Monday, July 6, 2015

My Trip to the U.S. Women's World Cup!

Last night the US Women’s National Team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, making them the world champions for the first time since 1999 and the third time ever! Whether watching at home or out in public, seeing those women work so hard for something they wanted was an incredible sight to behold.

However, nothing quite beats the energy and excitement of seeing them play in person. About two months ago I received a text message from a friend asking if I’d be interesting in going to Canada for a week in June to see a couple Women’s World Cup games if all expenses were paid for me. Of course, my answer was, “Heck yes!” Who could pass that opportunity up? So after booking our flights and places to stay, my friend, Q, and I waited for June 11th to come around so we could take off on our Canadian soccer adventure.
Finally, June 10th came around along with the worst part of traveling: packing.  I absolutely hate packing. It is the most stressful part of traveling for me. While I was frantically trying to figure out what to pack, I received a text from Q warning me to be prepared for her to wear every American thing she owned for the games (and yes, that includes an American flag). So of course I immediately packed everything American that I owned as well, which was significantly and shamefully less than her. A few hours later, I was finally packed and ready to go!
            The next morning we left at 3:45 am to catch a 5 am flight, and after 12+ hours of traveling (we had a lot of layovers), we were finally in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Though Winnipeg was a small city, we had to drive another hour and half to our hotel in an even smaller town named Winkler. Yes, I said Winkler. Funny nicknames ensued, including Winkletown and Weselton.
            The next day we got decked out in all our America gear and made the drive back to Winnipeg for double-header games (one right after the other in which we had tickets for both). To get pumped up before for the game, we went to a local sports pub that was hosting a special event just for American supporters. This was my first exposure to all the red, white, and blue that had taken over Winnipeg. It was such an amazing feeling to be an American supporter in another country. There were people from all over the US, and though we asked them where they were from, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were all here to support our country and the women playing for the world cup.
            As we walked through Winnipeg to the stadium where the
games were, many people honked and hooted in support of the USA (and our patriotic getups). Once we entered the stadium, it was as if we were in the US and this was a home game. There was red, white, and blue all around with very few small pockets of supporters for the other teams.
The first game we watched was Australia vs. Nigeria, though we spent most of that match standing in line for the small FIFA shop in the stadium. The real event was the USA vs. Sweden game. Chants and cheers for the US went up all around the stadium as soon as the women stepped onto the field. A group of supporters called the American Outlaws cheered loudly from a few sections away, starting chants and waves that made their way around the entire stadium (more about them later).
With the sun shining in our eyes and beating us down with heat, the whistle was blown and the game started. Watching the women run and control the ball with such powerful and precise movements was incredible. The energy coming off the field was invigorating and made me want to be playing soccer myself, even though I haven’t played in years.
Though the US vs. Sweden game ended in a draw, we didn’t leave the stadium feeling dejected. The US was still at top of the group at that point and we were confident about the next game.
The day after the games in Winnipeg, Q and I went back to the airport to fly to Vancouver for the next phase of our Canadian soccer adventure. Once we arrived in Vancouver, we took a train into the city and walked to our hostel. Hostels are a great way for young people to travel cheaply and meet new people. This particular hostel, The Cambie, was above a local pub, which sounds awful but turned but to be great. We were able to socialize downstairs and then head upstairs once we got tired.  
While at The Cambie, we met many interesting people, including some folks from Australia who were in town for a Zen convention (whatever that is). Being exposed to people from other countries and cultures is one of the best parts of traveling to new places. We also met an elderly couple from Britain while visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge, hanging 70 meters above a river and 140 meters across a gorge, is a breathtaking and slightly frightening destination. Nevertheless, we made the hike to walk across it and take in the remarkable views of nature it had to offer.
Over the next two days, we spent most of our time sightseeing around Vancouver. At some point, this led us to the FOX broadcasting location around the time that they were beginning an evening broadcast about the World Cup. They had a special guest that night: Megan Rapinoe, midfielder for the US Women’s National Team! During the broadcast, she was so far away that we could barely see her. After she left, we decided to head out ourselves and leave the crowds behind. 
However, once we walked down a set of stairs, we ran into Megan Rapinoe herself! Q and I had an awkward fan moment as I stood there taking pictures and she just said hi as Megan walked past us with her entourage. We couldn’t believe our luck!
Remember when I mentioned the American Outlaws earlier? Turns out, it’s the largest organization of soccer fans in the US!  Members support both men’s and women’s soccer.
As a member of the American Outlaws, Q got us free tickets to tour the EA Sports campus. It’s one of the biggest gaming companies with in the world and the facility in Vancouver is EA’s second largest! The campus was beautiful and full of high tech things. After taking a tour of the campus, we got a chance to do some gaming of our own and play some of the video games they create at EA Sports. The best part of the visit was when the American Outlaws played EA Sports employees in a soccer scrimmage on turf installed in the middle of the campus. Though I didn’t play myself, I cheering on my fellow Americans and picked up a few new chants to use at the USA vs. Nigeria game the next day.
Q and I got the chance to attend a party in honor of the US women’s soccer team. That’s where we ran into former US player and soccer legend Mia Hamm! She stepped  on stage to lead us all in a cheer, chanting, “I believe that we will win!”  After the chant, she walked through the crowd.  I thought I was dreaming when I walked up to her to ask for a photo with her, and to my utter amazement she leaned in for a selfie!

The next morning, still floating from the events of the previous evening, Q and I met up with our friends at the official FIFA fan zone in Vancouver to get pumped up for the USA vs. Nigeria match. We got our faces painted and watched the other games going on that day. About an hour before the US game, we met up with the American Outlaws at the front of the fan zone and marched into the stadium as a giant mass of red, white, and blue. We shouted cheers and sang songs for the couple blocks it took us to march into the stadium. Q was chosen to carry a giant cut out of U.S. Forward, Abby Wambach’s head! As we marched into the stadium with it, Abby’s wife stopped Q and asked to take a picture with her! 

Once we were in the stadium, we hiked to the fourth level to take our seats with the American Outlaws. We were in the second row of the group, so we had great seats. The energy in the stadium was like nothing I had ever felt before. It seemed that 90% of the crowd were wearing red, white, and blue in support of the US, which is impressive considering there were over 52,000 people there. The powerful sound of all the chants spreading around the stadium gave me goosebumps.

Once the game began, we didn’t sit down until half time and even then, only briefly. The entire crowd was so pumped up.  When Abby Wambach scored her goal, we went wild! The enthusiasm, support, and love for the sport and the women playing it were astonishing. By the end of the game, my voice was hoarse and my legs tired, but I felt so much pride. I was so excited to have been there for my team and experience their victory in person.
Since we were sitting with AO, we ended up on the US Women’s National Team’s twitter page and on TV! Later we found out we had also been on World Soccer Shop’s social media, the American Outlaws’ social media, and on TV for the game we had previously attended in Winnipeg. We were all over the media, which was pretty exciting and cool.
After 15+ hours of travel the next day, (thanks to the storms in Austin), we finally arrived home and our adventure came to an end.
Though I have traveled many places in my life, each trip affects me profoundly, especially when I have experiences like I did in Canada. As a lifelong Girl
Scout, I’ve learned to make the most of the things I get to experience, especially traveling.  This trip brought me a greater appreciation and love of soccer in general, and a greater respect for women’s soccer specifically. Women’s soccer tends to get downplayed and overshadowed. However,  those women work extremely hard and are just as impressive as the men on the US Men’s National Team. Women’s soccer is a powerful and high-energy sport that involves skill, heart, and athletic ability.
            The victory and success of the US Women’s National Team remind us that girls can do anything if they work hard and have the passion!


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