February 27, 2011

Home Stretch

Before I begin “home stretch” talk, I thought I’d share one awkward thing I did this week. Some of you may know that I’ve changed my diet a lot over the last year… I switched from eating simple carbohydrates and have seriously committed to complex carbohydrates, increasing my vegetable intake, and adding high protein foods and supplements to my diet. On the way to our game yesterday, I was ready to have some protein, but realized I didn’t have any skim milk or even any regular water for that matter, to mix it with. I looked at my protein packet and reflected about how one of my friends told me that when she was playing overseas she came home from a practice one day and just scooped the protein powder in her mouth. For those of you who take protein, you know that that’s dedication. I’m pretty sure my teammates think I’m a little odd to start with, so I wasn’t about to confirm their beliefs by throwing back raw protein powder. Looking around for something to mix my protein with, I saw a sparkling S. Pellegrino bottle in my bag. Lately, instead of iced tea I have been drinking sparkling water during the day when I’m just kickin’ back and chillin’ in my apartment. Anyways, I figured sparkling water was better than no water, so I poured my packet of protein and some S. Pellegrino into a bottle and ‘shook it like a Polaroid picture’ (is this song too outdated to still be referencing?). I can’t really put into words what swallowing that concoction was like. If any of you watch Family Guy, there is an episode where Lois’s Dad makes Peter eat a pinecone. Peter eats it while saying, “It’s awful… I hate it… it hurts.” That pretty much sums up what I felt drinking sparkling water plus protein powder. I’m sure I made a face with each sip I took (yeah Hill, that’ll make your teammates think you’re normal…). Regardless, I don’t recommend this for my fellow athletes.

Okay, back on track (pun slightly intended – get it? Home stretch? Track?)! Our team had a rough week leading up to this game. I won’t go into details, but I was a little nervous about how our team would respond to some of the stuff that has been going on. I was pretty pleased when we went into halftime up by six. We weren’t playing exceptionally well, but weren’t making colossal mistakes either. In the beginning of the fourth quarter one of the other team’s foreigners (who had been nailing 3-pointers the whole third quarter) fouled out. We were still winning at this point. Then all hell broke loose. Our point guard fouled out. We stopped playing offense. Our defense broke down. Ugh, I’ll be honest; I felt like we lost that game, the other team didn’t necessarily win it. We went eight minutes without scoring a bucket. Not even just not scoring, but turning the ball over within a matter of a few seconds on each possession. It was incredibly frustrating. After games, like most athletes, I go through play-by-play and think about all my mistakes, what the team could have done differently, and then pick out just a few positives so I don’t feel like crawling into a hole and curling into a ball after a loss like that. Here are some positives: during stretches of the game when I couldn’t maneuver around the basket like I wanted to, our 3-guard knocked down some big shots. When our offense seemed stagnant for spurts of the game, our 4-player drove the ball to the hoop and finished some really tough shots to keep us holding onto the lead. I blocked two shots off the backboard and had an up-the-line-on-the-line denial defense steal, fast break layup, and an AND1. Voilà.

Back home, basketball seasons are ending all over the country. For those of you who don’t play sports, when a season ends, you tend to grieve like there’s been a death in the family. You may think I’m exaggerating (and to an extent I am), but in college at least, for the first few weeks right after a season ended for me, I would really struggle to get out of bed, stop eating regularly (after all, I didn’t have a two-hour practice or game to plan my eating schedule around anymore), want to have a movie marathon every day, and felt like there was a big, empty pit in my stomach where my love for basketball had been only a few days before. Especially in playoff situations the ending of your season is sudden, unexpected, and hurts like hell. I can sympathize and truly feel for teams whose seasons are ending every day. I know it hurts, but just remember there’s always summer league, next season, or pick-up games to look forward to. Then I think, what about the seniors? The people who are hanging up those basketball sneakers for good? Since I haven’t been in that position yet, where there is no ‘next season’ or ‘next time’ for me, all I can say is - what an exciting time to figure out what’s next! Grieve for a little while, and then conquer something new and exciting you’ve always wanted to do. The great thing about athletes is how collectively driven we are. John Wooden said, “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” That drive is ingrained in our character, and I love to read and hear about what athletes accomplish after their careers are over.

We only have three games left this year. We don’t have a playoff opportunity this season. Realistically, this has been a rebuilding year for our club (I know athletes never like to admit this) – but it has been. We’ve gained experience, worked on skills, learned to play together, etc. I can’t help but think how weird it is that I know when my last game is going to be. There has only been one other season in my life where I knew when a season would end – and that was when my team went to the Final Four. Each weekend leading up to the Final Four was a roller coaster of emotions, and that final date wasn’t set until the horn sounded in Rochester and (for one week) we had a concrete date for the last game we’d play; then I knew there was no going further, regardless of what happened in Holland, MI, that would be it.

Our last game this year is March 26th, at home, against a team I know we can beat. I guess since I know we can’t make the playoffs, the next best thing will be to end our season with a win at home. I regress; I don’t envy those aforementioned seniors. I remember romanticizing my last game when I was a senior. I thought about taking off my sneakers and leaving them on the last court I would ever play a game on – a signature of everything I gave to the sport and would leave behind me when I was done, worn-out, and ready to move on. Nobody ever knows what the future holds, but I do know one thing... after this season, I’ll be walking off the court with my sneakers on my feet.

February 23, 2011

2.23 - I can't believe it's been another year...

Dear Coach,

I know I normally write to you on this day and talk about all the things I never got to say to you. If it’s okay with you, I’m going to change it up to update you on what I’ve learned this year instead.

Since I’ve last written you I’ve learned to stand up straight. Literally. Sure took a while didn’t it? I’m realizing there are serious perks to being tall: We get more sunlight, clothes look better on us, I can see a concert stage more easily than the Polly Pocket in front of me, and I'm the first to know when to open my umbrella. 

I put basketball, and consequently, myself, first. I know I had my moments of doubt. Remember when I had mono and my first boyfriend and you felt like you’d lost me? My constant is basketball; it has been since the first day I stepped on a court and you took me under your wing. I faltered occasionally, but came back stronger each and every time. There is no realm where I feel quite as confident, quite as ‘in the moment,’ or quite myself as when I’m standing on the hardwood with a ball in my hand.

I learned to let go. There are some things and some people I will absolutely never forget, but I have no control over what other people do – I never have. The difference is, now I don’t get sick from worrying about why he did this or she did that. Everyone tries to do the best they can. We don’t always know who we hurt.

I learned to love the game all over again. I think I tell you this every year, but this year I truly mean it. Last Monday night our coach brought out a springboard and let me try to practice dunks. I’m still learning new moves all the time. I had no idea there were so many ways to score. I’m getting really creative: off-balance going off right leg shooting with right hand, twisting and contorting using the basket and rim in ways I’d never think of. It’s a lot of fun. I try not to get frustrated when I can’t do a new move the way I want to. Don’t worry; I still use my free time to get down footwork. Some things haven’t changed...

Every day I decide to be my best self. The days when I tense up and think about holding fast to fleeting moments I tell myself, ‘They are not you. You are you. You decide who you are.’

I am still not taking any shortcuts. I touch all the lines. We both know there is no easy way, and if you find one, it’s probably not the right way. It’s hard being over here sometimes. I miss my friends, my family, hugs, and in-person conversations. I don’t find that I’m hardening in the absence of contact, I think I’m learning to appreciate it more. I miss you.

I’ve taken some serious leaps. My college coach told me she thought I was bigger than the limitations I put on myself. That’s really hard to hear when you’re content with what you’re doing, but she was right. I let go of what I felt held me back. I looked forward. More importantly, I seized the present.

I learned how to shoot the 3. I’m getting better at it every day. I’m still becoming the ‘complete player’ you knew I could be. Your voice is in my head each time I step on the court. You still push me. I appreciate it.

I remember to take time to have fun. Not just in basketball. I think about you renting a convertible, I think about you jumping out at your daughter and me when we used to watch scary movies, I think about you singing along to Pink. I sat on a swing today and pumped my feet until I was as high as I could go, then I jumped. I remember to be a kid, even if only for a few moments each day.

I reminded myself to never back down. Labels mean nothing. Work ethic is everything. Each rep matters. There are no underdogs. There are only hard workers and those who worked almost as hard…

I’ve learned that tone is everything. What you say doesn’t matter as much as how you say it. I'm becoming consistently aware of my tone.

I finally strengthened my hips. It took me 23 years. You’re right, my knees don’t hurt anymore.

It’s nice to be well-rounded, but it’s also exhausting. I’m learning how to focus on one thing at a time. You were right, you can’t be in a million places at once. I’m here now. I’m happy to be here. I got here as fast as I could.

I learned to say what you want to say while you can. Make sure everyone knows how you feel about them. There isn’t always tomorrow. I used to care a lot about what I ‘put out there,’ I probably wouldn’t have even publicly posted this, but I mean every word. I think of you often, and I hope I make you proud.

#30 (the first number I was honored to wear)

February 18, 2011

There’s poop everywhere…

Yes, I literally mean there is poop everywhere. It’s really warmed up here the last couple of weeks and I’ve noticed the kids and dogs are outside running around a lot more. Who knows who’s providing all the poop, but I do wish somebody would pick it up.

My next-door neighbors have a couple of kids, two little girls, maybe five and three years old (hard to tell though, I’m terrible at guessing ages and the fact that they're Swiss kids only makes it that much more difficult to determine…). Anyways, my schedule doesn’t really warrant my waking up before 10am (believe me, I know how lucky I am), but lately I’ve been waking up to the sound of the little girls either: a) hysterically crying in the hallway screaming for their mom, b) the girls ringing their doorbell (which is deafening in my apartment) every 20 seconds, or c) all of the above. I know it’s really safe in Switzerland, I am guessing the parents next door have rules about how far the little girls can wander away from the apartment, but shouldn’t a parent be keeping some kind of eye on them? Also, what is that mother doing in there, that she feels the need to lock her kids out of her apartment? Either way I don’t really care, but I do wish they’d postpone the crying and bell ringing until after my alarm clock goes off. Don’t they know it’s playoff time and I stay up late watching games? Common courtesy people, common courtesy.

I saw a man urinating on a wall the other day. His friend was standing right next to him on look-out (I guess?). I thought that was pretty weird. There were woods not even thirty feet away from where he was standing, and yet he chose the wall. Are there ticks in Switzerland? I bet not during the winter…

In 5th grade we had to stop class to listen to a lecture about why people do stupid things. A kid down the hall in another class was chewing on a pen and it exploded in her mouth. This winter break I found out that ‘kid’ was one of my best friends. That still makes me laugh, but that’s not the point. I do stupid things all the time. I have a banana every morning with my breakfast. A couple days ago there was no place on my kitchen table to put the banana peel (yes, the garbage can three feet away was too much of an effort at the time (maybe now I understand why that guy chose the wall…)). I gently placed the banana peel on the floor next to me and went back to watching Sex and the City on my laptop. Literally thirty seconds later I got up and stepped right on the banana peel. Where did this slippery banana peel rumor come from? I’ll tell ya what, I didn’t slip, I just smooshed it on my tile floor. Those three feet didn’t seem like such a stretch after I had to scrub banana remnants off my kitchen floor.

I’ve been reading a lot lately. If food for thought is the expression, I think I’ve devoured five books in the last three weeks. Yum. I bet Rory Gilmore would have really benefited from a Kindle…

In all these classic books I hear the characters referring to their houses as "Thornfield Hall," or "Orchard House." When did we stop referring to our houses like that? I'd name my family’s home "Creek Corner" (we live in a cul-de-sac with a creek in our backyard - clever ay?).

Clementines are officially out of season here; my local grocery store is advertising 'blonde oranges' now. I wonder if they have more fun than all the other oranges…

There's obviously nothing too exciting going on in Switzerland right now, so I thought I'd share a little bit of what goes through my head during the week. Our next game is Sunday at 4pm!!!

February 13, 2011

Let's Talk Defense...

Yesterday we played Pully, a team that has the #1 leading scorer in the conference (I know, I’m sad I don’t hold that spot too), averaging 32.7 points per game. I repeat, averaging 32.7 points per game. The most number of shots I’ve taken in a game since coming here has been 18, and I’ve only done that twice. This player averages 19 shots a game. Anyways, the last time we played this team their two Americans combined for 80 points, out of 98. Yikes. Needless to say our game plan was to limit their Americans’ points this game. In fact, it was my duty to face-guard the #1 leading scorer in the conference. I need to take a minute to say that I have never envied a person on any of my teams with the job of guarding the other team’s best player. I have always loved helping my teammate who was picked to guard that player (a.k.a. being a last resort guarding the basket, maybe blocking a shot or two), but never was dying to be that person. Our team held the league’s #1 leading scorer to 19 points in our game yesterday, a feat that I can honestly say I’m proud of.

The game itself was really hard-fought - I mean this literally. The girl I was guarding and I shoved, pushed, pulled, punched, clotheslined, and at moments even jumped on each other. I have never been so blatantly physical with anyone in my life – and guess what! The refs didn’t call a single off-the-ball foul. There was a possession where a girl shot the ball and I literally took her arms and locked them down at her sides…I didn’t get the rebound, but neither did she. On another possession just running down the court she decked me right across the chest. It was a battle, it was tough, and it was fun. Sometimes I wonder what I’m going to do in the real world when it’s not okay to jump on a player (to teach the refs what an actual foul looks like). Yoga just doesn’t help me release that frustration quite as successfully for some reason.

We ended up losing the game by two points. This is how annoying this game was… with .5 seconds left on the clock, us down by two, it was the other team’s ball out of bounds right near the basket they were defending. The scorer’s table blew the horn (to tell us what? Time out? Sub?), the referee inbounded the ball with half of both team’s heads looking at the scorer’s table. Ref blows his whistle. Game over. Did they put the time back up on the clock? No. Did we find out why the scorer’s table blew the horn? No. Were we even given a chance to see what could have happened? No. Game Over.

Later that night we got ready for a teammate’s birthday party themed, “Hollywood.” I originally wanted to go as Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, but I couldn’t find an appropriate wig. So I decided to go as Sandy from Grease instead. I joined Cat Woman, Barbie, Lara Croft, and a Moulin Rouge dancer (?) as well as some other very nicely red-carpet dressed teammates for a night of dancing.

Sometime around midnight after I broke out some seriously old-school dance moves (hey, I think the best song of the night was MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”), this guy came over and started talking to me. After a while he asked for my name, and I introduced myself as “Hillary.” I got the reply, “Oh like Clinton?” My immediate thought was, ‘Hill, he’s not American, don’t get into politics,’ so I just responded, “Yup, just like that, and yours?” “Bill…” Without any hesitation I responded, “Nice to meet you.” After trying to recover from his lame joke that went over my head (in all honesty, he looked like someone I knew and I was more interested in trying to remember that kid’s name), one of my teammates came over and said, “Give me a signal if you need to be rescued.” Yes, guys, girls really DO do this. So naturally when I went to wipe my forehead she mistook my hard work on the dance floor as a ‘save me’ signal, came over, grabbed my hand and led me away from ‘Bill.’ Poor Bill. I didn't really need rescuing, but that's what we call a different kind of defense, the kind female friends are great at: help-side…

February 8, 2011

Me awkward? No way...

As some of you may know, I am a really 'calm, cool, and collected' type of person. Picture Barney in How I Met Your Mother suited up and hitting on the ladies…that’s my reality in everything I do…at least when my eyes are closed and I’m in a deep sleep. I guess in actual reality I’m a little less suave. I mean, my sister didn’t make a Facebook group “I know Hillary and she’s done something awkward in front of me…” for no reason. There’s some validity to that group and some of the members have seen me do some pretty embarrassing things. Since I’m currently living in a country where I’m learning the language but can’t speak it so well, and I’m not really used to their customs or social cues I figure I’d swallow my pride and share some of my recent awkward moments.

Jacuzzi Man…
Last week while I was recovering from my strained quad I was hitting up the Jacuzzi at my lifting gym a lot. It was perfect too because I'd usually get to the lifting gym around 2pm while everyone was at work and there was no one in the Jacuzzi, sauna, hammum, etc. Unfortunately for me, on Friday, a middle-aged man in a Speedo joined me in the Jacuzzi. I was in the coveted extra bubbly area where everyone always wants to go, and I knew he was headed my way. As he entered the water he said something very quickly and loudly to me in French. I was about to tell him I didn’t speak French when he dove underwater. He proceeded to bob in and out of the water making eye contact when he was above, blowing bubbles when he was below, and inching toward me. Every time I opened my mouth to speak he dunked his head. This went on for a full minute. I got uncomfortable. I left the Jacuzzi.

Recycling Troubles…
Just another day in my awkward world =)
I’m a stickler for rules, so I already feel bad enough about what I’m going to tell you…I was pretty sure I had been putting my trash in the wrong dumpster. I was also pretty sure I had been putting my recycling in the wrong recycling bin. I usually sneak out to a bin that has pictures of bottles on it during a time when there’s no pedestrian traffic to dispose of my recyclables. Okay, so maybe the pictures of ‘bottles’ all look plastic, and there is definitely a can picture circled with a line through it. This is why I run out, put my recycling in there and hurry back in to my building. Not to resort to stereotypes, but I knew I was in for it when I saw an old woman with a cane lingering near me and the recycling bin. I knew she was watching me and I really debated whether or not I should just run away and come back some other time. I sucked it up and went in for the kill. I took out each bottle in my bag and tried to sneak it into the bin. She stopped. Pointed her cane at me. Yelled at me in French. Looked at my bag and said, “NO!” Flustered and irritated I said back (with a little Jersey in me), “So WHERE do they go then!?!?!?” She pointed to the other side of the building with her cane. With my tail between my legs I found not only the correct recycling bins, but also my appropriate dumpster labeled with my building number.

Sauna Rules
It’s not good etiquette to enter a sauna and trap a naked woman in a corner.

I think you might need to see how I move in order to ‘get’ this. To be honest, anything that inflates or you need to balance on really isn’t my friend. For example, I really struggle to flip over on rafts in the Chesapeake Bay. I cannot walk on a bed without falling. I once wiped out just trying to sit on a physio ball (well, to be fair, a competitive game of Mario Party might have also been involved…). Anyway, every Tuesday we do a physio ball circuit to strengthen our core. One week, my coach got a little inventive and had us try to rotate 360 degrees with only our core area on the ball (hands in the air, only feet could touch the ground). Not to brag, but my 180 was looking good. I could flip from front to back and back to front with careless ease. When it was time to do the 360 I went from front to back to front to off the ball on the ground sprawled out in a pool of my own sweat with the ball halfway across the gym. At least I made my coach laugh…

Alrighty, that’s all I have for right now (or at least all I’m willing to share =)). Although I’m pretty sure another awkward moment is right around the corner!

February 4, 2011

How do you rest from rest?

 When I first came over to Switzerland I went through a month of feeling, well, lazy. Last year I was going to graduate school full time, working as an assistant women’s basketball coach, and working about twenty hours a week at the alcohol and drug education program at my university. On top of trying to maintain some kind of workout shape, I guess I would say, yes, I was busy. When I came here and realized that I had one game a week (compared to the two- sometimes three a week in college), and one hour and a half practice (sometimes with a shoot-around in the morning) a day, I realized I was going to have a lot of down time. Learning how to fill my free time and get into a routine that was far less stressful than the year before, took a while to get used to.

In the game last weekend I felt a slight pull in my quad and thought I broke a finger (thank God it’s just a sprain). Those types of little nagging injuries are REALLY annoying, because you can almost run and jump and play, but can’t quite do it the way you want to. Needless to say I had to rest this past week to let my injuries heal up a bit (good timing, since we don’t have a game this weekend).

I went a little stir-crazy. I spent the week doing my relaxation circuit (going to the gym and hitting up the jacuzzi, hammam, and sauna). I am halfway through Little Women and The Power of Now. I brought out my paint by number. I cleaned my apartment. I planned my finances for the future. I started watching Modern Family. I took a bubble bath every night. I went through and deleted old pictures off my camera. I painted my nails, just to spend hours picking off the nail polish. I spent countless hours on facebook and aim. I lingered after I was done at my meals in town longer than usual. I walked slower everywhere I went. I even took my recyclables out.

Last year I would have killed for a week of relaxation. I needed it badly, and like Jessie Spano I felt like “there’s never any time.” Now I am blessed with time…but what to do with it?!? Honestly, I have a really good routine going, and I usually spend my days in a somewhat productive manner. I think not being able to run around and get some serious cardio in though has taken a mental and physical toll on me. Is there such a thing as being too relaxed? I think I’m walking that line…

February 3, 2011


 Last night I stayed up with my computer in my bed, with my eyes locked on the TCNJ Women’s Basketball ‘live stat’ screen, as my alma mater defeated the second-ranked team in the nation. Watching live stats is really difficult, I would have much rather been at the game in the stands, but I settled for cheering at the computer and believing my old teammates, players, and friends could hear me. With Kean trailing for most of the game, and watching the Lions grab offensive and defensive boards I kept thinking ‘they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it!’ Remembering what it was like to play Kean, and how dangerous their runs could be, I got out of bed and paced when Kean tied the game with 1:10 remaining in the game. I immediately bbm-ed my sister and told her, “It’s tied…all they have to do is believe. THEY JUST HAVE TO BELIEVE!” TCNJ won 68-65, and I have to say how incredibly proud I am of those girls.

This morning I sat down and really thought about ‘believing.’ There are so many different areas of my life that I have to remind myself to believe in. Basketball, love, friendships, myself. I have a habit of putting up inspiring quotes on my walls, most of which are now posted from a John Wooden quote and fact calendar my Mom gave me for Christmas, but also a few randoms I added from Eat. Pray. Love., and of course a couple from my friends.  I browsed my quote wall this morning and saw a common theme emerge: BELIEVE.

I wondered if I am drawn to quotes about believing because it is something that is so hard for me to do, or because I pride myself on how I sometimes believe too much, and tend to have blind faith in other people and the world. I decided that it’s a little bit of both. I’ll explain…

When you’re on a team that has been struggling to get a win, seal the deal, play help-side defense, sacrifice their body for the team, and show up (physically AND mentally), sometimes it’s really hard to believe. Let me take a time out for a second: I do NOT believe that let’s say, if I were to play one-on-one with a cat, that if the cat believes whole-heartedly it’s going to win, it will actually win. Come on now, obviously in order to believe you need some foundation; you have to have put in the work and effort consistently in order to be a contender, I’m not that naïve (also in this scenario opposable thumbs might help my opponent too)!  Time in: I truly believe (there’s that word again!) that all you need is one or two people on a team to buy in, to really believe that the game plan will work and that they have the ability to do the things they need to in order to win. Once one or two people kindle those beliefs, they will spread like wildfire to the rest of the team…

Well, in life and sports, that doesn’t always happen, does it? I mean I thought once we beat the LuTown Highflyers that we’d realize that we are capable of beating other teams in our league. And even though we have beaten one other team, I wonder: are we not ready to believe? And then: what are we scared of?

While I like to think I’m always ready to believe in basketball (and I am), there are other areas of my life that I do shy away from believing in. For example, there is a quote on my wall that my friend sent me that says, “This person does exist!” Without getting into too much detail, I have a hard time believing my better half, so to speak, is out there. And now that I’ve become really comfortable and happy with my routine, my life, and myself, it’s scary to think that someone else might be out there who could essentially come in and stir the pot. When I look at that quote two things happen (usually): my heart softens for a split second … and then I roll my eyes. While it’s easy for me to believe in things like basketball (I have and do put in the work and effort consistently), I struggle to believe that, well, “This person does exist!”

As a prior player, captain, and coach, I used to get really pissed off when I didn’t think everyone believed, or bought in to a system and team. Even after I’d talk to people I could single out as non-believers and try to understand what was up, I couldn’t grasp why or how it was possible they couldn’t believe. For whatever reasons, maybe they just can’t believe in basketball, or aren’t ready to, the same way I’m not ready to believe “This person does exist!” But I’ll tell you what: I DO believe it only takes one, right person, to make a believer out of anyone…

This post is dedicated to my TCNJ Lions… Don’t Stop Believing girls!!!!