My first season is officially over, I’m sitting in my bed at my sisters home in BC, and if you asked me at the beginning of the season how I thought I’d feel when it was all over, I never would have imagined I would feel like I do right now. We finished off the championship in 3rd place which was an accomplishment we all feel very proud of. Our team came such a long way in such a short time and it was such a great thing to be able to be a part of. We made it to the cup final after winning the semi by a hair in the fifth set; being up 14-9, then losing our lead making it 14-15, finally coming out victorious 17-15. As I look back on this season, there are a lot of things I am incredibly proud of. There are matches that I will never forget, there are ones I don’t even want to remember, but overall the thing that stands out most in my mind are the girls that I got to play with and the fun we got to have both on and off the court. Two of my teammates this year took on brand new roles as middles – the most difficult position in my opinion. While the going was tough, by the end they both were comfortable and fast, challenging some of the most experienced players in the league to beat them through the net or stop them offensively. I saw one of my teammates go from being shy on the court and semi-confident in her abilities as a setter, to starting on her U19 team setting some of the most beautiful outside balls I’ve seen from a girl her age. Another one of our girls came out every day to fight and play her best, despite being ten years, or almost twenty years younger than some of the other players. Last week she started training with the national team for the summer along side two of my other teammates from this past season. That number of national team members could have easily been 5 or 6. So many things happened in Cyprus near the end that were separate from my duties as a professional athlete. I didn’t have much time to be at my computer writing, mostly because I was stressed out about leaving.
While I was in Cyprus I was lucky enough to find a church to attend, a church with a community that shared my beliefs, and a church that was loving and kind. This church made it possible for me to get baptized in Cyprus, in the beautiful mediterranean sea. I have been thinking about getting baptized for a while, since before I left for my journey overseas. I wanted to get baptized here at home where I could be around my friends and family, but then it occurred to me that I probably won’t be home for a time long enough to organize a baptism, but in cyprus I had months to figure it out and work out all of the details. I had invited my team and the members of the board to come to the church service Sunday morning before the baptism. Jim (the man who baptized me along side my coach) was giving a sermon on baptism, and I was given the opportunity to share my testimony. When I gave out the invites, I got a lot of confused looks. In Cyprus, it is the custom to be baptized in the greek orthodox church. that usually means you are a naked baby, that gets baptized in the church in a basin full of water. So when I told them I was getting baptized at 24, on the beach in the middle of the city center, you can imagine some of the looks on peoples faces. I expected some of the girls to come to church, and they all had said they would be at the baptism on the beach afterwards. Much to my surprise, every single girl on my team showed up to church that morning, along with all 3 members of the board, and a club president who wished he could have been there but was out of town. I was amazed to feel the love and support that came from this team and everybody involved in it. I was so thankful that they were all willing to come and support me despite not even fully understanding what the day was going to be like. That day I knew that God wanted me in Cyprus, and that he had given me a family that I will never stop being a part of.
Then there was easter. Easter in Cyprus is a big deal. The kids get two weeks off school, and EVERYBODY eats lamb and has a big family dinner. Just picture My big fat greek wedding with the lamb roasting in the the front yard, you understand what I’m talking about. We went to coach’s mom’s house for dinner and they told me, “Kelci you have to try this“. I asked them, “what is this?” I should have known better when coach told me it was lamb parts, and when Ev looked at me a shook her head with a fearful look in her eyes. But the rule came back into my head – while in Cyprus, try everything once. So, in my mouth and down the hatch, then the truth came out. Turns out this was all of the insides of the lamb. You know, everything it uses to digest it’s food. Vital organs and intestines included. Truth is it didn’t taste bad. But for some reason I just couldn’t stomach the stomach.
Because the kids were off school, it gave us a chance to run a volleyball camp in the morning. I think that that week of volleyball camp may have the been the highlight of my time in Cyprus. We had three different groups, the youngest group first, then the middle then the oldest. We had four days to play and it was the best feeling to have kid show up every day eager to learn even though it was challenging and sometimes they left the gym exhausted. We touched on almost all of the skills. The younger girls were too small to jump and block, but we got them up on boxes anyways with their arms pressed over the net and their fingers spread wide. I will never forget the look of terror on some of their faces as they climbed up high to practice having strong hands. The middle group had about 25 kids. These girls loved to play games. They were all smiles and so much fun to be around. On the first day of camp, I had one boy show up to the grade 11/12 girls group. I didn’t do a camp for boys because I didn’t have enough gym time and I didn’t know the boys as well and I knew the girls. On the second day three more boys showed up, and then two more on the third. Because this group was older, I could push them a little harder. On day 2 we practiced defense. Socks on their arms and all (if you’ve ever had Lupo as a coach you know what I’m talking about).
We did lots of diving which resulted in lots of bruised elbows and scraped knees. To finish it all off we had a round of touch 10. They were all exhausted. Some of them were bleeding. They all had huge smiles on their faces, and they all came back the next day asking to do it all again. Their is no better feeling than having an opportunity to facilitate learning for kids that are eager to do so.
Then came time to get ready to say goodbye. The roommates left the day after we finished. Ev had to find a way to get Denzel’s crate in her car, while fitting all three of us in the car as well. I had the privilege of sharing the front seat with the oversized puppy while he tried to figure out which position was most comfortable. By the time we got to the airport, I had a mouth full of dog hair, my had magically changed from luon to fur-lined, and from black to white, and my stomach hurt from laughing so much at what we were trying to accomplish. I will never forget that car ride.
Leaving Cyprus was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. When I signed my contract to spend the next 7 months of my volleyball career in Cyprus, I honestly thought it would be sort of a come-and-go type of deal. I thought I’d be able to go there, play volleyball, and come home without having put down too many roots. I didn’t expect to be able to connect with the local players, I didn’t have much hope for finding a church community, I didn’t think my coach would be a nice person, and I definitely didn’t think I’d get to be so involved with so many amazing kids. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more false preconception. My experience in Cyprus was the complete opposite of all of that. I left that place having friendships that will last me a lifetime. I now have people that I can’t wait to get back to see, and people that I miss every day. There were a group of 4 girls that begged their mom to drive them to the airport to come and see me off. Bracelets and notes in hand for me to enjoy on the plane. Coach’s family, fighting (friendly fire only) with Neil and Angela for rights to drive me to the airport, which makes me so thankful for that first sunday that Neil and Angela picked me up from the bakery in our village to drive me to church. They stayed with me all the way until I was through security and out of sight. Airports always do weird things to me. They make me overly emotional in a good situation. There is so much about this profession that is unknown. I’ve never had to leave a place I felt so attached to, without knowing when I would be back. I’ve walked through airport security with tears in my eyes before, but this time was different. Cyprus you surpassed my every expectation. You surprised me beyond belief. You made me feel loved beyond reason. I don’t know if I’ll be back for another volleyball season or not, but I can’t imagine I’ll be able to resist the urge to visit your lovely beaches and your amazing people for too long…