Monday, January 28, 2008

Have Ball, Will Travel

While sitting in history and geography classes during high school, I always imagined what it would be like to visit the far away countries often discussed. Studying world maps and examining pictures of historical landmarks started to give me an itch. I wanted to travel, to get outside North America and experience different cultures and customs. I was never sure how I would get the money or whom I would go with, but knew someway, somehow I was going to make it happen. With this new found passion to explore different worlds, I needed to make it reality. Thankfully, it was my one true love that made this dream come true…

As an athlete I’ve always had the drive and competitive fire to succeed in the sports I participated in. I played for fun, but I also played to win. Whether in gym class playing floor hockey, or on the basketball court shooting the game winner – I was in it to win it. There was no in-between. Through hard work, determination and countless hours of practice, my successes on the basketball court have allowed me to see parts of the world almost expense free. Basketball has been great to me. Besides paying for my university education, it has allowed me to globetrot and see places I would have never thought of visiting. Since the first time I dribbled a ball at one of my dad’s men’s league games, I knew it was the start of a beautiful relationship. From playing outside on the asphalt courts in elementary school, to running up and down the hardwood in high school, working as a unit on Provincial teams, representing Canada on National teams, bleeding purple and gold for UW and now making a living overseas as a professional in Finland, basketball has given me much to be thankful for. By bouncing ball I’ve been able to travel through 4 Canadian Provinces, (BC, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick) 19 US States (Hawaii, Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Michigan, Utah, Indiana, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington) and 7 countries (South Korea, Turkey, England, Italy, the Netherlands, Estonia and Finland). If you had told me 6 years ago during Mr. Seney’s grade 11 history class that I would have visited all these places, I would have laughed and thought you were crazy.

I’m so thankful for the opportunities basketball has given me. Not only allowing me to travel, but to experience the diverse customs and cultures that are present around the world. In August 2003 I flew to Daegu, South Korea with the Canadian National team for the World University Games. South Korea is a country that I would have never dreamed of visiting. When you think of going outside North America, countries that come to mind are places like Australia, Thailand, France, Greece, etc – not South Korea! Nevertheless, I was extremely excited to experience this new environment. After spending almost 3 weeks in this green, humid country, I learned more about the Buddhist religion, explored holy temples, watched monks practice prayers and witnessed the different nightlife. It was fascinating to see how people lived, what they ate and how they interacted with one another. Ever since the Korea war, animosity has been present between North Korea and South Korea. In 2003, the countries still were not getting along. North Korean athletes were viewed by their South Korean hosts as hostiles and didn’t receive the warm welcome most countries did. The South Korean military heavily guarded the opening ceremonies for the games, as tens of thousands of fans cheered for athletes and countries entering the stadium. Our athlete village was fenced in with security checks and patrolled 24 hours by unfriendly, machine toting men in black hummers. It was a scary sight, but thankfully, nothing violent happened. I’m happy to report that as of October 2007, North Korea and South Korea have agreed to pursue peace between their nations. South Korea was a very gracious host and I enjoyed my time spent in this Asian country.

Two years after my experience in Korea, I was once again off to the World University games with the National Team in Izmir, Turkey. Turkey is another country I never thought I would visit. Perhaps Istanbul, but Izmir? Before jetting off for 3 weeks to this Middle Eastern nation, I had images of it being a dry desolate area. I had no idea this beautiful city would be located on the Aegean Sea with elaborate boardwalks making me feel as though I was walking in paradise. Turkey has been one of my favorite countries I have visited so far. It’s very different from all the places I have traveled to. You almost have to experience it to understand what I mean. The people are wonderful. Friendly, helpful and always making sure you're enjoy your time spent there. The women are beautiful and the men extremely handsome. The beaches were amazing, the buildings old and rustic, with mosques being found around every corner. It was here I first heard about the religion of Islam and witnessed prayer on a regular basis. People would stop everything during certain hours of the day, face the mosque and bow to say a prayer. Moments later they were back to what they were doing. Very different to what we are used to in North America. Our athlete village overlooked the Aegean, giving us a wonderful view of the western coast. On a clear day you could see Greece across the water. However, being in this part of the world with neighbors like Iraq, Iran and Syria, security, especially for the Americans was no joking matter. Once again we found ourselves faced with an extremely secured village and armed guards wherever we went. It was nice to know we were protected, but scary to have to be protected like that. All and all my Turkish experience is one that shines brightly in my mind. It’s a place I’ll never forget and forever cherish. Some of the friendships I made will last forever. (Shout out to HoRo!)In the summer of 2006 my team at the University of Washington was taken on a foreign tour of Italy. It was amazing! Aside from winning all our games we played against professional clubs, we were able to explore the cities of Rome, Florence, Venice, Verona, Pisa, and Como. Spending time in these cities and taking guided tours along the way allowed us to appreciate the historical significance of monuments like the Coliseum, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, Trevi fountain, statue of David, Leaning Tower of Pisa, St Marco’s square, Juliet’s Balcony and Lake Como among others. The country was beautiful, the food amazing and games worthwhile. I’m pretty sure I ate gelato everyday! Mmmmm…Italy was everything I expected it to be and more. The character and history this country has is unbelievable. The sheer size of monuments and detail of architecture is very impressive. It’s hard to believe that these monuments were built in ancient times where there were no cranes, trucks or the technology we have available today. Amazing. Standing by something like the Coliseum brings you down to size, making you appreciate the manpower and teamwork it took to complete these beautiful sites.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. I am truly thankful for what basketball has done and where it’s taken me. But my travels aren’t over yet! Before I leave Finland we plan to visit St. Petersburg and maybe Stockholm if we have time. Mid-summer will hopefully see me spending 2 weeks in Paris and next fall the plan is to be playing in France, Spain, Greece or Germany. Only time will tell!


Sidenote: Happy Birthday Keeler!!!


J said...

You couldn't use the notorious, "Bre with a Mountie" picture?

Come on now! Give the people what they want!

Sarah said...

Thanks for the shout out Baj, you're so cute!!! I only perused the blog, but will be back tomorrow to read it in it's entirety! Love and miss you Baja!

Front Row Aloha Fan said...

You have expressed so eloquently why I enjoy bidding up &/or winning auction items every year. Travel is the third kind of education you receive from playing basketball. The classroom is one. Learning to practice, prepare and work with your teammates is another.

Great writing as usual.