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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:)