Outback Adventure

It all started with an urge to check my school email one night after a late practice. I don’t know what the sudden urge to check it was but I obviously now know why. I received an email that my Coach forwarded to me; an email from Grant Leslie, the program director at Beyond Sports Tours. Beyond Sports Tours is an organization that was founded by Grant Leslie; for the purpose of connecting the world through sports. It was an invitation to take part in an Australian Lacrosse Tour. Coach did not even say a word about it at practice that night, only the next morning after it all sank in. We were nearing the end of our season, and I was having one of my best yet. However, I was somewhat confused about how they found me and why they wanted me, a player from a private Division 3 college in Wisconsin, of all people, to join the tour. I worked even harder and with the help of my coach I pushed myself until the very end of the season; to prove to myself that I did in fact belong on this tour.

The morning of July 27 I set out on the journey of a lifetime; flying solo across the country to meet the rest of the team in Los Angeles. At this point, very few of us knew each other, and to most we were unheard of. That changes quickly when all you have for the next two weeks is each other. Together we boarded the 15 1/2-hour flight as strangers and arrived in Sydney, AUS as a team.We visited three different cities while in Australia; Sydney, Cairns, and Melbourne.

Upon arriving at Sydney, it still didn’t feel real. I was really traveling the country because of the game I love. We got off the plane and made way to our team bus, en route to our first destination; Bondi Beach. At this point, it was the first time I had ever touched the ocean. I ventured around the shops and the beach with a little group of people that I had just met prior, admiring the palm trees, salty waves crashing at my feet, taking it all in. There was even a wall that spanned a great length beach covered in some talented graffiti. We arrived at the hotel that afternoon and had a few minutes to settle in before getting down to business. We grabbed our lacrosse gear and headed out to our first practice.I do admit I was a little intimidated at first, not knowing what to expect out of everyone that was chosen to be here. I quickly got over it after realizing that we were in fact all there for a reason, selected on the same criteria and we all made the cut. The team names were based off traditional Australian animals, and I was on Team Wombat. That first day we had no idea how close of a team we would become. We ran through drills and got to know each other’s playing styles and it was a great moment to see where I compared with others that originate from a different part of the USA. Our first game was the next day so we headed off to dinner as a big group and called it a night.Bright and early the next morning we made our way to the Sydney Tower Eye. The tallest building in Australia, also one of the best views of the city. Many of us jumped at the chance to walk the roof the tower; one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s not every day you can say you touched the Westfield sign on the top of the Sydney Tower Eye, and if you jump while at the top you are considered the tallest person in Australia. With a morning of tourism over, we headed on over to the field for our first game of the tour against New South Wales.I wasn’t nervous like I usually would have been before a game. This was all for fun, an opportunity for me to test my skills and grow on them. Being in another country, the rules aren’t always going to be the same. In this case, I got to learn a bit about playing with the international rules. In the US Rules, 12 players can be on the field at a time. However, international rules are ten players on the field, with a few other changes.

Experimenting with these changes was fun, especially when you don’t know when you’ll get another opportunity like this. With these changes, the object of the game was still the same; score more goals than the other team. It was great to see a group of strangers that just met the day before grow into a team that worked together and pulled off a great first win with a score of 12-3. I also scored my first international goal that day, and made an assist.  After the game, we all lined up and we were given little koala gifts from the other team; a few girls saying that it was very World Cup- like; those games ending a few days prior to the trip with the USA coming out on top.
After a visit to the Sydney Harbor and seeing the iconic Opera House, we packed up and headed to bed with dreams of holding koalas and snorkeling in Cairns; our next destination. Fresh out of a three-hour plane ride, we headed to the Kuranda Koala Gardens, where those dreams came true and we got to hold actual koalas. Along with koalas, we got to get up close with some wallabies and wombats. I even got a pretty cool selfie with one of the wallabies.Lacrosse isn’t very big in Cairns, so this was more of a vacation side of the trip. We had a lot of down time and this was when our group became closer. Going out and exploring our surroundings, taking every second in because you never know when in fact we will ever see each other again. If taking selfies with wallabies wasn’t cool enough, the next day we got to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip by far. Equipped with my GoPro, I set off into the ocean. The most memorable part of this day, was the turtle. I got to swim with a sea turtle in its natural habitat and got the whole thing on video! We even got to go to Cazaly’s Stadium to try out some AFL, and even made the Cairns newspaper!With the amount of time we had left in this beautiful place dwindling down, we made our way to Melbourne. The first day we got there was strictly business.  We were on a plane most of the morning/afternoon and headed straight to the field from the airport, to play Footscray. This was a very talented young team, and we played a pretty close game under the circumstances, but ended up losing by a couple goals.The next day we spent the day in the bus, driving down Great Ocean Road. Another one of my favorites of the trip, because of all the smaller landmarks packed into the day. We drove along the coast, stopping at different locations such as: Airey’s Inlet, Loch Ard Gorge, a waterfall, the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie, and last but not least a golf course packed with wild kangaroos! The next day we had our final game against Southern Australia and won 8-5, the Wombats rounding out the tour 2-1. With that being our last night before we woke up at 6:00 in the morning for our flight home, the group that hung out with for the last nine days stayed up all night and enjoyed each other’s company because we honestly don’t know when the next time we would all be together again. The goodbyes were hard, but it’s was just a ‘see you soon’, as we are talking about a possible ‘squad’ reunion in the near future.

In this trip, I learned a lot about myself as a person and as a lacrosse player. This game has taken me to some pretty amazing places, but I never would have imagined it would take me across the world. I tried new things on the field, hoping to soon implement them in my last two collegiate seasons back in Wisconsin. Many of the girls had teammates that came along, but I was one of those that did not come with a teammate. I met some of the greatest people I can call friends that I am thankful for everyday because they made this trip an unforgettable one. The stories, the memories, the once in a lifetime opportunity that I got to take part in; all unforgettable. When we were walking around Australia and having people ask who we were and what our story was, we got compared to the US National Team often, but it was more a good laugh, in a sense. I would go back in a heartbeat if I had the chance.
Rittersport Lax*
Epoch Women Author
*Name has been changed to protect NCAA eligibility of student athlete

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