JoLi Academy India 2012: Part I

The three talented Yuwa players show off their new warm-ups that they will wear at their National Team camp

I have some down time in the village before the big match between the AIFF and Yuwa and thought that I should attempt to give you all an update of what we are experiencing here in Jharkhand.  It is hard to put into words all that transpired both on and off the field.  Lianne and I are living the experience fully.  The good, the bad, and everything in between.
Everyday brings new challenges and learning situations.  I don’t think you can fully understand what you are walking into until you are knocking on the front door and sleeping in their beds.  There are so many things that we have encountered that we never even imagined.  Life here is so simple yet we realize how complex it can become.
The village is remote.  All players do not have electricity, running water, toilets, proper amounts of food yet they are the happiest and kindest children I have ever met.  The sense of community is so strong that it seems as if they lack nothing.  There are incredible amounts of pollution, waste, and trash yet there is still so much beauty.
For instance, the girls and I walked to the local river today and witnessed all the villagers washing their blankets, clothes, bodies, and dishes.  This is the same water where they go to the bathroom next to (no toilets) and the same water where all the animal feces runs into.  Behind this river are beautiful green fields, trees with small fruits that the girls knock off the trees and eat (I have them in my pocket now).  There was also an amazing old outdoor music theater.  The girls often walk barefoot through the fields, over the sticks, gravel, rocks, through the water.  I have felt many of their feet and it is as if they have become their “shoes”.
We even got the chance to take the girls to the zoo. Yes, the zoo and I can honestly say, it was the coolest zoo we have ever been to.  You actually felt the animals were in their natural environment…lions, leopards, crocodiles, foxes, elephants (this was sad because they were chained up and ordered to do tricks), sloth bears, deer, wild cats, and monkeys. The zoo also boasted gorgeous vegetation and a paddle boat lake that surprisingly wouldn’t allow 5 to a paddle boat when we fully well-known they stuff about 30 people into a taxi rickshaw.
These excursions were unique but everyday is a challenge, they are scared to go to school (the teachers, when they show up, do not treat them well and often teach them nothing) and have much work to do at home, so soccer is their true play.  They NEVER get tired.  Or at least they will never admit it to us.  They soak up everything we throw at them with an innocent exuberance.  Often they come to practice having only eaten one meal and never have water with them.  Yet, never one complaint.
It’s amazing to witness the interaction between them all and their interaction with us.  They follow us everywhere, want to do everything for us, and are so incredibly helpful.  They call us both “Maam” and they often get our names mixed up but we don’t care one bit.  They are such a refreshing change to the Western fixation on all things electronic.  These kids make up their own games, put on plays, converse, go for walks (1 hr to school for many of them), and just truly enjoy life.
Do not get me wrong, life here is not easy.  Since being here we have escorted/taken part in three situations where we had to 1. convince the parents of one of his players not to marry her off at 13 yrs old and 2. inquire why another player has not attended school for 3 months (Franz keeps track of all attendance both at practice and school through team-elected captains).  For the girl who hadn’t attended school, it was not because she didn’t want to go but because her father, since taking out a loan to buy an auto rickshaw, could not afford her school expenses (essentially $2.00 a month). 3. Escort the girls to school out of fear their teachers may beat them for being tardy to class (this does happen, unfortunately).
Franzs’ positive presence in this village is palpable.  He has given these girls opportunities they could never imagine.  He has nurtured them, educated them (some speak decent English), cared for them in ways that no one ever could.  He has truly created a family that is incredibly strong.  Now, we have the pleasure of becoming a part of it all.
Our impact has already been felt.  Considering JoLi Academy arranged to have the Women’s National Team attend this project they are finally in contact with Yuwa.  India is incredibly corrupt and so no  matter how great some of these Yuwa players are, they often get overlooked for the National Team selections.  Franz has had horrible experience after horrible experience and is now extremely wary.  The way it works, the state of Jharkhand chooses the players to attend the camps for India but they have no interest in choosing the best players. The politics are ridiculous. However, since the AIFF has been here to observe some of his players they have taken the necessary steps to go against protocol and over the state to send THREE Yuwa players to their u-13 WNT camp.
Now, this may not seem that profound but we are talking about girls so far from the cities that they have never been further than 5 miles from their village.  Now they will travel across the country to attend this camp.  Franz has purchased their train tickets, bought them new warm up suits, and even girly lotions, accessories for them to feel comfortable.  He will escort them to this event to make sure they are not left on the train tracks (this has happened before).
We are a part of something amazingly special.  We have created something amazingly special.  It is not until we sit back and realize what we have accomplish that we feel the power of it all.  We are training on a dirt field, with 45 kids (boys, girls, ages 12-32, from all walks of life) and have managed to challenge them all without losing any in the process.  A 32-year-old National Team player  from the city is high-fiving a 12-year-old Jharkhand villager when they pull off some great move and score a goal.
This is what has made this trip all worth it and The relationships we have built here will be hard to leave.  Yes, it is not ideal to wake up at 5am to get ready to train at 6am before the sun has risen and before the girls go to school.  It is  hard to sleep on a board with a thin mattress over top while your room is 40 degrees and you wake up shivering.  It is not easy to lose power in the house all the time, never have a decent warm shower, go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground, constantly eat curried dishes, smell the wonderful stench of the mixture of animal poop, trash, hay, fumes, carbon, and burning waste, witness the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the hardship, the disease, and everything that comes with it.  It is for sure interesting to see how the modern conveniences are dealt with here.  Brushing teeth with sticks, going to the river to wash, drying manure on walls to cook with, putting hay down to sleep on, and eating with your hands.  It is comical to think we are sleeping 10 in this house (7 in one room – basically a room full of mattresses), 16 girls across the yard in the small garage (they sleep on hay covered by a blanket), and 4 fathers in the room next to them (same sleeping material) – that makes 30 people sharing 2 bathrooms and one kitchen. Good luck plumbing.
All day long we pass dogs, cows, goats, pigs…there is so much going on. The roads are chaotic to put it nicely.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to lane division and add on top of this cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, bikes, crossing pedestrians, dogs, and of course, cows. Meanwhile, there are only full pass zones no matter how dangerous or where on the road.  To say it makes for a frightening driving experience would be an understatement.  The noises, sights, and smells are indescribable and at times traumatizing (hospital linens washed in the DIRTIEST of lakes and then spread on the trash filled hills to dry).  We pass this every day of the way to eat at the hospital cafeteria – yum!
The greatest part is that we have been through so much and we are awake, alive, healthy, and happy to share our story.  We have touched the lives of these people in such a deep way that we are already talking about our return trip.  I am personally considering sponsoring some of these kids to help them reach heights they never dreamed of.
We have, through the sport we love and through the sport that has shaped us as human beings, given happiness to girls that need it the most.  Twice a day for the past week we have walked to training by dirt road with 60 some people right next to us.  We laugh, we smile, we navigate through the darkness to reach a field that has provided so many memories.  We gather around the water hole, strap on our shoes, and run until the sun rises in the distance.
We have struggled at times.  We have both almost reached breaking points only to be brought back by the amazing children around us.  How can we complain about no hot water, freezing  nights, nausea, when we are given the chance to reach our potential each and every day of our lives?  Simply said, we cannot and so we carry on.  We realize this is all part of the experience and will make the documentary that we are filming that much more powerful.
It is moments like today, as I sit in the warm sun teaching the girls english and they teaching me Hindi, that I feel the uniqueness of what we have managed to find.  The remotest of villages in the most lawless state in India…….yet if you look a bit closer you see the beauty behind their simplicity.  There are no computers, no cell phones, no ipads, no cameras – only the relationships you build and the lives you create with those people.
Lianne and I are so lucky to have come here.  I now know we can accomplish anything.  If we can make it all the way to Jharkhand and put on an academy under these circumstances than we can go anywhere in this world and we intend to do so.  Our lives will never be the same. JoLi Academy will never be the same and we now have requests to put on Academies in Nepal and South Africa.
Troy Polamalu even mentioned our academy on his twitter and Facebook account – I knew my Dad would appreciate that one.  If that ain’t makin it than I don’t know what is. We feel blessed to have had this opportunity and we thank you all for the undying support to make it happen.
We are taking very good care of one another –  keeping spirits up when all you want to do is cry….sigh
We miss all of our friends and family spread across the globe. We are so excited to see my family in Goa.  Trust me, we will need an intense pampering session after this one.
Sending our love from Jharkhand in the Hutup village.
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Am I Missing Something?

 

Man United Memorabilia that Lianne owns: you should see her wallpaper!

To say Lianne is an avid Manchester United fan would be the under statement of the year. Every week I get the pleasure of witnessing the roller coaster of emotions Lianne experiences while watching her one and only Busby Babes.  The ups and downs are quite significant and are rapidly changing.  In a mere instant she can go from being utterly disgusted to fully hysteric, and that is when they are winning.  If Man United doesn’t score when they obviously should, Lianne will clearly disown Man Untied for the rest of eternity to only display pure child-like pandemonium when a goal graces the net.  From unrepeatable insults to singing praises, it is all pretty unbelievable, enormously entertaining, and I often find myself torn between watching the game or just watching her.  And, as a important side note, don’t even ask what happens when they lose.  Let’s just say being silent is the best option.

This past week was a big one for United.  They had to win their final Champions League round robin match against Basel to advance to the knock out stages of the worlds biggest tournament.  Manchester has only failed to do this twice in their history, 1995 and 2007, and they were perilously close to tarnishing their history yet again.  I knew very little about United before I met Lianne but whether I like it or not (I really do), I know all about them now.  I have a personalized jersey, I have been to two games, and I have been briefed on every important event in their accomplished history.  Even my 1.5 year old nephew is sporting the Man U onsie all the way in California.

To her credit, Lianne is a Man United wizard.  She can recall the slightest details from the most obscure games.  She can argue with her father (Arsenal supporter) and on twitter (as I am sure many of you know) until she is blue in the face.  The arguments always seem to come back to the same conclusion, “how many titles have United won?”  The answer, 19, and she will never let anyone forget it.

Leading up to this game against Basle, Lianne was uncharacteristically nervous.  United is known for their comebacks, last second victories, and seemingly incomprehensible stoppage-time goals.  They seem to have that unique, champions mentality where they always believe they will win and their trophy case proves this.  However, with the dubbed “easy” group, United was struggling.  The last three games, three ties, no wins.  So, it came down to this match and Lianne understood the significance more than anyone.

There is no need to rub salt into a wound so let’s just say things didn’t turn out well.  The late on-set panic was appropriate because United now finds itself out of the Champions League for only the third time in their storied history.  As the final whistle blew, Lianne immediately turned off her phone.  After about 20 minutes of mourning she returned to the many messages that glorified Manchesters defeat and (this should go without saying), proceeded in a twitter war with various fans of opposing teams.

Ah, the life of a English Football supporter.  As all of this mayhem plays out in front of me, I try to be supportive, tell her there is always “next game”, or that there is still a chance to win the Premiere League. All true things but only serve to make her feel worse and further emphasize, I will NEVER understand. This isn’t an insult, its just reality.  After that reality deeply sets in, I think to myself,  “Am I missing something?”  Why is it that if you combine my passion for every one of my local sports team it couldn’t add up to half as much as she cares about United?

Answer: I am American.  As an American you are subjected to about 50 different sports. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, soccer, golf, Nascar, Horse racing, and the list goes on. How can I possibly focus this already tormented attention deficit brain on just one?  Of course I will watch college football on Saturday, switch to NFL on Sunday, then the World Series on Monday, and go with my friends to a hockey game on Tuesday.  Isn’t’ that what any normal, sport-loving person in the United States would do?

You know what they say, your biggest assets are your biggest liabilities.  Having options is empowering yet having too many is paralyzing.  The passion within our large American population is dispersed between so many sports.  Sure you grow up supporting a team but you don’t identify yourself through that allegiance.  Many people know that I love the Redskins but I love the Redskins tailgates more.  I will fully admit that I have been to numerous Ravens games and I am not ashamed to say I wore a Ravens jersey.  A Washington fan supporting a Baltimore team? Gasp!

Before I start getting hate mail from all the lunatic fans out there, i will say that the American die-hards exists but they are few and far between.  There is something to be said that when Lianne sees two opposing NFL fan bases tailgating together she wonders how it is even possible without a brawl.  When you attend a Premier League game you are LOCKED into your section.  The away fans are placed in some gated, far off corner only to be surrounded by about 100 security guards. There is no way in and there is no way out, for everyone’s protection.  And, they don’t dare wear their own colors out of fear for their lives.

I am  not condoning this type of set-up, merely just pointing out the differences from the US sporting events.  For Lianne and the majority of English supporters, there are only two options.  Death or Glory.  It must be thrilling to face the complete opposite sides of the spectrum every weekend…..or is it agonizing?  Either way, I know I will NEVER understand, so I will just sit back and enjoy the show.

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La légende de JoLi

Look who we ran into in Carcassonne, France. The ultimate dragon fighter!
Never before have I felt like I was truly part of a video game.  That is, until we traveled to Carcassonne, France.  I know I am completely dating myself when I say this, but it was as if we stumbled directly into a game of Zelda. For all my readers that were lucky enough to play the original Nintendo, than you can relate to the sentiment that at any minute we expected a fire-breathing dragon to come flying over the castle.  We would have to navigate within the ramparts to save ourselves and in turn, free the helpless princess. 
 
Fortunately, we held the key to every door and each unlocked a new unpredictable adventure full of dark corridors, buzzing restaurants, savory sweet shops, and authentic French foods (I know Zelda didn’t get to eat a nutella crepe in between his heroics but times have changed and the princess could really wait….this is Nutella we were talking about).
 
I will go into more detail on the castle itself but to do this trip justice, I must shed light on our journey up North.  Anyone that knows me is familiar with my poor driving skills, my lack of interest for being behind the wheel, and the rust that is associated with my manual driving technique.  So, what better time to test all of these liabilities than a 3-hr trip across country borders, in a foreign land, in a manual Spanish “bumper car” (see our Vlog for more description on this).  Did I mention we began the trip at 12am and had to pass through at least 3 toll booths?
 
Ah yes, I figure it would bode well to stay on theme of throwing ourselves into the deep end.  As I said before, it is sink of swim and that goes for everything in Europe.  As you can tell, we are still alive to write this blog so things didn’t go too poorly.  Yes, we did stall out a few times, went about 20 km in the wrong direction, and had to reverse out of multiple toll lanes, but as they say, the end justifies the means, and we made it without ripping one another’s heads off.  It is here that I have to give props to my spectacular road partner in Lianne Sanderson.  Her patience and fearlessness constantly soothed my nerves over the 3 hr trip.  I couldn’t have asked for a better wing-woman.
 
Like most of our expeditions, Lianne and I basically went in blind.  This is usually how we operate: We are told that somewhere is worth seeing, we figure out a way to get there, and then explore at our own leisure.  There are no guidebooks, Lonely Planets, or tour guides….only maps (and plenty of them).  So, it should be of no surprise that we completely missed the front entrance to the castle and managed to “sneak” in the back door.  This gave off the impression that we were the sole tourists.  In addition, we were hence unaware of the magnificence that lay within the castle. 
 
To our astonishment, the steep exterior castle walls with climbing stones, mini-ramparts, and lookouts, were just that, exterior walls protecting an entire city within.  It wasn’t until we decided to walk inside that we discovered the maze of action that truly defines Carcassonne.  There were shops, restaurants that served every french food you could imagine, bars, wine (good wine), churches, houses, and a plethora of tourists.  And to think, we were completely content with what we had seen outside the castle (I guess you could say that Lianne and I are easily amused…simpletons if you will). 
 
We soaked in everything.  Under the go big or go home mentality we spent 7 hrs within the castle and even paid a small fee to enter the ramparts and watch a movie on the historical significance on Carcassonne.  It was all breathtaking and a refreshing change from the beaches we had been spending most weekends on.  We even filmed multiple episodes of JoLi TV within the castle to give our supporters the free tour =) (all on our JoLi Academy FB page). 
 
It was our own Legends of Zelda game and when we finally left (navigating out the “back” door at night was a little harder than in the day), we looked back at the castle under the night sky and plethora of shining lights and truly witnessed what we had tackled.  There are no words or photos that can capture the enormity and beauty of this structure.  There are just some things in life you have to see with your own eyes and Carcassonne is absolutely one of them.
 
Exhausted, we crashed and prepared for our next day exploring the local city, canals, and shops. While I’ll recommend visiting the castle 10 times over, I do not recommend taking the Carcassonne canal boat ride.  Yes, it sounds romantic but let me tell you, you will spend the entire time being lifted over damns or under damns (called “locks”) with a view of an unspectacular toe path.  The sight of the castle from about 6000 km away doesn’t help either.  Complete waste of time but nothing a crepe and a gelato ice cream cone can’t fix.
 
The town was quite navigable by foot and brought to mind a classic old-time movie set.  Just before we left we met up with one of our RCDEspanyol teammates and her boyfriend, Eric who first gave us the idea to visit this wonderful small city.  They were justifiably impressed with our Zelda-like experiences.  
 
The trip home was just as eventful as the trip there.  Only in France can you eat quality duck at a rest stop (which we obviously had to do).  Three tolls, another directional miscue, zero stall outs, and two slayed dragons later, we made it back to Barcelona safe and sound.  In our opinion, we passed every level of Zelda and beat the game.  We saved the princess and she now lives in our back garden with the turtles, dogs, bird and cats.  But have no fear, everyone, there are no dragons! =)
 

The Castle from the "main" entrance - when we finally found it

 
P.S. To get an inside perspective on our lives in Spain over the past few weeks, please check out Lianne’s blog on www.liannesanderson.co.uk.  Guest appearances from her parents, Joan and Jeff!
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The Untitled IX

Lianne and me at our RCDEspanyol practice field. Rare day shot prior to late practice

Having spent nine hours on a bus, one night in a hotel, and three hours waiting in the airport, I was hoping I would have much more to report after our away game in Bilbao.  It was my first official game as an Espanyol player, as my papers were finally processed after missing two games.  Sadly, there is little, if anything, to be said about the game.The result speaks for itself; a 4-1 loss at the hands of Athletico Bilbao and its dedicated fan base.  It is here I must give a shout out to the Espanyol fans that drove all that way to see us bow in defeat.  You are a great group of individuals and we are disappointed to have let you down.  Lo siento.

Lianne and I have been in Spain for three weeks now but we have observed more than many do in months.  If you come to a foreign country as the only English speaking players you are exposing yourself to serious culture shock.  Although you may want to test the waters with your toe, you are thrown in the deep end and forced to tread.  It is sink or swim, baby, and there is no other way around it.

Last blog, I was sensitive not to compare the gender differences in America and Spain because I did not feel like I had amassed enough information and/or experience to weigh in on the issue.  Three games, 20 practices, and hundreds of interactions later, I am ready to analyze, speculate, and share my findings.

Being a member of the WPS for three years and a female American athlete for my entire life, I feel I have often taken Title IX for granted.  I, and all of those who came after me, never experienced the real struggles women faced to be recognized as legitimate sports figures.  The generations before me with the likes of Mia Hamm, Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, really blazed the trail in gender equality.  I was one of the lucky ones who reaped the benefits of all their suffrage (i.e “Battle of the Sexes”).

I have admitted many times before that the United States is not a country that boasts a strong soccer culture, but I could never admit that my sport-loving nature was not encouraged from a very young age.  That must explain why America is able to produce some of the world’s greatest athletes.  It is nurtured, promoted, and now, expected.  We can run fast, jump high, and move mountains with our strength.

As someone who considers herself a woman of the world, I have come to find this attitude to be quite unique.  Further proof is established during my time here in Spain.  The women are always the last on the field.  We practice from 9:30 – 11:00 at night and we chased off by an electricity bill that forces the lights to go pitch black at 11:05pm. (Lianne tells me the same is true in England – a European thing?)

Lianne and I are the only members of the team lucky enough not to have to go to school, put in eight hours on the job, or practice their “real” trade during the day.  These girls are like machines.  They wake up early to, for instance, study medicine, as two girls on the team do.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to study medicine let alone study medicine and play soccer at a professional level all at the same time.

If you are an avid reader of this blog, then you know my stance on quality over quantity.  I strongly believe focus is the key to greatness.  I quote Malcolm Gladwell when I say that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything.  It is not without this extreme dedication that one is at his or her best.  So why do these girls spend so many hours off the soccer field? Is there not a desire for soccer expertise?

Answer:  They have to.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  The concept of opportunity cost cannot be ignored.  The more hours these girls spend juggling a soccer ball, the fewer hours they have to dedicate to an occupation that really has a “future” (where they can make money and a name for themselves).  I can honestly say from having played in the WPS for three years, the pay is not great, but one is able to live off of it.  Here, the money is even scarcer, and since it is a male-oriented soccer culture; the women aren’t even a priority in their own club.

In the WPS, the affiliation with the MLS is weak at best and most times, non-existent, making the women’s team the sole entity, and therefore, priority number one.  I have come to find that one’s perception is ones reality so if you perceive to be of importance, you WILL BE of importance.

It is imperative to note that all of the Espanyol players take their soccer very seriously; however, it is difficult to compete with an invisible foe.  That foe being the expectation that women were meant to watch sports, not play them.  It is a common occurrence to see women of all ages at soccer events (stress put on men’s soccer games).  It is a social get-together and do not sell these women short, they know much about the game and their passion runs deep.  There isn’t, however, a strong emphasis on participation.

With all this in mind, it should be of no surprise why women in Spain cannot play all day and sleep all night.  They must just try to survive, let alone thrive and women’s sport is not yet an avenue to accomplish either of these things.

I would like to believe the cultural aspect described above is changing, albeit slowly.  Nothing happens over night and as in the United States, it gets more common by the day to see women step outside the gender stereotyped box.  Take for example, Veronica Boquete, one of the best female players Spain has ever produced.  Vero is playing professionally all over the world and only playing professionally.  She makes a good living.  At the moment, however, she is the exception, not the rule.  But, like Billy Jean King, there always has to be the first to set the example for the others.  To set the bar so high that it gives others the opportunity, the vision, and the hope to someday reach it.

I do not have my PHD in gender studies but after having played soccer in Japan, Sweden, Spain, Bulgaria, Norway, Mexico, Brazil, and the list goes on, I say with genuine honesty and an unbiased viewpoint that Title IX has completely transformed the way women athletes are perceived in the United States.  No, we do not yet garner the attention and the millions of dollars the men do, and we admittedly have a ways to go to secure total financial equality, but we are still leaps and bounds ahead of the game.

The more I witness and the more I experience overseas, the more my heart beats for the Stars and Stripes.  As females in America, athlete or non-athlete, we are very lucky.  We have overcome barriers that still stand in front of many internationally.  Thank you to all the strong women who came before me and fought for the rights I exercise today.  I would be nothing without you.

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Vamos…Our Spanish Debut!

The article unveiling our Espanyol jerseys

A little over a week in and I already feel like we have lived here for months.  I take that as a good thing, we have the comforts of home mixed with the daily challenges of living in another country. 

I am not new to be a foreign woman in a foreign land.  For those of you who have followed my adventures over the past years, you will be familiar with my training expedition in Japan (you can get a full recap of every detail here: www.jobeccatokyo.blogspot.com – where I got my blogging start).  Here, I spent three months navigating the Tokyo trains, scaling Mt. Fuji (joke – just saw it from the bottom), learning Japanese, and creating memories that will forever burn in my mind. 

I was fully aware, after having immersed myself in Japan, that living in a foreign country provides a very unique opportunity to grow as a player and person.  You are exposed to so many different senses, cultures, environments, and people that you see the world from a completely altered view. 

No longer does conversation flow, you must problem-solve, use a bit of charades, and select from you ever-growing vocabulary of how to get your point across.  It is never as straight forward as you originally thought and you end your day exhausted at having to constantly translate a language into one that makes sense. 

However, with this problem comes opportunity.  Opportunity to learn a foreign language, opportunity to be completely out of your comfort zone, and opportunity to share cultures for greater understanding.  These are things that books can’t teach, not even “Lonely Planet”.

Having prefaced our adventures, let’s get into the meat of our Spanish debut.  After having arrived safely and familiarized ourselves with our neighborhood (Saint Adrea de Besos) and our animal friends (we have 5 cats, 2 dogs, 2 turtles, and 2 birds) we were welcomed by a fancy press conference where our jerseys were unveiled and we got to speak our first bits of Spanish/Catalonian in front of the camera’s (yes, there are two foreign languages that are used frequently here, all the more studying/confusion for us). 

We knew we were in good hands with Patricia Coma and the rest of the girls.  While I am one of the older players here, I do not feel out-of-place.  Everyone on the team makes a worth-while effort to communicate and make us feel like part of the team.  Luckily the sport of soccer serves as the universal language always allowing us to have something in common.

The Espanyol mantra: “La Forca D’un Senitment’ = The Force of a Feeling.  The Espanyol faithful are extremely passionate about soccer (and that passion also goes towards hating the Barcelona soccer team – it’s always hard being the team in the background) and that is demonstrated through a full practice facility what seems like 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.  Training ground is hard to come by in Barcelona, so at Espanyol Sporting City (where the men and women practice), we are forced to train from 9:30pm – 11:00pm at night.

While I am sensitive to making too many comparisons to the United States and the WPS (I want to embrace this without reservations), it is obvious that La Liga Feminina is operating with even less money.  We travel on the day of the game whether that be via bus, train, or plane.  Games are at either noon or 12:30pm to allow for plenty of time to travel back to your home city.  Attendances are low and stands may be hard to come by (as seen at our last game in Valencia). 

All this being said, the level of play is still very high and Lianne Sanderson and I were pleasantly surprised at the talent on display in Spain.  Of course, America still boasts the best athletes but these players have a mind for the game and their feet tend to match.  You are born a soccer lover who watches/follows/supports your local team from as far back as you can remember.  While it is still not common for women to strap up their own boots and start playing, there is no denying the deep understanding of the tactics.

We won our first game with relative ease.  I wish I could say I was a contributor besides my constant cheers of “Vamos Espanyol” but due to paper-work complications, I had to sit this one out.  I was very disappointed and it seems to be the same for this coming weekend.  I guess I am not on the Federations high priority list…bummer for me.  Lianne did represent us extremely well, however, notching her first goal and assist for the team in a 4-0 victory.  I will expect the same production from her this weekend as she shines on the pitch as one of the best players. 

Besides soccer, we have been soaking in the Barcelonian sun.  We live about 2 blocks from the beach and also took a nice jaunt down to Sitges, Spain which I highly recommend.  A Mediterranean paradise, Sitges is a page straight out of a Travel Magazine.  The weather was perfect, the beaches were picturesque, and the food was tantalizing.  I would go back in a heart-beat.  There was so much to do and so much to see (old churches, sand castles, bike riding, etc.).  Our hotel was only 100 yds down from the ideal swimming spot.  It was a primarily protected (by rock walls) cove of the ocean.  You could swim peacefully in the cove or test your bravery by swimming through the small inlet out to the great beyond.

Our secret paradise in Sitges, Spain

The rock wall provided for ample crab discovery on our hunts and the small restaurant/bar on the beach provided some sick tunes.  It was all really too good to be true and only having a day and a half to spend there was a tease.  Oh well…we shall be back.

The pictures are up on our Facebook wall as I write this so feel free to check them out.  We all know however, that pictures can never ever do justice.  Wow, one week in and I have still left so much out of this blog: La Merce festival/concert, Espanyol men’s game in Valencia, typical Catalonian food, and much much more.  I would be happy to share more details on any of these if you so desire.

So, big game for the Espanyol ladies this weekend and then we get to watch Real Madrid and Christiano Ronaldo Sunday night play against the Espanyol men.  Now these are truly things you don’t get in America.  If this first week is evidence of what is to come than there will be much more to write about in Barcelona.  Full reports right here so come back often. 

Buen Suerte Espanyol and hasta la vista, bambina!

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Off Season and Off the Map

Lianne and I with our fellow "Rabbit Hunters"

For the first time this year, my blog has little to do with our performance on the soccer pitch. It is old news that we lost the final to Western New York 5-4 in PK’s. The WPS is now in its off season and Lianne and I are marking our footprints around the world.

First stop: Deep Creek Lake, MD. This is the location of my parent’s lake house and where we attempt to hold annual reunions. I say attempt because my family is spread far and wide across the globe. My brother, Peter, lives in India with his wife and two kids where he works for the State Department. My sister, Molly, resides in California with her husband and two children where she works for California Berkley. Then there is me, the wild card where at any given moment I could be anywhere in the world. Needless to say, it is rare when we all get together so it makes for very special moments.

After our season, Lianne and I had very difficult decisions to make. Do we rush off abroad before the transfer deadline to play soccer for the highest bidder or do we take some time to relax and see our loved ones. Although it is tempting to keep in the flow of the soccer season, we realize how important it is and how good it feels to be around your family. Therefore, the decision turned out to be an easy one and off to Deep Creek we went.

When you spend a week with 6 kids under the age of 6, there is no stop in action. To compliment my parents beautiful 5 bedroom house on the lake, we rented another right down the road to accommodate all the guests. We road bikes, swam in both the lake and indoor pools, jet skied, wake boarded, played tennis, drove golf balls, read books, made fires, roasted smores, watched movies, and the list goes on.

One of our favorite activities to do with the kids was what we called “rabbit hunting”. No one has to worry; this is all G-rated stuff so no rabbits were harmed during the hunts. A better way to describe it would be “rabbit searching”. My lake house is a sanctuary for numerous animals: bears, rabbits, frogs, deer, etc. Considering it wouldn’t be smart to search for bears, we chose the next friendliest animal, rabbits. We would take all six kids and go out into the back yard, keeping our eyes peeled for our fluffy little friends. We would run into the neighbors yards yelling, “Rabbits, where are you?” Once we spotted one (and we did six times) we would all be very quiet and begin to sneak up on it carefully. Since we are talking about kids that are at the average age of 2.5, they could barely contain their excitement. In the beginning the rabbit would be chased away within seconds but our wee hunting apprentices really improved, and soon we were within a few feet of the cuddly hoppers. Overall, the hunts were extremely successful. We managed to track down six rabbits, one baby frog, and one snake. As my niece, Mariel aptly stated “We were in the rain forest!” Ha. Too many animal shows.

The hunts were not the only successful part of the week. We all managed to get along superbly without any real issues. It was so wonderful to spend time with my siblings and my parents. Honestly, it was one of the better weeks of my life and it reinforced our non-soccer playing decision ten times over.

To say we were sad to leave would be an understatement. It is never easy to leave your family after such an amazing week, especially when you know you won’t see them for a long long time. However, we still had so much to look forward to, and included in that, was our upcoming flight to London.

Second stop: London. After a brief jaunt in Gaithersburg, MD where our close friends, Liz Manning and Charlotte Mace helped pack up our final things, we were off to England.

The flight was surprisingly easy. Maybe being able to watch the Premier League top goals from the 2010-2011 season was a part of this…maybe =) Thanks Virgin airlines for understanding our love for the game.

To go through all the incredible activities we did in England would take about 5 pages, so I will try to summarize it in an entertaining fashion. Liannes family and friends were so happy to have her on the British side of the Pond. We had many inadvertent late nights because there was so much to catch up on. Conversations just flowed as if we had never left, which I believe is the sign of true friendship.

We again became familiar with all the beautiful parts of London: Soho, Westminster Abby, the Embankment, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and Hyde Park.

To our pleasant surprise, the weather was fantastic. On most days the sun would shine through the clouds as if it was a reflection of our mood. Another pleasant surprise was who we were able to meet up with, both familiar and unfamiliar faces. For instance, Heather Mitts (our old Philly teammate), Hussa Khalid (the head of Arab women’s soccer), Emma Hayes (a big part of why WNY was champion of the WPS), and Alex Scott (Lianne’s old Arsenal teammate and current Boston Breakers defender) were a few of the off the cuff rendezvous.

Like leaves in the wind, we spent days just going wherever life took us. One day it may have meant the theatre in London or drinks in Soho. Another day it meant cleaning out Lianne’s room that was in desperate need for a renovation. It was a spontaneous adventure that was capped off with a trip to Old Trafford to watch what would be one of the craziest soccer games of all time. Manchester United versus Chelsea. It really doesn’t get much bigger than that. Practically sitting on the field, we had up close views of all the amazing goals and even more memorable, all the amazing misses. Just when you thought Torres’ luck couldn’t get much worse, he misses a wide open goal to secure Chelsea’s second goal; a game changing error that will be replayed for years to come.

Throughout all the London action and fast times, we were also able to spend some quality time with her close family. Her nephew, Luke, is growing up quickly (knows how to use and IPhone at nearly 2 years old) and her niece, Melissa, is now a teenager. Her father, Jeff, is still a wonderful cook and her mother is even better known in the community. Her Grandmother still pushes her trolley all over town and makes great prawn sandwiches. Her sister, Joanne, still teaches swimming classes at the local pool and her brother, Danny, continues to be a great father to his two kids.

I know Lianne and I are both so grateful for the memories we created during our three weeks away from the game. When you love soccer as much as we do, however, it is not too long before you find your way back. With that said, I write this blog in our new apartment in Barcelona where we will spend the next three months playing for Espanyol. It is our next great adventure and one we will embrace open armed. So, enjoy the non-soccer blog because we are back in action, Spanish style. Ole!!

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Fond Farewells

 

Lianne Sanderson and me waving to the crowd at the WPS Super-Semi @ PPL Park

The day after.  The Cheesesteaks are on the bus ride back to Philadelphia and we have picked up our good friend Hurricane Irene along the way.  At this point, we are intrepid travelers so nothing will stop us from reaching our home town.  This day after bus ride, complete with WI-FI, has provided ample time for reflection.  

It has been six months since the team arrived on March 1st and so much has since transpired.  Wins, losses, a World Cup, bumps, bruises, laughter, and tears all the way through our Championship run.  Yes, Western New York beat us when it mattered most, but at the end of the day, we do not feel like losers. 

After the final PK was saved, the medals were handed out, and we wiped away our tears, I slowly walked over to our Cheesesteak Supporter Group that traveled so far to cheer us on.  A group of people from all walks of life that have come together for a common cause: to help the Independence succeed.  They are men, women, old, young, all races, and all religions.  They are our 12th man.  When I finally reached them with Petey the Penguin in my arms I could see the tears in their eyes portraying the agony in defeat.  We came so close, so painfully close, that is hurts so much more to lose it in that fashion. 

The Cheesesteaks (fans included) have traveled all over the East Coast trying to prove that Women’s Soccer deserves a professional league.  We have played our hearts out to try to win yours.  The support has been overwhelming and our new mascot, Petey, is perfect proof….337 followers on twitter for a stuffed animal.  Way to go Petey.

This weekend I felt like a legitimate celebrity and the 10,000 fans in the stands provided an amazing atmosphere for the final game of the 2011 WPS Season.  The league pulled out all the stops and although our medals are a depressing silver, we were treated like gold from all of those that participated in this great event. 

There is nothing that can take away the coldness in losing but hugging every one of our fans that came to Rochester warmed my heart.  No we don’t make much money with which we buy big houses and nice cars, but it is the opportunity to do what you love in front of people who love you, that makes this all worth it.  My paycheck will not break banks but money can’t buy the experiences, the emotions, and the memories we create.

It is all over.  Lianne and I are on to a new adventure in Spain.  We love the game too much to let it go.  Our new team is Espanyol and we will proudly wear the blue and white all the while bring with us the City of Brotherly Love.  We are following our dreams and hopefully that will lead us back to the new and improved 2012 WPS where we will again share our passion for the game for all those who want to be a part. 

We all know stability is not a characteristic of the WPS and so you never really know where the road will take you.  With that said, a massive thank you to all that read my blog.  Those of you who are women soccer fans, never stop supporting, never stop loving the game and sharing that passion with everyone you come in contact with.  The WPS is nothing without you.

Most importantly, come with us to Spain.  I will be continuing my blog, posting pictures, tweeting away, and I am always game for new friends and experiences.   Thank you for being a part of my life and please don’t stop now……the fun is just beginning. =)

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