Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Back to Reality

At the risk of sounding incredibly cliché, I was in fact living the dream. Traveling weekly to European destination cities, living expense free and getting paid quite nicely to play the sport I love…life was good. Really good, and I couldn’t have imagined it any other way.

But inevitably, I hit the proverbial wall. Waking up early in Spain one morning, I finally realized I was done. This was no longer my dream – it was a nightmare. I didn’t want to go to the gym. I didn’t want to lace up my basketball shoes. I didn’t want to touch a ball. After a 20 plus year love affair with Spalding, the thought of shooting one more jumper made me feel ill. I wanted to go home. I wanted to see my friends and family. I wanted to be surrounded by the people I loved.

Toughing out the rest of a long, unhappy season and fulfilling my contract obligations, I was finally on a plane back to the Pacific Northwest. It was then that I realized I had completed my final season as a professional athlete. And oddly enough, I was at peace.

Once landing back on the right side of the world, I didn’t touch a ball for close to 2 months. I’d had a lifetime of basketball in my 26 years and was ready to start the next chapter. After spending summers working as a personal trainer, coaching, planning and organizing various tournaments and events, it was time to get a ‘real job.’ Being choosy in regards to my field of interest and expertise, I wasn’t going to accept any position. It had to be the right fit.

Enter UBC. If there were two skills I’d encourage young adults to focus on today they would be networking and confidence. Education and work experience are important and matter, but you’d be surprised at what self-confidence and networking can do for you. They can open doors you didn’t even know existed. If it wasn’t for my self belief and the networking tools I put to use, I can honestly say I don’t think I’d be holding the position I have today; a position I’m quite fond of.

That being said, it’s been a transition. Though I’ve gone back to playing basketball at a high level (I play on an elite semi-pro team based in Seattle that competes in two US National tournaments every summer), it will never quite be the same as playing in front of 4,000+ purple clad fans at the University of Washington, celebrating close victories with my teammates, enduring agonizingly satisfying 2-a-days during the preseason, lifting absurd amounts of weights or hitting game winners. There are a lot of things I miss about playing college and professional basketball, but there are a lot of things I'm happy I have moved on from.

Having spent no more than 2 months at a time in Vancouver since 2003, every day brings its new adventures and challenges. I’m reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. I’m paying taxes, monthly bills and am finally realizing the reality of being a ‘grown up.’ I miss my best friends in Seattle and the carefree lifestyle of Europe, but Vancouver has been nothing but good to me thus far.

Here’s to month 10 in Beautiful British Columbia…

-BW

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Out of Time

It’s funny how sometimes, timing is everything. I made it no secret that this season in Ferrol was not the most enjoyable. Unfortunately, playing in Spain will always have an asterisk beside the memory. Despite residing in one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world and playing in one of the most respected women’s basketball leagues internationally, I never had the chance to appreciate the country the way I wanted to.

Basketball is only a fraction of the life of an overseas professional. With so many differences and excessive amounts of downtime, it’s essential to meet people and make friends in order to integrate into the culture. In my previous 3 seasons I was very successful at all of the above and flourished not only on the basketball court but, in my social environments. Here in Spain, my social life outside basketball was almost non-existent. The reason: team chemistry. A professional athlete’s network abroad stems from the relationships you develop with your teammates and those associated with club. Sadly, the foreigners (non-Spanish players) were alienated from the beginning for some inexplicable reason. Though I tried to integrate and associate with the girls on my team, they did not want any outsiders to be a part of their group. The foreign imports were treated terribly by our Spanish counterparts, to the point that I sometimes thought I was in some sort of high school nightmare. It was brutal. Though speaking Spanish is not my strong point, I understand it at a very high level. Imagine how it felt sitting in the locker room, riding the bus and running up and down the court everyday, constantly hearing my teammates talk about me (and Jhasmin) while we were right beside them. I’m not stupid. But, I’m also not a confrontational person. With age and experience I’ve learned how to deal with and manage various types of personalities. Instead of being goaded into being 'the problem', I chose to ignore these ridiculous girls and the uncomfortable situations they tried to put me in. I did my job everyday and then made sure not to associate with these teammates off the court. This is the first time I’ve ever had to do this. It was…sad.

When your teammates are not your friends, it’s very difficult to branch out, associate and build relationships with others in a foreign land. That’s not to say I didn’t try or it cannot be done. However, when you do not see familiar faces everyday, it makes befriending someone much tougher. My first step towards fixing this problem was connecting with our men’s team - which ended up being more difficult than anticipated. Most did not speak any English, they practice at another gym and there were no American imports. With one strike on the board, my next step was looking up English speaking consulates in Ferrol (UK, CAN, USA, AUS, etc). I was ecstatic to discover that there was in fact an Irish office in town. Entertaining the thought of being able to hang out with other Anglophones, I visited the consulate with high hopes, only to have them come crashing down. Only one person worked there. He was 65+ and despite holding an Irish passport, barely spoke a word of English. Strike 2. Starting to feel the inklings of failure creep in, I refused to give up and soldiered on. On campus at the University of Ferrol one day, I decided to inquire if there were any Americans studying abroad. Once again, I came up empty handed. My final option was spent searching the Internet and completing random searches on facebook. This too was unsuccessful. Ferrol is a small city and very few people have it listed it as their ‘current city.’ Every name that did come up was definitely Spanish. Luck was not on my side. Extinguishing the last of my options, I accepted that for the most part, I’d be keeping myself entertained for the next 8 months.

Before our last home game of the season, I encountered a cruel twist of fate - meeting 4 Americans during my last week and a half in Ferrol. Not only that, they had been here since October!!! Are you kidding me?! Apparently there are 10 in the city teaching English/learning Spanish at a small college on the outskirts of Ferrol. Not only were they all SUPER cool, but 2 lived a few blocks from my apartment! How does that happen? How did we never bump into each other?! Of course they also frequented the same bars I could be found at on the weekends and cafes I often drank coffee at during the week…unbelievable. Not understanding how we never crossed paths, I spent my last days hanging out with each of them in various settings throughout the week - dinner, coffee, drinks, homemade meals… We all had quite a lot in common and enjoyed doing the same types of things. One of the guys even attended my last home game to cheer me on. What could have been…

Though I’m more than excited to leave Ferrol, I’m kind of sad that fate was so unkind in its timing. I think what is most upsetting is the fact that I did make an effort to get out there and meet people, but due to an extremely bad stroke of luck, I found them too late. I’m certain my experience in Ferrol would have been much different had I connected with this great group of people in October. Ironically, I probably would have loved my time Galicia.

Nevertheless, this is life. These kinds of experiences make me more resilient. The fact is, life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. It’s something that I can’t dwell upon, I just have to be thankful that I was able to meet these people and we were able to enjoy each other’s company in the short time we had together.

That being said, my 4th season abroad is FINALLY over. We finished in 6th place (out of 14) in the LF2 ‘A’ Division with a 16-10 record, missing playoffs. I leave today for a 9-day trip throughout Spain (Madrid, Granada, Seville, Cordoba) with a friend before flying home April 28th. Once settled at home in Vancouver, I plan on posting my annual pros/cons list about the season and share thoughts on my post season trip through Spain.

Until May, Hasta Luego!

-BW

Sidenote: These photos were take from a day trip to Doniños, a beach 30 minutes outside of town. It was a beautiful day, but very cold and windy!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Un-Glamourous

I may never beat you off the dribble or blow by you with my first step. It’s unlikely I’ll be selected to take the game winning shot or wow you with my fancy passing. I’ll never be the player everyone wants autographs from or whose moves fans constantly try to mimic…But one thing is for certain – you need me to win basketball games.

I’m the silent one in the background, the tall presence that stays out of the spotlight. I’m the player that accepts my role and tries not to complain about lack of touches. This is one aspect out of my control, as I need my teammates to feed me. Instead of grumbling, I focus on rebounding and interior defense.

I take my lunch pail and put on my blue collar before every game. I sacrifice my body, set screens, take the hits and outwork my opponents. I focus on my strengths and stay away from my weaknesses. I do the dirty work, clean up the glass, bang inside and crash the ‘O’ boards. I’m what gives the team its edge.

I’m the under-appreciated, under-recognized, overlooked and un-glamourous. I’m your big. Your inside player. Your post, pivot and power forward. I may not be the most agile or the most fun to watch. I won’t hit a deep 3 in your face. My physical tools aren’t jaw-dropping and there’s a slim chance I’ll take you coast to coast. But I will be one of your toughest players. I will patrol the paint and I will be the enforcer. I will stand up for my smaller teammates, anchor the team and impose my physical strength on opponents. I will intimidate.

The guards will get the recognition; people will buy their jerseys. Fans will fight for their autograph, chase after them for photos and follow their every move. I, on the other hand will quietly slip out of the arena without fanfare, while nursing multiple war wounds.

The only recognition I want is a pat on the back from my coach and the respect of my teammates.

The perimeter position is glamourized by media. It’s the place everyone wants to play and succeed at. It’s where players are noted and acknowledged. Where careers are cemented. Seemingly, no one wants to play inside anymore and embrace the label of ‘forward’. Nowadays there are 6’9”+ (men) and 6’1”+ (women) who prefer to crossover and shoot jumpers than make drop steps and bank shots. I think it’s because they’re scared to venture in the paint inside. Sadly, the post player is slowly becoming a dying breed.

I don’t need the newspaper articles, TV interviews or radio broadcasts. I’ll take the black eyes (6+), stitches, broken noses (3), and cheap shots under the cup. I’ll accept the bad calls from officials just because I’m bigger and stronger than other players. I’ll take the blame for a missed chippy, layup or rotation in help. I’ll take the brunt of the criticism for team breakdowns because I’m the tallest and always seem to be an easy scapegoat. I’ll take all of it, every time, as long as it puts a tally in the win column.

I’ve been an undersized forward my whole life. I’ve got battle scars, an imperfect nose and an achy body. I’m an inside player and don’t pretend to be anything else.

-BW

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Marchin' into the Madness

For any type of basketball fan, right now is by far the best time of year. Whether cheering for a mid-major, conference power, the underdog, the favorite, your alma mater or even for a university you never knew existed - there’s nothing quite like March Madness. Brackets busted, bandwagon fans hopping from team to team and college colors being seen every which way you turn, March really is the best month of the year.

The worst part of the month? Being in Europe while Madness infiltrates every television station, radio broadcast and newspaper sports section in North America. Though able to watch each game online via live stream, (thank you CBS Sports!) it’s not nearly the same as having a gathering of friends over to talk trash with, heading to the local bar to enjoy a few brews while surrounded by monstrous HDTVs or screaming at the screen and completely losing yourself in the moment, forgetting you’re surrounded by strangers. Instead, I’m stuck watching college basketball alone in my room on my 10-inch Macbook. Most Europeans don’t know much about US college basketball and even if they do, they don’t really care. This tends to put a damper on my personal March Madness.

Nevertheless, I’ve spent all my free time staying up late to watch games, trying to trick myself into being a part of the excitement. Because I can’t share this wonderful time of year with my friends, I’ve tried to duplicate the atmosphere in a couple of ways. First is by watching a live stream while Skyping with a friend who also is watching the same stream. This way, we’re able to watch the game ‘together’…or something like that. When in reality it’s kind of weird because we end up barely talking while staring at our screens, sometimes forgetting the other is there. Or one of our games will be ahead, ruining the build up for the other! Sounds awesome right? Not! Another option I had to resort to and get creative with was using my Blackberry. Missing two games I was most looking forward to watching (SDSU/Temple, Butler/Pitt), while being on a 10 hour road trip, I had to resort to following excruciatingly slow game tracker updates via my Sports Illustrated App. Unsatisfied with having no idea how the game was being played, who had the momentum and which team looked as though they wanted it more - I started to BBM (Blackberry message) with a friend who was watching the game live. She was kind and patient enough to give me (for the most part) the play-by-play and breakdown of the game. Though I’m thankful technology enabled me to be somewhat part of Saturday night’s Madness, I happened to miss out on probably 2 of the most exciting games of the tournament thus far. Dangit!

Because I’m away from everything familiar covering the NCAA tournament, I guess I’ll have to YouTube Saturday’s highlights Sunday morning, rather than catch them on Sports Centre or ESPN. C’est La Vie!

Thankfully, I’ve been home and available when Washington (my alma mater) played its 1st and 2nd round games. If you’re questioning my dedication, check this: I woke up at 3am Saturday morning to watch my Huskies squeak out a victory over Georgia. Though sleep deprived the following day/night, the sacrifice was well worth it. Sadly, today the boys lost a heartbreaker to traditional power North Carolina Tar Heels. They had a chance to win in 7 seconds left, but silly turnovers killed us. Wearing purple and screaming at my computer while alone in my room, I couldn't help but be proud of my DAWGS.

BOW DOWN!

-BW

Basketball Update: I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Four more games left in the season and I get to go home. Draw your own conclusions ☺

Friday, March 04, 2011

Motivation

I once read somewhere that if you have nothing to write about – don’t. Well that couldn’t have rung truer this past month, as I was unable to find anything worthy of sharing. I’ve been stuck in a rut and only now am finally finding the motivation to dig myself out of it.

This season in Spain has been the most trying of my 4 years abroad. It has challenged me in numerous ways and in all honesty, has been quite miserable. A big reason as to why I play overseas is to travel to new worlds and experience living in foreign lands, all while teaching myself how to adapt, assimilate and thrive within them. When I found out I’d be calling Spain home this season - I was ecstatic. I had heard such wonderful things about the country and league, that I couldn’t wait to leave Vancouver and begin my new adventure.

Unfortunately, the country has failed to live up to my expectations for a variety of reasons. Though I’m happy to be playing in one of the top leagues in the world, I’ve found that this alone cannot provide me with the happiness I desire. Basketball used to be my world - I believed that all I needed was a ball and hoop to be happy. Obvious I was quite naïve, as I find now that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Though I love the sport with all my heart, there are much more important things in life. When 2011 rolled around I had an epiphany - the reason basketball made me happy was because it surrounded me with great opportunities, relationships and people. These were the other things that contributed to my happiness. Unfortunately, many of these variables do not surround me this year, therefore putting my romantic relationship with basketball on the rocks.

As regular readers know, I have a soft spot for my family and friends. They are the 2 things I value most in the world. In my previous 3 seasons, I was fortunate enough to have made fantastic friends hailing from numerous European countries. This year, I don’t have that luxury. This area of Spain has created a sort of isolation. I won’t get into the specifics of my situation in Galicia, but needless to say I’m very unhappy. So much so, that I don’t like the person I am right now. I’ve always been a motivated, driven individual who loves getting the most out of each and every day. I like to set goals, conquer challenges and explore new surroundings. I’m someone who cherishes every minute and hate seeing time pass quickly. However, Spain has changed me…and not in a good way. I've lost all motivation to do the things that define me. As of right now, the ‘real’ me is missing. If I could use one word to currently describe how I feel, it would be…bleh - and that’s very upsetting. As I type this blog post out, I realize I’m ashamed of how uninspiring and ‘boring’ I’ve become these past couple months. I hate who I am right now and want nothing more than time to fly, so I can go home and get out of this horrible funk.

Which brings me back to motivation. A powerful verb. When lacking it what kind of person do you become? Do you like that person? If the answer is no then it's time to find your inner motivation (whatever it may be) and use it to get out of your funk. Find something that motivates you to become the person you want to be. Don’t let outside factors hold you back, no matter how hard they try to bring you down. Everyone has their own personal burdens and challenges that stand in the way, but it's up to you to escape them strive to become who you want to be!

Writing this post is the first step in motivating myself to find and revive the 'real' Bre Dub. I’m going to fight my way through this slump, no matter who or what tries to take me down! It’s time to make a change and rediscover my happiness - bring it on!

-BW

Sidenote: This was not meant to be a self-pitying post, rather an update that paints a picture of my current emotions and experience in Spain. Obviously, it’s not the most glowing report, but an honest depiction that I hope can be understood! The life of a professional athlete is not as glamourous as it seems sometimes. :)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

It's a Small World After All

As the season wears on, it's of no surprise that my body is starting to complain more and more. Some mornings I wake up and feel as though I’m 40 years old. Only 25, every joint has taken a consistent beating year after year due to a competitive basketball schedule. Unfortunately, I'm already beginning to feel the effects.

Throughout my high school, university and professional playing career I’ve remained relatively injury free (knock on wood). Though I’ve never had a surgery, I’ve visited my fair share of doctors, physiotherapists and chiropractors. Keeping the body as close to 100% is very important in my line of work and requires a constant effort.

After a week of suffering though uncomfortable lower back pain, I finally decided to visit our team physio Angel. I’m not one to complain about injuries, nor do I enjoy spending excessive amounts of time rehabbing, but it's better than being held out of practice. I don’t really like special treatment. If your injury disables you to the point that it’s affecting your play - ok, but if you can handle the pain – suck it up and stop being a baby. Maybe I’m a masochist, but that’s always been my approach.

Anyway, after being poked, prodded and questioned, I was finally granted what I really wanted - a massage. During a long period of silence, I decided to engage Angel in conversation. Though we don't share a common language, we were somehow able to communicate and I was surprised to where the conversation led. Practicing my Spanish, Angel commented on how adaptable and friendly Canadians are. Swelling with pride, I couldn’t help but agree with his observation. Wondering how he had deducted this from just speaking with me, he explained that a couple of seasons ago, the women’s team had employed 2 Canadian girls (coincidentally, both of who I know and had played on the National Team with). He then continued to explain that 2 Canadians had also played for the men’s club in the 80’s. Not expecting to recognize the names, I asked anyway. “Rick Hanger and Lars Hansen.” The moment Angel said Lars’ name, I couldn’t believe it - Lars is from the Greater Vancouver area (my hometown), played at the University of Washington (my alma mater) and is an acquaintance of my father!

Though completely different players (Lars 6’10 center, my dad 6’5 swingman) the 2 share a lot in common. Lars was BC High School MVP in ’71 and ’72, while my dad was MVP in ’60 and ’61 (yep, he’s a tad old and grey...love you daddy!) Upon graduation, my dad went on to play for legendary coach Marv Harshman at Washington State. Similarly, Lars went to play for Coach Harshman 10 years later at the University of Washington. My father and Lars have played together many times during the mature parts of their careers. Lars is a member of the Canadian and British Columbia Basketball Hall of Fame, the latter of which my father will be inducted into in April. I’ve met Lars a handful of times and the fact that he played here in Ferrol blows my mind!

Sharing this information with Angel, he quipped “so all you Canadians do know each other?” I laughed. It seemed as though the stereotype was true. “Just a coincidence” I stated with a smile. Angel called his father into the room and shared the info I had just told him. He was ecstatic and left the room, returning with a team photo. He explained he had been the physiotherapist for Lars’ Ferrol team when they played in the ACB. Crazy!

Every year I’m abroad, I can’t help but shake my head. No matter how far I am from home, I always seem to stumble upon something or some sort of information that surprises me and proves that it really is a small world after all…

-BW

Basketball Update: And the roller coaster continues…2 weeks ago we lost to one of the worst teams in the league on the road. Though they had changed 3 players and their coach over the Christmas break, talent wise, we were still the superior team. Nevertheless, that day Carmelitas wanted it more than us. With an unkind rim and soft defense we quickly found ourselves down 20. Finally finding some will after halftime, we battled back to make it a 1-point deficit with 1 minute to play. Unfortunately, it was too little to late and we were handed the L. Lets just say the following week of training and meetings were the furthest thing from enjoyable…However, the following weekend we managed to bounce back and destroyed the 2nd place team (who prior to playing us, had only lost twice) at home by 18. Yup, 18 points. Happy with the win, I was also frustrated. We have the talent to be the 2nd or 3rd place team in the league, but it depends on which personality shows up Saturdays. Our team is very young and attitude and discipline are problems that hurt us. Until we find a cure for this, I don’t know what to expect. Road game versus the 3rd place team today…fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stormy Weather



Lost in a mass of people speaking a language I don't understand
Feeling the twinge of loneliness while living in a foreign land

Same routine day after day
Wishing I could call a close friend just to catch up at a cafe

An isolated life to play the game I love
But wondering if the trade off is worth it when push comes to shove

Its been a great 4 years, 3 more than ever thought
Reflecting I am grateful and know it wasn't all for naught

3 months to go with a salary to be paid
Wondering if this is the last time I decide to live the unique life I have made

Bouncing a ball and shooting a hoop
When coming home I feel so out of the loop

Europe has been wonderful, but I'm now looking beyond
Thinking it may be time to start over again and finally move on...

-BW