The Girls In Ipanema.

If you’ve never been to Brazil, I am here to tell you to GO! It’s a land of incredible beauty, passionate people, and delicious food. This has never more apparent to me than it was on our trip to Rio over the last two weeks. All but one of my trips to Brazil previously have been for tournaments which mandated all of my focus and required such rest and recovery that I opted to stay in rather than go out and explore in between trainings and matches.  I will say I believe this was the right thing to do and wouldn’t change it, but I feel so lucky that we were able to make this training trip happen that allowed me to see so much more than I had before. 

Brazil was actually the first country I ever got to visit. In high school I joined my church group for a trip down to Sao Paulo to help build a seminary building, which would also be used for a school. It was a life changing experience and sowed the need to see the world deep within me. While we were down there our group took a few days to visit a secluded hidden beach a few hours away in the town of Ubatuba. We literally had to hike through the jungle to find the beach, and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had to date. I can still vividly picture the beach and how it opened up in front of us after climbing though the trees. We also walked the street fairs perusing the local art and street performers, it just felt so alive. It’s also the first time I tasted heart of palm, which is still one of my favorite foods!

So here I am twenty years later, so grateful to still be traveling the world and finding new things places like Brazil have to offer. This last trip was for training which we made the priority, but there’s just a different level of freedom when you’re not there to compete. My favorite experience this time around was, not surprisingly, the same as my first time- finding a secret beach only known to the locals. It also took some climbing and traversing rugged rock to get to the beach, but once we made it the beauty blew us away. The water was a perfect dark turquoise color, surrounded by gorgeous red rock cliffs topped with palm trees, and the cool temp of the ocean saved us from the unrelenting sun beating down on the sand that day. We alternated between hanging out on the beach and taking dips in the ocean until the tide threatened to flood our path home so we reluctantly left in order to not get trapped in.

Every time I’ve visited Rio, including for the 2016 Olympics I’ve stayed in Copacabana. This time we rented a place in Ipanema and it was a game changer.  We were walking distance to a super fun beach where everyone played foot volley or relaxed under their colorful umbrellas drinking beer or coconut water on the weekends. We could also walk to multiple great restaurants, there were actually too many of them for us to get to on this trip.  And there was the shopping, so many cute boutiques in the area as well. Not to mention simply walking around the city is an experience with huge trees exploding out of the sidewalk every twenty feet, it really feels like the jungle could completely overtake the the city in no time at all if left untended. I couldn’t stop thinking of it as the literal urban jungle. On top of all of that I couldn’t get enough of the fresh papaya and mango, the best I’ve ever had.  Add in the acai shops and cafes serving pao de queijo and cappuccinos around every corner and it comes pretty close to paradise in my opinion. 

And oh yeah, the training was great as well 😉 I’m so glad we went, if only for that reason.  With no competitions on the schedule in the near future we knew we needed a way to keep us fully engaged in training. Practicing with some of the best teams in the world was a great way to narrow our focus, the warm weather and gorgeous beaches was a huge bonus.  We got some good sessions with Agatha and Duda, Carol and Talita, Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, and some other local teams. It was also a great opportunity to fast forward our learning curve with our new coach Angie Akers.  I really feel like we were able to iron out some kinks, explore some new aspects of our operating system we are working to integrate, and test what we’ve been working on the last few months against some top tier teams.  To say it was beneficial is an understatement. We also spent a lot of time reviewing video which led to some great discussions around techniques and strategies which further accelerated our cohesiveness as a team. The ability to singularly focus on volleyball, especially during this time was a blessing.

And as far as the Covid situation down there goes, everyone was taking it really seriously. I would say if anything the mask wearing policies were more stringent down there than even in California and social distancing was equally encouraged. Our temperatures were taken frequently and everyone wore masks everywhere, even when jogging along the beach or walking their dogs. It felt like we were able to take every precaution we would have at home, or more, while we were there.

This was my first training trip ever, which I can and can’t believe. I’ve been blessed to have very full seasons between the AVP and FIVB for the duration of my career which has never left much time or energy to take an additional trip. Time at home has always felt too precious to sacrifice in the offseason, especially considering I live in one of the best places to train for beach volleyball on the planet, so never much need to leave. This year obviously has been much different. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home, and honestly, in ways it’s been really nice, but it’s also left me with a craving for travel again. And I think I’ve taken for granted the opportunity to play against the best teams in the world over and over again during a normal season. This time away has shown me how much I value it. Alix and I have had a blast competing against our compatriots all year, but it was nice and necessary to find some competition outside our borders. Not to mention, different countries play different styles of beach volleyball, so it’s important to not get too used to the American way and forget how to play against different styles. So needless to say at this point, I’d really look forward to another training trip down to Brazil, but even more than that I would love a schedule that doesn’t allow time to squeeze in another one, i.e. a full AVP and FIVB schedule starting in the early Spring of 2021. Here’s hoping for the best, but in any case making the most of it!

Uncertainty is life.

We’ve all been dealing with so much uncertainty this year, from not knowing much about the coronavirus, to how long the lockdown was going to be, to our seasons, jobs, and ability to see loved ones taken away, to now the presidential election. Having the gyms where I workout close indefinitely, the beaches off limits (all the volleyball net poles were taken off the beaches), and event after event getting canceled (my version of getting furloughed) and then the Olympic postponement was more than a little unnerving. Add to that the fact that we had to find a new coach shortly after the lockdown began because our coach at the time decided to continue her plan of moving to Maine with her family in August, and that’s quite a bit of uncertainty created in a few short months.

I’ve learned there are two ways to look at uncertainty. The most natural and biologically ingrained way is to dread it and allow it to stress us out (my initial reaction). Uncertainty, prehistorically, means we are in danger of some predator jumping out of a bush and mauling us, or that we don’t know where our next water source will be, etc. and that SHOULD cause a lot of stress, but these threats are virtually non-existent today. However, the way we respond to any kind of uncertainty is still influenced by how our responses were developed in the past. The GOOD news is once we recognize where this response comes from we can see the lack of logic in it and choose a different way. A mind untended runs amok and will definitely default to stress and despair in the face of uncertainty. We need to be aware of our thoughts, know why we think those thoughts (especially if they’re unhealthy), and start to reprogram our responses and get better at processing our emotions and anxiety in the face of all things.

Like right now, I’m sitting in my car outside the passport agency in Los Angeles because I somehow lost my passport for the first time in my life and we are supposed to leave for Brazil TOMORROW. The passport office is essentially closed to the public because of Covid, but I have a contact inside and she’s my only hope. However, I’ve been texting her for the last hour and she isn’t responding and there’s far from any guarantee I can get in today. I have no idea what’s going to happen or how I’m going to get down to Brazil… I AM stressing, but I’m also trying to recognize that stressing isn’t going to help and it’s just an illogical response my brain/body is having. 

The alternative and more productive way to deal with uncertainty is to recalibrate our perspective over and over and over again, and fight as hard as it takes to maintain a healthy perspective about said situation. It’s admittedly really tough to see things through a healthy lens all the time, so don’t give up because you think it should be easy and it’s not (talking to myself here as well).  Sometimes I forget that certain things by nature are just HARD and are never going to be easy and take constant work, and perspective is definitely one of those things.  Once we recognize our perspective has become a little bleak we need to course correct and the work is unfortunately never done. 

Yes, there are some life or death situations which really do call for a drastic response, and of course Covid-19 can be life or death (so it’s important to follow all guidelines and take action immediately if you experience any symptoms), but many things that are uncertain right now are not. This situation I’m in right now is not life or death. Most things are not, and if we can shift our perspective from dread to curiosity and amusement we decrease the stress we experience exponentially.

In tandem with constantly recalibrating our perspective, we must further combat uncertainty by training our optimism muscle. Being optimistic has been shown to have immeasurable health benefits both mentally and physically. If you watch your thoughts you can see when they begin to slip from a positive outlook to a negative outlook. Once you see that happening you must re-select an optimistic thought. As time continues to slip by as I write this and I still don’t have an appointment to get my passport, I can allow myself to feel defeated or I can chose to hang on to hope and believe that everything will work out.

I listened to a podcast the other day called House of Greatness (it’s amazing, highly recommend it). The guest was Rob Bell and he told the listeners about a mantra he now uses daily that I have found very soothing and helpful in the face of all this uncertainty around us. The mantra is this: 

“Everything you need today, you will have.” 

It asks us to believe in ourselves and know that we can and will handle anything thrown our way and are more than equipped to deal with it. We don’t need to worry about the future or constantly contemplate different outcomes or what could happen, but KNOW and trust that we will have what we need to deal with anything we face. It also asks us to trust that even if we don’t feel like we have what we will need, the Universe will provide it in time and to know that whatever happens is meant to be, whether to support us or teach us a lesson, or any other positive reframe. 

And lastly, but far from least, is the practice of staying firmly rooted in the present moment. The only thing that is certain and constant is the now. If we can handle the present moment we can handle the future. If we don’t maximize and find joy in the present, it is unlikely we will be able to do so in the future. Essentially the future is a figment of our imagination, all the future is is the present moment later on. If we do what we can from present moment to present moment anything we feel uncertain about will work out in the best way it possibly can. No stress or fretting or dread about how it *might* or *might not* work out will benefit us in the face of uncertainty. 

Holding on to perspective, maintaining an optimistic lens, and dedication to the now are the best ways to combat, deal with, and transform uncertainty into opportunity, and it can even lead us to see uncertainty as an exciting adventure in some cases.  Even if it comes with challenges, we know it will provide us with the chance to further forge ourselves in the fire, grow, transform, and become better because of it. Keep the faith, believe in yourself, and find joy in the now.

Life is a ride.

P.S. I DID end up getting an appointment and a new passport and am currently on my way to Brazil! Beyond grateful for everyone who helped me pull this off, and I am feeling very blessed to be able to take this trip as planned!