The culture of sport

I first tried to understand cricket in the early 90s, after graduating from college. I was one of the managers of the intramural department at my alma mater, and a bunch of us who worked there decided to figure out how cricket worked. The World Cup was broadcast on ESPN2 at some ungodly hour when all other sports were off the air, so it gained our attention. Beers in hand, we would gather round a small screen in a dorm room (it took me a while to break free from my ties there) and watch. And wonder. We were all sports fans and also referees, familiar with the most obscure rules of soccer, flag football, basketball, and even baseball – cricket’s alleged relative – yet still we could not figure out what the hell was going on. It didn’t stop us from watching though. Every night, we would sit in front of the television for a few hours and excitedly share some theory as to why a player did or didn’t run, or hit the ball, or do something. We never figured out when it was another batter’s or the other team’s turn. Instead, we would watch every night until it was time to sleep. I don’t remember rooting or following specific teams. I don’t remember any specific matchups. That time was about getting together and trying to understand the game. We were determined, but unsuccessful.

Over twenty years later (ACK!), and I am touring New Zealand’s South Island. My time there was particularly lonely, only partially by design. I went there to reflect, but learned that there is only so long I can do that; I am simply not meant to travel alone. By the time I hit Dunedin, I was in need of company and superficial thought. Not knowing a soul, I did what I tend to do when alone on the road; I found a local bar and wandered in. When possible, I try to find a sports bar, because it seems acceptable to grab a beer and watch the game on one’s own. For some reason it seems a lot less pathetic than watching a sitcom rerun by yourself while drinking in a public place.

The sport of choice that night was cricket – The Black Caps were hosting Team India (the Men in Blue) and it was apparent that this was a big matchup. Perfect. I ordered a Kilkenny poured just right and settled in among the many glued to the screen. My understanding of the game had not miraculously improved through maturity, so I was just as lost as I had been in that dorm room. This time, however, I was in a room full of people who had the answers. During breaks I started to ask about the basic rules. My gender and accent pretty much pegged me as a novice and several men seemed to take not just joy, but pride in explaining what the hell was going on. I learned that runs happen when the two players made it from one wicket to the other. Over the barrier meant six runs; hitting it meant four. I knew that one team batted completely before the next team got their turn. I walked back to my hotel room buzzed and happy at watching a sport among sports fans. The game had ended in a tie, which seemed to please the crowd.

About a year later Oman becomes my next destination that includes cricket lessons. My new friends include a Kiwi and a Pakistani, and it’s another World Cup year, so cricket is in the air. I enthusiastically agree to watch matches with them whenever I can, which usually requires getting up at some horribly early hour and stumbling over to the Pakistani’s flat since he was the one who shelled out for a large-screen TV and paid the streaming fee for all the games. We set up camping chairs in his common room to accommodate the six of us (an Italian and two additional Americans make up the complete crew). Our host lessens the pain of the hour by making amazing omelets seasoned with masala and ginger, served with Nescafé’. Dave brings his mosquito racket, dubbed the Mosquito Killing Machine (or MKM-48), as the little bug bastards have a way of inviting themselves as well. On teaching days we stay as long as we can until it’s time for our first classes. On weekends, Dave and I bring bloody Mary fixings and we stay the full 6-8 hours of the match; the Kiwi brings beer. There are no ties in this tournament.


Pakistani omelet and the Black Caps


I ask tons of questions in the beginning as I watch the matches. We witness India, South Africa, and West Indies fall to Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand. Then the Black Caps take out Pakistan and Oceania comprises the final; the fact that they are co-hosting this tournament adds to the drama. While watching the games I learn the strategies; I can differentiate between good and bad pitches; I begin to understand terms like angler, boundary, Yorker, bail, and over. I can even string the terms together, “He hit a Yorker over the boundary to end the over,” and actually know what I’m talking about. Australia ends up winning the Cup, much to the dismay of my Kiwi friend and the rest of us who cheered the Black Caps on unanimously, especially once Pakistan lost in the semis. Given that both teams lost to Oz during the tournament, I see Australia as the eleven to root against forever.

I am a sports fan. This part of me has provided the opportunity to connect with people in and from different places, and has introduced me to cultural aspects of a place that I wouldn’t have normally witnessed. Very little brings a group of people together the way a sporting event does. The beer helps, too.



I stretched my legs in a small coastal town on the west coast of the South Island, New Zealand.  A driftwood sculpture let me know I was in Hokitika on that cloudy day.

name in wood

Next to the beach was a series of blackboards that say “before I die I want to…” and people have filled in the blanks. I saw someone barely out of her teens write her contribution. I wonder what she wrote.  I wonder if I could have filled in the blank at such a young age. I don’t think I could have answered the question just a few months ago. I picked up a scrap of chalk and wrote “ride a motorcycle;” I was going to continue the sentiment and say “across a country with you,” but there wasn’t room among all the other dreams left there. I marvel at home many of them I have already done – most since I started traveling. I wrote my goal in the only space left, next to “meet Jesus” (and those that agreed with the statement). For some reason it bothered me to place my wish next to that one. I took a picture of it anyway.

BID mine far small

Before I die I want to…

my goal

…ride a motorcycle.

More on Change

This thought is dominating my mind today. Thanks to my friend Virginia for posting it on her Facebook yesterday. I need to learn more about this author.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth it would look like complete destruction.”

~Cynthia Occelli

A meditation spot I found while driving around the South Island in NZ.

A meditation spot I found while driving around the South Island in NZ.

Skydiving in Pictures

Skydiving in Pictures

Me getting ready to jump

Seeing this on the back of a fellow jumper was not reassuring.

Seeing this on the back of a fellow jumper was not reassuring.

No turning back...

No turning back…

Even just going up 15,000 feet in this thing was neat.Even just going up 15,000 feet in this thing was neat.

We watched the group before us and got a sense of how high up we would be.

We watched the group before us and got a sense of how high up we would be.

You can see them much better here.

You can see them much better here.

Safe landing!

Safe landing!

After the dive, I drove to Franz Joseph where the sunset awaited me.
After the dive, I drove to Franz Joseph where the sunset awaited me.

Losing Control Felt Great

I wrote “Now” on my hand. At first I was going to write “because” but I didn’t like the implication that word brought that I should explain myself. “Now” seemed like a better fit. It was all about the moment – the one that spurred me to drop the coin to do this crazy stunt and the fact that I was there waiting to jump out of an airplane at 15,000 feet. I was about to skydive in Wanaka, New Zealand, all because when I picked up the brochure at an i-site (tourist center), I was literally moved to tears. To, me it was a sign though the thought of skydiving had never crossed my mind before.

My first words as I toppled out of the plane were “oh crap” (I didn’t even swear!) – then it was “I’m here,” or “here I am.” The latter sounds more like me, but I like the sentiment of the former better. Surrendering complete control. The freefall was more enjoyable than the parachute part. The transition from freefall to parachute was the most peaceful. A sudden change of rush to quiet. We did it.

I do mean “we”. My guide – a crazy Brazilian – was perfect. Enough humor to keep me distracted. We joked about wishing we had drinks out of coconuts with little umbrellas on the flight up. He pretended he was blind when he called out my name on the ground, his hands reaching before him flailing about: “Kris? Where is Kris?”. We bonded as he said it was his first time skydiving too so we were in this together.

The humor dissipated when we took off. Replaced by lots of body contact on the ride up for support and comfort. A brief shoulder massage. Holding my hand. Nothing flirty or sexual: just letting me know this was all going to be fine – great even. I was nervous and he probably felt it. I think I was actually feeling fear for the first time in a while. True fear – not the sort of fear that I get when I am not sure what is going to happen, but really everything is going to be fine. It was true fear when I thought about the fact that I was going to jump out of the damn plane from this height. We were only at 5,000 feet at the time. I stopped thinking about what was going to happen and just looked out the window. My guide rested his hand on my leg. At 10,000 feet they gave us oxygen masks. And just like you hear on more traditional flights, my guide helped me with mine first before putting his own on.
We were the last ones out. I got to/had to watch all other others – a Chinese woman, three German gals and a Japanese man (all decades younger than me) go first. One moment they were there, the next, gone. Completely gone. Now my turn. My guide didn’t give me enough time to think. We scooted down the seat, leaned over the side and push! We were gone too. Now.

The whole experience lasted a little longer than I wished once the parachute was engaged (in a weird sort of way I wished the freefall part could have gone on forever). I forgot I am not the greatest with landings on big airplanes – what made me think that landing with only a parachute was going to be smoother? That dizzy, unsettling feeling consumed me but all my months of breathing practice did me well. Soft belly, pushing out on the inhale.

The views were amazing. So much to look at. Almost too much. Two amazing lakes. A river. Mountains. Fields. So much beauty (is it OK to say I am growing a little weary of it here in New Zealand? When I shared this admission with my friend Doug he laughed and said he often refers to the feeling as his “beautometer is broken.”). Still, I tried to take in the 360 degrees of wondrous views in while my left ear seared in pain. My guide yelled for me to pop my ears by holding my nose, closing my mouth and blowing. It helped for a little bit.

We landed without any fanfare – the ground just kept getting closer and closer until his feet touched. Mine were dutifully kept up to make sure his were the ones that hit first. We detached and I headed off, the adventure over so suddenly. I was shaky, but fine. Different. No adrenaline rush – no shit grin on my face. Feeling unsettled – physically like I do after a long plane ride. I had no idea what my emotions were; no way could I describe what was going on in my head (was anything?). So many staff asking me how it went. I forgot to get the “after” picture. I wonder what I looked like. Stunned. Confused? Probably not great, given the number of people who checked in on me. Or maybe it was because I was clearly nervous before, showing up an hour early and once or twice checking in to see if they missed me. Yeah, I was a bit neurotic.

I couldn’t linger long because it was already late afternoon and I needed to get over a mountain pass before dark – the road closed before dusk because of landslide concerns that were heightened after a Canadian couple lost their lives trying to cross at night. So, I pretty much had to leave the skydiving site at the airport sooner rather than later. A herd of deer ran past on the other side of the road as I headed toward my car. I’m sure it was a sign of some sort, but I haven’t been able to figure it out.

As I stared my journey to Franz Joseph I felt the change. I felt more confident. More powerful in a proud way – not a power-tripping way. I felt OK and comfortable with the way things are right now. Secure in my relationship. OK with my plans as they stand. At peace with myself.

The new me encountered her first challenge: Despite making great time, a large blinking construction sign warned that the upcoming road was closed. I debated on turning back, but I kept on going. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I would get stuck at the closure in some tiny little town. And then the worst thing there would be I would have to sleep in the car (just like Wyoming!). I was really OK with that, and I went ahead. Three other cars did not, obeying the electronic sign and turning around.

An hour in – an hour of scenery that was once again breathtaking. Glaciers. The stark contrast of the smooth blue sky and textural volcanoes. The water that is pure turquoise in the center, slightly green around the edges. I didn’t stop (I think I am done taking photos of mountains and water), but I was happy that I was taking it all in – even though the winding, climbing road over the mountains was a bit hectic. But the road was open! So I kept on going. I passed the two spots where the rocks had simply given way, flattening everything in their path. No longer blocking anything, still it was clear who had the power and control around here. Nothing human. And I was OK with that.
Now small