(Video----> https://vimeo.com/72559390

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.

PictureWith 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.

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.

Picture"Flav" keeping us 'SUPER DIESEL!"
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.

PictureThumbs up for volei
Off the plane and 24 hours later I’m here.. In Brazil.. In Maringa.. but with no luggage haha. Luckily, my ride was a very attentive and intelligent woman named Maria who spoke perfect English and was able to sort out the mess and get me on my way, with my luggage coming the next day.

Next stop was the team office, where I was able to meet a couple people associated with the team as well as Ricardinho’s mother-in-law, Carmem, who fed me right away with a delicious sample of the local fruit known to the south of Brazil. After my short meal, I was off and said my goodbyes, to be driven to practice with the team’s public relation head, named Johnny who spoke great English as well, letting me pick his brain about different Portuguese words. We were able to catch the end of the practice and as I took in the team gym, I took in a facility that is 2nd only to the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach. It was unreal, regarding the depth perception, replicating a dome, in one look knowing even with a kick, I could not reach the ceiling (a libero’s dream). And I was able to have my first meal, beans and rice!

PictureBeans and rice. Let's go!
I was quickly introduced to the team and then whisked away, to be checked into my hotel so I could eat once again (beans, rice and veggies) and hibernate as long as I could until the next morning. 

The morning came and 6am was 2am (back in California) so I properly hydrated myself with as much coffee as I could and was off to serve and pass by the car of my first new friend, one of the 4 assistant coaches, who’s nickname is Kiko, pronounced “Key-koo”. A big smile and a warm handshake began the car ride as he told me is aspiration to learn English, my rebuttal with my goal of speaking Portuguese. So with our trip under way, we agreed that we would help each other out with the thought of only speaking the foreign language to each other and letting the trial under fire guide our passion for speaking a new language.

The local warmth continued as I meet the 3 other passers that would train with me; Renato, Renan and Cleber. Cleber and Renato both older, guided me through the training both surprising me with amazing English, as we worked side to side receiving first floats and then spins from the machine, without a second wasted in one of the most efficient and footwork paced morning practices.

PictureClosest thing to a pyramid. The DOME!
After our training concluded, I was off with Cleber to meet the rest of the team (setters, opposites and middles) concluding their workout with our strength and fitness coach Flavio or “Flav”. As they left for their group volleyball training we began in this amazing 3 story complex, that the team bought, resembling a smaller 24 hour fitness.  After our workout, we meet back up with the opposites, setters and middles at a local university café for an amazing meal, scooping up the local fruit, veggies and again.. rice and beans.

Back to the hotel for a couple hours to rest, stretch and get on my Rossetta stone and I was ready to go again for training. My fire  was there but my mind was back in California, speaking English, if not French my mind was playing tricks on me. It was great though, efficient with a high volume and was able to get to know the other players first hand.

With the first day down and happy, excited and of course very tired. Can’t wait for day number 2, whatever happens, I know I will grind it out, finding ways to get better each day and to help this team make a huge impact in the Brazilian league this year. So happy to be here in Brazil and to be apart of the family here in Maringa.