Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pan American Games 2015

People have been asking me "How was it?" and I have not been able to really put it into words. The only answer I have is "amazing!".

Its one thing to be an athlete in your prime and compete at a high level tournament, it's a completely different thing to compete as an athlete past your prime, with a family, work, and in an international setting. I left my home at 5am in the morning, a bit teary eyed because I was leaving my family, I knew my wife would be fine but the kids…that was rough. I have never been away from them for more than a couple days. I was picked up by the Kaltenbachs, the ride up was quiet, everyone pretty much passed out (it was the morning of July 5). I spoke with Elena and Geoff the whole ride up, and we talked about the past, present, and future of Ecuador Water Polo.
Ecuador Water Polo played in it's first South American Games ever in 2010, then our 2nd in 2012. I passed on going to the 2014 South American Games as my wife was pregnant with our 2nd child, I didn't feel right about leaving, but I was asked to go. It was really hard to say no. When I got the call about the Pan Am games, I was ecstatic, but had my reservations. I mean, I am closer in age to most coaches than I am to the players.
So many emotions in just making the decision to go! Am I to old? Can I contribute? Am I going to embarrass myself? Am I going to have a heart attack? WIll my teeth be knocked out? You're not Kelly Slater! Don't ruin your legacy. Your family needs you…. But some how, every time Im faced with an athletic decision, I am haunted by the theme song to ROCKY, those horns just blaring through my head. The song to this day sends a chill through my bones, emotions through my veins, and a humbleness to my soul.
Once I got to the airport, I met the rest of the American-Ecuadorian players that I would be playing with. My teammates were/are young, Carlos 16, Jeff 17, Troy 19, Chandler 19, Garrett 19. I immediately became a kid hahaha. Practical jokes, messing with them, establishing my dominance hahaha especially with Carlos and Jeff because it was the 1st time meeting them. Of course all in good fun, things like; get me food, hold my bag, I got aisle, go get me pretzels, etc… I felt like Kobe Bryant riding the rookies. With that being said, throughout the 2 weeks we were there, I watched out for them. I saw my son in those 2 kids, and made sure they kept their noses clean and were professional.
Once we arrived to Toronto, you can feel the energy in the city. We were greeted at the airport and were treated like VIP, our own separate line through customs, shuttle service. They made sure that we were comfortable the entire time. Once we got to the village, it was so great to reunite with my old teammates from 2010 and 2012. It had been so long since I had seen them. It was like we didn't miss a beat. I love those guys, the respect I have for them is second to none.
As for the games itself..
USA. They killed us, I got a few minutes of playing time in the 2nd quarter and Coach didn't play me the rest of the game. It got to the point where I asked him (in a very brat like way) when am I going in? Coach unloaded on me, benched me for the remainder of the game. Which I deserved, as a coach I should now better. But my only thought at the moment was I need to score vs the USA. I need to get in there!!! To not play really, really hurt, and there was nothing I can do about it. I was a player, a soldier, Im given an order and I follow. Frustrating game to say the least.

Argentina. So it wasn't enough that coach was mad at me, I was also rooming with him. I had to apologize, and tell him it was the emotions of the game and that If he felt disrespected I was sorry. He told me he was planning on benching me for a few games to send a message to everyone on the team...GREAT, I was the example. Argentina had beaten us at the South American Championships like 30-1 in 2010 (I scored the only goal, on a 6 on 5 from 1 under Chalo's arm, look him up. Plays pro in, then 24-2 in 2012. 2015 we jumped on them early, we were actually up 3-0 at the beginning of the game. 2nd quarter I got my opportunity. I knew coach was still mad at me and that any mistake and I was out. First play, I tell Toto to drive, from 3 to 5, I was at 4 with the ball, he cut just right and got the defender on his back, I dropped a dime, and drew the 5 meter penalty. Troy Kaltenbach scored it. 2nd offensive play Troy was posted up on the 3 post, I was at 5 with the ball, he was nodding his head and giving me the big eyes, Like pass the ball. I waited until I thought he had better position and dropped it in...kickout! I got to 5 up top on the 6 on 5. The ball was worked around once and I moved in as x4 was commited to 2 post and x5 slid over to 4. I moved in, seemed like forever, trying to fake and breaststroke kick in, to the best of my ability, I saw an opening, and instinctively took a shot cross cage low, the moment was like slow motion. It was like I was waiting to exhale...went under the goalies arm and I just turned at my bench, waiving my index finger, like, I got 1 and pointing up to God. Coach pulled me out after that, our trainer who was on the bench asked me, why are you out? I told him, "I don't know?" Seems like there was stuff lingering from the USA game with him...But he did let me in again in the 4th. By that time the game had gotten out of hand, but that was when the most memorable moment of that game was (for me), and it occurred on the defensive end. I told coach "#9 is lighting us up, put me in and he won't score." I had to say something to get some playing time and it worked, coach put me in! #9 (Ivan Carabantes) is the Argentina captain and someone who I admire, but I was fighting for PT...I played defense with a reckless abandon. I don't know if Ivan was being nice, if he was tired, or the game was already in the bag for him, but I stayed true to my word and played lockdown defense. I stuck to him like glue for those few possessions that I guarded him for, before he was subbed out. I stayed aggressive for the remainder of the game, so aggressive that on one play the 2m defender Ramiro Veich was up top with the ball at 3 and I went to steal/foul the ball I sunk him, he popped his head up and I punctured his forehead with my front teeth. Referee's pulled the ball out, I was checking if my teeth were still in place or if they were loose and Ramiro was underwater holding his forehead. Ramiro is a friend of mine! After the game we shook hands and walked through the media line. We spoke with the press and as soon as I walked out, doping control said that I was randomly selected to do a doping test.

Now mind you this was on a Wednesday after the game, I had JUST BEEN "randomly" selected to do a doping test on Monday. I lost my marbles, I was so pissed! I was yelling this is harassment, f/u, this is b/s, and much much worse. Poor guy who was just the messenger. I unloaded on him. It wasn't so much about the test it was more about the process. It is very uncomfortable. Guy standing a yard away watching the whole thing and heaven forbid you're hydrated because if you are it's to diluted and you have to wait 30 minutes and do it again (which is what happened the Monday prior).

Anyway, I felt like that was the turning point of the tournament. My teammates were now talking about how crazy I was with my defense, how effective I was on offense, and how I should be playing more. I won my teammates trust, and it happened on the defensive end. I vividly remember Garrett (our goalie) saying "I was like DAMN! Ed is kicking ass on defense!"

Cuba. Didnt play, I think I went in for like 1 minute. I was ready to pack my bags and take the next flight out of Toronto. I'm thinking I didnt train this hard, leave my family, and work for this. At that point I just felt Coach had something against me and I was going to be his bench boy. The funny thing was we were using my game plans for every game, MY PLAYS! I was calling them out. The only thing that kept me in Toronto was my teammates, the thought of letting them down was just not an option. I had to be the example, playing or not playing. I had their respect and trust, I wasn't going to tarnish that. I finally talked to coach that night and I simply asked him "What can I do to gain more playing time? I'll change my game to anything you need me to be. If there is something I am doing wrong please tell me and I will fix it. He told me Im not doing anything wrong, he just thought he was coaching the team to give us the best chance to win. We continued the conversation and I told him I am so familiar with everything we are running wouldn't it make sense to play me during those times? I had lost hope, I hated him. I couldn't believe this was going to be my Pan American experience.

Mexico. We are in the locker room, stretching getting ready for warmup and coach announces to the team.."Edwin is starting". WOW! Um, now all that smack I was talking...I better back it up. I don't know what happened but I have a pretty good idea. I think our team captain Roberto talked to coach without me knowing about it and told him I can help. Great lesson for me man, it's not about winning the coach over its about winning the trust of the people you are in the trenches with! My heart was racing! I couldn't calm down, that moment of lining up for the sprint was everything you can imagine. Fear, insecurity, doubt as you await the whistle. Then once the whistle blows it's instinct, muscle memory, and attitude (I play with a lot of that). We lost the sprint I immediately just become that pest on defense, checking the guy, pushing him, grabbing his wrist, cap strings, any advantage I can get mentally. All that doubt is just washed away. It was the best game we had. We were leading at half 7-6. We ended up losing that game but gained a lot of respect as a program. Remember we just started 5 years prior!

Cuba. This time I got my playing time. The officiating was horrible, many of the USA refs were present and a couple told me after the game that we were robbed of so many kick outs and so many what should have been penalties. I was so angry after that game, I walked over to the referee and in Spanish went off on him. For awhile too! I was so angry at the injustice of the officiating. I mean the game was for 7th and 8th place but for me it was like the gold medal game and to be robbed, I just couldn't cope. After the game, I gave coach Raul a big hug and I thanked him. I thanked him for teaching me a lesson, even at my age I learned something. On the way back to the village, I acted cool, had my shades on, my beats by dre head phones in. Sat by myself on the bus and thanked God, literally I said thank you to him, for watching me, taking care of me. I asked him why he was so good to me, I told him "you have never turned your back on me"and I cried to myself out of thankfulness. No one saw me, I couldn't show these young kids any way hahaha. But I had a moment a very special one. Gets me chocked up now thinking about it.

It's hard for me to remember my day to day activities but all I can say is this one is for the books. I will forever cherish those 2 weeks of my life. I'd like to thank my Mother, Father, Steve, Justin, Kaylen, Kyson, Fiori, Jacob, the kids I coach (thought of you guys a lot) and all my coaches, especially Flip Darr & Mike Santos who made me believe in me, when I didn't.