High-wire Acts, Seasickness and Sweat -- Nothing Stops the Women of Troy.

Nov. 11, 2006

My Last Team Retreat: Our El Capitan Weekend Getaway

It's that time of year again! College basketball teams across the nation are trying to cram in as much running, shooting, and sweating as possible in a last-second attempt to prepare for their first exhibition and pre-season match-ups. For freshmen, it will be the first time they proudly don their university's letters. For seniors, it is their last year to compete for a title before hanging up their jerseys and stepping into the next phase of their life. I, Allison Jaskowiak, will be experiencing the latter of the two. This impending season has come to represent more to me, and the other six seniors, than we ever thought possible for a basketball season. For those of us who may not be fortunate enough to continue playing after college, a sport that has defined each of our identities will have to take a back seat to our new careers.

With emotions running high and anticipation in the air, it was perfect that the coaching staff planned our team retreat for the weekend before our first exhibition game. Every year before season begins the team packs up and heads into the wilderness for a weekend of team-building and sharing activities. Two years ago we went to Big Bear, last year was Catalina, and this year was El Capitan in Santa Barbara. Catalina was a bit too earthy of an experience for the team, which left us questioning what El Capitan would have in store for us. We were reluctant and grateful to see that our lodging this year would be well-kept cabins, with hotel-caliber comforters, electricity, internet, microwaves, refrigerators, and, most-importantly, our own working toilets and showers. We were divided into three cabins of 5-6 teammates. I roomed with Jamie Funn, Aarika Hughes, Nicole Berberet, and Nadia Parker. Personally, I was ecstatic when I was selected to bunk with Nadia not only because she is a free-spirited, fun friend, but because she is not afraid of bugs and serves as cabin exterminator (which we discovered last year in Catalina). However, because of the more comfortable conditions of the cabin, her expertise was not needed.

We were lucky enough to have Wolf, a group which led our retreat last year, guide us through our experience yet again. Since Catalina, Wolf counselors have been strong supporters of our program and have been adopted as honorary members of our team. They had quite an action-packed weekend planned and we were quick to start our activities upon arrival.

We began with a blind-folded evening hike, one arm holding onto a rope that connected the team and another holding on to the teammate in front of you. Hailey Dunham, who is partial to personal space, was lucky enough to have her personal bubble popped many times by me as I clenched her fleece in hopes of keeping up the very slow pace at which we were walking. Even though we were interrupted by a man who strongly believed 8:00 pm fell after the 10:00 pm Quiet Hour mark, we managed to stay poised and reach the destination of our hike. When we removed our blindfolds, we had arrived at a high ropes course where we found Coach Trakh already harnessed in and ready to conquer 'The Leap of Faith.' The name was befitting of the task at hand. In order to successfully complete this high-ropes challenge, the climber had to ascend a 40-foot wooden log, stand on the top of this log as it wobbled beneath the climber's trembling legs, and jump through the air to a trapeze. Coach Trakh struggled a bit once he reached the top - I think his bulging quadriceps kept getting in the way when he was trying to stand on the top of the log. But he did it.

Seeing Coach Trakh overcome his doubt and hang from the trapeze under the soft lighting of the moon gave our retreat the perfect, inspirational first night. Recalling his success also calmed many players when it was their turn to leap later during our retreat.

The second morning, however, would bring the most rigorous yet rewarding activity. Wolf had scheduled for us to go on what we thought would be a leisurely three-mile kayaking adventure. I was teamed with Kristen Travers in our beaming yellow kayak appropriately named 'Banana-Rama.' After each pair had successfully paddled out onto the water, some of us had been waiting roughly 20 minutes on the rolling waves. For some reason, I had forgotten that I have the tendency to get motion-sickness extremely easily. So, even before we began our expedition I was not feeling my best. To my surprise, I was not the only one. After approximately 10 minutes of paddling, Morghan had to be taken to shore because of the extremity of her illness. While we were waiting for Nicole and Coach Trakh to return to the group, each kayak began to show symptoms of a not-so-promising trip. Shay (who was sharing a kayak with Jamie Hagiya), tipped over in a patch of seaweed and attempted to climb back into her boat while it was still floating upside down. After she had been instructed that she had to calm down and turn the kayak over in order to get back in it, it wasn't long until she became sick in her own kayak.

Chloe and Markisha shared a kayak and both became nauseous. At one point I remember seeing Chloe with her head in her hands and Markisha just sitting with her paddle across her lap helpless against the rhythm of the sea. Nadia did well, but Lisa showed some signs of uneasiness. Kristen polluted Banana-Rama a few times, but did a good job of recovering and continuing to paddle. Jamie Funn fell victim to the deep blue and Hailey managed to muster up enough strength to hold off her defeat. Derek was overcome from the beginning of the trip and Jody became ill, probably from doing all the work (sorry Derek). Camille and Simone, Aarika and Jacki, and Coach Trakh and Nicole were the only three kayaks that did not have any signs of sickness.

Had it not been for Coach Trakh's inspirational energy, I genuinely believe I would have paddled my kayak to shore early and dragged it all the way to the finish line. It was the most frustratingly difficult task I have ever had to do: paddle a kayak while nauseous when there was only more fog and ocean in site. Yet, even with all these barriers, each kayak finished the course. Each pair fought through boredom, aggravation, or physical illness and finished their task. We reached our goal; yes we were angry when we stumbled onto shore wet and cold from being taken out by the wake, but by nightfall we could appreciate the power behind what we had accomplished.

Both Friday and Saturday nights, we gathered around the bonfire, relaxed, and told stories about something in our life that no one knew about us. These mysterious facts had to be something that had a deeper-rooted meaning in our lives. In some cases stories became extremely emotional while others lightened the mood a bit. Regardless of the story's tone, each provided the team with a glimpse of something unknown which helped us understand each others' perspectives a little more. Stories are probably my favorite part of our retreats. Not because they are so emotional, but because it designates a time to learn more about my teammates and their life outside of what I know about them. Some of the players on our team have been through circumstances that I can not imagine having to live through. Their strength, beauty, and grace are truly a blessing and encouragement in my life.

Our last activity, other than watching the USC v. Stanford football game and conquering the ropes course for ourselves, was participating in a sweat lodge. A sweat lodge is a Native American tradition that was performed before and after battle. A sauna-type atmosphere is created by pouring water on hot stones. The sweat is believed to represent the cleansing of the body and spirit. This was the climax of our retreat. The experience and emotion is difficult to depict in narrative form and, I believe, is best left as an intimate experience between our team and coaches.

Returning home filled me with a cacophony of emotion. It was comforting to come back to my apartment, 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,' and my bed. However, it was not-so-comforting to return to my paper that was due Monday and the other realities of classroom responsibility. Knowing that El Capitan was my last collegiate basketball retreat was unsettling. With my last summer workout and last weeks of preseason practice already behind me, it forces me to open my eyes and see a broader picture.

I have grown to love my teammates as family. Each successive year has brought new individuals that have played an intricate role in our team chemistry. Even people who have had to leave our program due to graduation or extraneous reasons enhanced our relationships and can never be replaced. I have struggled for three years with my fellow seniors; we have seen each other mature from disoriented, naïve freshmen into confident, intelligent women. Knowing that I only have until March to embrace my time with them before we disperse in various directions is disheartening and daunting. But if I have learned anything from competing in athletics, I know that the most important lessons taught through competition are off-the-court. Regardless of how this season concludes, I am proud to say that each of these women are good human beings who will lead successful lives no matter which career paths they choose. We each have played a role in developing one another, and that is something that will not be hung beside my jersey at the end of this season but rather carried with me for the rest of my life.

So as I watch our freshmen take the court for their first games as Trojans, I can only hope that regardless of where their teams fall in future rankings, that they can go into their senior year with the same relationships and lessons that I have been able to foster while at SC.

Thank you to all the fans for the support through the years. Special thanks to the Galens for their contribution that has made this team's dream a reality. I can guarantee that this will be a season and team to remember. No regrets.

Fight on!
Allison Jaskowiak #22

What does being captain mean to me?

Being chosen to represent such a phenomenal group of women is easily the largest compliment I have ever received. I have been bestowed an enormous amount of responsibility that I am more than willing to bear with gusto and pride. The success and well-being of this team is my first priority and I will put my entire heart into representing them with the utmost class and integrity. I love my teammates and it is an honor to stand beside Jamie Funn, Shay Murphy, Jamie Hagiya, and Chloe Kerr as captain.

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