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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