"The Rookie and The Vet" - Entry 1

June 10, 2014, 4:17 p.m. (ET)

The veteran is preparing his mind and body for one of the toughest challenges of his handball career.

His teammate is gearing up to compete in his first ever international tournament donning the Red, White, and Blue.

One has an idea of what to expect. The other is ready for anything.

They both have their sights on the elusive Pan American Championships gold medal.

And you get to read their story as they blog their way through the experience.

Captain Jordan Fithian and first-year member of Team USA, Ebiye Udo-Udoma, present:
“The Rookie and The Vet” – Blogs from the Pan American Championships


Men's National Team Captain Jordan Fithian, his wife, Women's National Team player Jennifer and daughter, Charlotte Mae


Entry #1: The Vet
June 10, 2014

This is going to be one long week.

You feel great physically and you’re mentally strong but emotionally you are a wreck. You post a strong outward appearance at work but you don’t want to be there at all; in fact it is the last place you want to be and it is the thing keeping you from where you want to be most. You do your job because that is what you’re paid to do, and the way you were raised, and the pride you take in everything you do doesn’t allow you to slack off, regardless of where your head and your heart lie. 

The US Men’s National Team convened in Auburn, Alabama this past weekend and began training for the Pan American Championships in Uruguay taking place the last week of June. Eleven men met and have been preparing to take what will be the U.S.’s best shot to qualify for a World Championship in over 10 years. They are missing a few brothers.

You do what you can on your own. Up at 5:30, to work by 6:00 to start the 12 hour work day because you have to make up the time you will miss. You used all your vacation days on the trip in February to qualify for this tournament. You go to the gym, do a boot camp, go for a run, chuck the ball against a wall until you’re exhausted. Then you go for a bit longer because all that is waiting at home is your thoughts and an empty bed.

I’ve always been the biggest advocate of the notion that if we spent more time together as a team on the court, we would be a force to contend with in the Pan American competitions and eventually be able to compete on a national stage. The Federation has taken giant steps recently to give us that opportunity. Originally scheduling a two-week camp plus an extra prep week in Brazil would have been the longest preparation/training camp for a competition in the five years I have been involved with handball.

You feel like you have let your brothers down. Your wife is an exceptionally talented handball player, so she is in Brazil with the Women’s National Team, training and improving. You can’t work and watch your daughter so she’s vacationing in Hilton Head, learning tricks from her niece. Your house is lonely; you manage to do what needs to be done to survive—laundry, food preparation, showering—but these things can only keep you busy for so long. You watch episodes of True Detective OnDemand and end up staying up way too late because you want to avoid going to bed.

Between the core group of players at the Residency Program in Auburn, the overseas guys, and a few wildcards, the US Men’s Team again has a group with the potential to be good. The very favorable draw that put arguably three of the four generally stronger teams in the other pool bodes well for the US. As we saw at the Pan Am Games in Mexico, it doesn’t matter what the draw is if you don’t take care of business anyway. But with the draw and the preparation, the US has a legitimate shot of making the crossover round, something we haven’t done in any tournament in what seems like a lifetime.

Knowing you need sleep to replenish, you finally crawl into bed, praying your mind will shut down. But it doesn’t. You think of only three things; the touch of your wife snuggling against you which you haven’t felt in almost a month because of that other thing; handball. You think about your little girl and hope she sleeps through the night so your sister-in-law can get some sleep. Invariably, you think about handball. The booze doesn’t help—you gave it up in order to be in the best physical condition possible. Your mind jumps back and forth from the love of your life to the torrid affair you have with a sport. They are all intertwined. You’re not training twice a day with your teammates because you need to provide for your family and yourself. You’re stuck in a Catch 22. So you do what you can; visualize the plays, run through the scenarios, think about what you can and must do on the court to help the team win. The minutes turn into hours and eventually you nod off.

We will all meet in Brazil on Sunday to train with the Brazilian National team and acclimate ourselves to the climate and the local surroundings. The opportunity to train with one of the top-tiered teams in PATHF directly before a tournament is irreplaceable and should heighten our chances of a successful tournament. We grew as a team in Mexico City in February and can only to build and continue to get better from that experience.

You wake up in the middle of night because you are getting older and you pound water all day to stay hydrated (you watched LeBron in Game 1 and know you can’t let your team down like that at the end of a close game in Uruguay). You hope as you stumble back into bed that you fall back into slumber but as you turn to snuggle your wife, you realize it’s just a frumpy body pillow tinged with your nervous sweat from the feeling that you should be down in Auburn training alongside your brothers. Your wife is not there, she’s training in another country which reminds you, you’re not in Auburn training with your team and the cycle starts again.

Dreams will be shattered and others will be fulfilled in Uruguay. Qatar alone is a dream destination if you enjoy traveling and experiencing life. Playing in a World Championships is indescribable. It is not the Olympics but it is purely handball. It is only handball, and therefore the biggest tournament in our sport. Many argue it is tougher to win the European Championships as the world competition brings down the overall talent level at Worlds. That is a fair argument but World Championships is the only handball only tournament that includes teams from all over the planet. To understate it, competing in Worlds in Qatar would be neat.

The rest of this week will be the same. Work, train, eat, and avoid bed, toss and turn, think. Think. Think. A human mind is a blessing and a curse. We have the ability to process and compute like no other living organism. 

Unfortunately, for one US handball player, that makes for one long week.

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