Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Selection Event Finals

Reigning Canadian Champions on both the Men's and Women's sides emerged victorious on Sunday as Mike Green defeated Vincent Gagnon 15-8, 15-0 to win his third selection event in a row (along with his victory at the 2011 National Championships and Montreal Selection Event). Jen Saunders faced off against Frederique Lambert in a much tighter battle but after dropping the first game, still managed to come out on top winning 12-15, 15-8, 11-7.

My match with Jamie seemed to take a lot out of me as I floundered against Kris in the 3/4 match, losing badly. Overall though, Saskatchewan did very well in the Men's side of the competition, capturing 5 out of the top 8 positions (Kris 3rd, Me 4th, Nate 5th, Lee 7th and James 8th). If this tournament taught me anything (other than the fact that Jamie is still quite a bit lighter than I am) it's that I definitely have seen some detraining as a result of being on the road for the better part of 2 months. Hitting the gym hard will definitely be high on the priority list after I get back and over the holidays so hopefully I can bounce back and improve on this result at the February selection event in Regina.

For now though, I'm on the tail end of my journey, as I head back to Mexico on Saturday to relax with friends and family before going back to Saskatoon for the holidays on December 12th. After having been away from home for 2 months it will definitely feel good to be home. If anything really exciting happens in Vallarta I'll make sure to update but don't hold your breath ;) Cheers for now.


UPDATE: James had his wrist looked at upon arriving home and has a followup appointment scheduled for tomorrow (thursday) which should hopefully see him with a new waterproof cast on for the trip down south. With any luck this will be the case and he will still be able to enjoy the pool/ocean while in Mexico. My thoughts and prayers are with him and I hope yours are too.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Fall Selection Event, Day 2

So day 2 of the selection event again went pretty much according to the seedings. The quarter finals started in the morning and on the mens side all top 4 seeds advanced. Mike Green (1) beat Francis Guillemette (9) in two easy games. Vincent Gagnon's (2) victory over Lee Connell (7) was more contested but was also a 2 game affair. Kris Odegard (3) needed a tiebreaker to beat Nathaniel Husulak (6) but after 2 close games the tiebreaker was much less competitive as Kris seemed to turn it on and Nate was just a bit off.

My own brotherly battle was also very tight through 2 games, with me (4) allowing James (5) to survive 3 game points and capitalize on his first to take the first game 18-16. I was more aggressive on the serve return in the second game which seemed to swing things to my advantage. I secured a small lead by the middle of the game and held onto it to take the second 15-9. I'm not sure if he was discouraged by the second game, tired, or if something else was going on with Jamie but I tried to come out strong at the beginning of the tiebreaker and he seemed to have no answer. I quickly jumped to a 5-0 lead and after a few changes of serve extended it to 9-1. He then got the serve back and scored his second point of the tiebreaker. Unfortunately that's when things went sideways...

I should preface this next part by saying that I've seen Jamie come back from large deficits in matches before. He's done it not only against me but against many other opponents numerous times in all levels of tournament. In fact, in his round of 16 match against Eric Desrochers (at THIS tournament) he was down 11-1 in the second game before making a roaring comeback to win the game and the match. The reason I point this out should be obvious at this point; I didn't want to face the same fate and was singularly focused on maintaining my level of play and my intensity. I didn't want to let off the gas after having worked for such a big lead. After scoring his second point, I was able to side Jamie out. This led to one of the longer rallies of the match. I left a backhand pass off the back wall and Jamie answered with a pass of his own; a better one. Scrambling, I turned towards the back left corner and pushed off hard as I could, sprinting towards the balls eventual resting place. Unfortunately before I realized what was happening I collided with something that stood in my path towards the retrieval of Jamie's pass; Jamie himself. I've never played contact sports so the sensation was fairly new to me, and it happened so fast that I'm not sure I can accurately describe it. Before I knew it I had bounced back off of him to land squarely on my hind parts a few feet from where I had been running just a fraction of a second before. He, unfortunately, didn't fare so well. As he was in the process of moving out of the way, he didn't have a strong base as I did. He flew backwards and hit the floor sideways, sliding all the way into the back wall. He landed awkwardly on his left hand, which was out to break his fall, and immediately clutched it to his body. I apologized immediately for running into him but the moment the words left my mouth I realized they weren't close to enough...

He of course took an injury timeout to ice and tape his injured wrist before returning to the court. He wasn't the same though, and after an injury like that nobody really is. I finished off the game, winning the match and he immediately went to the hospital to get it checked out. He was left with a fractured radius, which they temporarily casted, and he defaulted out of the tournament. I hope his poor result in this tournament is the only other negative consequence he faces because of me, as I feel badly enough for him already. Even though it was an accident, the repercussions of it cause an intense and deep sense of guilt. I hope Jamie knows how sorry I am that this happened and of course that I never meant to run into him at all, let alone injure him through a collision.

There was one upset on the womens side as Christine Richardson (5) upset Brandi Jacobsen-Prentice (4) in the quarterfinals. This is a great result for Christine as this will be her first semifinal appearance at a selection event and her first tournament victory over Brandi. I'm sure of course, that Brandi is unhappy with the result, but will have a chance at revenge as the draw seedings will be the same at the next selection event in Regina on Feb 3-5.

The semifinals followed later in the day and all went according to the seedings. Jen Saunders (1) beat Christine (5) and Frederique Lambert (2) defeated her elder compatriot Josee Grand-Maitre (3) to make it into the finals. Vincent Gagnon (2) defeated Kris Odegard (3) in a thrilling tiebreaker. Well, the first 2 games were thrilling. The tiebreaker was fairly one-sided which is unfortunate as the match had been hotly contested and of very high quality until that point. The reigning Canadian champ beat me soundly in the other semifinal.

I played fairly well early on in the first game, actually garnering myself a lead at 7-4. Unfortunately that's when the photon cannon started working... Up until that point Mike had hit some good serves but it seemed to instantly increase in both speed and angle. He quickly overtook me and closed out the first game 15-7. More of the same in the beginning of the second spelled the end for me as he jumped out to an early 8-3 lead. While I had several chances over the next group of rallies I couldn't convert and he would build on his lead and eventually close out the game 15-3.

The finals are tomorrow and then more visiting with family before heading to Mexico again for some rest and relaxation! This is definitely a tradition for kicking off the holidays I hope I can keep alive. Until next time.


Friday, 25 November 2011

Fall Selection Event, Day 1

So the first selection event of the season is underway and even with some good early round matchups, for the most part things have gone according to seedings. With the exception of Francis Guillemette (9) beating Pedro Castro (8) all top 8 seeds advanced through to the quarter finals.

Perhaps surprisingly, none of the other 16s matches went to a tiebreaker, which I probably would have lost money on. Lee Connell (7) beat Coby Iwasaa (10) in 2 fairly easy games. Credit to Lee, who played solid throughout, keeping his intensity and focus steady, which everyone knows can sometimes be an issue for him. He simply wouldn't let Coby get into the match and moves on.

The other big matchup for me was James Landeryou (5) vs Eric Desrochers (12). Eric, who's ranking probably doesn't reflect his playing ability, has played and trained much more consistently (I've been told) in preparation for this season and watching him play tonight certainly was indicative of that. After a nail-bitingly close first game (which Jamie took 16-14), the second saw Eric roar out to a huge 10-2 lead. Jamie took a time out and switched the serve to a lob Z to the left (backhand) side. Eric, having a large headstart in the game, chose to play defensively and stay back to hit ceiling balls on the serve return. This allowed James to get back into the game and chip away slowly. Personally, I'm not sure why after the first few points he gave up Eric didn't choose to play more aggressively but after a few changes of serve Jamie continued to score points and eventually levelled the match at 11-11. Now it was time for Eric to take a timeout. Unfortunately it didn't change his strategy afterwards and Jamie eventually scored 4 more points to take the game and the match.

This means that there is a sibling matchup in the quarterfinals of a selection event! I'm not sure if this has happened before but I think it's pretty cool. Obviously I'm not psyched to play my own brother in the draw but the silver lining is one of us will definitely be in the semis tomorrow afternoon! I'm looking forward to the match, and the opportunity. Hopefully it will be a good match and I will play well. The other matchups include Mike Green (1) vs Francis Guillemette (9), Kris Odegard (3) vs Nathaniel Husulak (6), and Vincent Gagnon (2) vs Lee Connell (7). There will definitely be some good matches but for now I'm signing off as it will be an early morning for me!


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

New direction...

So I think by this point I'm throwing in the towel on daily updates and detailed day by day reports of what's going on in my life. Even as deficient of debauchery as my life is it's still difficult to find time to write multiple page posts using the literary prowess to which anyone who follows this blog is accustomed. That being said, I'll give a quick update on what I've been up to and a lead in to what is happening next.

I have spent the last 8 days in Toronto, staying with my Grandmother and visiting with other family I have in the city. It's been completely wonderful. Hitting the tennis ball or working out in the mornings, making the trek out to Oakville to hit the racquetball in the afternoons, and returning in the evenings to wonderful dinners and warm, wine-enabled conversations foraying into the twilight hours.Hopefully my attitude won't be too snobby upon my return to a more "normal" existence...

I am looking forward to the upcoming national team selection event, and being able to spend more time with my family afterwards before heading to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for some RnR :) Considering some of the very strong players in the mens draw whose rankings are deflated due to lack of play, I feel like I have a pretty solid draw. It looks as if I will get Kurtis Cullen, a youngster from Manitoba in the 16's and then the winner of what could be the best round of 16 match in the draw: Eric Desrochers vs. James Landeryou.

These two played several times throughout juniors, with Eric winning the majority of those matches but the most recent head to head saw James take the victory. Given, that victory was a couple of seasons ago, but you can't ignore the most recent result when trying to ascertain the most probable outcome. By all accounts, both players have been training hard this season and are playing well so I (and many others I'm sure) are looking forward to that match in particular. For the record though, my money's on lil bro ;)

Other early round matches to watch are Pedro Castro (8) vs. Francis Guillemette (9), Nathaniel Husulak (6) vs. Barret Husulak (11) and Lee Connell (7) vs. Coby Iwasaa (10). Looking forward to some great racquetball this weekend :) Stay tuned!


Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo Travel Day

 Oct 31 - Nov 3

Getting on the bus!

I realize that this blog has become horribly out of date so in an effort to catch up I’m going to try and take a highlight reel approach to the last week and sum it up in the next post or 2. Let’s hope my proclivity towards protracted paragraphs can be put aside. We awoke at 6am to get ready to leave for Zihuatanejo. Our plan was to cab to the bus station where there was a bus leaving for our destination at 7am. We arrived at 640am in high spirits, thinking there would be plenty of time to catch our bus. 

Arriving in Zihuatanejo!

Sadly the fates weren’t with us that day as the lines were quite lengthy and by the time we were able to get to the front of one, the 7am bus had only 1 seat left on it.Luckily for us there was another bus leaving only a couple of hours later so we bought the tickets and decided to get some food. The time went by fairly quickly and we boarded the bus just before 9am.

Hotel Gaby

Since we were both quite tired the ride itself was rather uneventful as we simply took turns watching movies, sleeping and eating. The bus made several stops along the way, so we arrived just before 530pm. There was no shortage of cabs out front of the bus terminal so Kaitlyn approached one and asked if he knew of a decent hotel located near the central part of town or the beach that was reasonably priced. Taxis were much cheaper in this part of mexico so she hardly haggled at all and before I knew what was happening we were in the cab and on our way into town. We arrived at Hotel Gaby about 15 minutes later and it was a dive! 

 Don’t get me wrong it had everything you really needed (bed, bathroom, sink, and even a TV!) but it was very small, dirty and quite over priced at $30 per day. The only silver lining was that it also had A/C which in this part of mexico is like finding gold in your shoe. We were somewhat prepared for the reality that this would be the kind of place we’d stay in for a day or 2 while looking for a more permanent residence (with Kaitlyn staying til December it made sense to try and find something for the month) though so we weren’t that pessimistic. 


The next day we talked to a taxi driver about where to inquire regarding a type of rental residence that would suit our needs. He knew where the real estate office was in Ixtapa and said he would take us there. The real estate office did not disappoint. They showed us pictures of 3 different places that were slightly below, slightly above and right at our budget. Of course we ended up falling in love with the place that was over the budget but frankly when you see the pictures you will understand. 

Our new place!
Regularly the place listed for 22,000 pesos per month but because the owner wanted it rented the price had been slashed to 12,000 (or about $1000). Kaitlyn had wanted to spend around $600-700 before looking but now that something this awesome was on the table she wanted it. I told her they wanted it rented so they wouldn’t mind going down a bit more so I suggested we counter at 10 and take 11. The agent made a call to the owner who agreed to 10,000 plus the electricity which is usually 600-800 pesos per month. We agreed and were ecstatic. 

Breakfast on the balcony

We had a place to stay and it was beautiful! We made plans to come back in the morning and sign the rental agreement, pay, and move in. The place is right on the beach in Ixtapa. The layout is much like a resort hotel except that the units are condominiums, not hotel rooms so they have been purchased and then subsequently rented. Our room has a beautiful balcony with a gorgeous ocean view; king sized bed and attached bathroom, kitchen, dining room and living room. It’s not huge by any means but compared our previous accommodations it was the lap of luxury.  I look forward to blogging about our activities in Ixtapa.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Closing Ceremonies (Finally) !!!

October 30, 2011
Alright so the closing ceremonies went down tonight and while I was pretty tired from a somewhat less than restful sleep last night they did not disappoint. I slept at Kaitlyn’s host family’s house, got up and had some breakfast and chilled with Kaitlyn for a bit. She was pretty disappointed that she couldn’t come (there were no tickets left for anything by that point) so I stayed longer than I probably should have but still headed to the village with lots of time before the walk was to begin. 

I stopped at the cafeteria once I got into the village because it had been awhile since breakfast and I was quite hungry. There I caught up with Kris and Mike who had been in Puerto Vallarta for a few days with two of the Mexican team members for some rest and relaxation on the beach before heading home. They had also come back that afternoon to catch the closing ceremonies in the evening before jumping on their respective flights home the next morning. We caught up a bit while we ate and they regaled me with stories of their adventures in PV containing no shortage of cervezcas, beaches and bars. They without a doubt had a fantastic time on the coast.

Team Canada ready to march!
After we had finished eating, we headed back to the room to chill for a bit before the walk began. The girls had all headed home on the 26th after the racquetball portion of the games had ended so we lay out there as the main room where their beds were located was much cooler than ours. Everyone took their turn showering, packing and getting ready before time finally came to head down. The ceremonies were scheduled to begin at 8pm but we were told to be downstairs at 645pm, presumably because of the way time works in Mexico (everyone always seems to be late, yet another reason for me to live here – I would fit right in). Punctual  north Americans that we are, we ended up waiting around for all the other teams to get ready and funnel down to the parking area between buildings before beginning to march around  715. 

The march itself was pretty much the same as the opening ceremonies. All the athletes gathered in the parking lot in one large group before heading out on a winding path towards the stadium. We trekked along, waving and smiling to people lined up at the fences along the path, some giving pins or other memorabilia which really made the spectators go nuts. We arrived at the back of the stadium and waited again to enter. It all felt very familiar but at the same time exciting. Eight o’clock hit and still no signal to enter. At five minutes after though, huge fireworks lit up the sky outside the stadium and we knew it wouldn’t be long. Sure enough, a few minutes later we began marching in. 

The one stark difference between the opening and closing ceremonies was that the athlete entrance at the opening was very organized. Each country would enter, one at a time, the flag bearer in front and everyone following in tight formation behind him or her. At closing, though we still entered with our respective country, the athletes paraded in as one large group. There were no breaks between countries, to symbolize unity of spirit, which I think it accomplished. Anyway we walked in, did a lap, then took our seats for the show!

Walking into the stadium

The closing ceremonies began with words from the political and sport dignitaries of the local governments and organizing committee and while the speeches were uplifting, they were longer than the opening ceremonies (or at least they felt that way) and thus ended up lulling me into somewhat of a listless mood for the rest of the evening. Things picked up after the speeches though as they did a flag ceremony where they took down the Pan American flag to signal the end of the games, showed a tribute video to the volunteers of the games and finished with a video montage from the organizing committee for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.   

Flag ceremony

After the presentations came the first of several musical numbers throughout the evening. The first band was a Mexican band called Camila. They had some good tunes but I didn’t recognize any of them which turned into the theme of the night for me. I’m sure these musicians are very talented and popular in their latin circles but if you don’t know the music and don’t understand any of the lyrics it makes it difficult to get into a performance. They did a duet with Colbie Caillat near the end which kind of excited me but unfortunately it was also in Spanish so I was yet again relegated to confusion. 

There were a few interludes of characters in strange costumes that would parade around the inner circle of the stadium. Presumably these costumed performers had some significance to the games or to Mexican culture but whatever the metaphor was I didn’t know. The costumes were pretty cool though. 

Ricky Martin!
The highlight of the night (if you can believe it) was Ricky Martin’s performance. Expectedly, most of the numbers he performed were in Spanish to appeal to the overwhelming majority of Latin American people attending the ceremonies, but he did perform his hit single “La Vida Loca” (The Crazy Life) in English and even threw in a few shout outs to the Guadalajara audience within the song. It was actually very well done and they seemed to have saved a substantial amount of their firework reserves to cap off the performance that made it seem like a sunny day

Following Ricky’s hip-swinging performance, we walked straight back to the dorm. The Canadian delegation had Dominos deliver pizzas to the building and we were all starving as we hadn’t eaten in over 6 hours. After a few slices we were feeling much better and retired to our room. Everyone took turns showering and packing up their stuff as I was heading to Lilia’s place so Kaitlyn and I could catch a bus in the morning and everyone else was taking a bus to the airport very early (or very late depending on how you want to look at it). I said my goodbyes once I was all packed up and headed out. 

Upon arriving at Lilia’s Kaitlyn and I went over the plan for the morning. Cab at 615am, bus station by 645am, leave on the bus by 7 and hopefully catch up on sleep during that time! We packed up what we were planning to bring with us and got to bed, excited for the next portion of our trip. I’ll update you on how that went in the next couple of days.


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Oct 29 - Tequila Road Trip!

So I realize that it’s been over a week since my last post. Hopefully friends and family are still reading along even though the consistency of my posting leaves a lot to be desired and with any luck those interested in the racquetball portion of things are hoping for a post on the closing ceremonies. Don’t worry I will totally be doing one! Just not yet... This post concerns our day trip to Tequila, Mexico. For those curious Tequila is the birthplace of the alcoholic spirit made from the blue agave plant in the area hence the name tequila! Like champagne, only agave spirits made in this specific region of Mexico can be called “tequila” all others (of which there really aren’t that many) are called mezcal. But enough with the history lesson and onto the libation liberation! We did a tour of the Herradura Tequila Hacienda as they had a booth in the international zone of the Pan American Village and were doing a promotion for those participating in the games (and their friends of course!) whereby the normal tour, done from a train called the Tequila Express, would be performed by bus instead and cost half the price. Kaitlyn had never done it and this was my first time in the region so I was definitely in. Alana and Isaac also decided to join since we had mentioned our interest in the experience and they couldn’t say no. 
On the bus!

Because of the location of the booth I had to purchase the tickets in advance and we picked up the 3 banditos (Kaitlyn, Alana and Isaac) at the security checkpoint located on the perimeter of the village grounds. They were easy to spot, mostly because no one else was there except for federal police, but also because they were performing their best Mexican jumping bean imitations as we pulled up. Clearly they were not excited at all about this trip ;)
At the Hacienda!

Once they got on the bus we exchanged pleasantries, sat down and things got chill. We hadn’t been served any booze yet and they ride to Tequila would take about an hour. While this wasn’t the greatest way to begin an exciting day of spirit-based discovery (the alcohol, not the ethereal essence) we were all pretty excited about how the day would unfold so we remained optimistic.

The banditos ready to rock!
Upon our arrival at the Hacienda we unboarded the bus and were greeted by our tour guide whose name I forget now (that serves me right for leaving this post so long... oh well). He was standing beside a table rife with premixed tequila beverages! Now the real fun would begin J Everyone grabbed a beverage, a paloma for myself and a vampire for Kaitlyn. Palomas are a blend of tequila and grapefruit soda while the vampiros were tequila with tomato juice and chamoy. The vampiro was a new flavour and a very interesting one. It's a blend of tequila, clamato juice and chamoy. Think of a Caesar but sweet instead of spicy. Anyway after we grabbed our beverages we headed off to the agave fields to check in with a real Jimador.  

Me in the agave field!
The Jimador prepping the Agave!
Jimadors, for those whose knowledge of Mexican spirit preparation is lacking, are those brave souls who harvest and prepare the agave plant. They use what is essentially a small shovel that’s been flattened and sharpened to cut the agave leaves off the pina (or pineapple in English) until they are left with the core of the plant, which looks like a large, white pineapple. Each agave plant would take approximately 30 years to fertilize and grow on its own but they have developed processes to expedite the process. Under the supervision of these experts the agave plant reaches full growth in 7 years.

After checking out the agave fields, we moved over to the ovens where they cook they thousands of raw agave hearts. Cooking the hearts caramelizes and thickens the sugars within the agave and the result is a sweetness that was remarkably similar to a sweet potato. Before we reached the ovens though we were greeted by another Mexican stereotype with a tequila bearing burro (Spanish for donkey)! The donkey carried small wooden kegs of tequila which we all had a sample of before seeing the massive piles of agave hearts ready for the ovens. 

Once the agave is cooked, it is shredded and squeezed to separate the juice from the fibrous portion. Apparently the fibrous part of the agave can be used to create things like string, cloth and other materials used in the construction of clothing, furniture, etc. The bottom line is that nothing is wasted, which I thought was pretty cool. The agave juice is sent to a mixing tank where sugar levels are monitored as they need to be very specific in order to ferment and distil properly. There was also a poster that broke the whole process down very simply!

Sampling the demon juice!
We then proceeded to the distillation area where they distil the tequila not once but twice! The tour guide showed us the difference between the raw mixture that comes from the fermentation tanks and the tequila after it’s been distilled both once and twice. The tequila that comes out of the distillation process is much stronger than what ends up in the bottle (approximately 70%) and we got to sample this product. I’ve heard people say that absinth backs a punch or Bacardi 151 but frankly neither has the unique flavour tequila does and coupled with its freshly distilled strength, it definitely kicks the hardest of anything I’ve ever tasted (except everclear, but that’s basically straight ethanol so it doesn’t count). Anyway after this demon juice comes out of the distillation tanks, it is watered down to 40% and bottled! You’ll notice that the tequila that comes out of the distillation process is clear. To get reposado or anejo tequilas the clear tequila is aged in oak barrels which gives these   respective spirits their goldish colour and distinctive flavour.

After finishing up in the new factory we walked down a street lined with tequila souvenir vendors. Everything from mugs and shot glasses to jewellery was accounted for and the prices actually weren’t that felonious (mostly) so we looked around a bit. I bought Kaitlyn a couple of flower-shaped bracelets made from a local plant (I’m not sure what) and a gun-shaped alcohol serving unit for myself. It came with its own stand and cost about $8. It might be the purchase of the trip!   

The tequila crusher!
Anyway after the souvenir strip we headed to the old factory which is where they created tequila until the 1960s when they converted to the new factory and methods. They showed us the ovens, which were all stone-constructed and wood burning, the mill where they would squeeze out the juice using a 2-tonne mill stone pulled by a donkey, the fermentation tanks which were literally holes in the ground where the juice flowed in, and the old-style fermentation tanks made out of copper. It was all very cool but you almost wondered if all this work was worth it, then you remembered they were manufacturing booze and it all made sense again...

After leaving the old factory we walked by the bottling plant (which we didn’t tour) and took a few photos. It was neat to see the finished product being force fed into their subsequent homes and ready for consumption! We walked to a field nearby where tables were set up for a veritable feast which we were more than ready for. We hadn’t really eaten all day and the tequila was taking its toll, but not to worry along with the tortilla laden food frenzy before us there was also an abundance of Herradura tequila which waiters would mix however you liked. Put simply it was tequila paradise :)

We feasted, we drank, we laughed, and then we got back on the bus to head home. We got the bus driver to drop us off at the turnoff for the village so that we could walk back to Kaitlyn’s host family’s house to retire for the night. It was a great day and a tour I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Guadalajara! Tomorrow are the closing ceremonies though which serve as the official end to the Pan Am Games and judging by the quality of the opening ceremonies should be nothing less than spectacular. The post is coming soon so stay tuned!