Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Stadium (dated blog but a new post)

The stadium

When we were competing in the Rome Grand Slam just over a month ago I visited the Coliseum. It had been a dream of mine for a long time as I view it as the origination of the spectacle of sport. Although people died back then, it was about the show, pleasing thousands of people with bravery, action and athleticism inspired by the will of the gladiators to survive. Luckily for me my life is not on the line here in London, however, while at the Coliseum I merged the two stadiums in my mind. The roar of the crowd after a powerful attack, the gasps after a brilliant dig or the fear as a lion was added to the mix (follow my Latvian friend Alexander “Lion King” @samoilovs to understand). People came from far and wide to catch the blood & action in the Coliseum and now in the 21st century people are doing the same in London to experience the power, finesse, athleticism and entertainment only the top beach volleyball athletes in the world can offer.  At the Coliseum I breathed in the summer air with my eyes shut, chest up and took in the generations of epic battles to bring with me to London.
Dancing girls on the training courts

We had trained a few times on the side courts without even viewing center court. Finally our main court orientation came and we entered the venue. We didn’t come through the tunnel as I had imagined but the court was legendary regardless. Slow rising, the seats went up into what felt like the skyline. The massive HD screens look like 32 inch monitors and Horse Guards Parade rose up out of one side of the venue. The sand was deep and perfectly manicured. The lines were purple and the net was strung immaculately. We trained hard and worked for our replicated a many game situations as possible. Confident, poised and putting extra attention into what was in our control we had a great intro to the court. We are ready for the Brits on Saturday and ready to take on our pool.

Now we will play some games against Latvia and Russia to fire up our competitive side. These games will be about giving it our all and leaving it all out on the court. We are seen as underdogs but we know what we are capable of. Josh and I have what it takes to make top 10 in this tournament and from there on it will come down to heart and execution. Like the USA team did in Australia in 2000, we will grind through every game with no expectation while committing 100% to each point until there are no more points to be played. #giveyoureverything


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Village

We are a few days into our stay at the village and the giddy feeling is here to stay being amongst Canada’s best athletes is here to stay! The amenities are so good with what feels like hundreds of personal medical staff and COC employees pampering us like my mother would. Our room is tight, our beds have extensions and our suitcase contents are splayed everywhere since the drawers aren’t big enough. We definitely over packed since we now have more Canadian gear than we know what to do with but it is nice to wear a brand new item of clothing every day!

We have gone to and from the venue multiple times for practice and the ride takes about 45 minutes. We go through the center of town on double decker city buses, passing right beside Big Ben, the Wheel, Buckingham palace and then we walk through a beautiful park to the Horse Guards Parade to get to center court. The atmosphere is straight up excitement from everyone involved and we barely have to do anything as the volunteers are so numerous! I was forced to ask one of them not to pick up the balls near my feet because that is just too much! The fun girls (professional dancers) are out in full force and are training just as much as us. It gives us a chance to experience the buzz of center court without the 15,000 people.

Back at the village we have some pretty cool roommates. We are now a full apartment with 6 athletes and the place is rocking! We have two gymnasts, two fencers plus Josh and I.

Nathan Gafuik is our only male gymnast at the games and is a wicked guy. We have chilled in our living room a few times thus far and just had a great discussion regarding the evolution of male gymnastics. Apparently they used to score the bar (his specialty) out of  a max of 10 but now it starts at 10 with technical moves added to that. This means people are taking more chances and adding more difficult elements and combos. Also, the floor exercises are far more complex since athletes are doing 6 or 7 passes when they used to only do 4 or 5. Watch for gymnastics to be far more complex in London, I can’t wait!  Follow this Olympian national champion on his London quest - @gafuik_nathan

We are also rooming with the confident fencer Etienne Lalonde who is a beauty. He brings a breath of European style to the apartment that I can’t. Tall, French and not afraid to speak his mind; this guy is a blast. Check him out at @etzlalonde

Phillipe Beaudry is another fencer but a little more reserved yet equally as confident. He is a solid French Canadian athlete who is competing in his first games. Looking forward watching him and getting on his case about twitter.

Jason Burnett just strolled into our apartment this morning. He is our only male trampoline athlete at the games and was apparently a silver medalist in Beijing and has won a few medals in other games. Looking forward to chilling with this high flier and Olympic legend. Connect with him at -  @JasonBurnett_

And as always, you can connect with my beach partner, roomie and better half Josh Binstock @joshbinner throughout the games and beyond.

Connect with the boys and stay tuned for more on my end!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My personal opening ceremonies

After our Grand Slam in Klagenfurt the team decided to travel early to the Olympic Village early in order to acclimatize to the British site and conditions. We left Klagenfurt at 6 AM, transferred in Vienna and landed to a warm welcoming in London before noon. 

We had pre-authorized accreditation which we had to get validated in the airport and then we were escorted from arrivals to catch an Olympic bus. We didn’t lift a thing or have to think about the logistics as volunteers kept popping up out of nowhere! The information crew was super excited to meet us and the UPS delivery team chatted with us for a bit about their experiences with famous athletes thus far. 

The bus driver was a well spoken old guy who was able to take us on a verbal tour while we made our way through town. We went close to the venue, saw Big Ben, experienced the river then took a turn to the village where we were first took in the magnitude of the Games. 

The village was GIGANTIC and from a distance we spotted the main stadium, the basketball gym and the athlete towers.  The Canadian building stood out like a sore thumb as it was highlighted with maple leaf flags and Canadian branding, similar to a proud Canadian traveller’s backpack!

The bus underwent a thorough security search and then we were dropped off at a secondary accreditation center to confirm out identities and scan our bags before getting shuttled to the front doors of our building. Sitting on the patios of the building were a couple hockey sticks so Josh and I went right for them. We then got after the red moose at the front door.

After a few picks we dropped our stuff in our rooms and went directly to the cafeteria to FEAST. Our beach delegation ate together and there were so many options to choose from! Pretty much every major type of national cuisine we covered, including Macdonald’s who had the largest ordering area.

We then went to our Canadian gear fitting at a small elementary school that the COC had rented out. We had a bunch of gear put together for us from the Hudson Bay Company so we tried every article on, made some alteration measurements and modeled to each other over a few laughs. I would reveal the clothing right now but as it stands the opening ceremonies gear is supposed to be a surprise!

We head back to the site, ate again and then caught up on a bunch of emails. We were tired and had an incredibly exciting day on a sleepless travel day.

Our first day was eye opening with regards to the magnitude of the games. We had amazing connections with volunteers from around the world and each one seemed to give me energy. The Canadian staff were so motivated to help us and were all Olympians who understood the importance of this event to each person, team and delegation. This is my first Olympics but I have been here in my dreams many times. Time to make everything a reality


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interview for a school project

Here is an interview I did this morning for a young athlete in BC who love beach volleyball. He had interview someone who works in the field they are passionate about for a school project. Definitely fun to answer the questions and contemplate some of the more basic questions that are often overlooked on a day to day basis.  

Why did you choose this career?

Since I was 10 years old I have dreamed of competing in the Olympics and when I found beach volleyball it was all I could think of! I have been playing every summer since I was 14 and after taking one year off the beach when I was 20 I realized I couldn't live another summer without playing. Since then I have been playing for team Canada and building towards playing in the Olympics. I firmly believe that going to the Olympics in beach is my a part of my life path and crucial to my development in being the best human I can be in life.

What are the best and least favorite parts of the job for you?

I love being able to travel, learn new languages and meet incredible people around the world. Being able to explore cultures and food while playing my favorite sport are definitely my fave parts. I guess my least favorite parts are the fact that I am away from home and sacrificing a career that pays me a lot of money but to be honest I wouldn't change anything! I love what I do and enjoy all of the life experiences that come with leading my dreams.

What kind of training or education is required for this job?

Nothing is required but beach volleyball is a sport that requires you to be an all round athlete. You need to be able to think on your feet in a heated situation; observe and adapt and communicate with your partner while focusing on executing tough skills in a changing environment. Coaching isn't allowed so athletes must also be able to coach themselves. This requires a practical and analytical mind but as long as you are prepared to learn from your losses then anyone is qualified to try beach!

Would you recommend the career to others? Why?

If it is your passion then yes. If not, find where you passion lies and dedicate your life to that occupation/discipline.

What are the biggest challenges you face everyday?

To be honest I don't see any of my daily activities or commitments as challenges but more steps in the process. I love our training and physical commitments but I guess the most challenging part is not having enough time in the day to do what I want to do. There can be a lot of distractions (especially with the Olympics coming up) so I have to be focused and organized as to not burn myself out.

How did you get into this type of work?

I saw beach volleyball when I was 11 years old at a demonstration in an ice rink in my hometown and that was all it took! I went from being a little scrub playing as much as he could to playing for Team BC and then Team Canada. It was a natural progression thanks to the amazing coaches I have had in my career.

If you could summarize your job in one sentence what would it be?

My job is training for life; to be the best person I can be wether it is hitting a volleyball over a net or helping kids with their school projects.

Do ever regret going into this job?

Not a single regret.

Any other things you think are important about the job?

I don't consider it a job, it is my calling! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

An account of our competition in Brasilia

In anticipation for one of the most important events of my career, Josh and I landed in Brasilia a full week early to acclimatize to the altitude and conditions of this unique beach volleyball environment. Few tournaments in the world are played at altitude so we wanted to adjust our ball control to the thin air and the altitude, which impacts recovery speed over the span of a game. We successfully progressed the way wanted alongside a Swiss team that had the same intention and due to the early arrival of Canadian, USA, Japanese and British teams who provided some competitive training.

The qualification tournament was scheduled for Wednesday so we withheld from competing for the first few days to adjust to the new environment and then increased intensity until an active rest day Saturday. We then scheduled three training sessions on Sunday to simulate our qualification tournament and played USA/Canada then another Canadian team and ended with Japan’s top team. It was a tough day with minimal nutrition (nothing is open Sunday mornings in Brazil) but we persevered in discomfort and were better off for it. With a healthy amount of reps and competition under our belts we toned down our training in anticipation of an emotional and physical qualification tournament.

The draw turned out to have less teams than we anticipated so we only had 2 rounds to win in order to claim a main draw birth. We patiently waited in the meeting and after everything was calculated we drew Venezuela to begin and then the winner of a young Austrian team VS a powerful Australian duo. With our path set in stone we focused our energy on the following day and went to sleep swimming in anxiousness for what we new was the most important day of our partnership to date.

Although this event is one many possible opportunities to count for our best four finishes to rank us in the quest for the Olympics, the resulting points from Brasilia have a massive impact on our entry for the Grand Slams. Without entry into Grand Slams (top 56 teams in the world) we would miss out on extremely valuable playing opportunities as well as the extra Grand Slam points. With this in mind, a solid result in Brasilia would qualify us for Grand Slams (Beijing and possibly Russia and Rome) boosting our chances of Olympic qualification.

With that in mind we awoke Wednesday morning with butterflies in our stomachs and tense smiles to go along with them. I haven’t been nervous for a long time but I was filled with something larger and more empowering; my body realizing the last 6 months mattered most today. I had an ominous feeling I couldn’t shake but it was energy that had been brewing for a long time and if I harnessed it I could turn it into an advantage.

We warmed up on the warm up court and stepped onto court 1 with 10 minutes to go before first whistle. We did our Dean Sampano special (arm circles), hit and served some balls then cooled off for a minute prior to the game whistle. Months of preparation and we were here, at the moment which counted most with no room to question or doubt. It was time to trust we were more skilled and prepared than the other team and find grace together in the pursuit of victory.

To be honest I don’t remember too much of the game. I know we were spatchy in the first set and lost multiple runs of points and didn’t serve as well as we had planned. Our sideout game didn’t display our true colors but the other team struggled to sideout so we were able to make up a few points. We lost the first set but questioned not and adapted to the situation. Beach volleyball is an amazing game of strategy so although we lost the first set I knew we could adjust our defensive game plan to shut them down while elevating our rhythm and athleticism to take over.

We stormed out to a lead and didn’t let go in the second. We played bigger than we had played to date and the silent connection that lacked in the first set revealed itself timely fashion. I then tripped over the line and sprained my toe but didn’t call a timeout and hid the pain. I knew I had done some damage to my big toe joint but confidently sealed the injury in my competitive vault. The Venezuelan’s began to fade as we firmly responded both in sideout and transition.  We won big rallies, took more chances and built confidence in pursuit of a third and final set. I then landed from a block and turned but left my big toe behind. It twisted and bowed outwards and left the socket, forcing my body to crumble as I felt my toe shift in a direction it wasn’t meant to. I lay there, unsure of my health and then placed my hand on my toe hoping it had found its way back in. It was where it was supposed to be but I knew it was unstable so I delayed the game as long as possible without calling a timeout or allowing our momentum to fade. I strode to the back line to serve, suppressing my pain enough to win the second set without giving our opponents anything.

Being somewhere across the globe from home to fight in a single elimination event is an incredible feeling. I can’t say I love it but the pressure and demand for ultimate presence forces me to challenge my body and mind to be the best I can be in every moment. This third set was no exception and Josh and I knew what was on the line. We lead from the start and didn’t even give our opponents a sniff of the lead. I then tweaked my toe again, fell over, but pushed through it knowing victory was close at hand. Josh served an ace to win at 15-12 and we rejoiced in our first FIVB win together as well as to being one step closer to the main draw.

I rushed to the medical tent and explained to the physio what happened. He then taped me up and locked my big toe to my foot with a couple dozen feet of tape. I was confident the tape would hold and that I could play worry free granted I kept it warm. We had a few hours off to replenish lost calories, recover lost fluids and prepare mentally for our second battle.  We were surprised to hear the higher ranked Aussies lost to the Austrians so we reviewed their game (our coach Lennard recorded it) and knew we had a VERY realistic opportunity to qualify.

Our coach served at us for warm up and before we knew it we were shaking hands with the Austrians on a crowded court two. The weather was perfect, the wind was mild and our BRIEF (Belief, Ritual, Intensity, Emotion, Focus) was all time.

The first set went back and forth with some great rallies and we found ourselves second place in the head to head pursuit for 21 points. It was close but our sideout and point conversion didn’t allow for a comfortable lead or a confident finish. Once again we were down a set sipping water in our timeout booth but there wasn’t a second I thought we would lose. We knew we had to adjust and we did, taking a formidable lead in the second set to win it without a doubt.

Apparently our team loves third sets because we have played far too many. Apparently it takes us a set to come up with a winning strategy and we strove into this third set with intent and purpose. The main draw birth had our name written all over it.

The set started and the lead went back and forth. The Austrians had a response to the majority of our threats and we found ourselves down 10-12 when I turned to bump set a ball from a dig Josh made when my toe burst through the thick tape job and bent completely sideways. Once again I dropped to the ground grasping my foot and rolling in pain; I knew this one was bad. I had to call a medical timeout and with Josh’s help hobbled to the bench. We were now down 10-13 and forfeiting wasn’t an option considering the current stakes I wasn’t about to start. The same physio from before cut the broken tape job off, washed my foot and then started from scratch. We didn’t have much time so I told him to just tape my big toe to the rest of my toes and then throw on a sand sock. He did just that and after the maximum five minutes I bluffed my way out of the medical timeout.

Playing against an injured team is always tough. You never know how badly the person is hurt and it is difficult to stay motivated and crisp when you think you were just handed a massive advantage. I knew I would be underestimated (considering I had gone down a couple times before) so I gave them nothing and allowed them to give something up. They came at me and I shot over line for a crisp sideout , 11-13. I told Josh to serve the big buy and that I would block big line so he did and I crashed ball and stuffed him hard. 12-13 side switch. We knew their tall left side would be tentative so we funneled him to the cross and Josh made a great short dig to transition kill, 13-13. We knew the big guy would try hard for something so we both anticipated him coming to the line. He didn’t pass perfectly so I blocked big six but he snuck a large hit under me and beside osh. 13-14. Their defender had missed a couple jump floats into the net and this final serve found some lift and caught the top of the tape, drizzling over for a short let. Both Josh and I, unwilling to surrender, shot forward seam and ran into each other as we sprawled to reach the ball. I got a healthy touch on it but Josh had committed to his dive and wasn’t able to get up and reach the ball before it hit the ground. Game 13-15.

I slowly rose, shook their hands as well as the referee’s and then fell. I couldn’t support myself; my spirits were crushed. We had just lost a battle to a team we had every opportunity of beating and I had hurt my foot in ways I didn’t want to understand. I was in pain but the thought of losing such a realistic main draw birth to define our team in pursuit of Canada’s Olympic birth hit me harder.

Josh and I hobbled back to the hotel over the span of 30 minutes and went directly to an “all you can eat” establishment to drown our sorrows in Brazilian pizza. We discussed the game and did our best to plot our immediate future considering my massively swollen foot wasn’t allowing me to move properly. With no idea how this new twist in the Binstock/Reader saga would impact our schedule, we went home to sleep on full bellies and wait on our support team to advise us.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Brazil penthouse pool workout on our active rest day

 After landing safely in Brasilia and training double days in the sand from Tuesday through Friday, we decided to take the pressure off the gas pedal to active rest before setting up a 3 session day today to mimic our qualification path Wednesday.

We rested in the morning and took in a few 1000 calories in the form of an Acai bowl (picture below)

then chilled by the penthouse pool at sunset to prime ourselves for the following day. Here is our workout.

After a nice mobility warm up I did some exercises I learnt from Rob Williams utilizing the Core X bands. I started with lateral and pivot movements opening up my stance and arms at the same time to connect my core to my legs and upper body. I did 3 sets of 16 side steps and quarter turn pivots, going from normal ready position to wide spread back to ready position. I then went onto all fours, using a Joga inspired balance posture but adding difficulty with the Core X bands. I would raise on hand and the opposite leg controlled for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds and then coming back to a stable 4 point position. I did 3 sets of 16 for each leg/arm combo.
We then both got after some ab roll outs with proper lumbar spine positioning and kept the reps under 10 as not to fatigue ourselves. I mixed in some V ups to push up on the foam roller. We complimented these core exercises with single and double arm plank holds while paying attention to shoulder stability and proper trunk muscle recruitment.

Josh wanted to some preventative/maintenance shoulder work so he did some isolated band exercises to target his rotator cuff muscles. He then did wall slides (his favorite/least favorite exercises) to strengthen scapular movement and stability.

We then stretched for quite sometime, allowing our bodies to sink deeply into personal favorite poses. Below is Josh's specialty and you will catch him chilling in this position after every training session or game. It really gets after pelvic stabilizers which generally stiffen from training in sand.

I tucked into some groin, quad and hamstring stretches after doing some trunk and pelvic mobility exercises specific to movement patterns I want to improve.

With only the use of an ab wheel, Core X, elastic band and a foam roller we activated our cores, hit our trunk stabilizers, strengthened our shoulders and opened up mobility patterns specific to our individual needs. Lots of work yet to be done here in Brasilia but we definitely took in the 26 degree sunset next to the pool as we took care of our bodies in preparation for our qualification tournament on Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New and improved Paleo Pancakes

I have been playing around in the kitchen over the last few weekends and have perfected (to my taste) a Paleo Pancake recipe that is quick, super healthy and tastier than regular pancakes! I freestyled the majority of the ingredients to consistency and projected taste but as long as you have a remotely thick batter you should be good to go. Enjoy as this provides great energy, is easily digestible, gluten free and rich in protein and good fats.

Start by mashing two bananas up in a bowl
 Add four eggs

 Add half a cup of milled golden flax seeds
 Add a cup and a half of ground almonds
 Add a cup of ground hazelnuts
 Pour chocolate almond milk until you think blending will be easy
 Mix it all up
 Add Vanilla
 Add Cinnamon
 Add Allspice
 Blend again and then scoopie out your preferred sized pancakes. Keep in mind they are tougher to flip the larger they are
 Serve with whatever treats you want. I felt like using cranberries, yogurt and maple syrup and it was the tastiest breakfast I have had in a while!