The grind is hard, tough but beautiful, I love every bit of it
Back in Brazil, I was able to visit Finland to see my girlfriend, her family and all of our friends, a perfect, quick mental break. Our team was given a week off due to the upcoming Grand Champions Cup in Japan. This tournament is an invite only to national teams who have recently won their respective continental champions. It’s a quadrennial round-robin competition this year featuring the host, Japan, Russia (Europe), Brazil (South America), USA (NORCECA), and Iran (Asia) and Italy who received the wild-card bid. Rolling, rolling and with a view.
Brazil, unlike any league in the world this year, has all of their National team players, playing in the local league, 'Brazilian Super League'. So, instead of continuing the league and having many teams play without their best players, the league decided to take 3 weeks off.
So, back to Brazil, fresh off a plane from Finland, I was excited, I couldn’t wait to get back on the court, I felt like a kid on the first day of school. The first day back, I was up at 7am, I got a quick 6 minute meditation, showered and was off to the kitchen to make my morning smoothie. Today it happened to be 3 bananas, some frozen berries, kale, almonds a tomato, a little creatine and topped off with my go to protein suppliment, VEGA One. After guzzling it down, I was out the door and able to catch my 8am bus for our 9am serve and pass. Unlike many other serve and pass I’ve done, where coaches just spin balls, over and over and over again, we are always moving here and the pace is extremely fast, almost as if it was a defensive drill. With 4 or 5 coaches usually at these morning serve and pass practices, we are always moving with constant feedback, no time to think, wander or have our head somewhere else, they push us until the end and it’s great. As soon as our hour of serve and pass is done, we’re up to the locker room to change shoes and out the door to our weight facility, located 10 minutes on the other side of town.
Just like technical training, Brazilians put a huge emphasize on weight lifting (this week we ended up lifting everyday) There is so much emphasize that the team I am on ended up buying a 3 story facility, just because they couldn’t find another facility that had all the right equipment to rent. As we arrived, the morning group of setters, middles and opposites were just finishing and the other 2 coaches were ready for us to get to work. Again, unlike any place I’ve been, our weight lifting program is nonstop, the guys are focused on the task in hand and push themselves every minute in the gym, which is usually around 1 to 2 hours a brutal pace but just like the serve and pass training, I love it!
It’s 12:00, mid day in Brazil and the other passers and I are done with weightlifting, I finish the rest of my morning smoothie and I head back to my apartment for a quick foam roll and stretch outside by the pool. Which if you don’t have a foam roller, I would recommend picking one up, besides massaging muscles and tendons, the foam roller is able to break down scar tissue, increases flexibility and increases blood flow and circulation to soft tissues. Summed up, it keeps your body felling good even after 3 a days training in Brazil! One of the beautiful perks playing in Brazil and not Europe is the weather, being down here it’s just rolling into summer and instead of stretching inside, I have the amazing option of going outside to my pool, rolling out, stretching and meditating while taking in a quick dose of vitamin D. Delicious, raw, whole food. Love it!
12:45 rolls around and I leave the pool, shower up and head to the local university that provides lunch for us. Speaking for myself, as a plant based athlete (no meat, no animal products) I can’t say how much I love Brazil, wherever I happened to be there is the freshest fruit, and assortment of vegetables and of course brown rice and beans. The university is no exception, the perfect spot to help me recover with a wide range of whole foods. Finally at the gym and ready to get after it
It’s 1:30 and I’m ready to leave the university cafe, I’m happy, not too full and I’m ready for what’s next. I decline the ride back to my apartment and choose to walk, still trying to find my legs from the 13 hour plane ride from Europe. Having to commute a ton from lifting, practice and lunch, I’ve gotten big into podcast, my two favorite being Rich Rolls and Lewis Howe’s ‘The School of Greatness.’
Rich Roll is a vegan ultra-athlete and the author who helped lead me into a plant based diet, his show constantly has topics related to plant-based nutrition, meditation and yoga. Then there is Lewis Howe’s show ‘The School of Greatness” he brings in different successful business minds and world class athletes to discuss what makes great people great. I’ll usually spend 2-4 hours a day just commuting, so podcast’s have become a great way for me to unwind from the physical and emotional stress from training as well as giving me some new ideas how I can be better in my daily life.
Back at home, it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, I immediately get to cooking, so when I return home from my night’s training the food will be ready for me. Tonight it’s brown rice, black beans and a mango salsa (cucumber, green bell pepper, tomato and 2 mangos) The beans and rice are cooking and it’s time to make a smoothie. Like I mentioned before, my diet is without meat and without those dense calories, I’m always eating and drinking and it’s great, I love it! Not even really eating, I look at it as I am also fueling my body, recharging it and always making it a priority of what I am putting into my body. This year I've really focused on cutting down on processed foods as well as challenging myself to get gluten out of my diet and reducing any unnecessary inflammation. Today my afternoon/post practice smoothie is composed of 4 bananas, a handful of walnuts, kale, pineapple, berries and a little bit of left over lettuce. Before I leave, I make a little coffee to go and finalize a trade in my fantasy football league (I play with 11 other guys, who also play professional volleyball and I love it! A perfect stress reliever and something to keep us close while we are playing for our respective teams all across the globe). I finalize the trade, pack my bag and I’m out the door.
Working for that incredible feeling.
I check in at the gym a hour early to practice, to get some rehab on my shoulder which I hurt in one of our recent games, I hit a wet spot on a pursuit ball and well.. you can see it here, just unfortunate. Ouch https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=418326761623827&set=vb.100003395199731&&theater
After rehab, I pull out my coffee and take the last 15 minutes before practice to watch some video of a Brazilian libero named Sergio, who is arguably the best to ever play the position. In my opinion, it’s not even an argument, he’s the best and luckily for me, he has continued to play in the league here, so I’m able to watch the video we have of him. Today, I’m looking at his defensive footwork and how he moves around the court and how I can take what he does and apply it to my game.
It’s 5pm and we are finally back as a team and I couldn’t be happier, let's get after it!! VAMOS!
6:30 and our coach cuts it short, we are able to do some ball control work but it was mainly used as a day for the guys to get their legs back after a week vacation. Back to the locker room as I am quick to start the recovery process and finish the rest of my afternoon smoothie, I shower up and am off to home.
I get back at 8pm, grab the black beans, brown rice throw in some of the mango salsa I made in the afternoon and recover while I watch one of my favorite shows, “The League” a show about a group of guys in a fantasy football league on FX.
After the show, I close my computer, do a little stretching, a little reading, followed by my nightly meditation and I’m in bed my 10. I’ve always been a night crawler, especially when I've lived in Europe, it’s easy to find yourself up past 1am, 2am talking to friends back home but recently I’ve pushed myself to shut off all electronics at 9:00 and to be in bed at 10, giving my body the best chance to recover and to be able to up early and ready to take on the next day without the slight bit of hesitation.
It was a great day, a lot of quality touches, I got stronger in the weight room and I got to see all the guys again, who I enjoy being around so much. Tomorrow is another chance to be better and I can’t wait!
On another note, here is my team in action the last 3 matches, hope you guys like it and if you have any questions, you can always follow me on my instagram account and ask away there. http://instagram.com/dustinwatten
I love connecting with people that are passionate about volleyball and nutrition, especially people who want to push themselves to be their absolute best! Enjoy.
Brazilian BBQ with the team.
So far my journey in brazil has been amazing, the people, the food, the culture and of course the volleyball. Even though I've been kept busy with training and matches, I've had a couple of opportunities to venture out and really see the country and the culture that Brazil has to offer.
Whether its been my trip to Paraguay to get my visa, checking out Cataratas do Iguaçu (the waterfalls intersecting Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, the beach's of Rio or the local Japanese festival, it's been such an unique and amazing opportunity.
Here is a glimpse at some of my life here in Brazil through the lens of my go pro and many, many awkward shots of myself trying to figure out how the go pro works. Hope you enjoy it!
Really blew that one.
Down the steep stairs, as if we were about to run out of the coliseum, we lurked from the shadows of the tunnel onto the court, the cheers echoing off the dome and as I turned to see the whole crowd I knew we were in for an amazing night.
When we walked out a hour prior to first serve, half the gym was full, by the time hitting warm ups began, there wasn't an empty seat to be found. Already dripping in sweat, I was ready for the game, well almost... I figured it would be a great time to use the bathroom and officially get all the nerves out. Unfortunately for the only guy on the team that doesn't speak Portuguese, the team was scheduled to take a team picture. Which of course I found later that night on my teammate's Instagram. So I'm 0-1 on making the pre match team picture but I didn't know at the time and as I came back I was ready to get the match underway.
It was a great early matchup for us against Canoas who was coming off an easy 3-1 victory in their first math of the year. Lead by one of the most dominant Brazilian middles ever, Gustavo and one of the emerging talents at the setting position for Brazil, Murillo. The nerves were apparent as 4 of the first 6 points came from missed serves. With the crowd getting anxious, both teams slowed down the tempo, grooving the serves, leading to a sideout battle back and forth leading into the end of the set (Brazilian Super League is playing to 21 this year) we made the sub for our 2nd setter, Thiago Gellinski as a serving sub and he came up big, digging their opposite down the line as we converted a long overdue real point. A quick timeout followed as they went back to their opposite, this time trying his luck cross court. As if he was playing on the AVP, Quiroga was waiting and dove with everything he had at the last second closing the first set and sending every fan in the gym onto their feet with a clutch stuff.
With the momentum of the first set as well as the confidence stemming from our fans we got on a roll early in the second set. Lorena (our opposite) had his way, sending balls off the hands into the crowd, slicing balls down the line and getting the crowd involved after each huge rally. Once again, Thiago came late into the set and was able to run off a couple more points, making a timely dig in area one, placing a ball perfectly to me where I was able to jump the 3 meter line and let Quiroga go high off the block. Everything was going right and even when it wasn't our composure lead to a quick sideout.
The 3rd game went by a flash, having Ricardinho as our setter, we were able to dictate the game with our counter attack, early and often. Anything dug 3-6 meters off the net and with enough height is usually perfect for him, having every option our team was relentless and made the most of every defensive effort. It still wasn't enough in my eyes so determined on getting the next point or moving on to the next ball, I never stopped to realize the pace of the game, until it was 20-13 and match point for the good guys. I was able to take a break from my determined focus share a smile with the fans in attendance as they rose to their feet once again.
We got point number 21 and we were able to share our home opener with the crowd in grand fashion as we swept Canoas 3-0. It was a special moment to share with the fans, the city and of course my teammates. The first of many, while I know it will be a long season I know we will be ready for the challenges and battles that await us. I for one, can't wait.
Tonight 9:30 pm Brazilian time, we open the super league against the reigning champs, RJX Volei. We've had two great trainings in Rio and will take advantage of the rest of the time prior to the match to recover and to refocus for tonight's contest.
RJX Volei, based in Rio returns Bruno (setter), Mario Jr (libero), both fixtures on this year's World League team for Brazil and to further their strengthen their bid for a 2nd title they have added the long time opposite for the Brazilian national team, Leandro Vissotto as well one of the most dominant middles in the world, Rodrigão. It's been a great month of training but I know everyone is excited as I am to begin Super League and to have first crack at the defending champs in their home gym. It should be an amazing atmosphere with some of the best players in the world taking the court.
U of Hawaii Alum, Pedro Azenha
This past Thursday we got our first chance to leave the dome of Chico Neto Gymnasium as we traveled up north for two friendly matches. The first thing that caught my eye by surprise was our bus. Going into the trip we knew it was going to be a grueling 8 hours, which I know all about living in the south of Finland and making at least 5, 6 hour bus trips throughout the year. Fortunately for us, we had an amazing bus that had rows of seats, which could pull into beds as well. Our 8 hour trip, was essentially a decent night's worth of sleep. We were able to stop for breakfast and I said my first taste of Açaí, native to the Brazil and the amazon (per 100 g of dry powder) packs 533.9 calories, 52.2 g carbohydrates, 8.1 g protein, and 32.5 g total fat. For a vegan, it's a perfect kick start to my day and I only hope to make it a staple of my morning breakfast here.
We made it to the hotel, where we were given some time to nap, a quick lunch followed by more napping (if you're a athlete on a road trip, you nap and then you'll nap some more) so of course after lunch a little more napping and then we we're off to face São Bernardo. Just like our gym, Chico Neto it was a dome and it was HUGE, so far it's been a libero's dream to compete in these gyms. Think Walter Pyramid ceiling, there's no way your shanking a ball to the ceiling nor punting at that. Unlike our first friendly, this gym couldn't be more empty and we were able to get after it right away. Just like Vivo/Minas, São Bernardo was able to dictate the match with their serve receive and defense, it didn't matter who was defending, they refused to let anything touch the ground. We fought and we scrapped to a 2-2 finish, deciding recovery would take president over a 5th game. We shook hands and to my surprise they had former All-American on their team, Pedro Azenha (Hawaii). We were able to catch up a little bit and throw around some mutual friends but just like everyone I've been able to meet here, he couldn't of been nicer and wished me a warm and prosperous stay in his home country.
The next day we we're up early, breakfast finished and on the bus, to get a morning lift with our team trainer, Flavio. I'll try to speak eventually about the lifting culture here in Brazil but what I have learned is it's a staple and foundation at least with our team. Back to the dome and we we're able to get after it, just like a mentioned before, being a staple of our team, the guys don't take any days off. Even if they aren't feeling too fresh they still commit to their lift and it's a pleasure to be apart of an environment with no excuses and no explanations, the guys here refuse to take days off and I know it'll pay dividends throughout the season.
After weights, we we're able to grab a nice bite and then it was nap time once again as everyone went back to their respective rooms for hibernation. Checkout time came at an extremely awkward time and left us in the hotel lobby for 2 hours to fiddle and for myself, Moomo and Renan, time to experiment with my Go-Pro, which you can see more of below. The time finally came to head out to the gym as we took on a younger 1st division team, São Caetano. It was clear that we had been marked on their schedule for quite some time as they competed with their lives on the line and took the first two sets. We we're able to come back a take the next 2 with strong play from Thiago and Rennan but as the match concluded, we knew our presence of mind wasn't acceptable and wouldn't be when we open up the season in a week. Overall, it was great to get on the road with the guys, to bound a little bit and to see what still must be addressed before our opener next Saturday. Below is a little video documenting the week, after awhile I let some of the younger guys take control of the Go-Pro and what I got back was a lot of shots of the floor, sandals and the ceiling but with the power of editing I was able to put some clips together to show what it is like for life on the road. Vamos Moda Maringa Volei!
I've spoken a lot about our first match and the amazing atmosphere that was present in Chico Neto Gym, their was a buzz throughout the whole day and it was amazing to see the gym almost full and to see the passion on display by our fans. Unfortunately, this camera view caught the only section that wasn't full last Thursday night but more importantly, I'm glad I can share some of the better moments of our first match with friends and family at home as well as my many Brazilian friends who missed this match. I hope to see more and more fans throughout the year, I know I can speak for the rest of the team that we will always give our best for the beautiful city of Maringa.
Eu tenho falado muito sobre o nosso primeiro jogo e incrível atmosfera que estava presente no Ginásio Chico Neto, o seu era um zumbido durante todo o dia e foi incrível ver o ginásio quase cheio e ver a paixão em exibição por nossos fãs . Infelizmente, essa visão da câmera captou a única seção que não estava cheio na noite passada quinta-feira mas o mais importante, eu estou feliz que eu possa compartilhar alguns dos melhores momentos de nossa primeira partida com amigos e familiares em casa, assim como meus muitos amigos brasileiros que perdeu este jogo. Espero ver mais e mais fãs ao longo do ano, eu sei que eu posso falar para o resto da equipe que vamos sempre dar o nosso melhor para a bela cidade de Maringá.
Quiroga ignited the fans, time after time.
He went hard and he went sharp but I was there and this will always be with me, my introduction to the Super League here in Brazil.
My arms absorbed what felt like each panel of the ball and time was lost for a moment as the ball was on a mission to the top of the dome. Time eventually caught back up as the ball found Ricardo’s hands, delivering a frozen rope overhead to Lorena and the point was ours. It felt like championship point with the crowd’s response and just like that, I was ignited with every ounce of passion that was inside trapped inside our gym.
The game slowed down, the ball stopped rotating and every time the ball crossed the net it was coming to me, this feeling of being so engulfed by the moment was such an amazing feeling and the thrill was exemplified knowing 4,000 people wanted us to succeed with every inch of their body.
http://instagram.com/p/dnxJdNSss8/ (Video of what it looked and sounded like inside the dome)
The final ball of the match went off the block and into the stands after my failed pursuit of it, another step and we could have had a chance to even the score. It was disappointing but the overwhelming feeling was of confidence and pride. We had worked so hard leading up to the match and I know the team has worked so hard before my arrival preparing for that night, the return of Super League volleyball to Maringa. There were questions about how large the support would be but the city packed the gym, fully committing themselves to each play as if it was the last, so much so that my hearing was partially impaired at the end of the 4th set.
After the match it was an overflow of love, even though we lost in 4, I was able to stay and meet so many amazing fans, all with smiles ear to ear. I was able to speak with some and I hope by the end of the year my tongue will be much more cultured. Besides having the opportunity to train and play at such a high level, I am so excited about absorbing as much as I can with the culture here while doing my best to learn Portuguese. With the week winding to an end, I can’t help feel restless and anxious for Monday to come around and to once again have the opportunity to get better and prepare for the next time the lights come on in Chico Neto Gymnasium.
The atmosphere was amazing, I love the passion!
Saturday! It finally arrived and it was an unusual feeling, having no obligations for the whole day and at the same time, having no one to hang out with, friends or family in Brazil. With my family miles away, my teammates were all gone as well, granted a free weekend to spend time with their families before our last grind into regular season.
That meant yesterday, I had my first training session alone (practically alone) Orestes, a 31 year old middle blocker stayed an extra day accompanying me on the morning lift and afternoon practice. We were matched up with one of the assistant coaches, Kiko who mixed in different conditioning drills as well as up tempo digging and serve receive, going spot to spot, leaving no time to breath, only to find the focus for the next ball. The training was great, just what I was hoping for, to end the week in stride and hungry for more come Monday.
That leaves me back to today, with no obligations and no one to really guide me throughout the day, I made a move and took to the city. Re-tracking my way back to our gym, I found out first hand how electric a Saturday afternoon can be in Maringa and how beautiful the city is as well. I can’t wait to get back to training come Monday and to take in more of the city and the people here in Maringa, Brazil.
With my savior, Maria.
Up bright and early, it’s my second day in Brazil and I can’t wait to get started. But with a little hesitation, not knowing what the early morning would bring, with my official announcement to the Brazilian media and volleyball world scheduled to take place. "Flav" keeping us 'SUPER DIESEL!"
So far I’ve learned with the Brazilian culture that it is okay if not acceptable to be 15, 30 minutes late but never when business is involved. So I was confused waiting for my ride outside my hotel but I had no worries, I had my ipod and I was happy groovin’ on the sidewalk, just waiting and people watching. Eventually a man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder… and spoke in Portuguese to me. “Obrigado” (sorry) I said to him.. more pokes.. and pointing to the hotel (yes) I said, (it’s a hotel) more poking and continued Portuguese, none which I could understand. At this moment, I’m starting to get a little agitated.. thinking, I’ve said obrigagdo 6+ times and I can’t help you. He finally pulls out a piece of paper that read ‘Dustin’. I carefully read it, smiled and said “como vai? vamos meu amigo” as he let out a relived smile, we were on our way as I found my driver.
We spoke a little but the connection was a couple weeks away and our journey concluded at the team’s office where we said our goodbyes as I meet up with the team’s management, who all speaks great English! Lucky me.
Off in the next car and we arrive to a huge building, Maria, (my translator for the event) her father Ricardo and our press agent, ‘Johnny’, (who might be the happiest guy I know, constantly with and engaging and huge smile across his face) lead the way inside. I take my first step inside and am on a determined line going straight towards the back wall as I hear ‘esquerda’ (left) and as my head tilts, my eyes simultaneously widen as I see 3 TV cameras and a group of anxious faces. (I think we we’re a bit late, that or they actually were excited to meet me).
As we stepped in the room, I gave my most professional “ahhh?” face, as I looked at Johnny and Maria for direction as they simultaneously gave me the international recognized “go” movement with their hands. ‘Okay’, I think to myself, as I step in front of the wall, tatted with our team name and sponsors alike and we we’re off with the first reporter stepping up, in stride with her camera man.
The questions were brief and precise and I gave long, detailed answers, oblivious to my translator’s job, making it as complicated as possible for her to remember my whole answer and to then translate to the anxious reporter. She politely and calmly let me know that she couldn’t remember everything I had to say and if I could keep my answers not so long. Another “ahh” moment followed by my first smile since walking into the press conference and an ‘obrigado’ as we continued.
The press conference lasted around 20 minutes and to conclude the festivities was compimentary deserts and coffee. Of course I stayed away from the deserts (Not wanting to disappoint Lotman and Patak, I had to keep it super diesel) but to the coffee.. yes I couldn’t wait, recharging me for the next chapter of my day.
After a quick coffee, I was off to meet the rest of the team at the team’s weight room, which happened to be a 24 hour fitness type workout building, 3 stories in all. The 1st floor decorated with mats, pilates equipment and a MMA netted ring, the 2nd, where we spend most of our time, complete with all the machines and free weights and the 3rd dedicated to spinning, treadmills and other ellipticals. Anyways, what I’ve been told is the club just decided to buy it one day. Amazing, right? But it’s great, state of the art equipment and a very professional coach to go along with the facility, in one my newest friends and assistant coaches Flavio, or ‘Flav”. The atmosphere is great, with all the Brazilians taking a huge amount of pride in their physical condition. Along with Acacio (our 35 year old middle) leading the charge, dj-ing classic hits from ‘The Police’ to ‘Michael Jackson’, it’s truly an unbelievable experience to be there and lucky for me, we are there every day, building a great base of strength, conditioning and flexibility as we get closer to the season.
After 4 hours of rest we were back at it again, inside the dome and the intensity and power on display was amazing. There is so much emotion and effort invested with every ball and directly after a less then desirable outcome, communication follows as we move on. It’s a perfect recipe for constant improvement, even though I still say “J’ai” (I in French) when calling for a ball, messing up everything. But I am confident my mind will catch up and the “j’ai’s” will turn into “meu” in no time. As I get back to my hotel, my day is over, no more media for now, a quick moment of relaxation and again my focus shifts to how I am going to be better tomorrow and how I can best help this team in our fight to bring home the Brazilian championship to Maringa.
Estou muito feliz de ser parte da família de Moda Maringá.