After a tearful goodbye to Piia at the Vaasa ferry terminal, I was on my way to Sweden. Both excited and nervous, I had no idea what to expect once arriving in Sundsvall. Would I fit in with the girls? Would management fulfill promises made to me? These questions among others ran through my mind as the ferry docked and I searched for the owner of my new team. I found him pretty quick, as he was the only 6’8 guy looking for me!
With a 3-hour drive from Jyväskylä to Vaasa, a 4-hour ferry ride from Vaasa to Umeå and a 2.5-hour drive from Umeå to Sundsvall behind me, I was ready to call it a night. Peter and I chatted for a bit, but pretty soon I was passed out in the seat next to him. We arrived in Sundsvall around 3am where I was dropped off at my new apartment. A big bed and clean room were quite welcoming as I threw down my bags and promptly fell asleep. Unpacking could wait until tomorrow.
The next morning I was up by 11am to complete paperwork, locate the gym and weight training facilities, learn the bus routes and find out where I ate my meals. This all went smoothly as I was given a bus pass, gym membership, introduced to restaurant owners and loaded up with gear (gear!) Sweatpants, sweatshirts, winter coat, practice shorts (3), practice jerseys (3), a sport bag, backpack and water bottles all branded with our team’s logo were handed over to me. Nice! The Sundsvall management really knows how to treat their players, making sure we are comfortable and have everything we need. HoNsU was good to me, but I often had to keep on them week to week to make sure I got what was promised. Here I don’t have to ask – everything is given to me early and if there is a problem, they want to know right away so it can be fixed.
Later that evening I had my first practice with the team. Though the girls are young, they work really hard. Practices are tough - I almost feel like I’m back in pre-season college training! Since our first game isn’t until March 27th, Henke (our coach), wants to make sure we keep our conditioning up and play at a high level. Most of practice is spent running lines, executing drills at 94 ft and playing full court. Once again I’m the tallest player on the team, meaning I’ll be playing more 5 than 4. I prefer the forward position, but playing center has allowed improve my inside game. I’m now very confident with my back to the basket. The girls are really nice and all fit the stereotype – blonde hair, blue eyes! I feel a bit out of place with my brunette hair and green eyes ☺. Friday after practice the girls surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and sang happy birthday to me in English and then Swedish. It was really nice, but not the same as celebrating with my close friends and family…
The Swedes I have met so far speak English very well. Aside from using the wrong verb from time to time, you can barely tell English is a second language. It’s impressive. Oddly, I already have picked up some Swedish. I find myself understanding conversations to an extent or getting the gist of a situation. The other day I was in a bookstore when the cashier spoke straight up Swedish to me. Deciding to be brave, I used some of my Swedish vocab and got by without her knowing any different! Well, at least I think she didn’t…
As far as professionals on the team, there are 4 of us. Vera is Serbian and has been on the team for 3 years, Felicity Willis is an American who played at Arizona and my roommate Dajana is Bosnian. Vera definitely provides comic relief; she’s quite a character. Felicity is very reserved and Dajana is always trying to improve her English when she speaks to me. They are all older than me (Vera – 25, Fel – 30, and Dajana – 29) but nevertheless we get along well. With the 4 of us adding experience, Vera believes we are going to beat every team in the qualifications by 20 points. I sure hope she’s right!
Click play to watch the video above! I'm not sure why I said 365° view...I meant 360°!
I’m entering my second week here in Sundsvall and am really enjoying the city. I’ve already met a fellow Canadian from Winnipeg who lived in Vancouver for a couple years. Small world. In my spare time I find myself wandering the streets during the day to explore buildings and take pictures of the beautiful architecture. The town is rich with history which has a lot to do with the detail, ornamentation and color of the buildings. Sundsvall used to be made of wood, but was devastated by fire for the 3rd time in 1888. They finally figured it out and rebuilt with stone – 3rd times a charm!
Homesickness is starting to creep in, but I’ve only got a couple more weeks. Miss you all!