Aug. 18, 2012
At the moment I am in Kobe, Japan two days prior to our first match against Argentina after a long journey with this team. In short, we managed to qualify in Panama after a short two weeks together of preparation camp held in Costa Rica back in March. Our team finished second in the qualifying tournament, losing to the highly-ranked United States 2-1.
Our next phase of preparation wasn't until July, where we spent seven nights in Quebec, 10 nights in Italy, and three nights in Switzerland. After this trip, we were given 18 nights "off," but not without a strenuous fitness program and constant communication with our coaches. During this time, my body decided I was too evolved to need my appendix anymore and a week before I was scheduled to travel to Japan, and only a few days before the final roster had to be submitted into the official FIFA tournament, I had surgery to have it removed. Thankfully, to many others and my surprise, my coach kept me around with the faith that I would recover and be diligent about my healing process.
I traveled with my Washington State team to Seattle where they were having a training/team bonding weekend before they began the grueling preseason training. As I was still fresh out of surgery I was as fragile as a freshman's ego, I spent the last few days with my team hanging out on the sideline, watching my teammates run until exhaustion (something I got rather a sick satisfaction from) and going for short walks. I left my Coug family, Aug. 8 for our first destination, Fukushima, Japan.
For the first few days, we spent time in a hotel that was bizarre in every aspect of life for any North American. In public restrooms, in place of toilets, there were what looked like miniature bathtubs in the floor. For breakfast every morning, we were given fish, rice, and many other odd smelling foods, which were happily gobbled up by true Japanese residents. Once, for lunch, the friendly staff members and servers gave us pancakes and 'real maple syrup.' As our head coach played a huge role with our women's team in the recent London Olympics, he arrived 48 hours after the rest of us did, which in my eyes meant a glorious two days to recover and to show/prove myself and my worth for this team.
The physical therapists had something else on the agenda for me. I was allowed to run, and run I did. At first, I ran at the boring 45 percent pace comfortable for my 92-year-old grandmother, with core exercises that involved me rolling around on the itchy grass like a lopsided slug. I did these exercises as I watched my team practice for two hours, twice a day, and for four days straight.
During the fifth day, we played Japan in an international friendly as preparation for the upcoming tournament. Knowing I was 'graduating' in my recovery stage, I was pumped to get in my first real workout, but was quickly distracted by the mass of people there to greet our bus. The entrance was packed two hours before the game even started and during our locker room shinanigans, our coach told us that they had sold over 9,000 tickets for the game, and expected a full stadium, something that nobody had been close to experiencing before. I walked out onto the field, the first of the rest of my team, and started my first real fitness and running session to a rowdy, Canadian loving crowd of thousands. They were there to support their Japanese team, but showed the most incredulous class and love for soccer in welcoming us to their country as they greeted us with enthusiasm, encouraging me around my 14 laps of interval running and body squats. The game was exciting. Japan had majority of possession. However, after falling behind, we managed to score twice to tie late in the game.
After the game, a few of us were asked to go and do a meet and greet. We had no idea, but we were playing in the city that had been absolutely devastated by a Tsunami and was just recently reconciled. The people introduced to us were young adults, men and women, who had had their homes and lives destroyed by the disaster. They were brought to Vancouver, British Columbia, paid for by our government for a few months to learn English and momentarily escape the cities desolation. They were amazingly grateful for the help Canada gave Fukushima, and Japan, something I was not even aware of before the postgame.
The next day we travelled to Kobe, where we are now staying in a FIFA regulated hotel. As we are now becoming increasingly close to our first game, my team has started training once per day, except me. Two days ago, I was experiencing one of my first tastes of training and was allowed to play the full time, except for the ending scrimmage.
As I was walking off, about to throw in the towel, take my boots off, kick up my feet and enjoy the show, my strength and conditioning trainer ruined my life with a surprise running workout. Usually I enjoy running, and take pride in being mentally tough enough to finish every workout without a complaint. But, after the first set, I felt like my lungs were thrown into a fiery abyss and all I wanted to do in the world was stop but I couldn't. The second set made me barf.
Yesterday, I was cleared to start training fully. Now, we are two days before what will be the most important game we have ever played in (including my U-17 World Cup experience). All we can do is anxiously prepare as best as possible and wait.
I will have more from Japan after our first match.
Canada will take on Argentina, Monday, Aug. 20 at 3 a.m. Pacific (7 p.m. local).