I remember landing in Barcelona, being enveloped in hugs by a few of my teammates that were at the airport, then cramming ourselves into a taxi and riding back to USA Team Headquarters. It was hot and muggy; my shirt stuck to my back, but despite being cramped, I was freer than I had been in a very long time.
The streets felt familiar, the smell of the sea and the city awoke the “Took” in me and I felt my spirit revive. I was becoming myself again. At HQ, the rest of the team was huddled on the corner in the warm rain waiting for us to arrive.
Most of the fighters are spread out around the U.S., so we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like. The feeling of being reunited with some of your best friends is unlike any love I’ve felt before. The excitement of a new week and the as yet unknown adventures unfolding before you is intoxicating. I was drunk with love, wandering the streets of Barcelona. One hand clasped with my friends’, the others with the thrill of adventure.
I dropped my bags, then wandered around the city with Lillis. She told me how to order a beer and that the Spanish honor their siestas. Which meant we promptly found a bar and drank until all I could feel was the damp ring from my glass on the rough, wooden tabletop, and the warmth of knowing I had arrived at a destination I thought I’d never find.
Sam picked me up for dinner, and we huddled in the back corner of a cafe watching families come in and out, while we chatted about our hopes and dreams. The white marble floors and tiled walls made Sam more vibrant and beautiful than I’ve ever seen him. We laughed, ate, paid, then wandered towards the arena.
I wish I could say I got used to the endless flights of stairs. I didn’t.
For my Master’s degree, I had to write a novel. I hadn’t thought about this book since I’d turned it in, passed my tests, and graduated. However, stories often slumber waiting for us to learn things about ourselves so that we can finish what we began. Waiting to be dug up out of the heart and soul of the writer who struggles with themselves.
In this book, I wrote about a young warrior woman who had to fight in an arena, encircled by fighters and crowds. A hot Mediterranean sun beating down on her and her opponents, with nothing but sand under her feet. My friend who had helped me edit my thesis told me before I left for Spain, “You wrote yourself into existence.”
Up until this point in my life, I’ve never had a more surreal or perfect experience than walking through the corridor onto the sandy arena floor where I would test myself against the best in the world.
We played “tig” with the Aussies to help us get the jitters out and stretch our legs. We pinched ourselves to make sure it was real. The sand on our tongues and the sun in our hair.
The Ecuadorian place around the corner was bustling and we ate as much rice and plantains as we could.
There is nothing to compare to the nerves right before doing something you’ve never done.
Just focus on your armor, the smell of the leather. The sound of your gauntlets closing around your weapon.
Strip away everything else until you find the familiar. Sit there and wait.
Wait until you hear “Fighters, please come to the list!”
Breathe in through your helm (the familiar rasp of breath is a love letter alone!).
Tap weapons with your team.
Listen to your captain.
Hold the line.
Hold the rail.
The arena was built for bull fighting, and the dust that the men kicked up in the arena would have made you think that’s what you were watching. When you lose sight of the opposite side of the list due to dust, you know the fighting’s good.
The same soft light that illuminates baseball fields at dusk was glinting off the helms. The dust that was just a fine coating now filled every open crevice. We sucked down water, waved our flags, screamed, cheered, analyzed.
There is nothing so intimate as helping someone in and out of armor. It is the love letter you write to your teammates. Those quiet, frantic moments bond you to one another forever. When you are armoring a teammate before a fight, you are seeing them at their most powerful and vulnerable. Those two states are not as opposite as people often think.
No words need to be spoken. You trust one another with your wellbeing.
There is nothing more lovely.
The final day of fighting tests your resilience. How do you get back up after falling?
These are the fights that make me most proud to stand alongside my teammates. We get back up, and we look forward to the next fight. The next competition. The next training session.
The next time we stand together.
We are a group of dreamers and doers that are always looking forward.
The thought of what is to come, the electricity that fills our hearts with anticipation at what we can create together… it keeps us going.
Distance, time zones, oceans separate us, and yet the thin, palpable thread of love pulls on us – drawing us back to one another. We laugh, cry, love, and fight.
We will always find our way back.
Like the sailors use the stars, we too look up at the same moon, the same stars, and train for another day to stand shoulder to shoulder.