Sunday, December 26, 2010

And here we go, life's waiting to begin...

6:00 am came far too early, and with far too much instant adrenaline. Today was the official start to a new chapter in my life and, man, was I pumped. After loading up the Suburban and doing a final walk-through of my room at home, we began our 140-mile journey to the Orlando International Airport. Upon arriving, we saw that most of the group was already checked in, and ready to go through security. After an initial group photo, Kara, Chelsea, and I led the way, ensuring everyone made it through the pat-downs unharmed. We had quite some time until our flight to Boston would board, so we all scattered for our first forage for food. It’s important to note that you never know when you’ll eat again on these trips, so eat what you can, when you can. That said, Kendra and I decided to hit up the BK lounge for our final American meal. Many of our group sat around the help desk area to eat and rest from our drive before we would make our way over to our departure gate. “Flight delays…” I overheard someone say, and instantly knew this could mean trouble. We had to turn in our original boarding passes for the flight to Boston so we could try to get flights changed in order to not miss our connections. Boston was snowed in; there would be no air travel in or out of the city. Panic rushed through the girls like wildfire.

As travel experts, Kamryn and I did what any well-seasoned traveler would in such a crisis: eat. And take pictures. We finished off the remainder of Big’s salad while he worked on rebooking us through Miami. Miss Paula took the group downstairs to reclaim our luggage while Ceej and Big finished reticketing everyone. We had been rerouted onto an outbound flight from Miami into Rome that would depart at 4:45pm. It was already 12:30. The group was divided into three cars and began hauling it down the turnpike towards Miami. Big managed to get us to the airport safely in just over three hours. Oh hey, Mario Andretti.

My last day in America would have to wait until tomorrow, as poor weather up north forced me to miss my connecting flight out from Miami. The group checked in and began exchanging their US cash for Euros while I waited in line to change my ticket from departing Sunday to Monday. Big and I had just left the ticket counter when I remembered I needed to shortstop my ticket and baggage in Rome instead of continuing on to Catania. I got back in line to fix my ticket while the group began to head to security. A few family photos later, and it was time to bid my parents and sister farewell. I would not see them again until possibly May, if you don’t count the numerous Skype dates that will occur between then and now. The Delta ticket counter was less than helpful in attempting to shortstop my ticket in Rome, and sent me over to the Alitalia ticket counter, claiming it was their problem to handle. Alitalia was unable to help me and merely sent me back over to the Delta line. I called Big to explain the situation and he instructed me to stay at Alitalia and have them help me to the best of their abilities or walk me down to Delta to ensure that some changes are made. 20 minutes later, I still had made no progress. Big came back through security to assist me. About an hour and a half later, we had made two contacts via phone, and one at the ticket counter and finally: SUCCESS! My ticket would stop at Rome. Big left me again, and I left the airport to drive to my uncle’s house. Due to the utter chaos of my day, I was extremely scatterbrained and unable to follow the multiple sets of instructions he gave to me. Finally surrendering to the craziness of my day, I pulled over and waited for him to find me.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And so it begins...

I got a call yesterday afternoon telling me that I have a contract offer to play with a team in Hungary. I will be the first American placed in Hungary that they know of, and the first time they have done anything with this team. Of course, I accepted...haha

So, I leave Dec 26, fly into Rome, say goodbye to my family (who is continuing on to Sicily) spend the day in Rome on Dec 27 and then fly that night into Budapest, Hungary and drive 2.5 hours to Bekescsaba (south east Hungary near the Romanian border). The team's name is Békéscsabai Röplabda Sportegyesület (BRSE - The site is all in Hungarian, so its nearly impossible to figure out. The team is in the first league in Hungary, finished 6th last year, trying to make it into the final 4 this year. My contract is from Jan 1-April 30, 2011.

In attempts to improve my Hungarian knowledge base, I researched the alphabet: 44 letters, 15 of them are vowels. Its really disheartening when I read that there are multiple letters that make the same sound. Why the redundancy, you may ask....God only knows, but I felt the need to provide some examples:

I, i - i as in machine
Í, í - i as in machine
Ü, ü - i as in machine (with lips protruded as if to whistle)

E, e - e as in set
Ö, ö - e as in let (with lips protruded as if to whistle)

J, j - y as in yes
Ly, ly - y as in yes (l is silent)

So, yeah that's all I've got so far, but pretty exciting...there will be many more posts coming up.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bicycles and Black Death (part two)

Sara picked me up from Nina's around 10 and we headed to her dorm in 
Ljubljana. After picking up Eva, Hana's sister, we were on our way, eager to 
begin another adventure in the capital city. Her dorm is very nice, 
built in 2006. She shares a room with Tine who is studying to be a 
pediatrician. They share a bathroom and kitchen with Sara's boyfriend, 
Matjaj, his roommate Marko. We had a cappuccino and talked about 
religion, science, relationships. Finally Hana called to say she was 
done with her exam and ready to meet in the city for the adventure.
 We took the bikes and headed off into downtown. Sara came prepared 
with a plan, aka "cheat sheet" with information about historical sights 
from around the city. There is a famous architect (Plečnik) 
responsible for most buildings in LJ, a famous poet (Prešern) who 
points to his secret lover Julija. The tripod (Mikie, Julie, and myself) is well represented by 
the triple bridge called Tromostovje. 
I bought postcards for the gang from the city. Hopefully they will get 
them before I am home.

We headed up this killer mountain to see the Ljubljana Castle; and 
pushed our bikes the whole way. Once to the top we took a quick moment 
to lock the bikes and then head into the castle, where we were first 
greeted by the LJ symbol: a dragon. 
Hana pointed out a sign that we knew deserved a picture. Trouble 
followed: in an attempt to hand me my camera after documenting this 
sign, hana and I fumbled the pass as the camera string was stuck on 
her finger. It was slow motion as we watched my new birthday camera 
plunge towards it doom, crashing into the stairs below. "it's ok no 
worries" was a slight understatement. The Nikon screen flashed "lens 
error!" and made a horrible beeping noise. It was over for my camera. 
Luckily I have a warranty....
Now that we have no way of visually remembering my time with the girls 
in LJ, my writing must step up it's game.

After the now somber adventure in the castle, we headed to Eva's for a 
drink and then to the student center so they could get their meal 
coupons (similar to meal exchanges) so we could enjoy a pizza before 
the BBQ tonight. It must have appeared that we were poor starving 
college students (which isn't too far from the truth) as we all shared 
one bowl of soup and one pizza; each with our own juice only costing 
 We rode back to drop off Hana's borrowed bike before stopping at 
Merkator to buy some essentials for the nights festivities. We picked 
up three 1.5L sangria, and one bottle of Puschkin Black Sun (a 
favorite from my trip here two years ago).

Finally we made it to Saras dorm where we were greeted by her roommate 
Tine, and suitemates Matjaj (boyfriend) and Marko. Marko's 
girlfriend/Sara's best friend Katja and Sara's brother Nil also 
joined. We immediately poured glasses of sangria; we had no juice and 
were thirsty from biking all around town, and the BBQ began: A feast of 
potatoes, grilled veggies, čivipčiči, chicken wings with special 
sauce made by Matjaj.

Questions were rapidly fired in my direction by everyone about foods 
and life in America. Topics included: macaroni and cheese (introduced 
to Matjaj by Sara after her visit to FL), grilled cheese (not similar 
to their toast, even though they think so), pb&j, s'mores (Tine has 
had this so I had some help explaining). After every answer and 
description Katja said "wow you are like watching a movie, so very 
American!" to which I reminded her that I was born and raised red 
white and blue.
 The sangria began to dissipate and we began drinking black sun. Asher 
Roth made a grand appearance, and after listening to "I love college" 
I was asked to explain many ideas from his lyrics. 
Matjaj made me say the pledge, to which three cell phones were pulled 
out and recorded my every English word. I was asked to follow this up 
with the national anthem, which I butchered with a voice far from 
American idol worthy. Katja wrote out Zdravljica, the Slovejne national 
anthem, handed it to me and made me say out loud. They laughed and 
clapped at my pronunciation of these somewhat difficult words. Marko 
failed at getting Tine to drink so he passed the job off to me. With 
an innocent look and a few kind and convincing words, I was 
successful. Peer pressure much? A little after midnight the purchased 
drinks were gone, and Matjaj brought out homemade berry schnapps.

With open windows and the lights on, we had a fine collection of gnats 
on the ceiling. Matjaj and Marko showed off their flame throwing 
skills and torched the little suckers, killing them instantly with 
firery hairspray. Where did they fall? On the table. Luckily the 
drinks were all well protected. We finished the schnapps in record 
time, each person passing the glass to their left after taking their 
turn. Once we got to the end of the glass and you were subjected to 
the alcohol-full berries, Tine and I decided to call it quits and headed 
off to their room and get ready for bed. I checked my email and 
facebook and chatted with Julie and Marion for a while, catching them 
up on my life from the past few weeks and discussing future plans to 
hang out as soon as I get back to the states.
 I bid everyone good night, jumped into the shower, which flooded the 
whole room, squeegied the floor once I realized there was a water 
problem, then headed off to sleep.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chapter 1: My Life as a Volleyball Vagabond

“Volleyball is the sport through which I am able to express my God-given talents of being an athlete. It is a sport which involves relating, pushing, and encouraging your teammates. It has helped evolve me into the person I am today.” -David Beard

I am the epitome of a volleyball baby. My parents met at a grass volleyball tournament in South Florida; my dad, Bill, who stands at six feet-five inches, was able to secure the height gene required by the sport, while my mother, CJ, a college player-turned-coach, provided the skills and knowledge necessary; needless to say, volleyball is in my blood. I was approximately two hours old the first time I touched a (mini) volleyball. I had been given my first jersey, courtesy of Mama Rivera, before my second birthday. I was eight years old when I played on my first "official" volleyball team. At the 1996 FCCJ volleyball camp, the local news channel interviewed me about my dreams of one day achieving Olympic Gold. By age ten, I had decided to fully dedicate myself to the sport, giving up all others. There is not a single memory that I possess in which volleyball is not present.

It became apparent to me that volleyball was becoming more than just my hobby when I was about eleven years old, and instead of having throw pillows or stuffed animals on and around my bed like most of my friends, I had about three volleyballs. I felt more comfortable wearing spandex than skirts. Volleyball and I had forged a relationship. When I wasn’t playing volleyball myself, I was watching my mom’s college teams play. I attended practices, watched workouts; I would do anything to get myself around the sport. My mom’s college players had a profound impact on the lives of both my sister and me, providing us with many role models who, to this day, continue to provide insight in both life and sports. These amazing women helped to lead us towards the goal of one day becoming a student-athlete.

Before continuing, it is important to explain a little background information about the company that has made this entire globetrotting experience possible. Bring It USA Promotions, or BIP, is a professional volleyball agency that serves as representation for male and female volleyball players overseas. In 1999, BIP expanded their international tours into university tours, exposure tours, and recruiting tours; currently they are serving over 20 tours annually. My mother, affectionately known by the BIP staff as Ceej, was introduced to the company while on the December 2001 Exposure Tour as a coach. Since then, she has become one of the Southeastern USA representatives for the company, integrating junior’s tours into BIP’s current activities. In July of 2002, Ceej took her first junior team, Team Alabama, to four European countries: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Sovenia. The girls on tour were asked to keep a written journal of the many adventures and great sights along the trip, mostly for their own memorabilia.

I was thirteen the first time I went overseas. Living in a small town outside of Birmingham, Alabama, I was accustomed to the slow paced lifestyle that is associated with the southern states. As the youngest member of Team Alabama, my volleyball playing experience was severely lacking compared to that of my teammates’, despite my current placement on my high school’s varsity volleyball team. My mother, and fearless leader of our tour group, had been a college volleyball coach since 1987, and would continue to coach at the college level until my sophomore year of high school when she retired to spend more time with my younger sister and I. It is through volleyball that my family and I have been given the incredible opportunities to travel around the world and meet some of the most extraordinary people. It is volleyball that has given me, and now my sister, the means to both a college education and, potentially, a career path. At age thirteen, I could never have anticipated that my travels abroad would have accelerated to the most recent count of 15 foreign countries. Without these experiences to guide me, I would never have developed into the young woman I am today.