As an athlete in the western world you choose to train and make your sport your entire life, so that you may one day be chosen for the national team. What an honor it is to wear the green and gold or the red, white and blue or whatever your countries colours may be. Sacrifices and sweat, hard work and no doubt tears go into gaining a position on that team. It is your life's goal and your ambition. It is your world. It is your everything.
In China you are told what sport to play (if you are more athletically built) and you are put into a program for that sport. You train twice a day, you live with your team mates, and you may be given a small amount of money from the government each week depending upon your status. You are told that you must bring glory to your country, province, ancestors and family. You must perform.
On a recent trip to visit my husband whilst he was away with a team I was able to observe a team in action. I got to see what life was like for them, I got to watch them play and interact and observe a window of their lives.
When I arrived the girls were so excited to see me. They know me as 'Greg's wife' and they felt it was a big deal for me to travel to see them. I loved it because I got to see them and see a different and rarely visited province of China and learn their sport. I love sport so I was keen to learn all about the ins and outs and see the girls that my husband speaks of so highly in action.
During competition their routine is this:
7am wake up
4pm Bus to event, play,
9pm return, dinner, meeting, sleep
The day's varied little from that routine. I found it incredibly boring and depressing. They were not allowed to venture out and walk around. They had to rest. How it is that they can sleep so much is strange to me. It is what they are used to. Their normal days vary little from the above routine. Train and sleep. The end.
The hotel was dark and we were not the only team there. There was one other team. The hallways of this dark hotel were littered with hand washed shirts and shorts hung on coat hangers suspended from the ceiling. The washing added to the darkness and the musty, damp smell. To get to our room we had to weave and duck past all of the shirts and when it was close to departure time the girls sitting in the hallways charging their phones and sending messages. It was always quiet which I found unusual. In a hotel with 30 plus late teens early 20's females I was expecting laughter and chatter or at least some kind of shenanigans. Nothing.
There is one particular athlete that Greg speaks of frequently. She is diligent in her training and rehab. She is a talented player and she is just an all-round awesome human. Her smile lights up a room and everyone just adores her. She is wise and helpful to the younger players, she is a leader amongst the older players. She is strong both mentally and physically. She draws you in and you just want to be her friend. Her English name reflects her attitude to life; her name is Sunny.
Sunny has been working with Greg for a long time on her injuries and this was her first tournament back on the court. She came and got some strapping done which she loved as it was patterned to look like a tattoo. My husband had ordered it especially for her and this team and it made her feel special and stronger. On the court she dominated. She was faster, stronger and smarter than the other athletes. Her break-aways were lightning fast and shooting incredibly accurate. She stood out.
One of Sunny's injuries flared up before a match and instead of calling her team doctor which she is meant to do, she called my husband down from the stands. Technically he was not allowed into the court area but she wanted him and only him to fix her. She trusts him and that he will always do the right thing by her and for her. A bond she has never formed with any other staffers of the teams she has been a part of.
The girls lost the two matches they played whilst I was there. I feel as though I jinxed them as they had dominated until I arrived. When I left they went off to another competition and only lost one match... It was definitely my fault! I vowed to never watch them again to ensure their success and ensure they avoid being berated by their coach.
After the second tournament where they finished second to an almost unbeatable province there was a break and the girls were allowed to leave and spend 2 weeks with their families. A welcome break from routine and the monotony of their everyday schedule. Some comforts possibly, although for some returning home meant a downward step in comfort.
The girls arrived back and into routine and the news broke of the 2015 plans for the team. Two girls were granted permission to retire and two girls made the Chinese National team. One of them was Sunny. When I asked my husband if she was excited his face saddened and he replied "no... She is devastated." With my western thinking I was confused at the answer until he explained to me why.
She doesn't get to choose if she wants to be a part of the national team, she doesn't get to choose if she wants to leave her friends, her family and her team to move to Beijing. She doesn't get to choose to be told what to do by a different team manager or coach. Her life becomes even more controlled. But worst of all she loses the one person that she trusts the most to do right by her, Greg.
She now must play until she is granted permission to retire or is so injured she cannot play or is demoted back to the provincial team in which she will lose face. Losing face in China is the worst possible thing that can happen to a person or a family.
Hopefully the cloud that has moved over Sunny's life will soon lift as she embarks on this next journey and she will continue to bring sunshine to everyone she meets. That her sadness will pass and she will be a bright shining star in Beijing. The sun should always shine on a person like Sunny.