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Friday, August 31, 2012

Time Flies

Bye the time many of you wake up and read this, our future will already be decided. However, I still find the need to write as it is therapeutic for me.  Sorry for the lack of posts.  I had one I "posted" but it never hit cyberspace.  What did we do before there was the internet?  Here is a quick re-cap.
We waved "Goodbye" to our friends in Hiroshima after  our 1-1 tie with China.  China broke through and found the net midway into the first half for one of their only chances all game. The US squad rallied to tie it up before the half and that is where the scoring ended.

China was much different than Ghana in their style, system and how they played against the U.S.A.  We would have preferred 3 points and a big "W" but there were valuable lessons learned against a team that posed a different set of circumstances to us.

Next, we boarded a plane to Miyagi with the German team.  Our new digs were just as hospitable as Hiroshima.  The day we arrived, we visited Yuriage,  a community that was engulfed by the tsunami  2011.  Ninety percent of the houses were destroyed.  900 of the  people were killed in a city of 7,000 and many are still missing.   People are struggling with how to deal with the devastation.  The news reports and cameras have disappeared and there is anxiety about what to do next.

Yuriage's  Center of Hope 

There is a prefab room that has been erected where people can go to reflect, "re-create their memory" cry and be together.  They describe their own demeanor as "sluggish" This community is at a stand still.  Some do not want to rebuild for fear they will find remnants of loved ones.  Our team heard stories and watched a video of the houses and townspeople getting carried away. We all saw similar clips on CNN when the tsunami rolled in, but standing with some of the affected family members in their tiny portable made if feel as if it was in my neighborhood.

Our team kept looking at the skeletons of foundations where homes used to be. Very few buildings were standing as we looked as far as the eye could see.

 A clock atop a middle school that has been untouched since the tsunami is a stark reminder of this travesty.

Hiromi, our liaison, explains the story behind the desk

Cpt. Julie Johnston pays respects
 Fourteen children from one small middle school perished.  We saw  2 school desks that a mother drug out to the front of the school.  They were the desks her children sat in every day.  She does not want this town to forget them, and thanks to US Soccer she has 35 more people that will carry these children in their hearts.   The desks have been their for 17 months and a marble desk/memorial has been added so that none of the children will be forgotten.

One woman was explaining to our group that many many younger people died unnecessarily.  She went on to say that the older generation that remembered and/or heard stories of earlier tsunami's and fled as soon as the sirens were blown.  The younger generation that did believe the seriousness of the stories also did not believe the siren.  When the wall of water was seen, it was too late to find safe ground.  Kids, listen to your parents and grandparents'.

Our team boarded the bus and headed to the hotel, looking out the window, still trying to imagine what it was like to have a wave take away 28,000 people. Each kilometer closer to our hotel marked one more blessing we were sure to count.

I loved the hotel because the Goddess of Mercy was looking over us; meaning I could leave our hotel and have a much better chance of not getting lost.  She is one of the dieties most frequently seen on altars.
our hotel :           Quan Yin
Her feet:  She is HUGE

Quan Yin means "She who always pays attention to the human cry. " A great hotel for the directionally challenged.  No longer did I have to say "We were staying by that one teriyaki place. You know.. that one where the bikes are parked and a Pachinko machine is close by.  Nope... I can literally see the statue from the stadium that is 30 minutes away.

Speaking of Goddess of Mercy... Clearly the Germans were staying at the same hotel and praying to the Goddess while I was merely using it for a meeting point.  The Germans handed to us a 3-0 loss. Instead of Okonomiyaki (delicious) and Sushi we found ourselves finding it difficult to eat Humble Pie with chopsticks.

As is with sports, the 3-0 score did not do justice to the many things we improved upon.  Our possession in the midfield against a great defense was fantastic.  On this day, we struggled and did not have our spunk in either of the 18 yard boxes.  As with most posts... I do not write to talk about the X's and O's.  There are enough Tweeters, Bloggers, ichatters, Facebookers  and arm chair quarterbacks,  I mean soccer afficionados going over our game so I do not need to go into detail.   All I know is I would love to see that team again.  And in order to do so, we need to beat Korea DPR in a few short hours.

Our next city... Saitama.  We scooted from Miyagi to Saitama via the bullet train.  Last year it was the Autobahn.  This year the Bullet Train.  Clean. Silent. Efficient. Fast.  I love them both.  Wish we had the technology to be shot around the U.S.  Oh... we do.

I don't have time to write about Saitama as it is time for me to board the bus for our game against North Korea.  I will say that wherever we go, we are greeted with kindness.  At each venue we give thanks and are sure to mention how, "Everyone has been so fantastic and generous and helpful." The reply is always the same, "This is our culture."

Many Japanese want to give thanks for all of the help the Americans have shown their country in difficult times.  There are signs of thanks in every stadium. We are greeted with waves and people scampering to help us with our luggage.  We are met with smiles and respect and of course, the bow.

It is already tomorrow for me in Japan and while I am here I will be cheering on the Huskies yesterday. :)  Lets hope we get a great win tonight!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Clean Living

I mentioned in the last post that there are many people living in a small country.  They are very conscious about their health.  For instance... there is no Diet Coke.  It is believed that the chemicals in Diet Coke are more dangerous to one's health compared to Coke Zero and regular Coke.  My guess is it is saccharin but I am not quite sure when I look at the can.  :)

When I mean there is no Diet Coke I am not kidding.  There are no Diet foods and/or sodas with saccharin like products.  It is illegal to have it in the country.  Come to think of it, we have known that saccharin is a cancer producing agent for some time...

Want to hear something else crazy? There are no public garbage cans.  This came about in 1995 after a gas subway attack occurred in Tokyo in which a gas bomb was tossed in a trash can.  What began is an antiterrorism measure has stuck around because it saves the government money.  I am just now getting used to the fact we must hold onto the gum wrapper, to-go cup, receipt  until I return to my hotel room.  Again, I need to remind you how many hundreds of thousands of people live here and the place is spotless; airports, malls, city streets, parks.

Okay, that was your tidbit on Japan for the day.  Now a bit about our first game.  The first 15 minutes did not go according to the script.   We dodged a bullet or two and struggled to possess the ball in the manner which we have been practicing. Maybe it was first game jitters, or that Ghana had some fast skillful players, or the heat or a combination of all of the above.  I don't mean for those to be excuses. We all know sports are unpredictable.  That is why we play and watch and cheer, because we are unsure of the outcome.
That is also why I have bags under my eyes, gray hairs and can't sleep at night.  Whether I am deemed good at my job or not is simply as the ball bounces.  Fun and frightening.

Okay, the  second half we came out more diligent on defense and a bit more sharp with our passes.   That seemed to help but the catalyst was Penn State forward, Maya Hayes who's shooting streak was as hot as the stadium that day scoring 3 of the USA's 4 goals.

The Ghanaians had some speed and skill and playing against them  will help us settle in for the next game; or at least that is the plan.  In the meantime, we will stop looking at every grocery store for diet coke and find a new and improved caffeine fix.
With so much down time for the players we try to make sure they don't get too stir crazy.  Coaching is fun, but I have always thought it is much more fun to be a player.  However, these players will do anything you ask (tee hee her) and they are competitive.  So... when you ask they to try to roll an oreo from their forehead into their mouth it is game on; no questions asked.  This might be one of the rare occasions it is more fun to be a coach. My favorite quote was from Sam Mewis who shouted to her teammate, "Use your instincts!" Not sure which instinct snaps into action when asked to perform this feat but many were born without it. 

I must say that the players aren't the only ones that get stir crazy.  It seems our trainers, Carrie and Elysia (goes by E-Money around these parts) are already showing signs of losing it.   Here is what I caught at a training session. It is my hope that by the end of our journey you will know more about Japan, the U20 USA soccer team as well as our the cast of character on our road show.  It might be due to the fact they test the players' urine, deal with their blisters, rub out their muscles, put suction cups on their aches and pains and listen to their stories about 18 hours a day.  It's enough to make anyone nuts.

China is our next opponent.  A team with size and skill that needs a victory since they lost to Germany in their opening game.  If we win, we will for sure advance into the quarter final rounds regardless of our 3rd round robin game so it is important.
After our match against China, we board a charter flight with Germany and head to Miyagi for our 3rd match.  We all will miss Hiroshima.  The people, scenery, accommodations, food have all been excellent.  What a great place to begin our journey.  The place where the paper crane originated.

Happy Birthday to Jack (greatest husband a traveling soccer mom could ask for) and Dad (the guy who said "good game" when I did okay... and not a word when I sucked.) Love you both very much.

Morgan Brian Heads toward Goal

Maya Hayes in Flight

"And if you spin like this... you get really dizzy..."

No Caption Necessary :)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time to prepare is over. Time to perform is now.

The Bow.  I love the bow.  A nice gesture for all occasions and all people.  A show of sincere respect and gratitude.  It can also mean "Congratulations, I'm sorry, please, many thanks," A 5 to10 degree bow is a casual, informal "Hello," similar to our "'Sup?" The most common is a 30 degree angled bow to greet customers or thank someone.  A more formal bow is performed at about 45 degrees while looking down at your feet which is a sign of deep gratitude, formal apology or asking for a favor.  There is eye contact, however slight, but it is there and it is friendly and subtle and heartfelt.

Janet, My "Cho" Roommate- Means "Super" in Japanese
My roommate, Janet,  helped a women down the stairs with her walker and she bowed ever so slowly 3 times.  So deep intact,  I thought she had dropped something.  I bent down to look for the dropped item... at which point she bowed to what she thought was my bow.  I, of course, wanted to show my respect at her bowing to me, so gave her a few deep bows of my own.

It is easy to get used to. It flows, it comes from the inside out.  I like to bow.  I think of our formal hand shake,  or the manly hand clasp with interlocked thumbs, followed by shoulder to shoulder bumper-hug.  We cannot forget the awkward hug when you think you were going in for a hug but your friend did not. You hesitate for a split second but realize you cannot back out of it.  I cannot imagine what the Japanese people think of our popular 'pound me'  followed by a "blow it up" for special occasions.

 A few days ago a small group of young men from a a local university gathered to give each player a necklace made of red, white and blue cranes and read the story of Sadako.
The Big Arch Stadium in background is ready for us.
They spoke of how Hiroshima continues to be a leader in spreading world peace.  It is their hope that the U.S.A. plays their way to the final and players can wear the necklaces on the podium for the world to see.  The 3 other teams staying in Hiroshima (Ghana, China and Germany) also received similar necklaces in colors representing their country. Cranes = Peace = Hiroshima  This is their message. 
Amongst tears and thank you's our team was very grateful.  "This is the best memento I have ever received," I overheard as the players carefully placed them on the bench before training began.

There is not a lot of space here in Japan.  The country is 11% smaller that the state of California.  The population of Japan is roughly 130 million.
To avoid long ramps for cars to find parking, vehicles take the elevator
 It would be like putting 40% of the U.S. population into the state of California.  I have been in 2 big cities, and they are quiet.  It is not a crowded feeling.  Space, property and nature are precious commodities.

Children are everywhere, but strollers are not.  Seems as though folks walk and ride bikes.  As a matter of fact, the few cries I've heard have been from children that can't quite keep up or are testing the waters to see if mom or dad will whisk them away.  Inevitably, parents continue their journey and the kids scamper along to catch up with the universal cry of "Hey! Wait for me!"  Nick and Ben, I think of you often.  The smiles of the children here remind me of what great smiles I am related to back in the U.S.A.

I am excited to watch the U20 team play in the first match.  Over the last year and a half, the players have grown together to become one.  I can sense their excitement but yesterday seemed to be the day they collectively portrayed "WHEN ARE WE GOING PLAY ALREADY?!!!"

Coaches Steve Swanson & April Heinrichs 
My former teammate on the 1991 USA team and Director of Youth National Teams,  April Heinrichs reminded the team that the time to prepare has ended.  The time to perform is upon us. Not sure about the team, but I got goose bumps!

In the midst of all the training and tryouts and tournaments and seasons and dreams and goals and games, I am not sure these players have ever been told to stop preparing.   enjoy the fact and  to..... to PLAY.

There is no turning back and that is a good thing. The U20 WNT is excited to have the world watch.

Congratulations to the Huskies after the 2-0 win over Seattle U.  
Dawgs, Yeah! 
Gametracker... Boooooooo! 
Husky Purple

Nick and Ben, thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What does the FIFA U20 World Cup and UW have in Common?

Unfortunately, I had to leave the G's as in the Griffins and Gallimore's at home.  The 3 G's this time around are:  Genki? GK's and Gold.  "Genki?"= "How are you?" in Japanese.  Japan is where the 2012 U20 Women's World Championship is taking place.   I get to hang with the USA team on this journey, mainly with our  GK's.

A short while ago I was cheering on Hope Solo and the USA women in the Olympic Final.  As I watched the gold medal match with the Husky Women's Soccer team during  pre-season, I was reminded that I have a very cool job. On August 10th I boarded  the flight to Tokyo with the U20s and staff. Many Japanese people on our flight congratulated the USA on the gold medal.  It clearly was a game watched by multitudes.  

If all goes well, our trip will be lengthy.  I used to think heading to the airport with 2 toddlers was a chore, now I think traveling with a group of 31 with enough tape, Gatorbars, Nike gear, and sports bras to last 26 days is much more difficult.  

Our first stop is Hiroshima.  Our hotel is across the street from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum; the target of the world's first atomic bombing which took place on August 6th, 1945.   As we walk to the museum in our USA gear, we come across what used to be a building for the Dept. of Industry.   It is now called, "A-Bomb Dome."  I felt like I was in one of my kids' Magic Treehouse books. With the turn of one page,  I  had jumped back in history a short and uncomfortable 67 years. 
A-Bomb Dome

Red Ball depicts the area of immediate impact. Surrounding
area is 2 kilometers of destruction shortly thereafter. 
 As our team serpentined through the museum. One by one you could almost see the exact moment on a players face when  a symbol, photo, quote, artifact, letter or statistic  was the one that cut to their heart. 

For each, the moment was different, but the impact the same.  

I was expecting "their side of the story" to paint Americans in an awful light.  But the message here was simply that nuclear weapons are fruits of war and during that time, the Japanese also inflicted irreversible harm of people in many different countries.  So while I was expecting stares or indifference with the locals, we were all greeted with warm smiles and respectful bows.  The mission of this place is of human solidarity and peace.  It felt good to be here. 

One of the stops of the museum that caught the attention of many was the story of Sadako Sasaki. 
It is related to the logo of the U20 Women's World Cup and has connections to Seattle. 

Sadako Sasaki lived in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  At age 11, Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia, a type of cancer caused by the atomic bomb.  While in the hospital, Sadako started to fold paper cranes. In Japan, there is a belief that if you folded 1000 paper cranes, then your wish would come true. Sadako spent 14 months in the hospital, folding paper cranes with any paper she could find. Her wish was that she would get well again. Sadako also wished for an end to all suffering and to attain peace and healing to the victims of the world. 

Sadako died on Oct. 25, 1955 at 12 years old.  She had folded over 1300 cranes.  Her friends raised funds to build a memorial in honor of Sadako and other victims.  The Hiroshima Peace Memeorial was completed in 1958 and has a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane.  

At the base is a plaque that says:  "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."  The paper crane is often given as a wish for peace.  

Dr. Floyd Schmoe, a professor at the University of Washington won the Hiroshima Peace Prize in 1998 after helping rebuild Hiroshima after WWII.  He used his prize money to clear a small lot near UW and with the help of many volunteers, on August 6, 1990, 40 years after the bombing, the dedication of Seattle Peace Park and the Statue Sadako occurred. 

Our team payed their respects by placing a wreath at the base of the Peace Arch.  The A-Bomb Dome is in the background.  

Yes, I am here for a World Cup.  Thankful that our team gets a first hand look at the meaning behind the tournament's logo.  The beauty of sport is it has a habit of making the world much smaller.  I am looking forward to listening to the anthems and seeing the colors of the other countries.  

The first match we play is versus Ghana on August 20th. 

The first match for the Huskies is Friday, August 17th.  Yes, I have a cool job.