The Grass is Greener Where you Water it

With my first year of professional volleyball nearly finished, I thought I’d share a thought process that revolutionized the way I see daily life. This year was a very interesting chapter in my story, complete with a roller coaster of ups and downs different than any I’d previously experienced. This is how I learned a new perspective that helped me evolve as an athlete, and as a man.

The year started in a strange way. I got off the plane in the beginning of August (9 months ago already!) with two feelings dominating my subconscious: excitement, and loneliness. The excitement was no surprise – I was starting a brand new career in a new continent where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anybody. Each day for the first few weeks was packed with new sights, sounds, people, and completely new experiences. I immediately submersed myself in my new life, and did my best to learn French, meet new people, and eat and drink in as much of the culture as I could.

ImageHowever, as soon as the novelty of these new elements wore off, the excitement was gone which left only loneliness. Three days after I arrived, my girlfriend broke up with me. I had a Canadian teammate arriving, but he wasn’t coming for a few more weeks. I was living alone for the first time, and the only people I knew in Europe were my sister and her husband, but they lived 4 countries away. I didn’t have internet at my house for the first 7 weeks, and I really felt the way anyone living a 9 hour time-difference from everyone they know will probably feel; alone. I knew that if I didn’t find a way to combat this, I would get depressed very quickly.

Regardless, I was still enjoying myself immensely. I was learning a lot on and off the court, and was busying myself with anything I could. By Christmas, I had no idea where the time had gone and I was already halfway done! But life was much different, and I was going to spend my first Christmas away from my large family. To top it off the team was 1 loss away from the relegation spot (12th place out of 14 teams) in our league, and since we have the largest budget in the league there was a lot of disappointment and pressure from everyone. The team went their separate ways for the Christmas break all-too-happy to forget about what was going on and distract ourselves for a few days. I went to Northern Germany to spend Christmas with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days.Image

When I got back to Tourcoing on a rainy midnight on the 27th of December, there’s no other way to put it – I was deflated. I was hoping to return refreshed, but I just wasn’t. We were back in the gym early the next morning and things were as tense as ever. It was around this time of wishing things were different, wishing I could change certain things about my situation, that I read a quote that transformed everything for me: “The grass is greener where you water it.”

I took a different perspective. It gets easy in this line of work to have an attitude of entitlement and see that the grass is greener on the other side; to compare what your friends in other clubs have, whose getting paid what, who lives where, etc. I realized that everything comes with a cost…I was getting paid to do something I love, and I can’t expect everything to be easy. It was up to me to choose my attitude.

I love the quote by Viktor Frankl that says, “The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” This was truer for me more now than ever. When problems arose, I begun to use them as an opportunity to grow. For example, one of the hardest parts of my life this year was, believe it or not, the free time. I have more time than I know what to do with and there is nothing to do in my town. This time is easily spent getting into a routine of being unproductive, with that attitude of just passing the time. So I started by taking pleasure in the simple things. Every time I could, I would travel to a nearby town and get out of Tourcoing. I would make a project and try to complete it. I was trying to learn French, or cooking some new meal for myself. I found that I felt infinitely more fulfilled by spending a day off this way than I would if I played video games all day. This may come as a cliché to most, and I’ve heard all of the inspirational quotes similar to this before…but this year was the first time I ever applied it, and it had a profound impact on my quality of life.Image

I’m not sure if it was just my perspective, but life became exponentially better. Our team started performing, and we have now won 15 of our last 17 games. The long winter ended, and the sun came out. I started to make some awesome friendships with my teammates, and met some people who live nearby. The end was in sight.

The truest test of this new worldview came when I injured my hand and had surgery that sidelined me for 6 weeks. But I did my best to profit from the injury, and recently made my return to the court stronger than ever. Having dominated our quarterfinal in two swift victories, we opened our semi final with another 3-0 win against our cross-town rival. One more win, and we’ll be playing in the championship game on May 8 in Paris for all the marbles – the winner of this game will be promoted to the top league in France for the next season!

And how does this change in my outlook affect me now? I am trying to make the most out of every situation, however or bad it may be. For example I miss Canada more than ever and feel like I am in summer school, stuck out here while all my friends have gone home to enjoy their summers. But I recognize that we are competing to win the league and that is something I am truly lucky to be a part of. If I were to say, “I hate this town,” this town won’t be offended. It doesn’t care how I feel and saying this won’t change anything. Its up to me to make the most of my time here and that starts with a simple change in perspective. If you think the grass is greener on the other side, then make it greener on yours! Image

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The craziest injury I’ve ever had, and a night in the hospital

Many people have been asking for an update on the injury I sustained last week, so I decided to write a little piece on my last few days! Sorry it took so long, but I had to wait until my finger was healed enough to type…A quick warning, some of this blog may be a little graphic so if you don’t have a high tolerance for things of this nature, consider yourself warned.

Something strange happened to me on the morning of last Wednesday. I was making eggs and burnt my finger a little bit on the frying pan. As I finished cooking, every time I tried to flip the eggs the frying pan would spin, and I remember thinking how frustrating it would be to do some normal tasks for somebody who only had one hand or arm. Well, life has a funny way of working itself out and I got my own taste of just how hard it would be later that day.

During training that night I was blocking and the ball hit my finger at a weird angle. This typically happens once or more times a practice so I did what I always do; grab my finger(s) in pain. But I remember it felt weird, so I looked down and to my disgust I saw red and white…a lot of it. I started walking towards the exit saying I need to get my stuff and go to the hospital, but my teammates were telling me I needed to pull it into place immediately. That is, until I showed them and watched their faces turn. They couldn’t get me out the door quick enough. I took an old sock from my bag and wrapped it up as soon as I could, but had to take a look. I saw bone, blood, and piece of flesh that resembled my finger and appeared to be barely hanging on. I’m not exaggerating when I say I honestly thought I would lose my finger that night.

Sorry if this is disgusting, but you can fully see the damage done...yes, that is a bone

Sorry if this is disgusting, but you can fully see the damage done…yes, that is a bone

My assistant coach Jerome and I headed out as fast as we could, and he told me we were going to a specialty hand hospital 20 minutes away, which I’m beyond lucky is so close to us. Once there, we waited about 20 minutes for an x-ray (see picture). We saw a doctor soon after, who made me take it out of the sock bandage and tried to put it back in. At this point, my body’s natural pain-killing reaction had worn off and I was in a lot of pain. The doctor, unable to put the knuckle (2nd knuckle on my fifth finger on the left hand) injected some local anesthetic and after 5 minutes put it in place. They then put some dressing on it, and I asked why they weren’t stitching it up…”You are going to stay the night,” Jerome told me. He was grinning, so I thought he was joking. He was just smiling because he was thinking, “that sucks for you…” Thanks Jerome.

I was brought to my room on the second floor, and was impressed with the quality of this place! The hospital was relatively new and I had a fairly large room to myself. It was about 10:30 at this point, and was not allowed to eat or drink past midnight. I also knew I wouldn’t sleep much, didn’t have a computer or book, and my phone was near dead. That, coupled with only francophone nurses and TV and my limited French, forecasted a bad night in the hospital for me. At this point, I was honestly feeling alone and nervous. I’ve never had surgery or stayed in a hospital, and I didn’t have any idea how I was going to pass the time that night. The distance to my family and the language barrier were greater than ever before.

However a teammate of mine kindly brought a phone charger and the best McDonald’s I’ve ever enjoyed, and I was able to spend most of the night talking to friends and family (one of the first times I’ve been happy there is a 9 hour time difference 🙂 ). I also spoke with the two graveyard shift nurses for quite some time, who were very kind and wanted to come see the next home game.

The first X-ray before it was corrected

The first X-ray before it was corrected

At 6 am the nurses came and gave me more meds and told me the surgeon was here, and preparation started. I took a shower, waited a bit and was wheeled down to the surgery waiting area. Before leaving, the nurses gave me their names and I made sure I would get them tickets for the game the next day. A doctor injected a healthy dose of something into my arm, and told me to wait 5 minutes. After what seemed like 5 minutes, I wasn’t sure if it was working until another nurse came. She was injecting some antibiotics into my other arm and I lifted my arm to help roll up my sleeve and almost slapped her in the face. I had no control of the muscles in my arm at this point, and not much sleep in me, so the next bit is a blur…but at least I had my finger 🙂

When they were ready, they wheeled me into the next room and it was clear this was the operating room. Another doctor was sterilizing my arm, and a few nurses were standing around talking to me, trying out their middle school-level English. At one point I was trying to say something and they doubled over laughing. I’m pretty sure I conjugated it wrong and said something bad. Even the doctor cleaning my arm had to stop to laugh.

Eventually they placed a blanket over me at an angle so that I couldn’t see the surgery, which I was more than happy for. There was a radio playing the entire time, and I heard Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” on a whole new level. At one point I heard a power drill start up and that rattled me a bit (it sounded like I was in a Jiffy Lube), but I never felt any pain at any point.

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How it has looked for the past week

After about 30 minutes of pulling, cutting, drilling, and stitching, they were done. The surgeon explained to me what he had done, with the help of Google Translate on his phone. Essentially they repaired the capsule around my knuckle and modified it (to ensure I would have full range of motion in the future), repaired the tendon and I believe he said created an artificial ligament to prevent my finger hyperextending this way in the future. Apparently some nerve work was done so that I would have full feeling in my finger. Right now, I only have about 10% feeling in that finger. It feels like when you have a bad burn on your finger and can’t feel much, but through my entire finger. It’s weird.

I was brought to my room and fell asleep pretty quickly after. When I woke up around noon, the painkillers had worn off and I devoured whatever pills the nurse gave me. I was in searing pain, and I couldn’t wait for Jerome to come to bring me home. At about 1:30 I was free to go, and went straight to the doctor. At this point I was feeling nauseous, hungry, and exhausted, so I just laid on the doctor’s bed while he conversed with Jerome. Finally he said to me that I would have a nurse coming to my house every 2 days to change the bandages, and asked me the only question he asked me that day… “Blonde or brunette?” 🙂

We went to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription items (totalling over 140€ or $190~), and we went home. I slept a few hours then went to  training to see the guys. It was great to be with them, but I was really sad to miss the game the next day. The surgeons, doctors, nurses, and kiné have all given me different timelines, but all have said a minimum of 6 weeks without play and some have said as much as 3 months for this type of injury. This will mean missing the rest of the regular season, and likely playoffs depending on how far we make it/my recovery.

This has been really hard for me to deal with, for several reasons. I personally had a good season, and was improving every day in the gym. The team has climbed in the standings almost every game since Christmas, and is currently poised to make a huge playoff run as we are in 4th place, and I was excited to be a part of that. I also don’t know what this means for my potential summer with the national team, and I have really been looking forward to competing to get another chance to represent my country this summer. That being said, there are definitely some silver linings to this cloud. I am getting  great treatment here (physio 5x/week, nurse house calls every 2 days, weights 5x a week with our trainer acting as my personal trainer), and I will get some time to rest my other injuries and come back fresher and stronger than ever, whether it’s for a summer with the national team or for another year of playing professionally here in Europe in September.4

As for right now, I am simply focused on recovering and completing every-day tasks that have gotten exponentially harder. What are those tasks? Well showering is annoying as I have to use a bag and can only soap up with one hand. Cooking, cutting vegetables, and washing dishes is very difficult, which is why I bought paper plates 🙂 . Opening jars, putting clothes on, and typing are also very difficult, but I have found little tricks for each. It’s such a stupid and frustrating injury…how much do you use your pinky anyway? I’m a big guy, and this is such a tiny injury, but I have to give it respect or I won’t make a full recovery.

Injuries are always difficult to deal with, but I believe that ones true character is shown when they are faced with adversity. I see this as an opportunity to come back stronger, faster, and better than ever.

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Christmas in Europe

Well let me start by saying Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to everybody! Meilleurs vœux! Its been awhile since my last entry… life has been very busy! My team continued through November and December with one game a week, but we failed in transferring our strong training into the match. We finished the first half with 4 wins and 8 losses, 7 of those matches going the distance in 5 sets. These extended games and

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“TLM Starts the year in style!”

consequential punishment practices resulted in several injuries – both acute and overuse. We have had 5 ankle injuries already, which is more than enough for one team for a season. Blame it on bad luck, the concrete-like 1970’s flooring, or the intensity of the training, but excuses and pity are not available to us right now.

This club was at the top of Pro A only a few short years ago, and at the Christmas break found themselves only one position away from relegation in Pro B. This has undoubtedly caused a lot of tension and pressure from the supporters for everyone involved with the team, and has resulted in some interesting changes. We started again after the short (6 day) Christmas break by training 9/10 days in a row and with a whole new outlook; with a new year comes a fresh start. We even recruited another player to add some experience to our squad. We changed the way we train, and so far this adversity seems to be evolving our team.

We won our first match of 2014 handily, and are optimistic heading into the next few weekends. Although we are still in 11th place, we are only 3 points (one win grants 3 points) back from 4th position. This league is immensely competitive, and no match can be taken lightly. We have lost to the last place team, but also emphatically beaten the 2nd and 3rd place teams.  Due to the injuries and state of the team, training has become a delicate balance of intensity and managing our bodies. One thing is for sure: this group wants to win, and it shows in our training.

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Beautiful tree outside my house

Outside of the court, life has been great. I entered the holidays sad to be missing home, but excited. For those who have been to Europe in the winter, you know how different it can be. Every town seems to be decked out for the holidays. Every town you visit has a Christmas market of some size, and Grand Place will be decorated to a tee. My humble town had a makeshift Christmas village for children with a small curling sheet, forts, a playground, and more. The city set up a giant artificial Christmas tree out made of lights right outside my apartment (see picture). The whole town had lights strung from building to building, but I never saw any individual houses decorated with lights. From what I saw, I have the impression that decorating is something the city does but not the individual or family.

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The huge Ferris Wheel

Lille was the most Christmassy place I saw, with a 5 story Ferris Wheel set up in the fully decorated Grand Place, and Christmas music playing on loudspeakers. One day while walking around by myself, I stumbled upon a Christmas Market and was amazed to find 3 Canadian booths there! One sold “Canadian” clothing (fleece, flannel, gloves and toques), but the others sold various souvenirs! I couldn’t resist and paid the outrageous prices to buy some maple syrup and Molson Canadian. The employees were even Canadians from Quebec, and I felt like I had found long lost cousins when I spoke with them (even though they were Quebecers;)). I even found an “Arbre de Noël Canadien” in my local grocery store and decorated it in my living room. Little finds like this made me a little less homesick around Christmas.

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The Lille Christmas Market

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Gluhwein in a hut inside the German Christmas market

I was really fortunate to be able to spend Christmas with my sister and brother in law who are living in Northern Germany this year. On the 21st of December I played a match in Paris, and drove the 3 hours home that night. On the morning of the 22nd I took a train to Brussels to meet Jake and Dayna, who had driven there. We spent the day exploring, seeing the Belgian sights, eating waffles and chocolate, and drinking a few of the 1,000’s of different Christmas drinks and beers Belgium has to offer. The next morning we drove the 500 km to their home near Bremen, where we spent the next few days relaxing and were joined by Jake’s teammate AJ who lives on the same floor.

Combining Jakes family Christmas traditions and ours, it was a unique Christmas. We made a feast for Christmas dinner, eating 5 lbs of ham between 4 people. In France and Germany traditional Christmas meals usually include cooked goose with a variation of nuts and spices cooked in. Père Nöel and Weihnachtsmann (my favorite name for Santa, translated as Christmas man…whoever named him deserves a medal for creativity) were great to us as well. It was a little sad to not have the whole family together as this is the biggest time of the year for the JVD’s, but I was thrilled to be with any family at all. Our break was short as Jakes and AJ’s team has been having a similar struggle as ours, and I took a train back on the 27th. Spending 8 hours on 6 different trains in 4 different countries (some of which I made my connection with minutes to spare), I arrived home near midnight for training the next morning.

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I got a good dose of the train system coming home!

New Years eve was nothing crazy as we had training the next day. For me, 2014 started by feeling sore and physically exhausted, but excited for our next match. I am officially halfway done my first year of playing professionally, and have developed  a consistent routine. My average day will usually start with weights (which in French is called musculation) or a skill practice (no jumping) from 10:00-12:00. There is a market every few days so on these Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays I try to buy some fresh fruits and veggies, then come home to find a way to kill the next few hours. I have until 5:00 free, which is a lot of time but goes by alarmingly quick each day. I make a feast of an omelette almost every day, then spend the day napping, going to French lessons, watching a show/movie, writing, reading, having a coffee, or playing League of Legends (…maybe this one is higher up on the list than I would like to admit). Then the evening training is an intense session usually lasting from 5:30-8:00. The evenings are spent eating, Skyping, watching TV shows, or reading.

While 90% of my time off the court is spent alone, I haven’t been very lonely so far. Strangely, I have learned to really appreciate my alone time and love coming home to a quiet apartment. I mean, when is the last time you actually listened to even a fraction of the 2,000 songs on your iPhone, or read something until you had read enough, as opposed to running out of time? I am lucky to have the time to do stuff like this. I think the 5 years at Trinity Western University left me socially exhausted, but I can’t wait to be back in Canada for the summer. Chris, Stacey (my Canadian teammate and his girlfriend) and I spend a lot of time fantasizing about how we will spend our first few days back in the Great White North. It will be some combination of family, friends, Tim Horton’s, wings, nachos, Boston Pizza, and many other things that I often take for granted back home.

We are over 50% done the year, but I am very focused on the here and now, and am determined to help the team move up in the standings every weekend!

Thanks for reading!!

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Another Interesting Month

Hello again!

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Had some visitors:)

Here’s another little update of my life in France! I’ve been here for about 4 and a half months now, which means I am almost halfway done my first year here, and its been quite the experience so far.

I’ll start by telling you wear I just came from…I just spend 2 hours at Tourcoing Les Bains, a public pool/spa a few blocks from me that sponsors the club. It is a ridiculously nice place to relax on a day off, with saunas, a lazy river, hot tubs, cold tubs, aqua massages, and Turkish baths. Of course I went there a few months ago as soon as I found out it is free for our team, but me and Chris were shocked our first time. People were looking at us the way an Amish family might be looked at in a big city, since we were wearing our usual North American swimming shorts. The lifeguard came over and told us that shorts are forbidden, and you must wear something smaller/tighter. After being told that wearing just your underwear is ok, we went back and changed. It’s the only pool I’ve ever been to where the men are probably more exposed than the women. I have found a compromise between the usual shorts and a speedo :). Anyways, I’m used to it now and I spend many days off there, especially now that I don’t get looked at like I’m Amish anymore.

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First Starbucks in months at the Paris train station

Since my last entry, I’ve experienced a lot of incredible things…I guess it makes the most sense to go through them in chronological order! I missed Thanksgiving, and didn’t get around to making a turkey dinner but had spaghetti with ground turkey instead of beef one night! We have had 8 games since my last entry, and have performed very poorly as a group. This league is much different from the volleyball experiences I’ve had thus far in my career, and its hard to adjust sometimes. For example, a few weeks ago we played against a team that had lost their first 3 matches by a wide margin. We had heard that they were cleaning house, which was surprising because they only had 6 players the weekend before. Unable to prepare as we had no idea who was on their roster, we just focused on our end of the match. They had ended up firing all except 2, and hiring 8 new players that week; some of whom had played in the top leagues in Europe for many years and merely didn’t have a contract yet this year. We lost dismally, and this started an uphill battle for our team.

Since then we have lost more games than we have won, and as I mentioned previously, our team has a giant target on our backs since they were relegated from the top league last year. We are expected to be one of the best teams in our league, so undoubtedly a lot of people are disappointed in our performance; none more than us.

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The team

A combination of us underachieving and constantly having our opponents play at 110% of their capacity against us has resulted in this losing streak. Tensions have been tremendously high, and every Monday morning we enter the gym wary of what will happen. Sometimes it feels as if we are walking to meet our executioner, but over the past few weeks nobody has been sent home (or executed…yet:)). Tensions reached an all-time high when there was a physical fight between two players in practice a few weeks ago. After arguing over a point, one teammate went under the net at the other and pushed him to the ground, and I don’t doubt punches would’ve ensued had the team not intervened. Experiences like these are totally new to me, but it seemed to be just the display of passion we needed, as we went on to handily beat one of the top teams in our league that weekend. Our team has a very impressive high end, but also a very bad low end. Being the youngest starter by a few years (average age on our starting lineup is about 29), I often struggle to know how to handle the problems our team is going through. Since our oldest starter is 15 years older than me, I have to ask myself…how would I respond to an 8 year old telling me what to do in a timeout? I have learned that all I can do is try to be the hardest working and most passionate guy in the gym every day, and hope that others follow my example. My individual goal is to improve every day despite any excuses that my be available, and to surprise myself frequently.

I’m trying not to be over-dramatic, but I must say that this is one of the lowest points in my volleyball career, since I am used to coasting to success on the shoulders of the great teammates I had at TWU. However I am learning a lot with every single training session, and am growing some great friendships. I have been told by some of the veteran teammates that in all their years of playing professionally, they have only encountered a situation like this once or twice, and that I am lucky to learn these lessons so early on

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Needs no introduction

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The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset

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The Louvre

However while it is my job and the reason I’m out here, volleyball is not the entirety of what I can tell you about! I’ve been lucky enough to travel to the furthest corners of France, and see a fair amount of Belgium as well! A few days after my last post, my parents arrived in Europe. They spent a few days in Germany with Jake and Dayna, then proceeded to spend a few days alone in the Netherlands. After that they came to see me for almost a whole week, before they flew out. They got in on a Thursday and watched my game on Friday, and then joined by Dayna, we went to Paris for the weekend! Anybody who has seen Paris knows that 2 days doesn’t do it justice, but we did pretty good! After spending some quality time in and around some of the most famous monuments in the world, we came back and Dayna went home. My parents spend Monday in Bruges while I worked off Fridays most recent loss in the gym, then we went to Lille on Tuesday! It was hard to say goodbye to my parents, but I’ll see them again in 6~ months and I am very fortunate to have had them visit!

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Panoramic view of Brussels’ Grand Place

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Bruges is famous for the strange roofing on some houses, like on the left

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Boat tours are the best way to see this amazing city

I was also able to spend last weekend in Belgium – a very underrated country. It took only 30 minutes to get to Brussels by train, and I spend the day  experiencing the waffles, chocolate, mussels, music, and drinks that make that city famous. The highlight was Delirium, a café famous for being in the book of Guinness World Records for having the most beers in the world (2004 total at the time). It was awesome to choose beers from the inch thick menu, which had beers from all over the world, including Canada. The next day was spent in Bruges, which has a very quaint little town that is commonly hailed as one of the most underrated tourist cities in Europe, and is known as the “Venice of the North.” We took a canal tour in one of the boats, and ate mussels and Flemish beef stew.

 

 

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Road trippin

Other than that, most of the travelling I’ve done has been with the team for road trips. We take the TGV, which set records in 2011 for the fastest conventional train service, regularly reaching speeds of 320+ km/h (you can sort of see ] in the picture). Road trips are some of my favourite times, as we get to sit back and relax for a few hours on a train, then stay in a hotel in a new city and eat for free. Its been cool getting to know the guys more.

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Movember

Movember isn’t nearly as popular out here, and I had to explain it to some of my teammates. I successfully convinced a handful of them to grow moustaches, most of which dwarfed mine (especially the Brazilian’s). I became a bit of a representative for the moustache on my team, and some of my teammates and coach often call me moustache. Unfortunately/fortunately, I had a rendezvous with a young lady yesterday and had to shave it off, but no doubt my face will sport another gross moustache again in the near future. 

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My parents brought me some comforts from home:)

Other than that, I think I’ve updated you on just about everything. Life really is quite mundane most of the time and I am just thankful to have my routines…Sunday night, I watch American Football and eat Mexican food with Chris and his girlfriend Stacey. Monday I have a Bible study over Skype with a few other Canadians playing in Europe. Tuesday, Dominoes pizza has an insane deal so of course we partake in Dominoes Tuesdays. Wednesday-Friday is mostly spent preparing for our match or travelling to the match, and the weekends are always uniquely different! It’s the routines that I look forward to, and often they will be the things that put a smile on my face at the end of a tough practice.

Overall, I’m really enjoying life here, and am striving to do exactly what I said in my first blog post: to welcome the victories, and embrace the defeats as well. While it is hard when adversity strikes, I have grown a lot with the challenges that have come my way in the past 4 months, and look forward to the challenges down the road!

Thanks for reading:)

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Month 2: the best and the worst

Hey everyone, thanks for taking the time to read my blog again! I’m trying to keep the entries regular, but life is seemingly boring here. I’ve adapted (for the most part) to all of the differences to the French life, and as the 9th week of my stay here has started I have found myself going through the motions. So, this entry is going to be a pros/cons sort of comparison to life back home and life here. I’m doing this partially to inform everyone reading of how life is for me, but also to remind myself so that I don’t take these beautiful oddities for granted.

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Let me start with a disclaimer: as with everything in life this review is only one persons opinion and interpretation, and it should be taken with a grain of salt. The discomforts I have experienced might serve as conveniences to other people, and vice versa. I use the word “cons” for lack of a better word, and when I say cons what I really mean are things that I haven’t grown accustomed to yet, or things with which I prefer Canada’s way of life.

Time change: this is the most obvious one, but it has been difficult. From missing every North American sporting event (except the first Football games on Sunday) to not being able to talk to the family back home until at least 4 pm my time, I have definitely experienced the time change in full effect. This creates a strange feeling of isolation, as I feel as if one half of the world sort of disappears for half the day. It’s lonely, yet strangely comforting. When is the last time you had only a few friends online on Facebook? When is the last time you saw an email or text, but didn’t have to reply because they won’t be awake for 6 more hours anyway?

Food/drink: I know you’ve all heard about the contrasts in this area, but let me highlight a few things. I would be hard pressed to find a coffee to go at any of the hundreds of café’s in town. If I could get them to make it to go, it would be the size of a little yogurt container, and wouldn’t have a lid. I understand that this is how it happens out here, but I truly miss getting a coffee so big your arm gets tired holding it, for $1.80 at Tim Horton’s. The same thing goes for drinks; it is unheard of to ask for a glass of tap water at a restaurant, and you may get asked to leave if you pull a bottle out of your backpack and start guzzling. You are expected to buy all of your drinks, and when you order a coke it will come in a 250 ml glass bottle. When that’s done, you order another; no waitress bringing another free pitcher. Its areas like this that notice the difference in mindsets between the two continents, and with this I prefer the North American methodology, however unhealthy it may be. As far as food goes, I have heard from many (non-French) people that France is the best country in the world to experience fine-dining. I love the food here, and try to eat French food as opposed to just making my favorites all the time. However, sometimes I just want a plate of nachos, some wings, and a pint of Molson Canadian. That’s what anyone’s experience will be as they venture anywhere in the world, I suppose. Its natural to miss mom’s cooking, and those things that make your culture what it is. That said, I am not going to get sick of the food here anytime soon:)

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The religion: France was recently listed in an article by the Huffington Post as the 4th least religious country in the world, with only about 30% of the country being religious at all (and I suspect most of that group is Islamic, or maybe Catholic). You may have read about the crackdown in France on the mention of religion in high schools last month. I was even told by a teammate that it is illegal to display some types of religious symbols in public (cross necklaces, certain shirts, tattoos, etc.). Needless to say, I haven’t gone to church since I’ve been here. However, a few Friday nights ago I was in a restaurant when I heard a sweet, sweet sound: English. As I said before, I’m lucky to meet someone who speaks a few words of English, so when I met Helena, an American ex-pat living in the next town, I was thrilled. She is a kind lady who has been living here with her 2 kids for over 8 years. I got her information, and she invited me to the English-speaking church of Lille. This was pretty awesome, and I think I’m going to go soon. The fact that I nearly jumped out of my seat when I heard American English illuminated to me that I might be missing home more than I let on to myself.

The team: so far, I have only praises to say about the team. While we have been underachieving throughout the preseason and recently lost our first league game in 5 sets, I have no doubt that we will improve to be a force in the league. I’m making some pretty close friends on the team, and the guys are awesome. Every Friday after practice, we spend time in the team room after practice having “Aperol.” This is nothing more than a few cases of beer paired with baguettes, cheese and other appetizers while the team just hangs out and pumps music, but it is the perfect way to end a hard week of training. We have our home opener this weekend against one of the best teams in our league, and I think we should have great attendance.Image

I’m almost done, but I have to tell you about another cool thing that happened. I miss the music scene a lot in BC, especially since I missed out on a lot of great concerts this summer. So one day I tried to find out if any of my favorite bands would be coming through Lille anytime soon. I was surprised to find out that not only are there some amazing bands coming, some are coming through Tourcoing! Tourcoing is a small suburb of Lille, the way Langley is to Vancouver. All of these bands seemed to be coming to a place called La Grand Mix, so I checked out where this place was. I couldn’t believe it; it was only 2 blocks from my house! When I found out that two Canadian bands (The Born Ruffians and Moon King) were coming in a week, I made sure I would be there. The next Tuesday I went alone, sporting my Canadian hockey jersey. Didn’t make any Canadian friends, but saw some great music and will definitely be there again soon. From October 12-19, Tourcoing is host to a very famous jazz festival, which I’m looking forward to as well.Image

I guess I’ve realized that over the past two months, I’ve been very fortunate. The transition has been very smooth for me, and I have found little tastes of home to prevent the homesickness that is imminent. I’m going to need all the tastes of home I can get, as Thanksgiving is coming this weekend…the first Canadian holiday I have to spend away from home. So when you eat your turkey this weekend, be extra thankful for the little things that make your home your home. Enjoy time with family, enjoy an extra large Tim Horton’s, enjoy the traffic on Glover Road, and enjoy the rain. Because there is someone, a long way away who misses all of those things. 

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The first month

My first impressions

I got off the plane in Paris on August 6th after not having slept for about 30 hours, so my memory is a little hazy. I was met by our coordinator and a teammate/his wife and we made the two hour trek northeast towards my new home, Tourcoing (on the Belgian border). We immediately went to the gym and met the coach and the president of the club. I was given a brief tour of the gym and the downtown core (“Centre-ville”), then led to my apartment. My first thoughts were “Wow, this town looks even more French than I could have imagined,” and “Wow, I need to learn French.”

Rue Saint Jacques, my new home

I put my stuff in my room and proceeded to take one of those naps that you wake up from, confused as to what room/country/decade it is. I woke up at 9 pm, and went to go find food. I thought it must have been a stat holiday, because there was nothing open. It was a Monday to be fair, but other than the Subway I found, the place was a ghost town. The first night in this new home was an overwhelming rush of excitement, adrenaline, restlessness, and crushing loneliness.

However I spend the next few days cleaning and setting up the place, meeting my teammates, running errands, and just trying to keep myself busy. I arrived on a Monday and we didn’t have our first practice until the following Monday (save for a few team meetings, a dentist appointment, etc.) so I had a lot of free time to conquer my jet lag.

Tourcoing/Lille

I went in having done as little research as I could about this place, as I wanted to have no preconceptions. This made it all the more fun to explore for me and my buddy Mart, the only other non-French speaker on the team who I spent the first few days hanging out with. Tourcoing is a fairly old, sleepy town tucked away in the furthest corner from France, and despite its beauty, it doesn’t have a lot going on. If its action you want you need to go to Lille as there is nothing open past 10 here, even on weekends

I live about 100 m away from a Metro station, and with only 1.50 euros, you can take a 25 minute ride to arrive in France’s 4th largest city. Lille has a lot of history to it and a lot of really nice old buildings. Mart and I got lost and spent 4 hours walking through this bustling metropolis, enjoying every minute of it. I have gone back every weekend that I’ve been here, and have enjoyed it immensely. I am going back this weekend, as Lille is host to the biggest festival in all of France this weekend. The “Braderie de Lille” draws 2-3 million people, who pack the streets for what is the biggest flea market in Europe, and has happened every year since 1127.

The first thing you see of Lille getting off the metro

The people here are very interesting. The town seems to really support the club, as I will get asked something along the lines of “When is the first match?” every day. However the biggest problem I have encountered so far is the languagebarrier, as French people typically do not speak English as much as those in other European countriesmight. I would estimate that 1/10 people that I would encounter on the street speak very broken English, which has forced me to work ce with no help. Either way, the people I have met have been beyond friendly. I am met with smiling faces every morning from strangers on the street or in a store, and if my bilingual Canadian friend Chris is with me, people are always eager to strike up a conversation with us. I have really been impressed with the friendliness of the people and am motivated to improve my French so I can interact with the people more easily.

My apartment

My apartment is infinitely nicer than I thought it would be. Having 2 bedrooms with an open living room/kitchen area overlooking one of the town squares, or the “grand place” is surreal. I welcome any visitors, and can comfortably host 3-4 visitors, maybe more. The team truly outdid themselves, giving me a new bed, couch, TV, fridge, kitchen appliances, and more. I’m glad it feels like home already, because until my friend/teammate Chris arrived last week I would leave practice and usually not speak to another human until the next practice.

The view outside my bedroom window

As many of you know, things tend to take longer in Europe. Its 3.5 weeks in, and I’ve just received internet/TV in my apartment yesterday, and gotten my phone working this week. This is why your social media outlets have been so quiet; its not because I actually grew up. Between getting this set up, getting a bank account, getting certain amenities for my apartment, and taking care of the league/governmental requirements for me being here, I’ve been very busy.

 

Volleyball

The volleyball has been very interesting so far! This club was in the top league in France but last year they finished last and were thus relegated. They seem to have cleaned house, including a brand new coaching staff. I don’t know what I expected, but I have been very impressed with the quality and the infrastructure of this club. They are very organized and very well structured, and everything is extremely professional so far. With 2 coaches, a strength trainer, 2 coordinators to help us with anything/everything, a physiotherapist, and any dental/doctoral needs we may have available at the tip of a hat, I have no complaints.

Leo LaGrange, my new gym

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Tha boysss

The team is awesome. About 90% of the guys speak English, and they’re quality guys. The coach speaks English but seeing as only 2 guys don’t speak French, everything is explained in French and if I don’t understand something I usually just ask one of the guys to explain it. It gets a little bit awkward if the coach is upset and goes on a tirade about something…nobody wants to be the translator then. There is a great variance in age/culture, but this provides for a good dynamic. This particular league only requires that half of our roster be from France, so we have 2 Brazilians, 2 Serbs, 2 Canadians, 1 Portuguese, and a Dutchman. We have been training with a few members of our junior club as well, which brings the age difference from 16-37. All things considered, everyone gets along well (so far) and it seems to be a really good crew.

Training camp was tough but a great experience. Our first two weeks entailed mostly skill work at one practice, with cardio and weights occurring once a day. The cardio portion was a run through the streets of Tourcoing, starting at 20 minutes and adding minutes every time. The first day I was sure I was going to die, but I ended up completing the final run of 60 minutes last Friday without dying. Our team is fiercely competitive and very focused on winning the league this year, and it shows with every practice.

The next few weeks?

My set up

Now that I feel fully settled in, I guess there isn’t much to do outside of volleyball but enjoy the fine cheeses, wine, and baguettes that this part of the world is so famous for. A typical day right now has me waking up at 8, practicing from 9:30-12:00, and taking the afternoon to recover/nap/eat. Evening practices are 5-7:30, and by the time I shower, get groceries, and eat, its about time to pass out. Therefore the weekends are where the action happens.

I walk past this on the way to/from work every day

As I said, there is a big festival in Lille and there will be many more to look forward to I’m sure. But what I’m truly excited for is the visitors. I’m beyond lucky to have my sister and her husband a mere 5 hour drive away in Germany, and I rented a car last weekend to go visit them for a huge festival in their small town. Dayna is coming over here for a few days next week, and I’m planning to spend my Christmas break with them. My family back home is planning to visit with their significant others periodically over the next 9 months, and a few friends are hoping to come as well. My friend from TWU is playing field hockey an hour away in Belgium this year, so I’m sure I’ll meet up with him at some point, and I have a few other friends scattered across Europe. Not to mention there is a plethora of Canadians playing in France this year, some of whom I will likely play in our France Cup games!

Exhibition games start next week Friday and we have quite a few of them before regular season starts October 6th. I’m beyond excited for games to start, and a busy preseason is nothing compared to what Ben Josephson used to put togetherJ Other than that, I believe I’ve informed you of everything!!

Well that’s the first month in a nutshell. I have a feeling this is going to be a really huge year for me; in terms of volleyball, life decisions, relationships, and most importantly my personal growth. I believe that my highest highs will come, but I also know that my lowest lows will come as well. I welcome the victories, and embrace the defeats as well. I am lucky to be here, and I am eager to see what this year entails!

Thanks for reading!!

À bientôt.

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