Pavan, and last year in Neuchatel, Switzerland. This fall she has rejoined her Swiss team.

Megan is truly a special teammate. She’s one of those players that keeps her head down and works as hard as she possibly can. She’s never one to point fingers and she’s too busy worrying about how she can make the next set better for her hitters. She's a be-in-the-moment individual; either all in or out. Unfortunately at the beginning of this summer, Meggy started questioning her love for the game. She decided to take a step back from our National Team program to give herself the opportunity to really see what she wanted to pursue in life (you can read more about it here). Days later she realized she had made the wrong decision; she wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. As our training in Winnipeg had already started, Megan had to live with her decision and in doing so, kept busy with friends, family, and coaching throughout the summer. She resigned at her Swiss club and went to join them at the end of August for pre-season. Near the end of the summer, our starting setter Jen was struggling with a knee injury. With our third setter back at school we only had one setter (Dani) in practice for a couple of weeks which made it a tad more difficult to practice the things we needed to. Megan was contacted and asked if she would be willing to temporarily leave her club in Switzerland and fly back to Winnipeg to train with the team. She said yes instantly. Even though it was not guaranteed she would travel with the team (as it was all dependent on Jenn’s injury), Megan was still jumping at the chance to be presented with this opportunity. A few days later, she was on the plane back to Winnipeg and back on the court with us. She came in to our team with a fresh perspective and positive mindset. To see all of my teammates react so positively to her return was very reassuring to me. She allows her teammates to have the capacity to make mistakes and learn from them, all the while still supporting them throughout practices and games. It's tough to be able to describe this extremely special teammate and friend in a blog post, but if you ever have the opportunity to meet her, even if only for a few seconds, you'll completely understand where I'm coming from.

Awards: 

  • 2008 AAAA Female Athlete of the Year; the #1 ranked volleyball player and #9 ranked basketball player in the province of Manitoba , Top Female Volleyball Player
  • Recipient of an ACC Post-Graduate Award – the Weaver-Japnes-Corrigan Award (given to 41 graduating student-athletes in the conference for graduate school) 

Fan Fun Facts

  1. What have you learned from taking a step back this summer? "Oh boy. I have learned more about volleyball, my athletic career, and myself as a person than I ever thought I could. In short, I learned that volleyball is my gift. I have been given this ability to play for a reason and I need to do as much as I can with it while I am still able to. I learned that my athletic career has had its ups and downs. I feel like I still have not reached my full potential and there are many more highs and beautiful things to experience. I learned that I never really knew why I was playing volleyball before this summer. I felt like I was in a cycle but did not know my purpose. After having a lot of time with my thoughts and emotions I have figured out why I play and who I play for. I play because I can and I play for those who cannot."
  2. What’s the best thing about Team Canada? "Hands down the best thing are the girls. I missed them so much this summer and my heart was broken. Even though I lived 45 minutes from everyone, it was too hard to see them and not be a part of the team. I feel like I have my family back. The second best thing about being a member of Team Canada is the ability to inspire. This is something I took for granted prior to my decision this summer. I did not realize how much power I had to inspire and motivate kids, teenagers, and adults around the world. I feel like up until this point I have never used my gift to the full extent and I am more motivated than ever to do something great with volleyball. I have lots of ideas on ways to give back and may be teaming up with another Team Canada member... so stay tuned!"
  3. What are your thoughts on the team going into Norcecas? "I am beyond excited for this group because I know that this team has everything it takes to qualify. It does not matter what has happened up until this point. All that matters is that we come together at the right moment. I know that these girls can do that and I feel confident and ready to compete if given the chance. This team has talent and a lot of heart; it is not going to take anything miraculous to qualify - if we put our best foot forward there is no stopping us". (And yay we did qualify!) 
  4. Most inspirational person? "The most inspirational person in my life changes all the time. Currently, I get every day inspiration from two people; my Grandpa Shaw who is battling cancer and my best friend Madison Sutherland who has been through more than most should go through at her age. Both of these people exemplify strength and courage. Despite their circumstances they both always have a smile on their face and continue to live life to the fullest. My Grandpa is in a lot of pain and has slowed down a lot this past year, but I will never hear him complain or feel sorry for himself. He is constantly uplifting to me and exemplifies everything it means to be a husband, father, and grandfather. Every time I start to feel down I just think about my grandpa or Madison and everything is once again put into perspective. Madison is one of the kindest and most caring souls you will ever meet. She is a warrior and inspires everybody around her. I just recently visited her at her school where she is in her first year of teaching and I am so proud of how far she has come in one year and how she has not stopped pursuing her goals throughout adversity.
  5. No judgement on the story to follow: "I hit a cyclist with my car in college [I said no judgement]. Someone above must have been watching out for us because I hit him so hard and he flew into the highway, but somehow was perfectly fine. In fact, after I got out of my car my legs collapsed and I fell to the ground balling my eyes out, and HE ran over to me to make sure I was okay. The cyclist had a red slushie in his hands so when he hit my front windshield, all I saw was red liquid flying everywhere. I swore it was blood. His bike was in shambles but the cops felt too bad for me to actually give me a ticket and the cyclist was the nicest guy I could have ever hit." Casual story. No judgement, Megan.
  6. Meg graduated with a bachelor in Communications and minor in Journalism.
  7. She loves baking and cooking - any chance to bake for her teams, she will (yes please!). The last couple years playing overseas have her believing that her cooking is restaurant worthy. And it probably is. 
  8. Figure skating was the first sport Meg fell in love with and competed at a high level until, as she so eloquently puts it, "hit my growth spurt at 13 or 14 and then things just got awkward."
  9. What do you want to do when you’re finished volleyball? "When I finish volleyball I want to inspire. Originally, I wanted to go to graduate school, be a graduate assistant coach with the school volleyball team, and then eventually coach. After coaching I would love to pursue a career in counseling. I still want to do all of those things one day, but before I do, I want to give back. I want to change lives and inspire kids. Sometimes I feel guilty for all the opportunities I have been given because I ,feel like so many people have helped me out my entire life and it makes me sad that so many kids have no one in their corner. I need to do something greater than myself and greater than the sport of volleyball before I step into a career."
  10. She’s a “live in the moment” individual. Having decisions already made stress her out. A lot. She would much rather “fly by the seat of her pants".
  11. Meg gets mad cases of food-envy. The last time Dana and I went to brunch with her, we all had to order the same thing just to make it easier for everyone. 
  12. She desperately wants to go viral.
  13. Ordering from Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory, and getting a manicure, all cause Meg anxiety. She says that she always ends up choosing the wrong colour, the wrong drink, or the wrong kind of cake.
  14. "I had a near death experience driving up North to Swan River, Manitoba. I was on a two lane highway going 110km/hr when I was approaching an oncoming truck. We were getting close when all of a sudden a massive (MASSIVE) couch flew out of the back of his truck and came spinning in the air at my windshield. It all happened so fast and so slow at the same time. Fast because I couldn't do anything except drive straight and keep my foot on the gas and slow because I saw the couch basically lift up over my car, fly over top as I watched it soar above my sun roof, and then crash down to the highway directly behind my car. It took me a good ten seconds to realize what had happened and then pulled over and cried my eyes out. I swore I had an angel lift the couch up over my car that day." Only Megan. 
  15. Meg adores her four grandparents. She has lived 15 minutes away from them her whole life and they are the first people she sees when she comes home. "The greatest humans I have ever known and will ever know. I try to talk to them at least once every 1 - 2 weeks while I am overseas." 
  16. Her parents make the best brunches / feasts. And send the BEST care packages eveeerrrrrrrrr! 
  17. As stated previously, she has a sugar addiction. She once bought chocolate on the road and had to air-tight siran-wrap these goodies so she wouldn’t be able to eat them (all). 
  18. Her parents live in Selkirk, Manitoba which is about a 45min drive from our practice gym at the university, which she drives every morning.
  19. Her dance moves. Here
  20. Megan’s good friends started a bakery called Jenna Rae Cakes (& once worked as their dishwasher when they were short staffed). At least 30-50% of our team stops in for some goodies once a week. We’re thinking of making them an official sponsor… 
  21. Anything that pops in to Megan’s brain, she’ll say it out loud. 
  22. "I think people, friends, family, relationships, and connections are my favourite things on this earth. So humans are my favourite. However, I would not consider myself an extrovert. Or maybe I am... I don't know. I am quite complex don't you think?"
  23. Meg hates making plans and will avoid doing so at all costs. She understands that she is a tad scatterbrained... indecisive... and just straight up hates committing to things with a definitive yes. It's best to make plans with her ten minutes in advance.
  24. She doesn't have a favourite food or favourite colour because there are just too many to choose from, and well, her mind changes all the time.
  25. "My childhood was pretty standard. I fell off my chair at the dinner table on a daily basis, tortured the crap out of my cat "Smudgie" (see the cat photo at the top of the article... and her mischievous grin... poor Smudgie...) because I just loved her so much, and regularly dressed up in the strangest attire and talked with my stuffed animals as if they were humans. My parents were a bit concerned, but I managed to turn out okay."

No comment, Meg. 


Instagram: ysocyrious
Snapchat: meg_cyr
Blog: thepathimon.weebly.com

Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is timing. It waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.
— Fulton J. Sheen

Grief. My Way.

I know you’ve lost someone and it hurts. You may have lost them suddenly, unexpectedly. Or perhaps you began losing pieces of them until one day, there was nothing left. You may have known them all your life or may have barely known them at all. Either way, it is irrelevant – you cannot control the depth of a wound another soul inflicts upon you. Which is why I am not here to tell you tomorrow is another day. That the sun will go on shining. What I will tell you is this; it’s okay to be hurting as much as you are. What you are feeling is not only completely valid but necessary – because it makes you so much more human. And though I can’t promise it will get better any time soon, I can tell you that it will – eventually. For now, all you can do is take your time. Take all the time you need.
— Lang Leav
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.
— C.S. Lewis

For the amount of things that we are taught in grade school, I have to say that the most important life lessons are kept hidden. Or at least, nobody is openly sharing them. For starters, nobody talks about grief. Nobody is openly sharing how to deal with it. Not many people will straight up say that they’re having a shitty day and that they just spent the last 4 hours sobbing in a corner of their bedroom. This day and age, perfection is what we strive for. Whether it’s in our relationships, our family life, our work, at the gym, in our home, perfect is what we want. With social media, it’s even easier to look at the next post and see someone who’s fitter, more beautiful, in a better relationship than you, happier. Compare compare compare and the standard is perfection. Pretty hard to live up to if you ask me. But hey, we fall in to that and I’m as guilty as the next person. I’m not going to Instagram a picture of a tear-stained pillow, or tweet about the fact that I just sucked down tears in between my squat-sets. We just don’t do that… people don’t know what to do with grieving individuals. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. So we lock it away. We slap a smile on our face and pretend like we’re coping. Doing fine. We throw ourselves into our work, into each other’s problems so we don’t have to focus on our own. People assume that we’re okay… and then when we aren’t, it’s a surprise. “It looks like you’re doing great – you seem so happy!”. Do I? Or did you see me in passing where I flashed you a grin and you assumed. Or are you looking at my social media, where again, it’s all butterflies and rainbows. Don’t get me wrong either – those posts are coming from a good place but let’s not be fooled by each other’s slapped-on smiles. Time goes on for everyone else, whereas our world has been suddenly torn to shreds and we are forced to reorient ourselves and survive. People stop asking after a few months, a few years. Yet, the kicker is, when someone actually stops and ask how we are… no…. how we REALLY are, there’s a bit of resentment. How can I possibly be okay? The same goes when people try to take something from their life and give advice; try to put our grief on a parallel to theirs. That doesn’t seem fair but it’s the honest truth. Sometimes it’s helpful. And sometimes the advice creates this unnecessary expectation that their lives should look like ours. Or ours like theirs. And that’s just not fair.

Sometimes smiling is the greatest act of defiance, and sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance. Sometimes the best medicine is to just laugh until you cry, and sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from accepting you will just never know why. Sometimes just going to bed is the best antidote to trails and tribulations, and sometimes just being blessed to get up again and face it all, for one more day, is worthy of celebration.
— Cory Booker
 My wonderful family at the CR Memorial Golf Tournament last weekend.

My wonderful family at the CR Memorial Golf Tournament last weekend.

The other weekend at church, the pastor explained this perfectly. Wierd how that timing always seems to work out. He was talking about a life disruption vs. a life interruption. An interruption happens to everyone at some point in your life but you’re able to get back to the way life was. A disruption, on the other hand, is a life crisis that disrupts your life so invasively and breaks up your life’s course, that you can never go back to the same process. To find meaning in your suffering means you have survived. “To live is to suffer; if life has meaning then all the suffering in life has a meaning too.” Unfortunately, you don't usually come to that realization on your own. Unfortunately, it’s often death that forces us to start living and grief is the constant, daily reminder.

These past few months have been especially tough. I have constantly been reminded of how fragile life is. Repeatedly. One thing after another, my heart has been aching for everyone during these times. My heart is heavy. I had a friend recently share with me that “people expect that this sadness is just a phase that I can grow out of." I had a different friend tell me that people will ask "is Kyla better now?" I’m sorry to tell everyone that no it’s not something we can grow out of. No, we won't just wake up cured. We don’t grow out of anything, we just grow up. Quickly. Which is hard, because for me personally, I feel like a different person than I was four, three, two, years ago and I don’t understand how people can think or expect me to be the same. But again, not everyone understands that and in fact, it’s pretty hard to do so. Regardless, still to this day, it amazes me how many people can hurt me so deeply. How badly they just do not understand that I am different, I have different values and priorities, that things have changed. Those that have gone through some type of trauma know that the grief is suffocating. It doesn’t come in chunks lasting minutes, it’s not a phase that we’ll grow out of, it’s simply a part of us now. We’re changed forever. 

When connections are real, they simply never die. They can be buried, or ignored or walked away from, but never broken. If you’ve deeply resonated with another person or place, the connection remains despite any distance, time, situation, lack of presence, or circumstance. If you’re doubtful then just try it – go and revisit a person or place and see if there’s any sense at all of the space between now and then.
If it was truly real, you’ll be instantly swept back into the moment it was before it left – during the same year and place with the same wonder and hope, comfort and heartbeat. Real connections live on forever.
— Victoria Erickson

Grief.

An all-consuming pain that has you questioning even your greatest belief systems. Questioning life itself. Some people pull themselves out of it and some never do… or never can. Some ride it like a wave. After my brother, Connor’s accident almost two years ago, my mom was constantly telling us that we would get out of this. We’re going to be better people because of it. Whether or not she believed it at the time, it certainly held true. I have constantly told myself since that day in the hospital, “We will get out of this… we are going to be better people”. Hope constructed in a sentence. You can feel like this now but eventually we’re going to be able to move and start living again. We can work through our questions, our fears, our emotions. And when we can do it, whenever that is, we are going to be better than before this all happened.

It’s okay to hurt. You’ve been on the go so much the since the accident, it’s okay to stop and breathe.” I am told that sentence. I doubt that sentence. I mean, yeah I would completely agree, especially if I was telling someone else that. To actually DO is a whole other story. It's a whole new ball game. There’s no handbook about dealing with grief. It’s a completely individual thing and not one person goes through it the same way. There are too many extenuating circumstances, lifestyles, personalities, to flop it all into one cycle. There’s no cheat-sheet on waking up in the morning and painting that smile on your face and continuing on through life. Or having this all-consuming pain and then competing at, say, an international level. I’m exhausted coming home and the amount of training we are doing every single day is enough. To sit down and actually think, actually feel, let that paralyzing pain fill up my whole body – most days I don’t let it in. I just can’t. Shut it out until it can’t stay inside anymore; face it when I have no choice not to. Grief is a lonely journey. We were thrown into an abyss with few tools at hand. I’m not expected to just make it through the day, I’m expected to perform at a very, very high level. But as I head into the busiest summer of my volleyball career, I'm scared to let go. I guess you can say I have always been scared to do it and that’s why we head into these periods of darkness and confusion. Numb the pain. I’m scared to let my brain go where it wants to; to ask the tough questions and get the worst possible answer in return. I honestly haven't even asked exactly what happened before I flew into Vancouver almost two years ago. I don't know the full story. You might think I'm crazy for not asking; the fact that it's been two years is a bit unbelievable. For me, it's like only one week has passed, and at the same time, an eternity. I’m scared I wont be able to pull myself out because some days, I’m barely holding my head above water and I’m not even 10% there. I don't trust myself quite yet. So what happens when you just don't have the time for grief in your life? What happens to you then?

I was fortunate enough to share Connor's story on CBC Winnipeg a few weeks ago. Click here if you missed it. 

The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.
— Brene Brown

This took me a long time to understand and I’m still dabbling in these unknown waters. Bear with me – but it’s all about perspective. I would give up EVERYTHING to see Connor one more time. Everything. Anything. Unfortunately that’s not too feasible so I have to turn to plan b. What’s that you ask? Finding those small joys that make life not just bearable, but worth living. Connor taught me so much without even knowing it, and hey, I didn’t even know it at the time when he was still here. He just lived. That was enough to inspire all of those around him. As my mom said all those months ago “we will become better” and she’s right – how could you not after knowing him. I love really hard, maybe to a fault. But you have to, after an experience like this. There’s just not enough time not to. You learn to not take things for granted, love what you do, do what you love, wear your heart on your sleeve, and go after your dreams. Cliché to the max, and I apologize for that, but how amazing is that those exact cliché words are in my every day. It’s running through my blood stream and I don’t even have to try. What a blessing. A true, severe mercy, if you will.

Do you understand now? he asked. “With endless time, nothing is special. With no loss or sacrifice, we can’t appreciate what we have.
— Mitch Albom
 Baby Stu and I sharing some love before the golf tournament.

Baby Stu and I sharing some love before the golf tournament.

With that being said, let's take a quick step back. Those days are frequent but the darkness always comes. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of effort is put forth pushing away feelings so it's possible to live and stay in the moment. Sometimes you have to forget to survive. Just last week I was living that exact statement. I have been surviving the last twenty two months. I was forced out of zombie-land when I flew to the Sunshine Coast last Friday afternoon so I could attend the 2nd Annual Connor Richey Memorial Golf Tournament. Last year, I was so thankful I was able to attend. This year, I had different feelings engulfing me. Was I grateful to be there? Absolutely. Was I prepared to feel that hard? Absolutely not. I went in to the day not really thinking what this would mean. Last year, we held the tournament at a different course. This year, we had it at the Roberts Creek golf course which is just minutes from my parents house, and was simply Connor's second home (or I guess you could say first home as he definitely spent more time up there). That course is where his heart was. I have so many memories of picking him up there - starting from having it be his first job to soon after becoming a regular on the course, watching him golf a few holes and being utterly amazed at his talent, to him teaching me how to putt (and saying my short game is nice - not to brag). It's also where we had his celebration of life and I had not been back there since that day. Needless to say, every single memory and feeling came flooding back to me in a pool of mixed emotions. We had so many volunteers out for the day, 100 golfers, and people at the course who just wanted to play and have fun in his memory. Overall it was such a success and yes I was happy to be able to be there that day. But it was hard. I had an older golfer come up to me and say "you must be Connor's sister... we miss him too". My chest felt like it was concave, there was never enough air in my lungs, and felt like I was on the edge of a breakdown the entire day. I haven't felt that pain in my heart for a long time... zombie-land and numbness have been my baseline. It's been my comfort zone. Luckily that day, I was able to just be. And although I had that slapped-on-smile for the majority of the day it's certainly not what I was feeling on the inside. As all the golfers were coming in, before dinner was served, I found myself in the back parking lot, locked away in my mom's car, with Stuart by my side. Just being. Taking a couple seconds. I knew in that moment that he was about as far away from coping with this whole thing as I was. As I am. As we are. Braving it together. As the evening progressed, dinner and prizes were dished out, mom gave a thank-you speech to all those involved in making this tournament happen. We really do have an amazing community. She was able to share with everyone that not only is Connor's spirit living on through his Legacy Fund (proceeds go to support young Sunshine Coast athletes pursuing their athletic dreams) but also through the many individuals he helped save, as he was an organ donor. Recently my mom went, on behalf of our family, to the BC Transplant Donor Banquet where Connor was recognized as a recipient (see photo at the beginning). They have speakers from donor family members and past recipients and they call up each family member to receive a medal with the donor's name. Through his death he also saved lives and I am eternally grateful for that. 

Though the sun rises and sets as it always has, everything looks just a bit different, a bit distorted and grief has cast a far-reaching shadow around us. I am trying to fight my way back but so many days I just dont want to.
— Jan Richey

I was recently asked if my experiences have shaped me and whether or not I can tell a difference in myself. Absolutely, yes. From my two best friends, my coach, relatives, my baby brother, I am shaped into who I am by the individuals I meet and the trials I am faced with. Every single day I think about Connor and am forced to recognize how fragile life is. We aren’t promised anything. We deserve nothing. All we can do is cherish every single moment we are in because there will never be another one like it. You never know when “normal” moments are completely turned around into the best of your life; the next moment is never promised. Life is way too short to not do something you love, to not say the thing you’re holding back, and to not see the blessings in each and every day. “It’s as if passion is life’s magic pixie dust." Find yours. 

It is remarkable (I have experienced it) that sense that the dead person is. And also, I have felt, is active: can sometimes do more for you now than before – as if God gave them, as a kind of birthday present on arrival, some great blessing to the beloved ones they left behind.
— C.S. Lewis

Summer... commence!

An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm, and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born.
— Unknown

In Roberts Creek with the Sunshine Coast U14 teams - giving out just a few of my professional, university, and national team shirts.

It’s crazy to me that a professional season can seem like it’s crawling by when you're in the moment… but looking back it can be fully described in a few short sentences when you’re home. How was your season this year? “It was good – started off in Italy but switched to a German team in January due to some financial issues with the club. But yeah, it was good!” Good is the describing word used to represent my time overseas for the past seven months. Good. That’s it. Half of my entire year is represented in one word. It’s super surreal and just goes to show how the overseas life is totally removed than the one I live here. 

My German club Vilsbiburg vs. the Turkish club Bursa. Challenge Cup quarter-finals. 

Because I am more or less in one spot these days (at least one country... for now) I can go into describing the word “good” in a bit more detail. As mentioned in a past blog, I switched clubs halfway through the year, a decision my past-self would have never thought my present-self would make. That took a lot of courage and balls (sorry for the articulate word choice) and quite frankly, I’m pretty proud of myself for doing it. The Three Hundred and Sixty blog post describes the whole move and my first month of whirlwind games I was having with my new German club. We breezed through the last couple of league and pre-playoffs games but ended up losing to Dresden in the first round of playoffs. In our second match against them we came out guns-blazing and I thought we were going to take it.. we had the opportunity to finish it off in four sets but couldn’t capitalize on the moment and eventually lost the match. We also lost 2-0 to the Turkish Club Bursa (who in the end ended up winning the European Challenge Cup) but it was a cool experience to travel back to Turkey to play a game there!

One thing I’m really thankful for is all the traveling I was able to do throughout this entire year. From hiking the Cinque Terre and exploring some Italian cities with my parents (such as Bologna) after World Championships, driving up to Lugano, Switzerland for New Years Eve with an American teammate to ring in the new year with some fellow volleyballers (TJ Saunders, Steve Gotch, and Marisa Field), road tripping to Prague with Dani (Smith) and meeting some of my Urbino teammates there for the long weekend, and my post season travels which consisted of a week in France, then Cyprus, and then back to Rome, before I made the long trek back to the motherland. The trip home was extremely unfortunate (all 24 hours of it) as I flew from Munich to Istanbul with a four hour layover, Istanbul to Toronto with another three hour layover, and then finally to Vancouver. That last plane ride I was so cross-eyed and delirious after not sleeping at all on the flights before. I was definitely in “crazy-land” for most of the flight and only half-conscious when we hit terrible turbulence and didn't seem to be phased at all. 

Rome was actually my first real solo travel experience. Of course, everything starts off as a solo-trip when you’re heading to your new professional team and exploring the city and it’s surroundings for the first time. But this definitely felt different. My Urbino teammate, Jess, who I actually went to Rome with back in January before I made the switch, was supposed to meet me there. But due to more and more problems with Urbino's finances (who knew….) she wasn’t able to come down. Now, I know I’ve touched up on the fact that I’m a mega-nerd when I travel but I think I took this little jaunt to a whole new level. Perhaps it wasn’t as embarrassing as it usually is but it was still pretty absurd. The few days I had with Jess exploring Rome back in January was amazing, but that city is totally ridiculous and it stole my heart the first time I set foot there. This time, I had a pretty good idea of where things were and already had a few favourite hole-in-the-wall coffee shops and restaurants and secret spots that I needed to hit up again. I had my ipad with me which had the app ROME downloaded which actually proved to be the greatest thing. Ever. There was a virtual map that showed in real time where I was and the BEST part was that it also showed all the churches, ruins, roads, museums, etc. AAAANDDDD after clicking on such monument on the map it would take you to a little Wikipedia write up page. I was in travel heaven. There were a bunch of things on my initial list that I knew I needed to see but with this map I was finding a million and one things more. Both a blessing and a curse. Over the three days I was there, I think I just about walked every street in Rome and the last full day I had to explore, I walked for twelve straight hours with a 30min lunch break in between. Slightly excessive but so fantastic.

At U16 & 17 BC Provincials the other weekend with my biggest fan (and ex-UBC teammate). 

When I was at home a few weeks ago, I found myself splitting time in Vancouver and at home in Roberts Creek (which is totally normal). Our U14 Sunshine Coast team competed in provincials on one of those weekends placing 10th and 13th in tier one. I went to a few practices leading up to the competition just to try and increase the motivation in the group… and what better way to do that then to throw a few tshirts from national team and old professional teams their way. I try to get out as much as I can because I know first hand how great a positive role model can affect you, especially as an athlete. Spread the inspiration! I was also able to attend U17 & U18 provincials at the Richmond Oval for an afternoon. Great to watch the young talent coming through the grassroots these days in B.C. as well as catch up with all my old coaches such as Joanne Ross, Chris Densmore, Beathan Thomas, Doug Reimier, Ryan Hoffer, to name a few. Just head to any big volleyball event and it’s always a mass reunion

Professional season completed, I am so so so excited to start this summer’s competition. So VERY PUMPED to be training hard with my girls again. It looks like we wont even have the chance to be training in Winnipeg for the entire month of June and July because we only have back to back to back to back… tournaments. It’s going to be insanity but this is exactly the kind of crazy schedule we need to push ourselves to the next level. The more experience the better. The cherry on top of this crazy summer schedule is we have two opportunities to play in Canada. The first is right NOW in Calgary where club nationals are being held. We’ll have a chance to run around the tournament and do some publicity stints there with the kidlettes and then play two exhibition matches vs. Puerto Rico on the 13 and 14th. Fun fact:

More than half a million Canadians responded by saying they participated in volleyball. The national championships which will be played in Calgary in mid-May are the most extensive for any sport in Canada boasting 800 teams and 10,000 athletes at all age levels. The competition requires 59 courts at two separate venues over the course of seven days to complete.
— CBC

Both our men and women's Volleyball Canada teams won our World Championship Qualifying tournament in Toronto last year. 

So great to have the chance to play in front of all these aspiring athletes! However, the most exciting tournament for me and many of my teammates is Pan Am Games, which is a competition held between athletes from the Americas every four years, occurring in the year before the Olympic Games. This summer they will be held in Toronto July 10-26. A little more information can be found here.

Our men’s national team coach explains that it’s a good tournament for Volleyball Canada because all the teams from the Americas will be attending. “It’s good preparation for the Olympic Games as far as the environment, the surroundings, and the actual competition.” He also mentions that it’s a great opportunity to promote the game in Canada in such a high-pressure situation. In fact, there was a recent article that came out from CBC sports titled “Sleeper sport will sizzle at Pan Ams.” It says that,

On home courts in Toronto this summer both teams are expected to face fervent crowds who might be supporting other squads, which hail from countries where volleyball is much more than a sport… it's akin to a national passion play. In Brazil tickets have just gone on sale for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and volleyball is by far the biggest draw.”

It has always been an eye opener for me personally, having played for many, many years around the globe. In other countries you are treated like a celebrity. Going down to Mexico and South America the fans are absolutely crazy – often throwing their two-week-old babies at my teammates and I, clawing their way through crowds for autographs and photos. In contrast, I would say that the majority of people in Canada aren't aware with how successful our Volleyball Canada teams are, let alone naming one or more current players. My hope is that this opportunity to play in such an incredible tournament of this magnitude in Canada will give numerous individuals the opportunity to watch (in person or on TV) and come to appreciate this sport. 

Currently, I am writing this post in my new place with Dana on the couch beside me. After three full days of training it honestly feels like we never left this city. The good part about that statement is that we’re all here (with the exception of three players who are just finishing up overseas) picking up where we left off at the end of last season during World Championships. I think Lupo is pleasantly surprised with how quickly we got back into the swing of things (which is necessary as these exhibition matches came up quickly)!! Our schedule so far is two 2.5 hour practices with weights 3-4 times a week. We have some fun slings/circuit workouts and agility we’re doing before every morning practice just to kick-start us into better shape. After the second day I couldn’t walk. Day three, I thought my ankles and calves were going to explode on the court. I couldn't really swing my arms around because I was so sore. Let alone to try and hit the ball. The power went out during one of our practices last week and the gym’s buzzer was going off for a solid 15 minutes before the electrician came and switched it off. We all wore earplugs. I spent every single afternoon in the physio room since we got back to Winnipeg. So overall… things are going well here... okay, so I just needed my body to adapt back to our training schedule and national team routine. I hope to see a bunch of people in Calgary – can’t wait to be able to play in front of (what I anticipate will be) a great home crowd! 

Sidenote. Our friends at Volleyball Source need YOUR help. They have been an AWESOME resource for everybody watching our games overseas, giving up to date info on the athletes, covering our games/media when we play at home, and are just a really sweet support system for us. Cam & Everett are trying to raise money to head over to the 2015 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in the Netherlands to provide some one-of-a-kind coverage. SO we should probably help them out. Please please please and thank you! There are also some gift opportunities depending on how much you back them (I will personally be sporting an exclusive Volleyball Source tshirt!). Sweet swag is always a good idea. Make sure you check out their kick-starter video! We have ten days left people - and a lot of work to do! 

 

Thanks for the support everyone! Hope to see you in Calgary!

 

Player Profile - Tammy Mahon

Tammy Mahon | #4 | Position: Leftside | International Matches: 173 | Hometown: Holland, Manitoba | Status: Retired |

Captain of Team Canada from 2008-2012. 

Tammy receiving the MHSAA Athlete of the Half Century Award.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
— John Quincy Adams

World Championships 2010 in Japan. 

Tammy Mahon has played a huge part in my career with Team Canada. When people find out that I play for the National Team, it is often followed with “oh yaaaa – I know Tammy! She’s the captain, right?” She clearly had a lasting impression on all staff, players, and fans. Throughout the eight years that I have played with the National Team I have played with Tammy for 6 of those. It was super upsetting for me when she decided to retire as I selfishly would have loved to continue playing alongside her. She taught me more than she can imagine. Coming in to the program as a child (okay… 18 years old… but same thing), she took me under her wing from day one and taught me how things worked. My first experience with the Senior A team was back in grade 12 when Sam Loewen and I went to train with the team for a couple weeks at the end of our summer. Our Junior National Team missed out on qualifying for the Junior World Championships by one place the following summer and so therefore didn’t have a program that year. The Senior FISU girls were on break so here were these two children (okay… 18 year olds… but same thing) fresh out of high school, attempting to not faint or pass out in front of these studs. Naoki (Mia) Miyashita was the coach at this time (who's drill of choice was touch-10 impossible balls across 2 court lengths) and Carrie was the strength coach… practices were in Lipset Hall (hellooooooo blast from the past!). That might still be, to this day, the hardest I’ve ever had to work. I remember almost passing out during WARM-UP… 30 minute ladders at 100% speed with consistent sprints and jumps and fast feet in between wasn’t particularly what I had expected. I remember Tammy being nothing but inclusive and helpful those couple weeks I was there. The following year I made the Senior A Team and I was always watching to see what Tammy was doing (out of the corner of my eye… in the most subtle-non-stalkerish-way possible). From my first year on the team to her last, I saw her work her butt off every single day. I only remember her missing ONE practice during all of those years. She pushed herself and each other in the gym and in the weight room; she never coasted and she held every one of her teammates accountable. In fact, one summer she had to address the team to tell us to push HER more – just because she was captain didn’t mean she was exempt from someone else kicking her in the butt when she needed it. Being captain also never went to her head, as she was humble, made sure everything was in order (nets set up every morning, making schedules, sending emails, etc. etc.) and made sure that everyone was feeling their best.

Completing each other at the 2010 World Championships in Japan. 

We “completed each other” as we were often subbing in, back and forth for each other – we were each other’s halves as we liked to say. I could go to her for anything and everything and her advice was always spot-on. We went on a lot of trips together all around the world but the most memorable one for me was our three week South America Tour. She touches on it a bit in the questions below, but it really was an absolutely crazy trip. Nobody could have even imagined how insane it would actually be and of course, Tam was always super positive throughout all the madness. We started our tour in Argentina and at the time, it seemed like a fantastic idea to bus everywhere. Mmm… no. Never again. Days would usually consist of waking up at the. Crack. Of. Dawn. (think 5am) after getting in to wherever we were sleeping a few hours before. We would drive throughout the day, get out and practice at our destination or we would play a match, which was followed by the heaviest dinner possible… MEAT at midnight was the norm. Nothing was easy and still to this day I think of this trip when I’m tired; nothing will ever compare to that. Playing off of two hours of sleep and extreme travel is not an easy thing. Once we were in Peru, however, it all became worth it as we took a big team trip to Matchu Pitchu (our only day off for weeks and we were hiking up ancient Inca Trails for six hours). That was actually unbelievable… and despite almost driving off the small bumpy trails that they called roads, almost falling to our deaths a couple times, up an impossibly steep mountainside, it was a perfect day. That is… until we were all safe and sound on the train back to our little town, Cusco, and looked down at our legs. Sorry – but do I have a second round of the chicken pox? I swear you’re only supposed to get this once in your life. Oh wait… you have it too. Almost every person on the hike was covered in some form of bug bites, which covered our legs. Of course we decide to Google it when we got back to our hotel (worst idea ever) and it informs us that these pesky little bugs were in the long grass that we were frolicking in for the whole day and that if you “pop” the bites (which we were all doing) it would scar your legs forever. Girls were absolutely FREAKING OUT – I remember this night so clearly and was actually rooming with Tammers.

On top of Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres above sea level.

At the time we were all feeding into each others anxiety, finding more forums on these mystery Peruvian bugs, and discussing how on earth can we have spotted legs when we jump around in spandex for a living. I found a photo of Carla and I with anti-itch lotion all over our legs (see above). We looked like this for the rest of the trip. Real perfection. Tammy was someone who you really could go to for anything. She had so much experience playing overseas and playing on Team Canada, filling various roles in each year. I admire her a lot for sticking with her passion, even after her closest friends on the team decided to step away from volleyball. As you get older, there is a lot of pressure to get a “normal life” and a “normal job” as many people think we just run around a court and don’t work that hard day in and day out. Coming in to my 8th year on Team Canada (pardon me, what?) I have no idea what the future holds. However, I still have the passion to play. I tell people that I am not ready to pack it in after this quad and who knows how much longer after that my body will hold up. After asking Tammy all my questions below, she also touches on the fact that she just always had the desire to play and compete and therefore, just kept on going. Why would you stop if this life continued to keep you happy? I knew we were kindred spirits – looks like I’ll be following in her footsteps closer than I thought! My favourite numbers were 12 and 4, both held by Tammy and Tasha (veterans on the team). Now that both have moved on, I have scooped up number 4 again, fully embracing it and it's magical powers. We’ll see if I can make it to twelve years on the National Team… but I'm getting closer! Now, on to Tammers. 

When I think about Tammy, I think about commitment. She started her career as a bench-player and worked her way up in to a starting position and captain. She made me feel at home the first day I arrived in Winnipeg, even though I was so scared of her. Playing with her was definitely a privilege for a lot of reasons. She was the one bringing the team up when we needed it; she was and still is one of the most powerful females I know in terms of knowing what she wants and what she needs to do to reach her goals. She is, of course, well known in Manitoba but also in Europe and Asia. One of my best moments with her was when we played in Cusco, Peru (the infamous South America tour you’re hearing so much about) in front of the craziest crowd (ten thousand fans to be exact). It was so intense and I remember her being so passionate, yet so calm at the same time. Another memorable moment was her wedding this summer. Even if she’s not on the team anymore, everyone knows she’s still part of our team’s culture and successes. We couldn’t have asked for a better athlete-rep for our team.
— Janie Guimond

Canada vs. Cuba exhibition series 2010. 

After twelve years of playing on Team Canada and overseas, how was the transition out of the sport?

“Deciding to retire from volleyball was one of the hardest choices I have ever made, but I made it peacefully and walked away with no regrets. After twelve years and three cycles of trying to achieve the Olympic dream, I felt it was time to move on to a new chapter in life. At that point, I knew that I was unsure about committing to four more years (i.e. another Olympic cycle) with the team, so I found it only right that I step down. This would allow the new group of athletes to start their four-year journey and get the experiences and playing time they need to be ready to qualify in 2016. I also knew I was never going to fall out love with the sport or lack the interest or desire to train and play. It was just a matter of coming to terms with the fact that I wanted to include some other things in my life and start to pursue some other passions that had taken a "back seat" to volleyball for the last twelve years. The transition has had its ups and downs, some really challenging moments, and yet, some other very peaceful moments knowing it was the right time for me to hang up the knee pads!”

You were captain for five years. Did you enjoy the extra responsibility or would you have rather had someone else “look after” the team? 

“After being on the team for many years, I had a strong example set before me by previous captains and veteran players so it was an honor to accept the role as captain in 2008. The extra responsibilities changed from year to year and learning to adapt to new teams, coaches, and the demands of the role were always challenging but overall I loved being captain.” 

Being on a team year-round gets you used to having girls constantly be by your side. Was it ever lonely after you retired? 

“I have missed my girls no doubt about it. Thankfully the connections I made with teammates over the years were built on such a strong foundation of respect, love, and understanding. Therefore, despite the miles between or the differences in our daily schedules, our contact and friendship has not only maintained, but also in many cases become even stronger. Thank goodness for the ease of communication these days!” 

It is very easy to think positively and smile when you say the name Tammy Mahon. She is strong, beautiful, smart, funny, motivating, and the definition of someone who works hard. As a captain, she was a consistent and fierce leader, and definitely someone who the younger athletes looked up to. Her attitude and work ethic made others around her better. The awards and accolades that came her way couldn’t go to someone more deserving than her. She is someone you can always count on, both on and off the court. I am very lucky to call her my friend and it has been an honor and a privilege to call her my teammate.
— Tiffany Dodds

Tiff and Tammers on the train in Cusco, Peru, heading up to Machu Picchu.

You retired from Team Canada but then did one more professional victory lap in Indonesia. How was playing there and why did you decide to do one more season?

“The choice to go play one more year was presented to me by my agent and it was just hard to pass up! I still had the desire to play and after talking it over with my boyfriend (now husband) we decided to do it. Playing in Indonesia was a wonderful experience and I am really happy I had that final hurrah and last chance to play and compete!” 

What are some of the awards that you have won since retiring?

Ken Bentley presenting the Manitoba Volleyball Association Hall of Fame Award. 

“In the spring of 2013 after returning from Indonesia, I was inducted into the Manitoba Volleyball Association Hall of Fame. It was such an honor to join others who have been inducted; those I look up to and those who have inspired me during my career. The Manitoba High School Athletics Association (MHSAA) also awarded me the "Athlete of the Half Century Award" because of my multi-sport accomplishments in my high school career. Both were very touching awards to receive and a nice way to cap off my career. My hometown of Holland, Manitoba also had a special evening in my honor after retiring which was so lovely. There was a dinner and some speeches, and it was a way to connect with people from my hometown and thank them for all their years of support!"  

Background information on the multi-sport career: 

“In high school I started high jumping and winning every competition I entered. I won each level in the High School Track and Field Provincials and hold the record for both Junior and Senior heights in the province still to this day. After competing in and winning the city provincials, coaches approached me about competing with the provincial team. In 1996 I became the Junior National champion and competed for Team Canada in a competition in the Cayman Islands. I also got to compete in the Western Canada Games, Canada Games, and Senior Nationals. In grade 12, I had to make the choice to pursue either track, volleyball, or basketball – and the rest is history! High jumping gave me a lot of unique opportunities and the individual aspect of the sport taught me a lot about my training, sport, and myself as an athlete. 

I started volleyball also in high school. However, coming from a school of 120 people, my exposure to a high level of training and performance was minimal. I was asked to play club volleyball in my grade 10 year but being so far from the city I could only make practices a few times a month. That continued all throughout high school. I never played provincial team because I was busy doing track and field in the summer. I did however, tryout for the Junior National team in my grade 12 year and trained with that team in the summer of 1998. I actually remember going to compete in a high jump competition one day on our lunch break between practices. I needed to compete to qualify for Canada Games, so I hustled over to the track and did my thing, and then went back to afternoon volleyball practice. Training with the Junior National Team that summer was the start of a long journey wearing the Canadian jersey! I played two years on the Junior National team and in 2002 made the Senior National Team for the first time. I became the captain in 2008.” 

Sarah Pavan, Lauren O'Reilly, Tammy Mahon, Tasha Holness, Julie Young, and me. Canada vs. Cuba exhibition series 2010.  

What is the biggest thing you miss about National Team? Professional Volleyball? 

“I miss my teammates the most. I miss being part of something that is so special, so empowering, so challenging. Don't get me wrong: life after volleyball, marriage, being a mom, is all extremely special and challenging too! However, wearing the Canadian jersey, standing next to people I admire so much, trying to achieve a goal together, it is once in a lifetime and nothing can compare. I also definitely miss the travel… and Europe!” 

What were some of the best trips you took with Team Canada Volleyball? 

“Every trip brought it’s own special memories and experiences. The first trip I ever took to Europe for Grand Prix in 2003 was amazing; we went to Italy and I was just totally blown away by the experience. FISU Games in Korea was also an unreal trip with many great memories! A big highlight is when we went to Argentina and Peru where we got to go to Machu Picchu – a once in a lifetime experience and the bug bites we all suffered were also once in a lifetime! Every trip we took with bus rides, plane trips, hilarious moments on and off the court, each the hold a special place in my heart!”

Tammers playing in Greece with the club Panathinaikos.  

Where are all the places that you’ve played? Who was your favorite club to play for? Favorite season overall? Favorite country to live in?

Tammy's Iqtisdachi Baku team in Azerbaijan.

“Professionally, I had the opportunity to play in a variety of countries. Each country provided it’s own amazing experience regarding volleyball, culture, and adventure. My first year was in Sweden where we won the league championship. I then played three years in the Netherlands, a country that holds a special place in my heart! I played in Constanta, Romania for two years, which can be referred to as the land of stray dogs - I had lots of four legged friends there! After that, I played in Azerbaijan for one year, then Greece, Germany, and finally Indonesia!  

My favorite season overall was in Greece. I loved the city, the league was strong, and my team had a good season winning the championship. Plus all the shopping and tourist attractions in Athens were amazing!”

Tammers has always been easy to look up to. She holds herself to a high standard on the court. Her genuine care and compassion for other people makes everyone and everything feel a bond with her. Her most endearing and unique quality is her animal whispering! Many dogs have followed us onto the court because of Tammy’s unwavering affection for the dogs around the world! She’s a true gem!
— Brittney Page

Even a few years after retirement, you still had many former teammates come to your wedding this past summer – how was that?

“The day wouldn't t have been the same without them all there. My teammates over the years became my closest friends; they shaped me, inspired me, supported me, and loved me. To share the day with them was my honor and privilege.” 

With a new (adorably cute and lovely) baby, what life experiences have you learned from your volleyball career that will transfer over to being a mother?

“I believe a lot of the things I learned through my sporting career will apply to life with miss Lexi! All of the skills I acquired throughout my career have helped me in the transition to life on the farm, to being a wife, and now to being a mother. Hard work, discipline, reasoning, loyalty, love, patience, passion, dedication, and so many other qualities that volleyball brought out in me, have been applied directly to my life post-career. I am thankful for everything I experienced and the ways I can use those skills now.”

Tammy is someone who worked very hard for her spot on Team Canada. She isn’t the tallest player out there and over the many years she played on the team her role changed, but changed because of the hard work and sacrifice that she made day in and day out. Whether it was on the court or in the weight room, Tammy always showed such determination and grit. My first year with Team Canada, Tammy almost got cut, which just drove her to work harder. By my last year with the team she had worked her way into a star outside hitter role and our captain. She has always been an outstanding role model for younger players and of course, a wonderful and valuable friend. It has been especially lovely to watch her now embrace her role as a mom and just like we may have one day swapped volleyball tips, now we text back and forth with “mommy” advice.
— Emily Cordonier

Do you ever wish you retired earlier, or stayed in the game a couple more years? 

“Nope. I think it all happened in the right time for me. I wouldn't t change a thing about my time playing, nor would I wish the timing to be different for retiring. It led me to Terry, led me back to the farm life I love so much, and led me to Lexi who is, after all I’ve experienced, my greatest treasure and accomplishment yet.” 

One of four hundred. This one's name is Diesel.

Where are you now?

“We live on a cattle ranch about 80km North East of Dauphin, Manitoba (home of current player Tabi Love). We have around four hundred head of cattle, three horses, a dog, two cats, and now miss Lexi Louise to keep us busy!”  

*I would like us all to take a moment and imagine what having FOUR HUNDRED cows would be like.

...Yeah. You think your days are busy. 

Sleeping beauty. Those hands are made for volleyball. 

 

When are you going to start teaching the bebe those volleyball moves (i.e. the Mahon-sidewinder)? Can you see volleyball in her/your future?

“No doubt I see volleyball in our future. I have tried to stay involved by doing camps and clinics or helping out with local teams in our area. Miss Lexi can choose whatever she wants to do, but I’ll be pushing volleyball and Terry will be putting a ball glove on her hand. We’ll see who wins!” 

Check out Tammy's interviews on Volleywood here. 

A big thanks to Tammers for doing this little interview with me. Even though she's super busy running a farm, collecting awards, and raising a child, she still had time to answer my many questions and messages. She is consistently checking up on me & my adventures and continues to be a constant support. Thanks for being so awesome. Love you lots, Tam! 
 

By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.
— Unknown

Go Canada Go! 

Three Hundred And Sixty

Sometimes I remind myself that I almost skipped the party, that I almost went to a different college, that the whim of a minute could have changed everything and everyone. Our lives, so settled, so specific, are built on happenstance.

Oh the adventures continue. It’s pretty clear that this life is the most unpredictable one I could have chosen for myself. One moment I’m waking up in Trasanni (aka Urbino, aka Italy) with little baby Zeus and the next day I am in Germany practicing with a brand new team. A casual three hundred and sixty degree change. Whaaaaaat????

The decision to leave Italy did not come easily, let me tell you, and I appreciate all the patient people that were able to give me advice during this whirlwind of a time. Whew. For a terrible decision-maker such as myself, that was a pretty crazy one to make. I wish that the club’s financial situation in Urbino was different and I was able to play out the next two months with the team I had become so close with. However, since day one there had been a lot of problems for me personally and for the team. From our first coach getting fired early in the season, to having our assistant coach take over the team for 2 weeks, and then our trainer taking over the team for another week after that, talk of the club folding in many team meetings, not getting paid, and just overall chaos… it was a lot to deal with. The biggest issue was payments and it became clear to me the last week I was in Urbino, the situation wouldn't be getting any better. I hope that the club can somehow find the money to pay the girls that are currently there training; this is our job and I just can’t believe that in a lot of places, it’s this difficult for us to get our paychecks. But alas, that’s professional volleyball in Europe and it’s a very harsh reality, especially in the Italian league due to the downfall of the economy. After we took Conegliano to five sets on my last Sunday in Italy, we had a free day on Monday where I planned to make a final decision on whether or not staying in Urbino was best choice for me. Woke up late (traveling through the night was not going to allow me to have an early start to the day), went on a run, played with Zeusy and then met my current coach, Jan, for coffee later in the afternoon. I wanted to let him know that this Germany offer was still on the table, so in case I decided to make the switch, he wouldn’t be completely blindsided at the decision.

 One last stroll through Urbino. 

One last stroll through Urbino. 

Ironically, he had just been fired from the exact club I was deciding whether or not to join - Vilsbiburg so it was really good to chat with him. Although we spoke more about his National Team experiences (he is the ex-coach of the Belgian National team and current coach of the Hungarian National team so he knows Rita = my saving grace on my team last year in Turkey), it was still really good to bounce my thoughts and ideas off him. Even though he was only here for two weeks it was pretty incredible to watch him transform our team. In the Italian league, it is basically unheard of for a foreign coach to make it in. Their mentality is very straight and narrow and so by not letting outside coaches in, they are protecting their coaches within Italy (as there are a lot) which makes it’s easier to get fired and get picked up by another team the following week. I was told that a lot of coaches are switching from A1 and A2 and from assistant to head coach, all the time. So it was interesting he was able to get in in the first place, although it was proving difficult from the get go. The first game we played with him he wasn’t able to be on our bench and had to sit with our stats guy, shouting instructions and tips from the end line. But we ended up winning – a major, major win for us, as it was crucial to get three points from this team in order to stay afloat. The following week we also had success against Conegliano but again, Jan wasn’t able to be head coach, but at least this time he was allowed on the bench. We’ll see if the Italian Federation actually processes the transfer or whether he will be pulled along for the rest of the season. I loved working with him, even if it was for such a short time. It was amazing to me how my mentality and performance changed playing under a national team coach. I got to see first hand the undeniable differences between a professional coach and a national team coach. The flow of practice is different, the mindset is different, and the drills we do every practice are very, very different. I was able to flourish and felt more like myself as a player than I had since the first day I arrived in Urbino. Since October, I was continuously ready to get on to the court and prove myself but was denied the chance. Repeatedly. With Jan, he understood that every player has strengthens and weaknesses and it’s just about finding the perfect flow and equation between the players in order to make the best team possible. I admire him for that. He came into a club where politics ruled all and last names were placed more heavily on day-in and day-out performance in the gym. I saw my teammates’ attitudes change from complacency to urgency. Players became alive again. A few Italian players completely changed their attitudes and began to work hard for this new coach with his new international ideas; ones that they had never seen in their years playing volleyball and especially not in the Italian league. Major kudos. He supported me throughout my decision to switch clubs even if he didn’t want me to leave, which I also appreciated. The last time I spoke with him he told me that he was sure we would work together again – that sometimes you meet a person and you just have a feeling that your paths will cross again in the future. So I have that to look forward to. I wish him and the girls the best of luck in the next couple of months! I hope things get better for everyone. But back to the switch…

One of my last evenings with the team. 

Of course it would be too easy for me to leave without some kind of conflict. First off, I wasn’t even sure if the president of the club would sign my release. I decided Monday evening after talking with Jan and my National Team coach Lupo, via Skype, that I wanted to switch clubs and informed my agent immediately so he could start the process. However, I had to wait until that paper was physically signed. Until then, I was technically still on the team. Had to go to weights in the morning and practice in the evening on Tuesday (which ended up only being a really large team meeting touching on some pretty big, important things…). I got a message from my agent halfway through that meeting (yes I had my phone out because everyone was rage-yelling in Italian and I had to keep myself entertained somehow) and he said that the president signed and I would be heading out as soon as possible. The next two days were filled with packing, errands, and dinners (the last Italian feast!) with my teammates, who in the end almost killed me. I cried saying goodbye to every person and staff member. Holy dehydration. I'm too soft. Looking back on my time in Urbino I can say that I really enjoyed it because of the girls. I really met some incredible friends this season and I was pretty devastated to leave them. Luckily, I have this coming weekend off where I will be meeting three of them in Prague, as well as heading back to Italy after my season here is complete before flying back to the motherland. Let the good times roll.  

A little map two of my teammates made for me to ensure I wouldn't get lost. 

Moving day was interesting, of course. I had to drive myself to a nearby town to pick up someone from the club, who would then come with me to the airport and drive my car back to Urbino. First, I almost forgot my passport and a few chargers in my bedside-table drawer. Completely forget to empty that out. Great. Second, as I was leaving and doing a mental check, I realized my wallet wasn’t in my purse. Cue panic and cursing. I eventually remembered that I had it the night before when I was getting gas… sure enough, it was sitting on the passenger seat in my car. Just testing the limits and good-will of my neighbours. I also had to leave mega early to go grab the webpocket (portable wifi) from my teammate, Jess, as I just didn’t feel totally comfortable driving to this other town to pick up some random men without any form of communication. Early early early. Rush rush rush. “I will NOT cry at 6:30 in the morning..,!” – Thank you Kiesh and Jess. Found the two dudes without problems and arrived earlier than normal at the airport (you could say I have learned my lesson from previous experiences). When I finally get to check in, the lady is baffled that I have three massively large bags. Yes that’s real life… please don’t weigh them and just let me go through in peace. Check check check. The classic security lineup struggles are more real than ever and leave me in a more slightly flustered mood than before. My overflowing bags have been meticulously packed in a tetris-style-like-puzzle. I also hate the fact that I have to take out my computer… it ruins everything and I struggle with this every single time I fly, which is a lot. Then of course they ask to sift through said tetris-packed-bags. Don’t mess with me. Wearing hightops and having to take them off thru security is also a fun added bonus. Especially trying to get them back on while the bins are taking up the entire space, overflowing, with angry-rushed people behind me, simultaneous with the fact that I'm watching them search thru my stuff as I wrestle my shoes on and proceed to fall over. I look goooooood right now. Flight was super fast and surprisingly pain-free, but coming off the plane I actually forgot where I was. Where did I just come from? What country am I in? I literally stood there staring at the baggage claim board like a dummy trying to rack my brain and remember what city I just flew out of. Jeeeebussss Kyla, get more sleep. Before I knew it I was on my way to Vilsbiburg in a pretty siiiick car that only needed to start up with a push of a button. Magic. Unfortunately, my pick-er-upper didn’t speak English but no problem because I’m on my best behaviour smiling as sweet as possible to make up for the lack of communication. I’m told it will snow tomorrow and I believe it because it's cold as balls. Yesterday I was running around Urbino in leggings, a sweater, and sneakers. What is this thing called snow?

My new home - Vilsbiburg. 

The next hour and a bit I sit in comfortable silence with a folder of things to sign and a to-do list on top. We head to city hall to sign some papers and then to the team’s office to sign more things and try on a million articles of clothing that they will order for me next week. Christmas. Germans know how to get stuff done. The most hilarious (and slightly frightening thing) was the huge binder we got, filled with information and well, rules. Best: after each home game you are to head up to the VIP lounge to eat, drink (water), and mingle with the sponsors. Wet hair is not allowed. It better be blow-dried out and it better be pretty. I’ve been straight slumming it the last few months so that was an interesting one. Photo shoot would be completed next week for media-purposes... including a few shots of me in bavarian outfits. MMhmmm. No words. Also the fact that team cars need to go through the car wash before each home game and then parked all in a row at the back of the gym (side note: each car has a photo of the player on the outside of the car. Privacy? Ciao). Sign sign sign my life away, then straight to the gym to meet my teammates who are just about to practice – “Hey. Welcome. Are you able to practice?” “Uhhhh…. Yessss….” “Okay go get changed.” Don’t panic. Breathe. I have to haul all three of my MASSIVE suitcases out of the car into the parking lot and sift through it a lllllll in order to find the various things I need for practice. Of course everything is spread out between the three bags. 30 minutes into practice I also realize that we are indeed practicing with the Mikasa ball… not the Molten which I have been playing with for the last million months. It took me a good week or so to get used to that one. After that first evening practice I head home. The awesome thing about this move is that I get to live with one of our National Team setters, Dani Smith, who is playing on the club’s second team here (but practicing with us a few days in the week… and should really be on our team but fine…). Unfortunately the visit with her was short-lived because we had practice bright and early the next morning and then my team and I were off to Hamburg – the longest road trip of the season. I was actually so pleased to be forced to sit in one spot for eight hours. The last week was just way too crazy and emotional so actually having the opportunity to sit down and rest for an extended period of time was pretty lovely. Hamburg also meant the largest hugs from Jennifer and Lucifer… also very needed after this past week.

Humble abode; chez Daniella & Kyla. 

Lucifer and I caught snuggling post-game (I can't believe she's real!). 

There are actually photos of Lucifer and I snuggling after the match (after the first time I got in trouble for not cooling down)… friends once again and it feels so good. First match back in the Bundesliga with a 3-0 win. Winning is fun. After the match we unfortunately had to depart immediately and drive throughout the night, arriving back at my flat at some ungodly hour. Initially I thought I was locked out of my apartment. Both keys I had were extremely sticky and I didn’t know which one was for the front entrance and which one was for my front door. I tried so many times, all the while thinking “this is not happening to me right now.” Dani wasn’t home and I didn’t have wifi or a German number so my options for survival were extremely scarce. I actually went back on to the street to see if any of my teammates would drive by and rescue me. After I tried again for the fortieth time, I finally got in to the building and my flat, and just passed out. Suitcases still packed. Since then, it’s been an easy transition back into the German league and onto this team. In German especially, they pack their teams with foreigners, which is great for us (we currently have six whom I get along with really well!). Vilsbiburg has always been a top club in the Bundesliga and usually finishes in the top 3 after every season. This year, however, there have been some problems and we finished 8th place at the end of regular season, therefore having to go through pre-playoffs. In Germany, the top six automatically move on to playoffs where as the teams in seventh to tenth will play off against each other, with the two winning teams advancing (seventh plays tenth & eighth plays ninth). Due to some injuries, the club brought in me, as well as a new setter from Berlin two weeks before I arrived. We’re hoping that we can kind of reset and come together as a new team before and during playoffs. One really cool and exciting thing is the fact that we are still in Challenge Cup - the quarterfinals to be exact. The first week of March the Turkish club Bursa comes to Vilsbiburg to play us on Wednesday and the following week we head to Turkey to play them (back to the old stomping grounds), all the while somehow balancing pre-playoff games on the weekend. Preplayoffs vs. Hamburg which means I'm up against my fellow Canadians - JennyCakes, Lucifcer, and Cranny aka Smooth. It's going to be a blast.

February 18 – vs. Kopenick, 3-0

Februrary 21 – vs. Munster, 3-2

February 25 – Game 1 of pre-playoffs, best of 3 series (changed due to our Challenge Cup schedule), 3-0

March 4 – Challenge Cup vs. Bursa, Turkey

March 7 & 8 – 2nd and 3rd (if necessary) games of pre-playoffs vs. Hamburg 

March 11 – Challenge Cup game 2 IN Bursa

March 14 – First game of ¼ Final Playoffs

March 18 - Second game of 1/4 Finals (third game is March 21st and then we will see where we are!) 

Bringing Carnival to our practice. 

Super super busy but I love it. Last week we were on the road for six days; our games vs. Kopenick and Munster were away so we decided to stay at an Olympic Training Complex just outside of Berlin to train, therefore avoiding the 8hour bus ride back and forth from Vilsbiburg. Good choice. We were able to go in to Berlin on Thursday morning before our evening training session. I am so in love with that city, it was nice to be back again! After our game vs. Munster we drove the seven hours back to Vilsbiburg through the night, had two days at home to practice and repack, and the left for another eight and a half hour bus ride to Hamburg. Busy busy busy. Overall, I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to change situations and when I did, that it ended up being for the best. I’m in a club that’s extremely organized (I almost died of happiness when I was given an entire day-to-day detailed month schedule) and in a situation that will allow me to play a lot more games than if I had stayed in Italy. Not to mention, living with Dani has been such a treat… I can’t believe that some of my other teammates have played full seasons with friends/Canadians! What a difference it makes! Our little town of Vilsbiburg is more like a village and is just over an hour away from Munich. It's a picturesque Bavarian town. Colourful buildings which remind me of gingerbread houses, quaint town square, countryside, and the best little bakeries and cafes. Yes it's super super small but only being here for a few months with not a lot of free time, it's been pretty perfect so far. One big change has just been the level of play; after playing in the Turkish league and most of this season in Italy, the level is definitely a bit lower here in Germany. However, I get to challenge myself every day; it’s completely on me to make sure I’m practicing at a consistent, high level, and playing well in every game I have left, for my new club. I am grateful that I get to meet and work with a whole new group of girls whom I never would have known if I didn’t take this chance. So many opportunities and things to learn from my new teammates, I love it. And I always say I love adventures and this has definitely been that. I’m proud of myself for making the switch to a new club, because in that small way, I was standing up for myself. Urbino’s season will finish at the end of March (as they unfortunately will not be making it into playoffs) and so it’s hard to believe that Vilsbiburg’s regular season ended last week. We get the opportunity to play in preplayoffs vs. some fellow Canadians (and then hopefully playoffs) including some great Challenge Cup games. After that… a little bit of exploring, R&R, and travel is calling my name before I head back to the motherland and get ready for Team Canada. TWO MONTHS and then we’re all reunited – that’s so crazy to me. Then on to the next big adventure. But for now… a couple more months in Germany to see what we can do. 

Mid-Season Update

If you’re feeling frightened about what comes next, don’t be. Embrace the uncertainty. Allow it to lead you places. Be brave as it challenges you to exercise both your heart and your mind as you create your own path towards happiness; don’t waste time with regret. Spin wildly into your next action. Enjoy the present, each moment, as it comes, because you’ll never get another one quite like it. And if you should ever look up and find yourself lost, simply take a breath and start over. Retrace your steps and go back to the purest place in your heart... where your hope lives. You’ll find your way again.
— Everwood

After talking about my own life and experiences here Italy in my last blog, I decided it was time to write about my lovely teammates. This year, we really are spread from one end of the earth to the other, but that just makes things all the more exciting. I wanted to give everyone a mid-season, halfway-point-update on where the girls are and how their teams are doing thus far. Of course, it seems like all players and their teams are facing some form of adversity. It’s amazing how similar some specific situations are, even though you’re on a completely different team, in a completely different league, and completely different country. The professional-life struggles are always consistent all over the globe and it definitely gives us a lot to talk about and share when we’re all reunited in the summer. Of course, for many of us we are overseas on our respected professional teams with the mindset to get ready and improve for Team Canada. Our current (Team Canada) squad is so dedicated to our program and left World Championships knowing what we needed to get better at as a team, and also individually; what better way to practice than to… well, practice every single day for the next eight months. Whew. Currently I’m on a pretty amazing team in Italy, player-wise. It’s probably the most cohesive group I’ve been with overseas (despite our losing record… but okay, I love them all as people!). Normally everyone’s counting down the days until we’re back working hard together, reunited, in a 3G-Starbucks-filled land and after chatting with the girls over the last couple weeks, I can definitely say that I'm pumped. We’re gearing up for an exciting summer as we head out to Grand Prix again and host Pan Am Games in Toronto. Exciting stuff. I’ll be redundant and say that I cannot wait for Team Canada to start up again as (bear with me) our current group is just so talented and I think we’re on the road to doing some great things... such as casually taking down some of the top teams in the world. With three to four months to go, here is the mid-season update on your Team Canada girls:

 

Megan | Setter | Switzerland 

Meggy-Meg is currently playing with Marisa in Switzerland. She was called onto this team in November due to an injury and ever since then has just been cruising. Not surprisingly, she fit right in with her teammates (who love her) and has been setting dimes since she arrived. She said that they had an interesting first half as they played really well a few games and beat some highly ranked teams, but on the other hand also had a few rough games, losing to some weaker ones. They are heading into the second half of the season ranked fifth and looking to increase their ranking by at least a few positions.

I love my life. I love my teammates. I love the president of our club; it’s a woman and she’s awesome. I love Switzerland and all the cheese.
— Megan Cyr

Shanice | Leftside | Germany 

This is Shanice’s second year on the German powerhouse team, Dresden. Last year they won the Bundesliga and they seem to be on the same path this year. They’ve only lost two games in total (one champions league game and one in the cup quarter finals) but they’re undefeated in the league through the first half. Three more Champions League games need to be played in order to see where they fall and whether or not they will move onto the next round. [Side note: for those of you who aren't familiar with Champions League, it's essentially a "super league" consisting of all the top teams from a bunch of different countries, depending on last year's results in each respected league. These teams are very busy as each week they are balancing both their country's league games as well as the CL, which often mean they are traveling a looottttttt]. Good luck Shanaaace - grab that second (Bundesliga) championship! 

Nothing new and exciting about being in Dresden but we’ve got a lot more snow the past week then all of last season combined.
— Shanice Marcelle

Tesca | Libero | Romania 

Last time I talked to Tesca she was flying to Romania for a couple days on a blitz-tryout in Bacau. She was back at home for the holidays with family and friends but now that the New Year has arrived, she is off to join her new team (clearly she stunned them with her skill & charm)! It’s her first professional stint so next time you talk to her, wish her luck and fire off a lot of support!

Our first game is tonight but unfortunately my transfer didn’t go through fast enough so I have to wait until next week to play. Pretty cool that I can literally just eat, sleep, and play volleyball though.
— Tesca Andrew-Wasylik


Jaimie | Middle | Poland 

Jayjay is currently playing in Poland on the team Sk Bank Legionova. They had a fairly rough start to the beginning of the season as they had four girls returning from the Polish National Team with some serious injuries. As a result, at the beginning of the first half they had to work with what they had, and throw together whatever healthy bodies they could. A couple of times they weren’t able to pull through in some of their must-win matches. After a few losses, the club and sponsors were looking for a change and so they fired the coach (the captain also left) midway through the first half. Since these changes the team has been more successful, gaining a few points here and there from solid games against the top clubs. Officially, Legionova is ranked 8th in the league going into the second half but the club and players are very confident that they will have more success the next few months. Jam describes her team as very young with a couple 18 and 19 year-olds that have a lot of raw talent. She says "they are starting to shine through and become more of a force" and she’s excited to see how much they are improving. Her club has put this team together as a longer-term process; their goal is to become one of the top teams in the league next year. The Polish League is a very, very strong league and they absolutely love their volleyball (it’s the national sport!!) so you’re treated like a celebrity if you’re playing in the Orlen Liga. So far she’s having a great experience! 

I personally think that without the extra drama/injuries on our team, we are able to focus all our attention on each game and challenge each team. I think we will definitely move up in the rankings.
— Jaimie Thibeault

Lucy | Middle | Germany 

This year Lucifer decided to take down the German league. When she told me she was signing on a team in Germany I immediately felt so sorry for the other poor souls that would be up against her. As predicted, she’s been taking down middles left and right and her collection of MVP hats is getting slightly ridiculous. She is playing for VT Aurubis Hamburg. She’s not the only foreigner player on her team this year and in fact, she is playing with our National Team setter Jenn Lundquist. Last season she was playing in Kamnik, Slovenia (population: 10,000) compared with Hamburg, which happens to be the second largest city in Germany. A slight change. Their team finished last in the league in the previous season and in an attempt to make an improvement, the club hired a whole new roster and coaching staff composed of 2 Canadians, 3 Americans, 1 Finn, and 6 German players. So far this season they are 2-10 and in 11th place out of 12 in the league. They won the first round of the Pokal final against a division two team but lost in the second round to a team that will compete in the finals.

The best part about playing in Hamburg is the great city and the fact that I get to work with my national team setter and bud every day! My hopes for the next half of the season is that we win more games (duh!), and that we turn things around and make it to the playoffs through our pre-playoff matches. Oh, and to increase my hat collection of course.
— Lucy Charuk

Lisa | Leftside/Opposite | Canada 

Okay, so Lisa didn’t go TOO far this season but she’s still a baby! Who knew! Currently she’s finishing up her fifth and final year at the University of British Colombia, on track to graduate in May. This year has been a little bit different for Lise as she’s missed almost the entire season due to illness and injury but is beyond excited to get back at it in a couple of weeks and turn things around for the birds. Watch out everybody else. And wear a mouth guard…! GO BIRDIES (sorry... but it was necessary!!). 

As a team, we haven’t had an incredibly successful season so far but I have so much confidence in my team, and I know we can make it back to the top!
— Lisa Barclay

Becky | Middle | France 

Of course Becky’s update to me was extremely pristine and perfect, equipped with updated league information, team details, and descriptive living arrangements. Not that I should have doubted in the first place but it was definitely a pleasant surprise. She is playing for the Beziers Angels this season in the French League. The league is very tight this year with the top six teams all taking wins from one another (unlike in other years when the powerhouse club, Cannes, ruled all). No game is a guarantee, even to the teams that are ranked below them. There are a lot of good Americans in the league this season but Becky is the only Canadian in France’s first division. Beck is living in the tiny town of Columbiers, which is surrounded by grape vines, and very friendly neighbours (a donkey, horses, sheep, farm dogs and stray cats). Remind me to visit ASAP. I actually just spent the majority of a 6-hour bus ride sending voice messages back and forth with her. One of my favorite stories was that she once got stuck driving behind a two-wheeled cart pulled by the donkey and mentioned that she can sometimes hear him “hee-hawing.” It’s just too much!! Beziers is surrounded by canals and is 10km from both the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains. Bakeries are everywhere which is a good thing because she doesn’t have an oven in her apartment. Her baking skills have definitely expanded this season as she is still somehow finding ways to make her treats. Fun fact: she’s playing M1 right now and is running slides/steps/fasts all day long. And kicking butt of course. Becky’s team is going into the second half of the season ranked fourth and are currently in the quarterfinals of CEV cup, which is just so fantastic. She also LOVES the fact that her team colours are pink and baby blue. Just kidding… but at least I’m super jealous on her behalf. 

I have no oven which is torture for me. But every few days I take a stroll down the little canal to the bakery. My new motto is butter.
— Becky Pavan

Marie-Pierre | Leftside | TBD

Unfortunately MP did not travel with us to World Championships which made it a little more difficult to find a contract this season – she wanted to wait for a good opportunity and not just settle for any given team. While we were at World’s she was back in Winnipeg training at the university there and devastatingly sprained her knee, which put her out for October and November. At the beginning of December she felt like she was almost ready to get going and so booked a ticket across the pond to go practice with some teams (even if they weren’t hiring for this season, a few solid contacts for next season is always a good thing). So far she’s played with four teams in three different countries. Still on the hunt for a job but she’s really enjoying this impromptu European tour. And if you know MP, you know that she’s making one million friends in every place she’s stopping (serious… it’s incredible). Joining a team mid-season is hard because the club has already made up their team for specific reasons. Often if you’re joining a team late, it’s due to injuries or the fact that they’re missing a little spark. MP says she has be the piece of what’s missing and adapt to the situation; she has everything she needs in order to play this year and is now just waiting on just a little bit of luck. You got this girl!

I did make a stop in the Val-de-Travers with the family I got to know very well three years ago. Spending the holidays with so many kids running around is just so amazing and makes me feel at home even with the distance.
— Marie-Pier Murray Methot

Brittney | Opposite | China

Brittney was the first Team Canada member to take the plunge into China. Living with her this summer, I was able to watch how this contract transpired – I was so excited for her to head waaaay across the pond and jump into this unfamiliar territory. She arrived a little late due to visa issues (what else is new?! I'm not even phased anymore...) and jumped into her first regular season game in Chengdu, China, 24 hours later. Every time I talk to her she tells me how much she is enjoying the league. The game is incredibly fast and every single player on the court can play phenomenal scrappy defense. She tells me that "the rallies are usually really long which is hardly a feat for any Chinese player as these girls have been intensely training at different sport institutes since they were kids, so they’re all very physically prepared." A regular practice for Britt consists of an hour of hitting lines and two hours of 6v6, which include A LOT of combinations (hello, cardio workout!). Her team had a tough start to the season, losing a lot of 5-set matches, which put them at risk of missing playoffs. Britt’s also had a tough go personally as she was pretty sick for a period of time and when she finally got enough strength to play in a game, she sprained her ankle (missing four games in ten days is like half of their season!). Lovely how that always seems to happen. The way the Chinese league works is that each team plays two games a week in their pool of six and if you don’t finish top of the pool you don’t get to cross over and play against the other side of the league. Britt’s team did not end up finishing in the top of their pool so are not moving forward into playoffs. They now have a few weeks off from games before one last tournament of the season where they hope to maintain their standings in the league. The crazy thing about the Chinese league is how short it is (length wise… not actually speaking in terms of average height…) and the fact that there are so many games packed into a shorter stretch, so the time just flies by. “I do quite enjoy the abundant game play but spending fourteen days on the road at a time is tough. My apartment in Chengdu has been vacant for most of the season! Now that we are here training until our last tournament I’ve had a chance to enjoy the city!” The shopping and plentiful amount of Starbucks (she can see about three from her balcony – & I would know as she sent me a ha-ha video) is keeping her very happy as well as having a personal translator, Poppy, by her side which has made her training a lot more comfortable and enjoyable. Obviously she’s killing it in a crazy-fast, defensive league… not like anybody doubted. Think you’ll go back to Asia next year, Britters?

Check out this wonderful article on Brittney (here) courtesy of the Vernon Morning Star. 

My advice upon arrival was “you’ll never be able to keep up with the Chinese, so manage yourself.
— Brittney Page

Marisa | Middle | Switzerland 

Reese’s describing sentence of her new life was “pretty fine” which just made me laugh. Oh Marisa. I know for a fact that it’s actually indeed quite lovely as she has just moved into an amazing apartment next to the city center which is across the street from a gorgeous lake (this move happened just before the Christmas break). Although living on top of a bar can get quite noisy, it would be pretty spectacular to live in the city center of well, mostly any city. Megan and Reese are playing together this season in a town called Neuchatel, which is pretty awesome. We have two setter-middle combinations happening this year which is of course going to help out our National Team when we all get back together! Reeser says that after struggling a bit at the end of the first half, the team is looking to get back on track and start wracking up points for playoffs. Spoiler alert: they just won their game tonight. She's also been crushing steps/slides/fasts (watch here). Other than that, she says it’s pretty much the standard prolife: eat, sleep, play volleyball, and repeat (…honestly). I got to meet up with Reese and a few other fellow Canadians in Lugano, Switzerland for New Years Eve which was a lovely little reset for everyone before we move into the last few months of our professional seasons! 

I was lucky enough to get to go back to the motherland and spend a few glorious days with my family in Calgary for the holidays. Now it’s back to the grind as we prepare for the second half of the season.
— Marisa Field

Janie | Libero | TBD 

I don’t envy the libero life, that’s for sure. It always seems so tough to get a contract overseas because many of the clubs are looking for big hitters and will choose to pick up a local libero if they can. Janie has been in Montreal training with the university as well as showing up the fourteen men that are all currently at their Full-Time National Team Training Center in Gatineau. It would definitely be interesting to see first hand the differences between men and women’s volleyball… other than the brute-strength of those man-hits (except that Janie probably dug them all up like a boss, while I would still be recovering from my twelve concussions). Of course it’s so wonderful to be home for the holidays but Janie’s ready to head overseas to start playing. If it doesn’t happen in the next couple weeks she’ll be heading to the sun-destination of Winterpeg at the end of January to start our FTC and be ready for the big summer that we have coming up! 

It was an awesome experience to train with the guys at FTC, especially since Super-Dan-Lewis was there to train with me and share some of his super-ninja-libero-skills.
— Janie Guimond

Dana | Leftside | Puerto Rico 

D-Smooth-Money is off to Puerto Rico RIGHT MEOW for some tryouts. What a stud. After resting her bionic knees for the fall months she is ready to get back on the court in order to train and be ready for this summer! She spoke with her agent one day and three days later she was on a plane to an actual sunny destination. Right from the get-go she has a tryout with the top team in the league and will go from there. Currently, Puerto Rico is trying to pick up some solid outside hitters for the season so I don’t have any doubt in my mind that she will be staying there for the next several months. Puerto Rico is a shorter season, typically running from January into about April or May. It’s a strong league with ballin-foreigners but they are not shy to make sudden changes if they feel you’re underperforming. Super-star Destiny Hooker was actually released from her Puerto Rican team last year post-baby because they felt like she wasn’t in as good of shape as they expected. Regardless, I know Dana’s up the challenge. Put that girl in any situation, hard or easy, and she’s going to flourish and come out of it a stronger player. Not to mention the tan that she will be inevitably getting… jealous. Perhaps we should all go down there for a visit after our European seasons are done… who’s with me? (Lucifer… I know you’re in!)

 

Jennifer | Setter | Germany

As mentioned above, Jennifer and Lucifer are playing together in Hamburg this season. Jenn also mentions that they had a bit of a rocky start to the season and up until a couple of games ago, they were ranked last in the German league. They’ve struggled finding their rhythm as well as finding the right combination of players on any given day. Like a lot of professional teams they have faced some adversity in the coaching department. The past couple of games they had, however, earned them six points with their two wins, which pulls them ahead to 9th. She hopes they can keep the streak alive and pull even further into the rankings. This is Jenn’s first year playing pro so she is still getting accustomed to the lack of ease surrounding it all; everything just takes more time and there’s always paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. “Everything just seems to be a little more difficult to do, such as setting up online banking, getting internet installed, or even developing pictures!” Welcome to the prolife, Jennycakes! In other exciting news, our baby CHJEN got engaged this Christmas. Naturally, I almost died with excitement / exploded with the amount of love and happiness I had for them both. Such an exciting time! Yay team weddings!

Germany isn’t TOO different from Canada and things are going pretty well. However, I severely miss Tim Hortons, mini eggs, and giant tubs of peanut butter but there are only a few more months to go and then I’ll be reunited with all of those things!
— Jennifer Lundquist

Tabi | Leftside | Azerbaijan 

When I tell people that Azerbaijan is one of the top leagues in the world, their responses are often something along the lines of “where/what the heck is that?!” I actually just googled it to make sure I could provide a map for everyone and “2015 Azerbaijan Individual Chess Championships” just popped up and is being streamed live… so that’s something. So far, Tabi is having an awesome experience. They just finished up the annual Gloria Cup and finished third. Currently, they are in Antalya, Turkey, training until next week when they will play a Champions League match against Stiinta Bacau. They are ranked first in the Azerbaijan league at the moment and have high hopes of finishing the season off with the title. Tab was originally brought in as a two-year development player for this team but has been getting on the court a bunch (and kicking butt!) playing both left and right side. Her team consists of a Brazilian middle, the starting German National Team libero, two Serbian players, the Bulgarian-National Team captain, as well as four girls off the Azerbaijan National Team. Sounds pretty stacked to me.

Every team is super stacked so it’s really fun that way. It’s like a league of dream teams where all the games are close – anyone can win.
— Tabi Love

Dani | Setter | Germany 

Dani is currently in the city of Vilsbiburg, Germany. She arrived in late October to play for the second division Rote Raben team although she has done a lot of flip-flopping between the first and second team as both work very closely with each other. The last few weeks she was training with the first team and travelled to the Pokal Semi-Final and three league games. Dan says that even though the results weren’t what they were expecting, Vilsbiburg is a very strong club and are usually finishing the season in the top five of the Bundesliga. Her second team is currently ranked fourth in the league with the goal of finishing top three by the end of the season. She mentions that the team is “an eclectic group ranging in age and experience; three players are foreigners who played first division earlier in their careers, a couple girls are in their mid-twenties and have been in the club since high school, and the rest are youngsters living in the Internad (volleyball boarding school) hoping to develop and feed into the first team in the years to come.” Vilsbiburg is a very small city but volleyball is the main attraction, which means there is usually a ton of support from the local fans and supporters! Munich is also a quick train ride away so she’s pretty content that she gets the best of both worlds.

This is my first season overseas and I am learning a lot about the ins and outs of this profession and lifestyle. I hope to finish the season healthy, happy, and in good shape for the summer!
— Dani Smith

Jenn | Middle | Sweden 

Every since Jenn has left for Sweden for her first professional stint, I have seen nothing but good and joyous things from this girl. So many photos have been posted with her grinning ear to ear, usually with some captured celebration on the court. She tells me that things have been going fantastically in Sweden and feels she really lucked out on her situation in Angelholm (is that really the name!?). They are currently going into the second half of the season undefeated and also “squeezed out a win in the Swedish Grand Prix” (which is a mid-year final for the current top four teams in the Swedish League). She is loving exploring and learning about life in Europe. So far she’s traveled to many of the southern parts of Sweden including Stockholm. She’s also explored Copenhagen, which I've personally only heard good things about. Having this be Jenn’s first time playing overseas, I asked her if it was everything she thought it would be. Her answer sums it up pretty well: 

Yes, I think because I have you girls and previous teammates who have gone through the transition into the professional life and therefore I had a good understanding of what to expect. But for other people to understand is how much time we spend either alone or with a couple of teammates. It takes a really strong person to be comfortable being alone but still feel like they’re connected to people at home.
— Jenn Cross

Pizza, Pasta, and Cappuccinos

I just wanna go on more adventures. Be around good energy. Connect with people. Learn new things. Grow.
 Looking out over Urbino's city centre. 

Looking out over Urbino's city centre. 

Now that the first half of the season is completed, we can all take a little breather. Having organized my apartment, got used to our small town, and figured out how to drive standard in a foreign country, it finally feels like we're into the normal swing of things. Usually after the first few weeks you’ll understand how your new club functions but it’s always such an interesting time. It’s essentially like winning the lottery; will you get along with your teammates (who you will see every single day for the next 8 months), is your coach slightly sane (generally not), and what does your apartment look like? I’ve learned that it’s very important to go into your new season and team with an open mind. Just because something seems good, or bad at the beginning, it can turn around within a matter of weeks once everything has settled down and you have a clearer sense of what the heck is actually going on. In my first year playing overseas in Germany, I wanted to know everything before I signed a contract and jumped on a plane. I harassed my agent with questions about the club, practices, coaches, living arrangements, grocery stores, the town, transportation, this and that, small and large details for everything. I actually received the nickname “Miss Question” (which later switched to Baby Kyla) from my agent shortly after that. In the end, your agent can tell you all the details in the world but it still somehow doesn’t prepare you for what you’re getting in to. Sure, some details and questions are important to ask but I said before, you just have to keep your fingers crossed and hope all goes smoothly.

My situation this pro season has already started out very differently. Finishing World Championships I had a few days off to travel around with my parents before making my way down to Urbino. Once there, we stayed at a B&B as my apartment was getting ready but luckily I was given my car straight away. I had two days to practice with the team and meet the girls before I had to fly back to Canada to get my visa (where I stayed for a couple weeks - feel free to check out the last blog post on my nightmare flight). So that was different; getting on the plane to come back to Italy for good I already knew exactly what I was getting into (well… for the most part). I had a clear sense of where I was living, what the gym was like, and how the coaching staff and players were. That erased some of the tension and nerves I typically have before jumping on a plane for the year. Once I finally arrived in Urbino I had a solid three days of practice to somehow bond with my teammates and make it work before our first match. Not too surprising, our first few matches weren’t the greatest as we were all trying to find our rhythm. The majority of teams had already been training together for a couple of months and had entered in a few friendly tournaments and had some matches under their belts. For us, after the first month of games we started practicing better and playing a bit more consistently. That was our preseason. Our schedule was also a bit more challenging as we played all the top teams in November. We were working super hard in training and having some really strong sets against these top teams but it’s a little difficult to maintain morale after so many losses in a row. But nothing else to do but continue working hard every single day with the thought that it's going to turn around eventually!      

Then... shit kind of hit the fan. During one of our days off a couple of weeks ago, we found out that our coach got fired. I can’t go into much detail about this now but let’s just say that our coach and president weren't seeing eye to eye. When you don’t make nice with the boss man and lose a bunch of games, things are bound to go South. At this present moment we still do not have a coach. We went a couple weeks with our assistant coach, Andrea, taking over as the head coach, and our trainer and statician stepping into larger roles at practice. Then this past week it kind of switched to our trainer being head coach. I wasn't totally clear who was the first coach for our last game... which makes things a little difficult. It has been a bit back and forth if the coach the club wanted to hire for the second half is actually coming or if we are just keeping the situation the way it is. It's been a difficult period for sure... You'll have to stay tuned on what happens (because at this moment I still have no idea...). 

With the year coming to a close,it's almost time to set the reset button. Last year I thankfully had the opportunity to head home for 6 or 7 days to spend Christmas with my family (an especially important Christmas for us to all be together as we tried our best to deal with the fact that Connor was not with us). This year was different. Very, very different. I knew our game schedule before we started the season; our last game fell on Boxing Day and our first game of the second half is on January 4th. That didn't allow the largest window of opportunity to book a ticket home. I started wrapping my brain around the fact that I would fly somewhere in Europe & find the group of Canadians that was willing to get together and make homemade eggnog and some sort of feast.  UNFORTUNTATELY due to our schedule, we were only given 2 days off… after Christmas, so any plans I had at travelling were quickly diminished. We practiced Christmas Eve morning and then the italians jetted off to their various homes for Christmas. I went out for a little Christmas-Market wandering and then headed out to a restaurant in the boonies (or seemed like it because we definitely got lost for about 45 minutes... thank you Urbino fog and malfunctioning GPS'). Delicious Italian feast with Anja, 2 foreigner teammates (Jess & Lucia), 2 italian teammates (Giulia & Marianna), and our statician, Domi. The restaurant was caaahhhhllaaasssyyyyy and we actually ordered our meals from iPads... what? The next day was Christmas although I felt like my brain was playing tricks on me. We actually practiced that afternoon which was oh so very strange. The next day: on a bus and played our last game of the season. Being such a Christmas-fanatic, it was super hard to be away from friends, family, and home during this time. Mom has promised me that we'll do Christmas in April or May... or whenever I'm back! 

I also decided to get a kitten... As many, many people already know. I could hear my parent’s voices in my head when I started thinking about it; “Kyla Richey you don’t have time for a kitten – Kyla Richey what are you going to do with it after the season – Kyla Richey, that’s a terrible idea!!” So naturally I said yes and did it. It happened during one of our passing individuals. Andre and my teammate Monica were talking about kittens so of course I intervened and invited myself into the conversation. Andre said that there was a mama cat and three kittens outside where he lives and that he and Monica will be adopting one each, otherwise who knows if they would make it thru the winter (and if they did, they would be “dumpster cats”). Pfffff who can say no now! ("But mooooommmmmmm they'll dieeeeee if we don't adopt themmmm!!!"). They were looking for a third adoptive parent and before they had even finished the sentence I told them that I would think about it. Less than a week later I had bought all the necessary items and scooped up Zeusy to introduce him to his new home. Zeus-Alexander Hemmingway. Welcome to the family. It was actually a pretty easy transition and I hope that all pets coming into my life will be that easy. A prime example is the first time he came home I had his litter box all set up and eventually after he ate he started wandering around crying, so I plunked him in his litter box and that was that. He’s used it every time since. Peanuts. What a clever kitty. Andre said that he had to keep Cain (which means Dog in Italian) ie. Bart in the bathroom when he would leave his apartment because he would go to bathroom EVERYWHERE except the litter box. Hilarious – I love that story. But so far it’s been awesome having a little furry friend to greet me at home. He really is the most spoiled cat; I have toys all over my apartment (fake mice included which still scare me), my teammates/neighbors love him, Anja who when she came to visit, I thought was going to try to smuggle him back to Germany, and our Italian-teacher’s two sons who like to come over and play with him. The most affectionate... craziest cat ever. I’m pretty convinced Zeus thinks he’s a dog… and I just go with it. Side-note: I am mildly nervous for myself and my well-being that this is just the beginning of my cat collection, and in a couple years I am going to be that crazy cat lady. The crazy-cat-lady-volleyball-player who travels the globe with her cats... One contract + 12 pet-plane-tickets please. Only time will tell. For those of you who have me on social media (especially SnapChat) I apologize for all the videos. Well…. Sorry, not sorry!         

Facts, Tidbits, and Differences

  • There are no stoplights. In fact, the whole time I have been in Italy I have only seen one and it happened to be in the most random place (along a one-way I might add). Roundabouts for days…
  • Italian coffee. It is ridiculous good. And strong. I am used to the size of grande’s from Starbucks or any other coffee shop in Vancouver. As a result I am still learning that just because 5 café macchiatos from Italy will fill a tall Starbucks take-away cup, doesn’t mean that I should be consuming such. Helloooooo caffeine.
  • The first word I learned in Italian was “domani”. That means tomorrow. Internet? Domani. My car? Domani. Is it possible to get *name anything*? Domani. Ahhh, okay. Grrreat. I’m going to go meditate now.
  • There is a “lunch break” from 1 until about 4pm. No shops are open at this time with the exception of maybe a restaurant or café. It’s utterly confusing and I still don’t really understand why.
  • Dinner starts after 10pm. Being the old soul that I am, I just cannottttttttttt. There is no such thing as an early bedtime in Italy.
  • Dinner isn’t the only thing that starts late. We went out in Milan last month and the sentence “no we can’t go to the club yet, it’s barely 2am. Nobody will be there for at least another hour” was produced from somebody’s mouth. Where am I and please let me sleep! Grandmother-status achieved. 
  • Wine is cheaper than water. You can also get it at the grocery store. Enough said.
  • My team is slowly beginning to understanding the severity of my small bladder. I always have to pee… my bladder was just made smaller than the average person. That, and the fact that I drink a ton of water alllll the time really doesn’t help my case. A couple weeks ago on our bus trip to Florence, I had to stop the bus two separate times on the way there…. On a less than 4 hour road trip. I was about to burst. And that was me really making an effort to hold it. I think that will be the last time that they ever rent a bus without a bathroom.
  • Over here in Italy, driving is crazy. Okay.. so we knew Italians were crazy before I got here but holy smokes - nobody really prepared me for their driving “skills”. You come around an extremely sharp corner (that’s all Urbino is… hills and sharp turns) and all of a sudden there are two sets of lights coming straight at you. Am I on a one-way street right now? Oh no… they’re just passing the slow-ish car in front of them and playing chicken with me. That’s nice.
  • The three Americans on my team and I decided to go out in Milan one day (as referred to above...). We had only been dancing for about 15 minutes when Hayley says “ohmygoddddd you guys - my iPhone is gone!!!” Straight from her purse. I immediately check mine and whatttjaaaknowwwww. My purse is unlatched also. Because I’m the smartest chick ever I had my passport in my purse that evening because our manager had our I.D.’s and I forgot to get it back after our match. THANK GOODNESS it was still there. So was my iPhone due to the millions of other things I tried to fit in my small purse… whoever was fishing around snatched up a make-up pallet instead. That learning experience put a little damper on the evening. 
  • The smallest jar of peanut butter is about 7 or 8 euros. Most foreigners who play abroad are bringing over the Costco-size jar. I think I will be putting that on my list for next year.
  • Holister & Abercrombie are still considered stylish over here. Think of the hoodies with the large, large, logos. 

  • There is such thing as Cafe Ginseng and Cafe Orzo. Orzo like the rice. It's delicious but doesn't have caffeine sooooo it's defeating it's purpose. 

  • An Italian breakfast is a cappuccino and a pastry. Or if you're me... 5 cappuccinos (=1 tall Starbucks drink). 

  • Fun Fact: I am actually gluten-intolerant which makes it super pleasing to live in Italy. Strangely, it doesn't have the same effect on me as it does back at home (which scares me on a whole other level; what are they putting in our food in North America...!!!) so I can indulge in a plate of pasta or pizza every now and then. During that time... I'm a pretty happy camper. THE FOOD IS JUST SO DANG GOOD. Gnocchi, ravioli, /other pastas that don't even exist back home are all made from scratch. Melting-in-your-mouth magnificent. If I was actually able to eat pasta it would definitely be a problem.

  • Italians speak with their hands... okay, we knew that. But hand gestures are a whole other language here - I'm definitely bringing some of these back home with me. 

  • When I first adopted Zeus, mom's reaction was "Oh yay!!!! My first grandchild!!" Clearly she has lost all hope in me and quite frankly... I've lost hope in myself. #crazycatlady ~ so it has begun.  

  • I went out dancing three days before Christmas. I'm not quite sure what life I'm living right now. 

  • My first care packages arrived from home just in time for Christmas! Little trinkets, tons of Starbucks instant coffee, granola and weird hippie-eats, Christmas socks and decorations were all part of the magic bundle of joy. The best (or most outrageous part) was that there was two stockings in the package... one for me. One for Zeus. Of course his is already packed with presents. This is getting out of hand very quickly. 

  • "Oh mama" / "Madonna" / "Mama Miaaaaaaa" have made it into the vocabulary of us foreigners. 

  • "What sound does a rooster make? How about a frog?" You wouldn't believe the differences!!!!! During one of our team dinners I think we went through, and sounded out the entire Animal Planet.

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A little bit on pro-life: You arrive. Your apartment may or may not be set up. Internet? Forget it. If you have a locked phone like I do then you might as well say goodbye to all communication with the outside world. At least for the first month or so. Or three. Were you promised a car? Keep your fingers crossed that they give it to you within the first week, otherwise you might be waiting for a long time. That salary that’s written in your signed contract? You are the luckiest athlete ever if you receive it all… and without any problems, that’s basically unheard of. Coaches or club presidents can pay you whenever they want. Not playing well, the team is losing, their coffee wasn’t strong enough that morning, whatever it is - they can hold your payment and pay you whenever they feel like it. Maybe it's just me and my superb luck, but I don’t know of any other job in the world where you are on a signed contract and you may or may not get paid that month, or the next… or ever. My fingers hurt from being crossed all the time. We already have so many “fun” stories from this first half but I’ll save those for later.

In comparison to my team last year, everyone speaks English. I’m not sure if that’s just a more central-European mentality or whether the fact that Turkey seemed/was just really far away, but the communication factor hasn’t been a problem so far. I have four foreigners on my team, not including myself, three of which are American and one from Argentina (Lucia) who I played with in Germany two years ago. Having these four girls around me at all times makes such a big difference, I can’t even believe it. Just an added support group and mini crew who is up for adventures, traveling, or just drinking wine with you when you need it most. I also love my italian teammates - I for sure won the lottery there. Andrea, our assistant coach, was also our assistant coach in Potsdam, Germany so we had a little reunion coming back here! Our setter from Potsdam is currently playing for Modena and when she came to Urbino last month, we had another teammate come watch, as well as our physio and friend, Anja who was visiting (from Germany)… I felt like we had half of Potsdam here, and it was awesome. That’s definitely one major perk about playing overseas. You meet SO many people through sport. Your teammates instantly become your lifeline and dear friends who will keep you sane during the long stretches. It’s pretty crazy and interesting how you see this group of people every single day. Multiple times. Weight-sessions, individuals, practices, video-sessions, lunches, dinners, going out, exploring, coffee dates, etc. It’s constant. And to think that you didn’t know them a few months ago is just bonkers (then after the season you might never see them again). It’s a very strange life we’re living overseas and most definitely unlike any other job in the entire world.

Urbino itself is a very small, tiny tot town. It is essentially on/in a hill (our own little mountain town). My teammate Hayley has described living in Urbino “like living in a painting”. After living just outside of Berlin and Istanbul the last two years, it’s definitely a little bit of a difference. Pesaro is about a 40minute drive from Urbino and has a larger center, the water, and some nice places to walk and explore. Luckily we have a few major cities that are only a couple hours away by train but it’s still a bit of a trek. Florence is on the agenda next half of the season, I saw Bologna with my parents after World Championships (but will definitely go back because it’s only an hour or so train ride away from Pesaro) BUT Rome is actually only 3 hour away from us – which doesn’t seem that bad at all, especially because this city has been near the top of my bucket list for so long now! The culture and history of Rome is going to make me go crazy and just nerd-out to the max. I can’t WAIT! I figured that second half of the season when we have a day off here and there, I’ll head down to Rome a handful of times so I can really spend time at each site and learn as much as I can. That way I wont be rushing around only seeing the briefest of moments. Yay for the adventures of the nerdy tourist! 

Anyhow, that was a pretty large rant!! I'll be posting a halfway-point-update of the other Team Canada girls soon (or whenever they all fire me a little message.... girls:.... hurry!). I hope everyone has the loveliest Christmas whenever you are in the world. Those at home, drink a couple chai-eggnog lattes for me... it tastes like Christmas in a cup (it's also your full caloric intake for the day, sooo you're welcome)! & here's to the New Year and a fresh start!

Check out my Italy gallery here. 

Merry Christmas & Happy new year to all. 

Trade your expectations for appreciation and the world changes instantly.
— Tony Robbins

Meet Your Team - Dana Cranston

Dana Cranston | #20 | Position: Leftside | International Matches: 25 | Hometown: Fort St. John, BC | Nicknames: Dan, Danada, DCranst, DC from BC, Smooth 

For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
— 2 Timothy 1:7

Since I started writing these player blogs I was excited to eventually get the opportunity to write Dana’s. Not only is she a wonderful teammate to me and everyone else, she is also one of my dearest of dear friends. For those of you who know Dana, you are well aware that she is one of the greatest human beings on this earth. The NICEST individual you will ever meet. That’s not even an exaggeration. I don’t know any person that has met Dana that doesn’t immediately love this girl or have the best things to say about her. On the court she is a stable player that will step in to any role that she is asked to play, without any hesitation or grudge. Her passing is hella-solid (that platform, tho!) and her swings are flippin hard to block – her vertical is slightly outrageous. At one point this summer she was getting frustrated at connecting on the fast sets we were running; she literally jumps too high!! What a problem to have! On the court she is one of the most hard working and passionate players we have. She is a fierce competitor and her celebrations are enough to turn any game around. That kick-double-fist-pump-upper-cut celly… It just makes everyone smile. #ideasfromthebench are always perfectly on point and she has the most ideal things to say in team meetings… “wise beyond her years” I think was said in Argentina this past summer. Dana brings a special contagious energy to the matches we play and those working around her will always try to step up, just as she has. Although she can be incredibly pensive at times, she's usually being a big goofball and I love her for it. She is such a joy to play with and be around and I am just so so thankful for this girl - it's hard to articulate how much I love her (but hopefully you'll understand a little bit after you finish reading this!).

  • 2010 – present: Team Canada Volleyball 
  • 2010 – 2011: IOPV Istres Ouest Provence Volley, France 
  • 2009 – 2012: Colorado State Rams
  • 2009: Team BC
  • 2006 – 2008: North Peace High-school, NBCVC Ice (Club Volleyball) 

Another special thing about Dana (there are just so many!) is her complete devotion to her faith in God and Jesus Christ. The thing I love about Dana and her faith is that she is so open, honest, and real about everything. She doesn’t try to hide anything and if her feelings have wavered one day, she is honest about that. She knows that God has a plan and will guide her through life on whatever path He has chosen for her. She embraces that. She shares that. She has taught me so much over the last year and I feel the most important of those is that God does have a plan for all of us and that we will get out of whatever struggle we are in at that moment. The hardships are for us to learn from and make us stronger (however hard that is to see that at the time). She never complained about the million questions I asked her, wanting to learn more about everything and anything, or the 6hour airplane “interrogation” on the flight from South America to Europe (yaaaaa, sleeping pills weren't doing their job…). Dana was one of the few teammates that I turned to after my brother's accident and she has been by my side ever since. When I had to leave my family so soon after the accident to go play in Turkey last year she was always there to make sure I was surviving, and sent me daily excerpts in order to give me the strength I needed to get through each day. Whatever I was feeling was okay. In fact, it was a gift! Even now, constant voice messages are being left on whatsapp (wifi is next to non-existent for me so hooray for advanced technology and the millions of apps available!) just to make sure we’re updated on daily-life events! When I balled my eyes out at a church service this summer, she was right beside me to help me through with her Dana-strength and smile. She is a huge support system for me. Her strong faith in God is such a comfort and I know others have turned to her for help in many other situations. She recruits people to be stronger in their faith just by being herself. If you have the pleasure of knowing Dana you understand what I mean when you can feel His presence around her. You can see that He shines His light down on her and she shines on other people. She has an extremely large impact on everyone she comes across.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight." -Proverbs 3:5-6

After our long summer with Team Canada and World Championships, Dana has taken the fall and winter months off in order to rest her bionic knees. I know that she would love to be playing right now but this was definitely the smartest decision for her health in the long run. She says that if she wants to be able to play throughout all of next summer, then her knees absolutely need a bit of R&R at some point in the year. She is still hoping to pick up a late contract halfway through the season (in January) so she can kick-butt somewhere in Europe and be in good form before coming back to TC in the summer! Otherwise, she will be joining the FTC troops in sunny, warm, and aesthetically-pleaseing Winterpeg. 

Awards:

  • 2012: Capital One Academic All-American (CSU’s second ever), AVCA All-American third team, AVCA All-West Region, Mountain West Player of the Year, Senior Class Award Finalist, CSU Team MVP
  • 2009 – 2012: Mountain West Scholar-Athlete, Academic All-Mountain West
  • 2011: Debbie Murphy Award (Most Inspirational Player), Capial One Academic District VII second team

Fan Fun Facts 

  1. How did you come across your faith? "I really came in to faith in college. I was so homesick when I left and our senior libero invited me to bible study at her place. At that point, I just wanted to be around people so I said yes; before that, I don't think I had ever even opened up a bible in my life. Batty (teammate) helped me along and God really grabbed my heart. Later that fall I prayed to receive Christ and my life has been magnificent since. Not in the sense that everything has been perfect, it's far from that, but in the sense of continual joy, even when practices go long every day of the week. In trusting in a bigger purpose when I dont know where I will be in a month and in knowing that this volleyball career is about a lot more than me and sharing that with the people I love! Jesus is freaking cool!! I love him."
  2. Favorite place in the world? “Back home in Fort St. John! My parents have land just outside the city which is prime location for quadding, snowmobiling, sledding, and skating on our pond.”
  3. How was growing up in such a remote area? “I love that I am from a small town. You know everyone so much more intimately and everyone was/is so supportive of this crazy life I live. I have a huge extended family on my mom’s side and most of them live there, which makes the holidays a blast.”
  4. Dana has two siblings: Barb, 21, and Blain, 19. Both are currently playing volleyball as well: Barb (outside hitter) is in her 4th year at Grant McEwan and Blain is setting at GPRC (Grand Prairie Regional College). When Dana is describing them to me, it sounds like they spend most of their time together in hysterical laughter – they are willing to look silly in order to make each other laugh.
  5. Her father Arley runs an oilfield company in Fort St. John and is said to keep her whole family grounded with perfectly hilarious comments at the necessary times. Her mother, Karen, is her best friend and after meeting this woman once you begin to understand why. The first time I met her, I was embraced in the largest hug of life. This is also where Dana gets her incredible cheering abilities from; her mom is the greatest super fan!!
  6. When Dana gets angry, you know it’s a major problem which needs to be dealt with asap (it doesn’t happen very often.. so you know it's legit).
  7. She speaks in sarcasm just about as much as I do. It’s splendaaaa.
  8. Loudest voice on and off the court, especially when our team needs some cheering & positive reinforcement.
  9. Has recently learned to knit and is loving it. I think it's clear that our National Team needs to start a knitting club.
  10. Her knees have extra bones in them; “tendonitis and joint funkiness”. Next time you complain about knee pain… think again. When asked about it she replied with: “I am an old soul... and an old knee soul I suppose. So I have bionic legs. Really, I am a transformer sooooo you’re welcome. The good news is it doesn’t take very long to transform before practice so I don’t have to schedule extra time for that. It can just fit into the schedule!” Again with the positivity. BAM! 
  11. The knee bump also has it’s own name…
  12. She can resite the ABC’s backwards.
  13. Dana has slightly larger than average feet and one of the longest inseams known to man… or woman I suppose.
  14. For being one of the nicest people ever, it may be strange for you to learn that she calls everyone a dick. Yes - that is correct. Just don't be a dick and in you're in the clear.
  15. She’s always up for anything. Even if she doesn’t particularly want to, she’ll always say yes because she knows you want to go. We went exploring every opportunity we had this summer - from FISU Games in Russia last year, Grand Prix to World Championships this summer, we flew around and explored the globe together!
  16. She always plays with Connor’s green wristband on and my family loves her for that.

  17. Still so involved with Colorado State University Volleyball. The most supportive alumni ever!
  18. She used to hate reading in College and now she loves it. 
  19. Dana’s hometown of Fort St. John has about 20,000 people so it’s a decent size… but in the absolute middle of nowhere. Google map it – I dare you.
  20. She can put the most positive spin on any situation. This past summer, the day after she broke her finger, her car got broken into (and the window smashed), and didn’t make a travel roster, her response was “That’s ok, I’ll be fine. Things like this happen. There are worst things that could have happened to me.” Kids, take note... 
  21. On the road, you can usually find her dancing with Lucifer and I in Mandy’s room. She’s also bff’s with Byron.
  22. Dana’s always the first to volunteer to take someone for icecream, even though she’s lactose intolerant. 
  23. Graduated from CSU with a Business Administration Major. 
  24. Has a choreographed dance to Shake It Off (by T. Swift).

If you want to check out her CSU bio click here

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
— Ephesians 6:10-20

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