Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Word on Worlds

As I type this, I find myself in the Ljubljana Airport, waiting to get on a plane, and consequentially, other planes, that will bring me home, to Wisconsin. Before passing through security, I was able to spend an hour or so talking with two fascinating guys over mugs of Slovenian Hot Cocoa - one of them was Slovenian/Australian, and one Norwegian…it seemed to be a reminder of all of the amazing, multi-cultured people I’ve had an opportunity to meet while being here. That said, I have to admit, I am really, really excited to get back and see my parents, my dog, and my friends. These past two weeks in Slovenia have been truly incredible. I came alone, to Europe, for the first time, which was an adventure in itself, but also found myself in some truly interesting situations leading up to the competition. Tuesday evening, I had wrapped up my last training session. I returned to the police academy with Nuria Vilarrubla (Spain) and Reka Forizs (Hungary), to put on our team uniforms for the Opening Ceremony Parade…I was really excited, because Opening Ceremonies are always a fun show, and a great opportunity to meet foreign friends. Nuria, Reka, and I were joined by Jane and Ella (New Zealand and Cook Islands), and we began walking to where the bus would take us to the ceremony. Barely 5 minutes away, I tripped on a metal stub, and came crashing onto the sidewalk with a hefty cut on my knee…not too smooth on my part. A kind Slovenian lady helped us, and gave us a ride to the meeting area. The French coaches, Pierrick, Medhi, and Jonathan met us, looked at my knee, and told me I was headed to the hospital…so, I missed out on Opening Ceremonies, but I did get to experience first-hand, a Slovenian operating room, and a couple of stitches. I was pretty bummed about the stitches, but even more concerned about how I was going to kneel in a canoe the next day to race. The course set was complicated, with lots of energetic bursts of speed required. I had studied video, and walked the course, and with the exception of the stitches (which kept me out of my boat for time periods of more than 3 minutes, so no good warm-up) I was feeling prepared. It was a cold, rainy day, but the sun came out through the rain just before my run…it was almost as good a getting a hug for luck before starting. Once I began paddling, I barely felt my knee; I was focused on the race. I laid down a clean, if not remarkably speedy run, which planted me firmly in 10th place. I wasn’t sure if I should take a second run, because I was top 20, and progressing to Semifinals anyways, but I’m not one to watch other people paddle…so two hours later, I got back in my boat, and took a second run. It was going to be flawless, but at the 14th gate, I hit a wave wrong, and was pushed down beneath two gates – sustaining two 50-second penalties. After everyone had raced, I was still in 12th from my first time, so I made it to semis. The next day, racing was cancelled. The previous day’s rain had swollen the river into a massive, roaring torrent which poured out of the side walls and onto the sidewalks. I spent the day at the riverside, wishing I could hop in a boat and play in the mammoth waves. The following two days were qualifying runs for men, and finals for women kayaks…I love cheering for my friends, but I am also much more of a competitor than a spectator, so Sunday, and Semifinals couldn’t come fast enough. The water was back to normal levels, and the course was unchanged, so I reviewed it carefully, and prepared for my run. My knee was a lot less painful after three days of rest, so I hopped in the boat early for a proper warm-up. Feeling good, I awaited my run in the start gate. The timer clicked away beside me, and I was conscious of the mass of humanity on the river bank – Slalom is pretty popular here, and there were a lot of very happy spectators. Finally, the last three seconds beeped away beside me, and I took off. My run had the right pieces, but it wasn’t as fast as I had hoped. I leapt out of my boat, and ran to the scoreboard. I ranked 3rd, initially, but there were 12 highly skilled ladies left to go. Anxiously, I watched each competitor charge down the course, hoping I could cling to top ten, and make it to Finals. Finally, the last girl made it down the course – and I rested in 10th place! I was stoked! This was my first time in the Finals of a Senior World event…and I couldn’t be happier. The next several hours before my run were tough. I vacillated between total disbelief, minor panic moments, and pure, care-free anticipation. Finally, the time for me to get in my boat rolled around. Things blurred, and then I was doing my final run. I lost a lot of time when I flipped beneath the big upper drop, but regained some of it at the bottom of the course. When I finished, I was in 1st place briefly. I was bumped to 3rd, and remained there for quite some time, but ended up finishing in 6th. I couldn’t be happier about this finish either – it’s my best result to date, when competing with women of all ages.
That night, the competitors gathered one last time, and whiled away our last hours dancing together, celebrating the victories, consoling the disappointments, valuing each others’ company. This morning, I woke up bright and early to catch my flight…and in about 17 hours, I’ll be home. It has been an amazing journey, and I will treasure the memories I made here for a very long time.

1 comment:

Artsdeco said...
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