December 16, 2010

My suitcase is filled with 3/4 chocolate, 1/4 clothes...


Tomorrow’s the big day! I get to head home for the holidays. So today I’m spending the day packing and putting reminders in my phone of things I want to bring back with me from the US. I might be one of the most forgetful people I know. One of my teammates here tells me I’m a perfect fit for the Swiss saying, “when you don't have your head, you have your legs!” The first time she told me this was when I left my UGGS in the gym after a game, then of course another game I forgot my sweat towel (yikes – nobody wants to deal with that)! 

I made this list a while ago, and as I prepare for my departure I’ll be thinking about all these things that I’ll soon get to enjoy again! Here goes:

Things (and yes I know some of these are people but I’m keeping the title as “Things” because it’s all-encompassing and I don’t care if I’m grammatically incorrect right now) I Miss:

Nummy
Sita Bonita
My family
My other three wheels
My friends
The lack of screaming babies
Hugs
Dunkin' Donuts
Vito the Chiropractor (CHURRO)
Signs, ingredients, & everything else written in English
Waking up to an alarm clock instead of a baby dropping a marble repeatedly, or a woman jumping around in high heels at 5am...
Convenience stores, specifically 7-11 for all my slurpee needs
Jamin’ out to music in my car
The US dollar
Living in a house
American TV shows and movies that I can watch on a TV (doing everything on my computer is rough)
Knowing how to get places – yesterday I bought the wrong train ticket...AGAIN
Vitamin water
Outback steak
Diversity (and I don't mean the old, wooden ship)
Buffalo wings
Not having to think of words other people will understand during conversations
Halo Farm ice cream
Wilson leather balls
Recognizing town names
Movies without subtitles
Body pillows…lots of them
Muppet
Shadza
Eli & Peyton
Furby
Z100 and their hilarious phone taps
Miles, cups, and pounds

December 8, 2010

I Went to Prom with Wilson…

 I wanted to take the opportunity today to join the National Women's Law Center’s cause in writing about the importance of girls in sports and the benefits of athletics participation.


First and foremost, I don’t think you can talk about what you get from athletics, before you talk about what you put into athletics. The following list will walk you through both what I’ve put into basketball and what I’ve gotten from basketball…I think by the end you’ll realize the importance that athletics, and specifically basketball, has had on my life and why I think sports are so important for women today. I’ve already talked a lot in a previous blog entry about the sacrifices I’ve made and the way I’ve had to commit myself to basketball, but here are a few funny (and serious) anecdotes that I didn’t share yet: 

  • I know you must be curious…no, my prom date’s name was not Wilson (although it might as well have been).  I can’t remember many weekends in high school that didn’t involve me in some sort of gym doing some sort of work out, or in a random state playing against a number of AAU teams from around the country. Basketball helped me learn the geography of the United States and successfully pass the 6th grade.
    Me & My Pinkies :)
  • I have been squeezing tennis balls and hacky sacs for more than ten years. Why, you may ask! My first basketball coach told me doing this would strengthen my fingers so that I would be able to catching any pass thrown my way, get a touch on defense, or get a block and be able to keep the ball inbounds and secure it to start a transition fast break. I will admit that I now have THE STRONGEST PINKIES OF ALL MY FRIENDS (yes, it’s been tested!).  
  • I spent a lot of my summers practicing on outside basketball courts. After all, you have to be outside during the summer! Nope, no beach for me (at least very rarely). But I will say that playing basketball outside in the summer gave me conversation-starting tan lines, enabling me to make friends :).
  • Basketball has taught me punctuality. If you’re 15 minutes early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late, and if you’re late, don’t even bother showing up. I know the importance of getting places early thanks to basketball…60 second drills, 6-4-6s, suicides (now called ‘victory sprints’), or whatever particular running 'treat' my coach had in store for tardiness taught me to always be early!
  • I am probably one of the most stubborn/determined people you will ever meet. I guess this can best be summed up in a quote one of my college teammates sent me to Switzerland with, “I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked. You may be more talented than me. You might be smarter than me. And you may be better looking than me. But if we get on a treadmill together you are going to get off first or I’m going to die.” –Will Smith.
  • Continuing that thought, the funny thing about that quote is that same teammate (who shall remain nameless ;)) fell off a treadmill two times in a row during a workout. Basketball has taught me how to laugh with my teammates even during rough times. 
Breathing on the free throw line
  • Basketball has taught me composure. If you don’t breathe on a free throw line, chances are the ball isn’t going in the basket. If you let your frustrations and emotions take control of you, chances are you will be shaking too much to concentrate on the task at hand. I learned this when I was in college, and I learned it all over again here. Breathing is key. Basketball constantly reminds me to breathe.
  • Basketball has taught me how to give something my all. The proof is in the bruises I regularly wear. I exert and deplete my body on a daily basis, putting 100% of myself into my practices and games. Knowing I gave my all to something lets me know I can rest easy later (with a luxurious bubble bath of course).
  • Basketball has taught me how to count. Yes, I’m serious (partly). Math is not my strong suit; I’ve mentioned this before. Make something competitive though, or even just tell me to make baskets and tell me how much each basket is worth and I automatically keep track of the score. The first thing I learned in French was numbers…my teammates know why :)
  • Basketball has given me confidence. In all reality, I’m a clumsy, 6’3” girl, but put a basketball in my hands, and I may move differently than the average athlete, but I certainly know I’m making more than 50% of my shots, and altering a lot of yours.
    My Sister & Me
  • Basketball has taught me how to juggle…literally AND figuratively. At basketball camp we learned how to actually juggle basketballs. In life however, I learned how to juggle being a teammate, a coach, a captain, a student, an employee, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend (and even a trombone player!). Needless to say, I’ve learned time management.
  • Basketball has helped me realize where my priorities lie. This is a little difficult to explain, but I’ll try. In a summer-league game two summers ago (right after my senior year of college), my best friend (and teammate) slipped on the court and ended up tearing her ACL. There was game left to play, but I knew nothing was more important to me than helping my friend. At that moment, thinking my career was over and knowing she had one collegiate season left, I wanted to take away her pain so badly, I didn’t care if it meant taking her place. Basketball has helped me make closer connections with people than I ever thought was imaginable. I’ve learned that friends, family, and teammates are more important than a single summer league game. 

I feel honored and privileged that I am still able to put a jersey on, slap a teammate’s hand high five in lay-up lines, converse with a coach (even if I don’t exactly speak French), and train my body to do new things. As I continue my first year playing professional basketball in Switzerland, I look back at all my hard work and know that as I continue to push myself past my limits, I will continue to grow as a person and as an athlete. Basketball is my job now and I LOVE going to work.

*Special thanks to Jess Imhof for helping me write this blog. 

November 28, 2010

Disclaimer: When I’m excited, my writing can be incoherent.


I really wanted to write this blog as a story with lots of suspense leading up to the ending, but since I really struggle to remember details of games accurately, in order, or at all, AND I'm too excited to not spill the beans, I'm going to start with the day's result...WE GOT OUR FIRST CONFERENCE WIN!

Let me be clear, the game was not perfect by any means. Actually, after wins and losses I usually go back over each play and think about what I could have done better. In any sport, there are always ways to pick apart your play and tear yourself to shreds. Believe me, I made some mistakes in this game, but for the sake of celebration I am going to try really hard to solely focus on the positive! Okay, so the third-to-last play of the game the other team's forward drove to the basket getting by my teammate, I rotated across the lane (‘help-side defense’), picked up my teammate’s player, and blocked her shot! Blocking shots is amazing, mostly because you don’t even give the offensive player the satisfaction to see whether or not they could make a game-tying or game-winning shot, but also because it looks cool :P. The other team fouled me after I grabbed the ball, putting me on the free throw line. After I was fouled I heard my coach say "Hill! Come here!" I have to digress; the first time I heard my coach say, "Come on Hill!" I thought I was in some serious dog poo. It turns out that because the French language emphasizes the first syllable of their words that I am, in fact, NOT always in serious dog poo, but she is actually cheering me on. Okay, so after she called me over (and I realized I was NOT in trouble) she told me, “It's now or never!" and gave me a high five. I stepped to the line and said to myself, “Here we go Hill, you can do this,” did my routine, and breathed out as I released the ball for one of the most glorious sights a basketball player longs to see...a SWISH! Okay, so I missed my second free throw, but we went up by three, forcing the other team to re-think the possible shots they would have to take to stay in the game. The other team grabbed the rebound and one of our guards fouled her with about eight seconds left, putting them on the free throw line. In hindsight this was a really good play; our guard fouled out, but she also took away the other team’s option of seeing whether or not they could make a game tying 3-pointer (kind of like blocking a shot ;)). Their player made her first free throw and missed her second (I’m sensing a pattern here). After the missed free throw, our other forward had a textbook box out and grabbed the rebound, forcing the other team to foul. My teammate stepped to the line encouraged with high-fives and “allez’s”, and made both of her free throws (yay pattern broken!), putting us up by four!

The last play of the game the other team came down the court headed full speed towards their basket while our guards did a great job pressuring the ball. As their guard tried to pass to the player I was guarding, I stole the ball. As the clock ticked to zero and I realized I had the ball in my hands, I started frantically jumped up and down, relishing in the fact that we had won our first conference game! I heard cheers and screaming coming from my teammates (who I don't think have seen me so happy since coming to Switzerland). I joined them in their hugging and cheering and told them with a smile on my face stretched from ear to ear, "This is what winning feels like!" 

There is NOTHING quite like winning a hard-fought game with a group of people you've really come to enjoy going to battle with. It really is indescribable, but I CAN tell you I felt my heart fill with happiness (I worried at one point if it might possibly burst) and tears of joy may have made their way to my eyes ;). I know I’m an incredibly emotional person, but I think this moment warranted my happy tears. As the game ended I realized: we'd won, it wasn't a dream, and my teammates were all smiling and embracing each other. I flashed back to all the moments we were so close to victory but had fallen just short. I thought about the teammates that go to school all day and then come to practice at night as well as the teammates who travel an hour to and from practice each day. Then I thought about all the hours we'd spent in the gym together, and all the frustrated tears I've cried after our losses. Getting this win reminded me instantly that all these experiences are worth the pain and frustration that also comes with playing the game.

You know how sometimes you feel like the stars aligned perfectly to make something happen in your life? I really feel like everything that happened yesterday took its part in making the day such a success. For instance, I woke up to a blanket of snow on the ground (our first snowfall of the season)! I immediately lifted my blinds (quicker than a kid runs down the stairs on Christmas morning) and I smiled while I cracked open the window and smelled the fresh, snowy, air. There is something magical about the first real snowfall, and I knew that it was going to be a special day. One of the problems with having teammates who travel significant amounts of time to get to the gym is that when it snows, busses can get a little backed up, and scheduled departure times can change. We ended up leaving half an hour later than planned because a couple of our teammates had to walk to the train station (instead of taking their usual bus). While we were waiting parked outside the train station we saw an old couple walking, and the man slipped in the snow and fell (yes, this too made me tear up), but our driver (a teammate’s mom) got out to help him up (who says that karma doesn’t exist?). The trip to Lucern was a mess, we hit traffic at every tunnel, the roads were slippery, and we had a close encounter with a snowplow. We thought we would be late because the roads were bad, and we even tried rescheduling the game. The head of the league told us that we couldn’t reschedule, we had to try to get there. They were willing to push the game back an hour, but there was a possibility that we would get there and be sent back home if we arrived after 5:30pm (I've been getting a little car sick on our bus rides and really didn't want to imagine our three hour ride turning into a six hour ride (there and back) without a significant break where I could plant my feet on non-moving ground). Even so, hearing that our game might end up being postponed I first thought that I'd get to put something else on my calendar to look forward to. After more thought I realized how much I didn't want them to postpone the game because that could mean we'd have two games in one week (which I'd already told you doing in the past had left my body bruised and beaten and the thought of which made my body flinch), or that they could possibly postpone the game past that sacred December 17th date where I'm flying back to the U.S. to spend two weeks with my family and friends. So the negatives outweighed the positives here. Good thing we got there just in time (5:15pm) to play the game! All of these little quirks added to aforementioned perfect alignment.

I know I’ve been a little babbly, but overall it was such a great day, AND it even ended with black forest cake and hot chocolate :) (THAT in and of itself is reason to win more often). The snow was still coming down as we drove our three hours home and that ear to ear smile was still on my face…

November 17, 2010

America's Favorite Past Time...


Swiss Karaoke!!
This past week I’ve had a chance to enjoy some more Swiss culture. I guess I should start by talking about karaoke night. We all met at my coach’s house and engaged in a number of games, one of which was karaoke. First of all, I have to protest, the BEST songs we can send to Switzerland to put on their karaoke games are “Roxanne” by the Police and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” by Boy George? I mean, sure, they’re good songs, but they are not something I would typically sing karaoke to…and of course my teammates wanted to give me the courtesy of singing American songs! Maybe I should study up on Police lyrics; it was painful for ALL parties involved. Needless to say I was happy when my coach interrupted me about a quarter of the way through Boy George’s hit to put back on French songs. Now, if they had “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey I would have pulled out my dance moves and really shaken up the place!

We unfortunately lost our game in the Swiss Cup (of the Triwizard Tournament) against Fribourg. I had hoped that because it wasn’t a regular conference game we’d have an extra spark and REALLY surprise ourselves. We didn’t play badly, actually a number of us had pretty good games, but again the other team was just too strong for us to pull out a win. I’ve already talked about how different the rules are over here, but I guess I forgot to mention how TERRIBLE the refs are (and I don’t just mean the lack of calling over the backs). It’s not that I personally don’t like the refs, I just have no clue what is a foul and what isn’t (and I’m very vigilant on the court, I pay attention), they are just SO INCONSISTENT. There were a couple times in the game last night where it was blatantly obvious that the other center was locked up on my left arm, forcing me to pull down a rebound or grab a pass with solely my right – and there would be no call. However, if one of our guards so much as touched someone on the other team, it was a foul. I’ll even confess, one possession I literally just stuck out my leg because I knew I was beat; in America it would have MOST CERTAINLY been a foul, but my knee forced my opponent out of bounds and then we got the ball back! I thought ‘wow, that sucks, that was definitely a foul,’ and even felt guilty about it. I guess I still need to learn a few more tricks about how to play in Europe. 

When you’re an athlete you don’t think about pain during a game, it’s pointless. You keep on plugging away and leave your heart and soul on the floor. I left everything on the floor during our game last night, so much in fact that as soon as the game was over and all the adrenaline rushed out of my body, I realized how much pain I was in. It’s weird to think about how much adrenaline can push you through, and then actually recognizing the instant it leaves your body. Really the only things left to do are shower, ice, and pray for a quick recovery period. I’m sure there are other athletes out there who can vouch for me when I say that after two grueling games in a row, your body sometimes has an upchuck reaction to seeing what made it feel that way. I kind of felt that way walking to practice tonight.

When I got to practice however, it seemed like my coach had read my mind. She had out two dodge balls, a soccer ball, and a softball bat. We spent tonight’s practice playing. Now, there is a reason I picked basketball, I’m good at it. I STINK at soccer and my dodgeball skills are not anything to write home about. I never played softball either, and only realized tonight how complicated Americans make games. Trying to explain the rules of softball to my teammates was so incomprehensible for them that we ended up making our own rules; rules that I ended up not understanding, but somehow still made the game more fun! Earlier in the year our coach pulled out an American football and said, “We play American football tonight!” Naturally when I caught the football I started sprinting into the end-zone; I guess she meant American-Swiss football, because all my teammates started laughing when I took off running and got all excited when I thought I scored a touchdown (I guess they play that you can’t run with the ball here – I am still not certain though :P) . Well, tonight I saw how funny it was to see my teammates look around paranoid not knowing whether or not they were ‘out’ after stepping on a base (which happened to be a hula-hoop). Finally I knew the rules of a game and was actually consulted about how to play. I love rules; I’m a stickler for rules. I walk the line when it comes to rules. Of course by the end of the night we changed the rules and I had no idea what was going on again. Even so, I hit a home run! I guess that’s not the point; by the time we were done playing these other games, I was ready to pick up a basketball again. And just like that I’m looking forward to BASKETBALL practice tomorrow!

November 16, 2010

I saw the BIGGEST dog EVER yesterday!

That green tree has lights on it, and a star on top!
Christmas lights are up in town! I know Thanksgiving hasn't happened at home yet, but the Swiss don't celebrate American Thanksgiving, or any Thanksgiving as far as I know, and tomorrow will officially be one month until I get to go home for a couple of weeks for Christmas. Needless to say, when I saw that the town had decorated their streets with the North Star I got incredibly excited this afternoon.

A couple other things are happening that are also exciting me. We still have yet to win a regular conference game, BUT we were beating the #1 team in the league 24-21 after the first quarter this past Saturday. I told you we'd surprise some people! They were not expecting it to be a game at all; in the end I suppose it wasn't, we did lose by 39, but I felt like we gained a little respect in that game and sent the message that even though we have not won a game, we will not roll over and let other teams trample us. Personally, I finally had a game I am proud of. I didn't do anything too spectacular or dazzling, but I had 17 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals, 4 blocks, and -what I'm most proud of- shot 8 of 10 from the floor (2 of which were outside shots)! I had another good shoot-around practice this morning; I worked on going both right and left from both sides of the floor. We play Fribourg tonight in the Swiss Cup, a very good team, with a very good couple of Americans.

So other than bubble baths, secrets, and wine, I should also add that I love oranges. When I was growing up I used to come home from practice and CRAVE orange juice, and down a couple glasses within a few minutes (does orange juice make you tall?). Okay, I found out a few years ago that so much juice is REALLY not good for you - too much sugar, and since then I've cut back significantly on my orange juice intake. When I have orange juice now I fill my glass half-way with orange juice and fill the other half with water. Regardless (I'm getting off track here), I'm especially excited because wintertime is clementine season, and I bought a box of clementines today :P. I promise to only eat a MAX of three a day, maybe. :).

November 12, 2010

You know you're American when the laundry machine tells you to 'loosen up.'


Since I’ve come back to Nyon after my trip home, I’ve fallen right back into my Swiss routine. I know some people have been wondering how I spend my days over here, and I guess now is as good a time as any to ‘give all my secrets away’ (Thanks One Republic for that catchy song).

My Lifting Gym
My teammates often question how I spend my days, I guess last year the Americans on the team slept all day. I can’t do that…I’m not nocturnal; I like to sleep at night and be up during the day. And although I like being up and able to talk to my friends from home (6 hour time difference remember) I have been trying my best to get on Swiss time. My days here are pretty simple, which for those of you who knew me back home know is a BIG relief. Going to school full-time last year and working two jobs while trying to maintain a long distance relationship was, well, maybe a little too chaotic for me. Breathing is nice for a change, even if I do get a little stir crazy sometimes. Anyways, here goes:

Right now I am waking up around ten a.m.. Since I never have practice before noon, I can deal with this (I typically go to sleep around two a.m. – getting a solid eight hours :)). I take my time getting up and preparing for the day. I pack a gym bag and head into town. I do some kind of workout at noon; some days we have shoot-arounds / strength training with the team, but sometimes I just go to the gym by myself, lift, run, stretch, lay in a sauna, look at the Jacuzzi (I haven’t actually ventured in the Jacuzzi yet), shower, and head to lunch. My club set it up so that I eat at different places during the week: The Sunset Restaurant, La Puccia, or get this – Cactus Jack. I take my time eating; after all there is no rush for me to get anywhere after my meal. Sometimes I bring a book to get lost in and other times I just people watch; all of the restaurants I eat at have great views where I can watch people hustling around (La Puccia is across from the castle, and The Sunset and Cactus Jack are across from the train station).
View from La Puccia

My afternoons consist of my ‘free time’ (as if all of my time here isn’t ‘free?’). Depending on my mood I’ll paint, practice French, watch movies, read, take a bubble bath (I’m getting a little addicted to the tub), clean, meditate, or here it is: just sit. It’s fascinating to me how much time I spend ‘just sitting.’ I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but sometimes just sitting is my favorite part of the day, and you know why? I never had time to just sit at home, or rather, I never made time to just sit at home. I’ll admit, that sometimes my over-achiever, need-to-be-doing-something-at-all-times personality comes out and I think, “Wow Hill, three hours just went by…WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” but then I take what I call are “tummy breaths” (deep breaths that make your tummy puff out and force you to relax) and think, “This is okay, I deserve to just sit.” Since a friend helped me pick out the title of my blog and I hadn’t actually read Eat Pray Love before coming to Switzerland, I figured that it would only be right if it was one of the first books I'd conquer over here. Quite honestly, Eat Pray Love was a perfect fit for me, and now I’m about to be super cliché and quote it because it helped me realize that my not doing anything is actually okay. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book, “Americans don’t really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype – the over-stressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.” I wasn’t quite that bad yet, but I know my employers, teachers, family, and friends last year knew how much (or in this case how little) free time I made for myself. So yes, some days before practice I just sit. It’s actually pretty nice to just hang out with me :).

Laundry Banter
I will mention that Tuesdays are a little different. Tuesday is LAUNDRY DAY! I’ve come to both loathe and love laundry day. A little background: there is a key to the laundry room that gets passed around my building; you have a few hours on one day a week to do your laundry. If you miss your slot, you are out of luck. After battling for weeks with the laundry machines (they would eat my coins, lock my clothes in the washer, refuse to dry my clothes, etc.) I finally won the battle. After the washing machine told me to loosen up (see right), I decided, “Hell, I’m going to make the most of laundry day.” This week I made a pot of coffee, brought down my dirty clothes and book with me, locked myself in the laundry room, and curled up on the dryer drinking my coffee and reading my book. Laundry day can actually be kind of fun.

We have full team practices at night. So after my ‘free time’ I pack another gym bag, put on practice clothes, get my game face on, and head back into town. I should probably add that ‘town’ is maybe ¾ of a mile from my apartment; the gyms are probably a mile. When I am speed walking it takes me 13 minutes to get from my apartment to the gym or from the gym to my apartment. When I leisurely walk, it can take me all of 25 minutes!  So on any given day I spend anywhere from an hour to two hours a day just walking.

I think by now everyone who reads my blog knows what I do after practice: BUBBLE BATH! Okay, if I took a bubble bath during the day I usually don’t take another one. And also I’m not super dirty, I shower after practice at the gym so I get off the sweat and basketball debris before I come home and lounge in some soapy warm water with bath salts (thanks to my other three wheels). Then there’s dinner (I’ve been learning to cook new things), some tv / internet time (although I sporadically do this during the day too), and then bed!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: my routine is unbelievably exciting. And yes, I think so too. But my body has never felt so relaxed, and I have never enjoyed my own company so much. I wonder how much of this I can bring home with me when the time comes…

November 3, 2010

My plane neighbor was legally blind two years ago, and now has 20/20 vision...

I am back in Nyon! My Dad's surgery went well, and he actually came home Monday night. He was doing remarkably better each day after the surgery. I'm really glad I went home, I know my family really appreciated having me there and it was good getting to see them.

Going home actually opened my eyes to a couple things: I REALLY like it in Switzerland, and I missed my life here for the few days I was home. I'm going to list things I really like here in a second, but the other thing I realized is that right now is the perfect opportunity to be whole and fully invest in what I'm doing here; there's nothing pulling me in different directions anymore...what a weird, and incredibly relieving feeling.

Nothing too drastic physically changed in Nyon while I was gone (the leaves have fallen off the trees and they are doing more construction around the apartment buildings), but I did notice that I have changed. I felt very different when my plane touched down coming back this time than I did when I first came over in August. I feel like not only do I fit in here, but that this is the only place in the world I want to be right now. Imagine that.

Okay, now for the things I really like here. It's a short list right now, but these things are so important to me and are such a big part of my life. I guess I'll recommend you read it slowly for dramatic effect ;).

Bubble baths.

My French speaking teammates. "I will squat in your flat!" They are SO cute sometimes.

The luxury of time.

Getting in two really good work-outs a day.

Walking everywhere.

Learning how to cook new things.

The dogs.

My little apartment.

Watching the sun set over my mountain.

My waiter and his contagious smile.

The Sunset's food, "meat or fish."

The Coop.

Wine with dinner.

Thinking about ridiculous things.

The cat elevator (believe it or not Macaroon was laying in the hall when I came in and welcomed me back).


That's all for now folks! I'm jet-lagged and going to nap before practice.

October 28, 2010

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles…

This morning I woke up at 6am and got on a train at 6:50am. By 8:30am I was boarded a plane heading back to The States. My plane touched down at 1:10pm, U.S. time. This evening I will be driving my car to the hospital to visit my Dad.

Sunday night I received news from my sister that my Dad was in the hospital. I found out Tuesday night that he needs two heart surgeries. After talking to my family, my agent, my friends, and my coach I got the green light from all parties to take a trip back to The States to be with my family while my Dad has surgery. I am going to get five days at home. Home. I’ve missed home so much and have been anxiously awaiting Christmas vacation where I will get two weeks and two days to spend with my family and friends and enjoy all of the things that Europe just can’t offer me. And while I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends and getting those hugs that I miss so much, the reasoning behind this visit makes me incredibly nervous.

My Dad and me at a basketball banquet
While I sat in my apartment piecing together all the information I had in order to make an informed decision about whether or not to return home I realized that I wouldn’t be sitting in my Swiss apartment if it weren’t for my Dad and Mom. For those of you who don’t know how I got to where I am, let me try to explain the level of commitment it took by all parties involved in order for me to get here. I started playing recreation basketball in 4th grade. My Mom signed me up and took me once or twice a week to the local middle school to play. By 5th grade I had joined a Church Youth Organization (CYO) team with a friend where basketball became slightly more competitive, organized, and time consuming. We started practicing twice a week and having games on the weekends, usually on Saturdays. By 6th grade I made the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team composed of a core group of girls from the CYO team, called the Jersey Hot Shots. After I joined the Jersey Hot Shots basketball really picked up. Those Saturday games turned into weekend tournaments all over the country. We drove to Washington D.C., Florida, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, Maryland, and flew to Nevada, North Carolina, Utah, Kansas, and Ohio. After I was offered a full scholarship to a school two hours away we practiced/played six days a week and had games twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays (I think). Once I transferred to The College of New Jersey the games were more localized and practices were shorter, but we still played games twice a week. I did not go to a single one of these games alone. In fact, before attending college I can’t remember a time where at least one of my parents wasn’t at a game. If I complained about losing summers at the beach, not being able to have a Sweet Sixteen, or having to leave my high school’s annual band trip in the middle of the night because I had a basketball tournament, I can’t imagine what my parents sacrificed to make my dreams come true.

My Mom and me on the way to the Final Four
I have a lot of really fond memories from growing up playing basketball and going on those trips. I remember when I first started really wanting to play my Dad took me out to the driveway and taught me how to make a hook shot. I remember that same year playing one-on-one against my Mom (or as I wrote in my diary “today I will versus Mommy”). I remember cutting our vacation in Sunset Beach, NC short and sharing my first plane ride with my Dad on the way to Ogden, Utah (of all places) for the 12&U AAU national tournament. I remember incredibly tiring weekends at tournaments five hours away where we’d actively search for the different gym sites and play eight games; I would get to the car completely exhausted but ready to co-pilot only to have my Dad take a look at me, see my exhaustion, and tell me to go lay down in the back and rest. Once I turned 16, I remember getting my permit and begging my Mom to let me drive us to a game, which she occasionally let me do ☺. I remember my really difficult freshman year where I thought I might actually walk away from the game of basketball and in a state of panic felt relief when my Mom finally told me it was okay to ‘just come home.’ I remember making it to the Final Four in Holland, MI and looking up in the stands at what I thought would be the last game of my basketball career to see my parents cheering for me far after the final buzzer had sounded.

As I’m writing this I’m starting to get emotional thinking about how incredibly grateful I am to be able to live out my dreams, and my real dreams. The other day a friend asked me, “Hill, what is your dream job.” At first I answered with “probably an actress or singer,” because I am and like to be incredibly expressive. After walking to practice that day and thinking more about it I came back and told that friend, “Actually, I already have my dream job, I’m playing basketball professionally.” Just to be clear, it’s not super glamorous, so I hope nobody is picturing me as LeBron walking down the streets in Nyon. It’s hard work both mentally and physically, but it has been my dream since I first picked up a basketball. I know I’ve been able to live out my dream because of my parents, and I really hope they both know that I know that.

One other memory really sticks out to me. After one particular AAU game I thought I had played horrible. I was so angry with myself I couldn’t/wouldn’t talk to anyone. I also had a HUGE attitude back in the day so I’m sure my Dad was getting frustrated with my demeanor after bad games. On the way to our next game that day he turned me to and said, “Hillary, basketball is a game, enjoy it, and remember to smile as they go in.” That motto has stuck with me throughout college and even now as I pursue my professional career in basketball. As my coach was talking to me yesterday, as soon as she said, “Basketball is a game, family is family” I immediately pictured my Dad and knew I had to sit the next game out and go home to be with my family. After all, I wouldn’t be playing basketball now if it weren’t for my Dad and my Mom and all the commitment they had to make my dreams come true.

October 27, 2010

The woman checking tickets has a mullet...

Heidelberg's Castle
These past few days I got to spend my 'vacation' (we had 3 days off from practice) with a friend in Heidelberg, Germany. First of all I have to say that being around another American was incredibly comforting, especially another American who is playing basketball and having similar experiences as me. We talked about home, the differences we recognize between Europe and America, what we miss from The States, the first thing we'll both buy when we get home (which happened to be Dunkin' Donuts for BOTH of us), and what an incredible opportunity it is to be here even though it can be really difficult and trying at times. I got to watch one of her practices and took a lot of comfort in knowing that professional basketball in Germany is similar to professional basketball in Switzerland.
Me @ Old Town Bridge
My friend stays with a host family, who were incredibly nice and also pretty good at speaking English :). It was interesting to see what I would like about staying with a family and what might irritate me. It was really nice to be in an actual house with people around and a fully stocked fridge ;). It takes me a while to warm up to people I suppose, and I would think figuring out how to function within the family system of a new family might take me a while. Also, I feel kind of awkward around people I don't know very well, especially when I'm in their home and trying not to break their 'rules' so to speak. As my friend said, "there's so many awkward moments over here, by the time you get home nothing will seem awkward." I definitely see what she means and also hope that's true.

I got to see Old Town Heidelberg, walk across Old Town Bridge over the Neckar River, see the Heidelberg Castle, and Thingstätte. You can see the attached pictures, but honestly unless you're there in person it's kind of hard to describe the beauty in some of the European architecture. I did wonder about the castle though... it sits about 1/3 of the way up a 'small mountain' (there was debate as to whether the mountain was a 'hill' or a 'mountain,' so I thought I'd settle with 'small mountain'). I thought castles were supposed to sit higher up on 'small mountains' so they could see when armies were coming to attack. If I were to attack this castle, according to the way this castle sat I'd come from the back side of the 'small mountain' and fire down at it. Position-wise, I did not like this castle (these are the kinds of thoughts I have time to think about over here).
Thingstätte

Thingstätte was probably the most interesting thing I got to see in Heidelberg. Thingstätte is an amphitheater that was built during WW2 and sat 8,000 people who came to listen to Nazi speeches. It was a hike to get to from where we parked (which happened to be maybe 100 meters (?) away); I can't imagine climbing all the way up the 'small mountain' to hear Nazi propaganda. For an old structure it was amazing how well you could hear someone 'on stage' from one of the highest seats (we tested it out). As I sat in one of the seats I wondered who had sat in that seat 75 years ago, and really what kind of person they might have been. Did they REALLY believe the things they heard there and TRULY buy into what was happening? I think it's a good thing these types of structures still exist, they serve as a reminder to be skeptical of what propaganda we receive today, and personally reminded me of my own free will to be the kind of person I strive to be daily.

We got to do a couple other fun things, I carved a pumpkin (which I hadn't done since I was twelve, and you can tell - I also bet you can guess which one was mine without me telling you), watched NFL football on - get this - A TELEVISION!, roasted pumpkin seeds (yummy!), I had a Radler (beer with German lemonade/soda), watched a scary movie in the spirit of Halloween, and sat down at a dinner table with other people and a spread of cheese and meat.
Radler

One more thing I saw that caught my attention: on the train on the way back to Nyon three uniformed men were walking up and down the aisles (I don't know why authority figures make me nervous, but I always take notice of them). They were looking around at the people and stopped in front of two men who honestly, looked like maybe they could have been Turkish (point blank: they didn't look like the other Germans I'd been around all week). Anyways, the uniformed men asked them, and only them, for their passports. Hell, I'm not even really sure if I'm supposed to be travelling outside Switzerland, but as we would say in the Race Relations class I took in Fall '08, I can 'pass' as a European. I'm not trying to paint Germany in a bad light, because I've seen racial profiling more times than I can count at home and in more disrespectful ways, I just think it's important to recognize these kinds of things.
Pumpkins!!
I almost had a successful, mistake-free trip travel-wise, except once again I jumped the gun on the way here and got off one stop early. Of course getting off one stop early and having to wait for another train added an hour to my trip. I really wish they wouldn't prematurely change the 'next stop' sign while I'm still on the train. This has happened to me a NUMBER of times now and I get off one stop early because the stupid sign tells me the next stop (which I think is the one I'm at) is my stop. It'd be easier if everything was in English, but alas, it's not. One of these days I'll figure out how to travel...

October 18, 2010

"Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the titanic." -Unknown


We had another conference game on Saturday against the team based out of Basel. We again, unfortunately lost, but this time the score was 76-74. So far our losses have been to the top teams in the league, and we are right there competing hard against all of them (except for maybe the first place team who’s been blowing everyone out of the water by 30 points or more). Personally, I think our ability to play with these teams is pretty impressive, mostly because we are coming together as a new team, with girls who played in Switzerland’s second league last year, and with a new American. I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but I really see improvements every game. When we start replaying opponents in the second round of conference play, it is going to be a different story. This game there was a stretch where we had a few really good back-to-back defensive possessions by causing shot clock violations or putting so much pressure on the ball that the other team turned it over. In the fourth quarter we rallied back from a 16 point deficit with everyone contributing – our point guard hit a three, our two-guard drove to the basket, our three-guard hit a three AND drove to the basket, our four-player sunk free throws, and I made layups. It was a collective effort with everyone contributing, which is always my favorite way to play.

The last thirty seconds of the game were incredibly intense. Since I tend to forget the exact details when I play, you can take this with a grain of salt, but if I remember correctly our point guard sank two free-throws to make it a two point game. The other team brought the ball up the court with everyone on our team pressuring their players. The way we’d adjusted our defense made it incredibly difficult for the other team to go ahead with their usual plan of attack and we forced them to throw up a shot from very far away from the basket as the shot clock was winding down. Our team got the rebound and I took off down to the other end of the court. The clock counted down: 4...our two guard was dribbling the ball through two of their players, 3…she passed it to our four player, 2…our four player tried to get past her girl, 1….our four player shot the ball from a few feet outside the three point line, 0…the shot fell short.

A couple other differences I forgot to mention about the game here: the shot clock is only 24 seconds (maybe I did already mention this, but I thought I’d emphasize it again) and you cannot call a timeout during a possession whether you have the ball or not – you have to wait for a dead ball. Okay, so typically back home when I thought about the game I’d like to break it down into possessions. If the shot clock is 30 seconds and each half is 20 minutes, then each team should get 20 possessions if they use up the whole shot clock on each possession. If you only get 20 possessions a half and let’s say you convert on only half of those possessions, you would head into the locker room with anywhere between 20 to 43 points (depending on fouls, whether your team shoots 2’s or 3’s, etc.). Obviously the game isn’t played this way, and teams don’t use up 30 seconds each possession, but how simple is it to think of the game that way when the shot clock is 30 seconds and everything aligns just right? Math is not my strong suit. I can’t even make 24 seconds make sense in my head. All I can do is think, “we have the ball, I don’t know how many possessions we’ll get this half, but let’s make every one count.” That’s probably a better way to think of the game anyway, but sometimes I really miss breaking down those 30 seconds. Now for the timeout situation: back home if you have the ball with 4 seconds left and your team just crossed half-court you would (in most cases) call a timeout and set up some elaborate sideline play to get a good last-second shot off. Needless to say I was baffled when our two-guard crossed half-court and I glanced at our coach waiting for her to call a time-out only to find her jumping up and down while screaming, “Allez! Allez!” (“Go! Go!”). Seriously, this game is intense, and I love it.

Point Guard Hillary :)
There are a few cool things that I’m personally seeing change in my own game. First of all, I’ve been running the floor a LOT more and a LOT better. I really have to thank my agency for setting me up with a speed school before I left to come over here. Learning how to run the right way has changed the way I feel about running (to a certain extent at least) and has also made me incredibly more efficient on the basketball court. There was a possession this game where I took off running down the left lane, received a pass from my point guard a little over half court and drove the ball to the rim (where I think I did a Euro-step to fake out my defender (although maybe I just thought I did and in reality it looked more like a regular layup)) and finished without getting a charge called against me! So cool :P. On another possession, we had the ball out of bounds underneath the basket and I noticed my defender cheating and slipped out to the wing (I’m so sneaky). Our four-player hit me with a pass to nail a jump-shot (I’ve hit jump-shots before, but not so sneakily). These are things I’ve always wanted to try, but was just never in a situation to do in games before. It’s always exciting when you add a new element to your game, because you know you’re still getting better. After all, I AM only 23 ;).

October 11, 2010

…Another chocolate bar bites the dust

So a few things have happened since I’ve last blogged. They are doing construction in the flat above mine, so the sounds of drills and hammers have woken me up at 7:30 for a week, and there’s no ending in sight. I discovered a path that goes from the train station to where I live (which cuts off literally only one minute from my walk, but still, that’s cool!). I’ve perfected the crepe. I learned how to say the different colors in French. I almost got back on a moped, but didn’t. I was questioned about my marital status. Oh yeah! Basketball stuff: we got our first win in the Swiss Cup, and then we had our third loss in our regular league game yesterday.

Nyon Basket Féminin 2010-2011
After a rough performance last week in our loss against Pully, I realized that I was in a bit of a slump. The thing about being in a slump is that it’s not like you just wake up the next day and BAM you’re out of it! It doesn’t quite work like that, you have to fight to get out of it, and sometimes it takes a whole week of practice where you feel like nothing is falling for you in order to get out of that slump. Needless to say I had a rough week of practice: I missed lay-ups and free throws and had to fight hard to stay out of my own head. When slumps happen, I usually have an internal fight until I change my thinking, which I was thankfully able to do this past week. I’ve never really flourished in basketball when I’ve solely focused on “me” so to speak. Yes, when I’m in an individual workout I have to focus on me and I do: I think about my shooting form, my footwork, how to breathe and maintain a routine at the free throw line, keeping my dribble low and close to my body, you know, the basics. However, come game time and team practice time I like to think about how I can help the team. Thinking about helping the team partly takes some of the pressure off because I’m not consciously critiquing every little thing I do, but more so it just reminds me that my individual game is only a part of the bigger picture, the team. Sometimes helping the team means giving someone else who’s having a rough day a high five, cheering after someone makes a tough shot, encouraging my teammates to be aggressive on defense and up in passing lanes, doing my job when I’m at the free throw line, converting my lay-ups on a good pass from a teammate so they keep looking inside, or diving on a loose ball to show that we’re collectively willing to sacrifice our bodies for the love of the game.

Just a quick tangent on that last statement…sometimes I think I am absolutely crazy to put my body through what I do in order to play the game. I see bruises on my teammates and go home and find similar ones on myself and think, “Wow, when did that happen?” This is the less glamorous side of living the dream. Even as I write this I have ice on various parts of my body trying to numb the new pains I’m feeling today. The morning after a tough game is always rough; I lay in bed and debate whether or not my body can even get up. But when you have the basketball itch (which I can feel pulsing from my chest to the rest of my body right now), as soon as your feet hit the floor, all you can think about is how you will get better today, when you will get your next victory, and how good it feels to overcome the little battles which lead to the bigger ones. Winning those battles, small and big, is completely addicting…so when I look in the mirror and notice a new bruise I sigh for a brief moment and then realize that this is a small price for that amazing feeling of invincibility that comes with a victory.

So this past week I worked really hard focusing on my teammates and what the team needed so I could, in turn, focus on myself and get out of my slump. I would definitely say that I played 100 times better yesterday than I did last weekend. Sure, I still missed a few shots, and I can always do some things better, but I felt like myself, the Hillary I’m used to being on the court. I’m so glad that I fought all week to get her back.

Our game yesterday had incredibly promising moments that it would be our first league victory. In the first quarter we were up by 12 (18-6), their American center picked up her fourth foul with about two minutes left in the first quarter, and it looked like this game was going to be ours. Then the other team switched up their defense and slowly started climbing back into the game. At halftime we were up by only one point. We’d stopped attacking and found ourselves slowly sinking gasping for air while trying to maintain our lead. As much as we tried to attack their center so she’d foul out, she managed to play with four fouls until the very end of the third quarter, at which point I also had four fouls and found myself on the bench. There’s a VERY big difference between playing ‘not to lose’ and ‘playing to win.’ After the turn of events in the second and third quarters, it seemed like we were no longer playing to win, but were trying not to lose. This isn’t uncommon for a team that’s in a situation like ours. I’ve been on teams like this in the past, where we really want to win, but can’t seem to put the pieces together to make it happen. In talking to my coach this morning, I completely agree that once we get one win and realize what we have to do in order to get that win, something will click, and we’ll be okay. Sometimes that actually happens, where a win will spur that click and a team will fire themselves up (I’ve been on teams like this :)), but sometimes it doesn’t (I’ve also been on teams like this :(). After seeing how our team played against Pully last weekend with all that passion and desire I absolutely believe that our team can fire up after a victory and keep that flame going.

Oh, so some of you are probably wondering why the Swiss Cup win doesn’t count in this mix-up. Well, from what I gather all teams in Switzerland compete for the Swiss Cup, and our first game was against a second-league team. We won by 20 or so, maybe more, but did not play well at all. In order to get that fire started the win HAS to be a challenging game. Nothing is guaranteed in sports, but since we knew we had a good shot at winning our first Swiss Cup game, it wasn’t a surprise when we won without playing particularly well. That first win has to be a tough one, and it has to boost our egos into knowing that we can compete. Our game yesterday would have been ideal, but now we have to look forward to our game next weekend against Basel. Wish us luck!

October 4, 2010

I killed my house-warming plant...partly.

We had another game yesterday, the second of our regular conference season. We ended up losing by nine, 86-77. It’s always hard to talk about a game after a loss, so bear with me. We came out pretty strong, and I knew it was going to be different from last week because our PG hit a 3 to start the game putting us up 3-0. After the next couple possessions it was 5-2. It was SO much better than the week before. The spacing on the floor seemed more natural and we had spurts where we looked like we were moving as a unit.

Personally, I did not play well. As an athlete, sometimes this happens. Hell, even Peyton Manning threw an interception yesterday. Regardless, I did not travel to Switzerland to play average and have bad games. This will be the last time I have a game like this while I’m here. No more ‘getting acquainted’ with the rules or worrying about how the girl I’m guarding is playing and trying to adjust. I can feel that I’m missing a little something, a little spark, some of my swagger maybe, and I know I need to find it before Wednesday (our first Swiss cup game), and before next weekend (round 3 of conference play). I know I was a year out, but I can and will be better than what I’ve shown so far.

Anyway, we fought back hard as a team. We went down by as far as 18 in the third quarter and pulled it back within six with three minutes left to go in the game. The best part was that everyone contributed to the comeback. Our press was in sync, my teammates shot the ball with purpose, and drove to the basket with passion and dedication. I’m proud of them for showing their fight.

That’s all I can say about the game. I already replayed it in my head 20 times, and I can’t think about it anymore or my brain will explode. So! Before I become too acclimated to my new surroundings, I thought I’d take this blog entry to list some of the differences between New Jersey and Switzerland. Here we go:

  • Everyone has a Razor scooter or a moped. Age doesn't matter, neither does what you're wearing (businessmen ride mopeds, middle-age women in skirts ride Razors).
  • The postman also rides a moped, but his has a side-car attached to it that holds the mail.
  • Every car is a standard.
  • Cars actually stop for you in cross walks. YES, even the yellow ones!
  • The traffic lights go from green to amber to red to amber to green.
  • The elevator door is a regular door, if you time it right you can open it mid-travel. I don't encourage this though :).
  • The money looks like monopoly money, and you feel like you can spend it just as lavishly.
  • Dogs are allowed everywhere, even supermarkets, restaurants, unleashed in the middle of a carnival...
  • Kids are always crying...or screaming.
  • Lunch is the big meal of the day, and if you don't eat everything on your plate your waiter/waitress looks offended.
  • People speak French.
  • There are castles. And mountains.
  • A sprite is 6.50 Swiss francs in a restaurant (I can't bring myself to pay that much for a soda).
  • Everyone is okay with using public transportation; it doesn't necessarily define class as far as I can tell.
  • Everything closes from around 2-6pm in town, with a few exceptions.
  • They tell time military style. I have practice at 18h30 most days.
  • There are very few T-intersections, most crossroads are circles (I blame this for why I got so lost that first week looking for the gym).
  • The month and day is switched when you write the date. Today is 4-10-10.
  • You can't lock yourself out of your apartment. You must lock the door behind you using your key.
  • I have one day and only a few hours on this day to do laundry. Everyone in my building passes on the key via mailbox after they're done to the next person on the schedule.
  • Pandora, abc.com, fox.com and other websites are not accessible overseas. You have to find your way around this…
  • The coffee is like taking a shot (not that I'd know!), but it's served in a tiny cup and is very strong.
  • You have 2 choices at restaurants: you are there to drink coffee or eat. You also declare this shortly after entering.
  • Sizes are much smaller than in the US.
  • People are skinnier, much skinnier. Even so, I don't find portions (especially at lunch) to be smaller.
  • The cheese doesn't taste like processed American cheese.
  • People have sharper features.
  • It seems like everyone smokes.
  • Wine is cheaper.
  • Everything else is more expensive.
  • Our basketball uniforms are girl-cut and fitted.
  • The basketballs cut up your fingertips.
  • The court is shorter.
  • The rim height is 8 ft … (just kidding! It's still 10ft)!
  • There are no over-the-back calls (I really need to get over this).
And finally....
  • My shoe size is 45. I thought 12.5 sounded bad...

September 27, 2010

Let's Jump...

“Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them -- a desire, a dream, a vision.” - Muhammad Ali

First of all, since I still haven’t figured out how to comment on my own blog yet…thank you, everyone, for all of your support and encouraging words these past few days. It’s amazing how much extra strength I can conjure up from my support network.

As a few of you know, our first game did not go well. I really don’t want to go into details, but let’s just say there was an article written calling our team “little girls” in comparison to the team we played against. When your first game is a devastating loss you always have to wonder how you and your teammates are going to bounce back from such a brutal wake-up call. I was impressed tonight when I received a chain of emails from my teammates and coach firing one another up and demanding that we come ready to practice hard all week. As my TCNJ Final Four team will confirm, the beginning of a season is just that, a starting point. A basketball season is a journey in and of itself, and a long one at that. Our Final Four team started the season 3-3 before figuring out we were tired of losing, changed up our defense, and started dominating.

TCNJ's Final Four Centers
I know she didn’t have the same experience, but during our team’s transformation stage I would get so frustrated with the other Center on our team for beating me up all practice that I used to want to ‘throw intentional 'bows’ at her (which I never did of course :P). By making practice so hard for me she inevitably prepared me for the other Centers in our league and the NCAA, and made me a better player. Naturally, she was the first person I found and jumped on after we’d made it to the Sweet Sixteen. As a player, you can never underestimate the fact that basketball is a team sport, and that much of your success comes from embracing how hard your teammates make you work. I owe so much to my teammates, past and present.
 
Before I came overseas, one of my trainers was talking to me and a few other players about what ‘The Greats’ say makes a champion. Some say it’s about conditioning, some say it’s about preparation. Really I think it comes down to heart. Reading my teammates email responses to the article (after typing them into google translator of course) opened my eyes to the desire my teammates have to improve. We have a lot of work to do, a ton in fact, but I am anxiously waiting to see what kind of heart my teammates have as we prepare for our upcoming game this Sunday.  Although I don’t think any of my current teammates can hold me, I’m dying to jump into someone’s arms after a victory…

September 26, 2010

"When the going gets tough..."

As was expected, I had my first breakdown last week about being so far away from home. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, and was actually surprised I held out without a breakdown for almost a month. In a conversation with a friend who'd played overseas, we talked about how a good way to think of getting through such a long season so far away from home is to break the season down into months, weeks, and even days, which is what I had been doing. I am getting quite comfortable with my routine here, but I look forward to getting to see little glimpses of home. For example, it's great knowing I'm going to be getting a package (so those of you are, please keep sending them- they give me something from home to look forward to). When you break down the season by months, weeks, and days you start to set up goal points that you aim to make it to. It's really tough, and incredibly disappointing when you have a goal point within a certain reach and then that goal point disappears. Needless to say a few days before our first conference game I found myself questioning what I was doing 3000 miles away from my family and friends. Then I remembered: I knew it was going to be like this.

Back when becoming a professional basketball player was only a fluttering thought passing through my head I'd read a few books written by female basketball players playing overseas. "It's tough," they would say, "you go to a game and score 30 points and feel like the queen of the court, but then you come home to an empty apartment and only a telephone." Those athletes would say I have it easy; I have "skype" now and other ways to see my families and friends. If they could do it without all the technology we have now, I know I'll be able to do this.

I've never been incredibly dependent, I think most of my family and friends would attest to this. I actually enjoy living alone; I like the privacy and the independence, doing things on my own time, and not having to worry about getting my 'paint by number' off the coffee table so someone else can use it. I will tell you however, that there is something about coming home to an empty apartment and a cold computer that makes living alone a block away from your friends a lot different than living alone 3000 miles away from that safety net.

I think it is unfortunate that as progressive of a country that the US is, we don't have more opportunities for female athletes in 'The States.' It doesn't seem right that we have to choose to not play and stay home, or play, but travel 3000 miles. When a teammate asked me the other day if I want kids and I responded with an "I don't know" she said, "but you are a woman!" Yes, I am a woman, and I know that means perhaps I should want kids, but I also want to fulfill those dreams that I thought were so out of reach as a kid, but have been blessed with the opportunity to fulfill as a young adult. It doesn't seem right that I should have to choose one or the other, but that's still where we are as a society, and if I have to, I'll choose my professional dreams over a concept in a heartbeat.

It also dawned on me that I am not being forced to be here. If I want, I can be done in a split second and be on the next flight home. I remember a conversation I had with a teammate when I was at my first college, and had my first thoughts of transferring. I had told her how I didn't think that my college experience would be like this, that I hated it, and was thinking about leaving. When I joked that we could rule a lower level program together she looked at me with sad eyes filled with empathy and said, "Hillary, I know this is where I need to be." I was baffled at the time. Sure, we all had dreams of getting full rides to college and being a part of a winning program, but I wondered how she knew this was where she needed to be. What told her that? I was so heartbroken in that moment. I questioned why my dreams of a scholarship program didn't live up to what I thought they'd be, but the reality was more than enough for my teammate. I think now, 6 years later, I finally understand what that teammate knew back then. When I'm not feeling lonely and even when I am, I realize that something deep in my gut is telling me that I'm doing the right thing by being here. So just like that I remember why I'm here, doing what I'm doing; I'm living out the dream I've had since I was 11 and first picked up a basketball. I made it; I'm a professional basketball player, and it feels right.

September 19, 2010

Geneva!


Friday afternoon a few of my teammates took me into Geneva to walk around, learn some of the history, and shop for new sneakers (I have lots of blisters from the old sneakers I’ve been wearing). Unfortunately a good pair of basketball shoes here are 200 chf, so I think I’ll be ordering online or having my family send me another pair from home. Geneva is a really interesting place. Right on the waterfront are a TON of very ritzy hotels; Geneva is a big international business area as well as a big tourist area, so there were more diverse people and a few more English-speakers than in my little town of Nyon. 

Jet d'Eau
As opposed to my trip alone to Lausanne, we successfully found a Starbucks and I enjoyed a caramel frappucino, one of my teammates treated me to Ladurée macaroons (YUM!), we took a hopper boat across Lake Geneva (where we saw a ‘water chicken,’ a bird I’ve never seen before), and the famous Jet d'Eau (a fountain that shoots water 140 meters in the air) on Lake Geneva. 

My favorite part of the trip was when one of my teammates was telling me about some of the history of Geneva. I really appreciate it when my teammates try to speak English with me, and for our trip into Geneva they brought an English-French dictionary to help with some of the translation. As we were walking up an alleyway in the city, my teammate explained to me that on the night of Dec. 12, 1602 a man came to try to take over the city and climb it’s wall…it was the darkest night of the year. A woman poured soup from her cauldron on a man’s head and stopped the attack. Geneva’s slogan is “After the darkness, light” (Geneva will now forever be acquainted with "I Am Legend" in my mind). Now, while my teammate was struggling to explain this story to me, she also threw in that the woman’s pot was made of chocolate and had vegetables in it, when I questioned, “how come the chocolate pot doesn’t melt over the fire,” and asked “why vegetables?!?” she stuck with her description. I couldn't help but picture a bunch of people standing around a fire anxiously holding carrots, celery, and tomatoes in their hands while looking puzzled as their pot made of chocolate disappeared into the flames...

Macaroons :)
The joke ended up being on me. After going home and looking up the story to make sure I understood the history of Geneva correctly I realized that my teammates did an EXCELLENT job of translating this story for me. The celebration is called “l’Escalade,” and it commemorates the failed attempt of the Duke of Savoy trying to seize Geneva. During the celebration, confectioner’s sell “Marmite d’Escalade,” a small pot made of chocolate and filled with marzipan in honor of the housewife who took out a Savoyard soldier by dumping boiling soup on him. Kudos to my teammate for giving me such an accurate description! Also, now I know what I want to do on Dec. 12th this year…have some vegetables with chocolate :P.

Water Chicken
I went back to Geneva on Saturday, finally got a café au lait (thanks KO), found out where a movie theater was, and went to see “The Town.” The movies are very expensive here (18 chf) as is most everything, although the popcorn was probably similarly priced to “The States” (which is now how I will refer to America). We have off Monday because it is a fasting holiday, but come Tuesday it’s opening game week and time to prepare for Saturday!

September 16, 2010

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength." - Arnold Schwarzennegger

First of all, yes I did just quote Arnold. Second of all, we are not even close to being where we want to be, this is just the beginning of our journey and I feel obligated to acknowledge that. That being said, tonight we fought! We officially have our first victory under out belts! It wasn’t pretty, in fact at times it was really ugly basketball, but we gutted it out and ended up winning by 2 points against Bernex, another team in our conference based out of Geneva. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so in the zone during games or what, but I always have a hard time remembering the game after the fact. I’ll try my best…

We pretty much relied on fast-break basketball tonight; we continuously pushed the ball up the floor for quick buckets. I was slightly confused by the girls who were guarding me because they literally just stood on my high side and face-guarded me. Needless to say my teammates are getting in the habit of lobbing me the ball, setting me up to be a Hillary sandwich. Thank God I’ve been making my free-throws (for the most part at least)! I really enjoyed playing with my teammates tonight; everyone cheered on the bench and was invested in what was happening on the court. I will say that my body is a nice shade of black and blue and I am looking forward to having the next few days off.

September 15, 2010

Fight or Flight

We had another scrimmage tonight against Fribourg, probably the best team that we will face in our conference this year. Our coach keeps telling us before games that we need to “fight” and “keep fighting.” I have to say that regardless of how frustrated I was at the end of the first half, I was proud that we kept fighting. I saw a vast improvement from our last scrimmages to this one, even though we still lost. Collectively, we are still learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses as well as who is going to read the defense and make an intuitive cut, who is going to fake coming off a screen, and who is going to dive on the ground for a lose ball. As we familiarize ourselves with one another and how we move on the court I’m sure we will improve and perhaps even surprise ourselves.

One of the most frustrating things about being as competitive as I am is that when you feel like you are giving something everything you’ve got and are still falling short you want to break down. After the first half of our scrimmage a part of me quite honestly felt like taking off my sneakers. But any athlete with a competitive mindset knows that when it comes down to “fight or flight,” you fight. The second half was a little bit better. For example, I adjusted my boxing out so I stopped giving a crap about getting the ball and just worried about blocking out the other team’s superstar. She did not have nearly as many rebounds or points in the second half. I realized that I wasn’t going to get any easy baskets posting up with her guarding in front of me and with one of her teammates behind me, so I started crashing the offensive boards for some easy buckets…I got 2 AND1’s in the second half. I also realized that since we were having a lot of trouble getting the ball on the wing that it couldn’t hurt for me to set an extra screen for our guard so she could get open…we were able to run more of our offensive sets in the second half as well. So even though we lost by a solid amount, we made adjustments as a team and were more competitive in the second half. Now, if we can put two halves together…

We have another scrimmage tomorrow. So tonight we get to sleep, but tomorrow we will keep fighting.

September 13, 2010

Starbucks led me to God

I ventured out Sunday morning wanting to see the city of Lausanne. I had read that the city was Switzerland’s San Francisco, a city built upon steep hills that tower over Lake Geneva. I would have to say that during my trip I found some meaning to the saying “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of moments that take your breath away…”

First, I don’t know why I was nervous to use the train system here. It is incredibly easy to figure out how to get to where you want to go. Second, the ‘fun-facts’ about Switzerland my Mom gave me before I left are pretty much all true. However, I was too nervous to not buy a train ticket even though my ‘fun-facts’ sheet told me they hardly check to see if you have one. I did get annoyed when it cost me 30 francs for a ticket and nobody came to collect, but I did see signs listing the consequences for not having a train ticket (although they did not seem incredibly threatening). Third, the trains in Switzerland have windows that you can actually open for fresh air, AND they don’t make you feel like you need to shower a.s.a.p. like NJtransit trains do.

Waterfront in Lausanne
When I got to Lausanne I immediately understood the San Francisco analogy. The train station was in the middle of town, halfway between the cathedral and waterfront. I headed down to the waterfront first to see what France looked like from this part of Lake Geneva. The waterfront was incredibly striking. You could see France across the lake, but also vineyards looking back towards Switzerland, as well as the rest of the city-like Lausanne. With almost a carnival like feel (there was a merry-go-round), I checked out the different options for cruises across the lake, the paddle boats, as well as the vendors who were selling everything from Yankees hats to fruits and decorative fans. The boatyard was filled with big and little boats that I saw families climb aboard and admire. I also saw an energetic German Shepard who was intensely focused on the ducks and swans in the water. I watched as the owner of the dog let him swim in the docking area and play fetch with a stick, at least until the swans got a little too close within the dogs swimming capability, at which point his owner pulled him out of the water.

After a while I decided I had seen enough of the waterfront and decided to venture upwards, towards the center of the city. As I climbed further and further up the Old Town hill, I realized that I was on a mission. I had seen two Starbucks coffee cups and became engrossed with the idea of a caramel light frappuccino. I never did find Starbucks, but what I did find was the way to the cathedral on top of the hill, overlooking the town.

Looking up at the Cathedral
Very rarely do I feel the need to share my faith with others. I think faith is generally something very personal and something that people should be able to express in their own way. However, I do want to share a couple of things that happened to me while I was inside the cathedral. I saw the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen and was quickly reminded of my childhood. For those of you that don’t know this, my Dad used to make stained glass; one of his creations still stands in a restaurant somewhere in the southern part of the U.S. I was reminded while looking at the stained glass depiction of Jesus’s crucifixion just how lucky I was to have such a wonderful childhood filled with family, laughter, and long-lasting friendships, as well as how lucky I am currently, to be pursuing my dreams and discovering my own uncharted territory on my own time and in my own way. 

View from the top of the Cathedral
When I found the entrance to the stairwell of the cathedral and paid the minuscule two Swiss francs to tour the Gothic tower, I started climbing. Naturally, since there was someone behind me I suddenly felt like I was racing to the top of the cathedral, which in hindsight allowed me to discard my fear of how high I was actually climbing. Once I got up to the first level I walked out of the stairway and took a deep expanding breath. The air felt cool and refreshing going through my lungs. I looked down on the city of Lausanne, out at Lake Geneva, spotted France, and then figured I'd keep climbing. I skipped the next level, realizing I wanted to go straight to the top and fully experience the peak of the city. I re-entered the spiral staircase and climbed some more. Once I reached the summit of the building I again stepped out of the stairway and immediately found myself choked up. The view had completely taken my breath away. Between the peaceful silence above the city's commotion and the sensational view below, I could actually feel life’s beauty seeping into my skin. At this moment I felt very close to God, very grateful for the opportunities that had come my way, and one step closer to that aforementioned 'greatness.' After I wiped the tears away from my eyes and looked down around me, I realized how high I had actually climbed and finally felt that anxious knot in my stomach reminding me of my fear of open heights. I stayed close to the inside of the tower and admired the stunning area below. My climb down the 225 steps was much slower than my race up as I reflected on my experience and tried to savor some of the faith I'd found during my trip.

The train ride home was a little more hectic than the one there, only because it didn’t occur to me that more than one train could be leaving the station at the same time. I foolishly stood at platform #9¾ (just kidding!) only to realize that I needed to be on platform #7. I rushed to my train and made it on just before it pulled out of the station. Within 45 minutes I was back at home getting ready to watch the Giants game! What an incredibly fulfilling day :).