With one of the warmest winters on record here in Ontario I got thinking about other times when I experienced warm winters in the past. When I was in my final year of high school I moved to Hawaii to play basketball and to finish my Grade 12 year. It was February and the new term was just starting. It was so strange to be in a deep freeze one minute in Southern Alberta, where I was born and raised, and then a few hours later walk off the plane where a wave of warm humidity just took over. Going a winter jacket to tank tops and from boots to slippahs (sandals or flip flops) was a welcomed change.
The summer prior I had been staying with my Aunt and Uncle who live in Hawaii. I was taking care of my cousins during summer vacation and so as payment my Aunt and Uncle sent me to a basketball camp on the other side of the island from where they lived at the time. It was at a basketball high school where they held really great summer development camps. From when I got there I really loved the atmosphere of the school. It wasn’t pristine or perfect by any stretch but what it had was a lot of character! The doors of the classrooms all faced out, which was weird to me, there were also palm trees and flowers everywhere.
As fate would have it the Head Coach of the girls’ basketball team ended up being one of the counsellors at the summer camp that week. I guess over the course of the week he really liked how I played. At the end of the camp he asked if I would consider coming to school there the next year. I never thought in a million years my parents would agree to it but they eventually did. They knew that I was mentally ready for the challenge and also thought it was an amazing opportunity for me they didn’t want me to pass up.
Over the next couple of months arrangements started to take shape. My Coach and I would talk weekly about my progress with my team as well as different plans that needed to be made over the course of the next few months. Since my Aunt and Uncle lived on the other side of the island from the school it wasn’t possible for me to live with them so I stayed with a host family on the weekdays and on the weekends when I didn’t have basketball I stayed with my family.
Now, I want to say that this wasn’t an easy situation to go through. The experience was definitely extremely challenging but one of the most rewarding opportunities I have had. It shaped my life in many profound ways. My parents had always raised me knowing that if they did a good job I wouldn’t need them anymore. They taught me to think on my feet and to make good decisions. I was as ready as I was every going to be and made the move to leave home at seventeen.
I learned to be independent as well as self sufficient. I also learned a great deal about challenging myself and bringing my best every time I stepped on the court. The school where I was coming from was a fraction of the size of this school in Hawaii. The competition level was through the roof here. I would say the equivalent of going from high school to college level basketball in the span of days. The learning curve was steep and very intense as expectations were very high.
I was used to playing games that consisted of me scoring 43 of the team’s 52 points. I dropped a lot of weight when I first arrived because the practices, games and competition level was at such a higher level plus I was a bit home sick as well as experienced some culture shock. I also found it hard to play in the heat. I was going to have to go from being a starter who played all the minutes I wanted to play to being at the end of the bench working my way up by earning the trust of the coaching staff. It got to a point in the season when I was the “6th man” or the first sub off the bench which I was incredibly proud of. My coach told me at one point he thought I should be starting but one of the girls would be shattered to lose her spot and we needed her contribution for the team. Starting didn’t matter that much to me as long as I was contributing and he knew that.
Since I was living with people I barely knew I had to also learn to trust strangers and be open to new opportunities. I was really grateful to them for opening up their home to me to live there because without there contribution living my dream wouldn’t have been possible. They were incredibly generous and understanding but it was challenging living with other people and getting used to a different culture. I often wonder about what they are up to now and if our paths will ever cross again.
I also had to get used to my new coach. Although he was really nice when he was recruiting me his demeanour changed during the season. He was a coach that was very vocal and demanded excellence every possession. He was so loud when he coached that I found myself just only listening to him and so afraid to make a mistake when I got on the court. My former coaches were intense too but in a very different way than this coach. The volume of his voice and how he expressed himself was really scary so when I played I would be looking at him which didn't work well. It is hard to react when you are waiting for instructions.
It got to a point when the sound of his voice was something I learned to drown out. I had to learn to play my game and not get scared when he screamed every thought that came into his mind. I had to learn to play through mistakes and not expect to have the perfect game every time. If I made a mistake I had to let it got and learn from it quickly. He was the first coach that ever explained to me that I couldn’t just focus on scoring offensively. If I was a liability on defence I wasn’t going to get any playing time. This forced me to develop my defensive presence which I would rely on when I played at the next level.
While I attended school I found it so interesting that I got to take Marine Biology as well as Cinematography. Those were courses I wouldn’t have had a chance to take in Southern Alberta. I also thought it was cool to learn American History. Even though initially we thought the academics would transfer to my college education it turned out they weren’t able to. I had hoped to get recruited to an college but I probably didn’t stand out enough. Plus, I also found out that the colleges and universities in Hawaii mostly went to the Main Land to recruit their players. Very few players were recruited from my school to play at colleges in Hawaii. Even two of our best players were overlooked from getting recruited to play in state. They ended up playing on the Main Land when they graduated.
As a team we managed to win our division title but we didn’t do that well when we got to the State Tournament. When the experience was over I ended up coming back to my small town school and challenging my exams from the semester. I passed them all and enrolled in college where I walked on to the team there. I know for sure this basketball experience and being away from home definitely helped to take my game as well as my life to the next level. I know it was an experience in which I learned so much from. I will never forget the impact it had on me for as long as I live. Playing in paradise was the opportunity of a lifetime and I am so grateful that I was able to experience all that it had to offer in such an complete way.