Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finding Gold in Taiwan

I have sat down several times in the last two weeks and tried to jot down my thoughts about my experiences in Taiwan. I cannot seem to find the words to express the relationships I formed, the knowledge I acquired, and the emotions and patriotism of winning a gold medal. I’m hoping that with the images below and my feeble attempt to paint pictures with words, you will get a glimpse of what I’m trying to express.

On August 26, I met Team USA at the Westin Hotel in Los Angeles. The U.S. had over 300 athletes representing 13 different sports and everyone was packed into the ballroom trying on their new gear, anticipating the journey to Taipei and waiting patiently for dinner to be served. We were all booked on a red-eye Malaysia Airlines flight so we had a lot of down time before we were shuttled to the airport that evening. The flight to Taipei was about 14 hours long and it was definitely the largest aircraft I have ever been on complete with an “upper deck.” I was impressed to see that the majority of the flight crew used sign language with the athletes and the coaches. I was able to pick up a few more signs just by being a spectator.

When we arrived in Taipei around 6 a.m. (a full day ahead of home), we breezed through customs and were greeted by cheering locals waiving American flags. The six charter buses (with police escort) drove us three hours south to the city of Chia-yi where our training camps would take place over the next week. The town sits on the flat lowlands in the middle of the island, about 155 miles south of the capital, and is bordered by mountains to the east. Our 14-story 5-star accommodation was the Nice Prince Hotel which was attached to a large shopping mall where I could get a daily dose of Starbucks coffee (instead of my daily cup of green tea). Our two-a-day sessions were held at National Cheng Chung University about 20 minutes from the hotel. Being the rainy season in Taiwan, the temps were between 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit and we were guaranteed a daily afternoon shower.

One evening after dinner, Ken, Terri, George and I were trying to stay awake at a Team USA coaches meeting in the dining area. Who walks in and surprises me? My father-in-law, Dad Kinzer, who was in Taiwan on business. He was only able to stay for a day, but we found some adventure in an international food court with no English menus and a small arcade where I whipped him at air hockey and basketball (I’m sure there will be a re-match over Christmas break). The following day, we took the high speed train back into Taipei to pick up one of my student-athletes from the International School of Curacao. Nikki is a senior who plays soccer for me and basketball for Dan. She is also part of the I.B. program which requires her to write an extended essay/senior thesis and she chose to research and write about deaf athletes. Nikki arrived via a layover in her home country of Holland and Mr. Kinzer departed to get on with his business meetings. Both teams welcomed Nikki with open arms and were eager to help with her paper and teach her the basics of American Sign Language.

On September 2, we ended training camp and departed Chia-yi. We checked into the Miramar Gardens Hotel in Taipei and received excellent service for our entire stay. The men ended up with a 1-5-1 record, but with the highlight of knocking out Great Britain - the former #1 deaf men's team in the world. The women had wins over Germany, Denmark, South Africa (forfeit), Great Britain and Germany again in the gold-medal game 4-0. Katie Romano, Virginia Keeler, Betsy Hoerner, Reagan Anders and Megan Johnston were the five veterans from the 2005 Deaflympics U.S. team.

Opening and closing ceremonies at the sold-out Taipei Stadium were amazing. The Deaflympics had over 9,000 volunteers to entertain us and ensure that things ran smoothly. Light shows, fireworks, instrumentals, singing, dancing, speeches from prominent officials and the passing of the torch were all a part of these events. The athletes traded pins, jerseys and friendly conversation on both evenings showing off their exemplory sportsmanship.

Everyday, I was humbled and inspired by my colleagues and the men and women players.

My tactical knowledge of the game of soccer was expanded by working with Head Coach Ken McDonald. His beautiful wife Terri continued to amaze everyone with the countless hours she put in as both teams' manager. The men's assistant coach George provided us not only with 35 years of coaching experience, but with many laughs and brutal honesty! Our trainers Robyn and Charlie worked overtime to aid our athletes with their nagging injuries and give them the treatments they needed to keep them healthy. We were joined by Ken's brother Paul who flew in from England to share his vast soccer knowledge, to support our teams and get in on the adventures.

In Taipei, we were able to visit: Taipei 101 - one of the tallest buildings in the world; Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Halls to witness enormous statues, immaculate gardens and the changing of the guard; the amusing Modern Toilet restaurant (where you drank out of glasses that looked like urinals and bowls that were shaped like toilets); Shilin Night Market-great deals and strange foods to try (stay away from stinky tofu); the impressive Jade collection at the National Palace Museum; and the colors, architecture, incense and peace of a Buddhist temple.

(Below) Clockwise from top left:
Paul, me, George, Ken, Nikki and Terri enjoying the atmosphere of the Jurassic restaurant in walking distance of our hotel. This group shared a lot of laughs and have many stories to tell.

Watching the U.S. women beat Germany for a second time to capture the gold medal provoked several intense emotions from me. These 16 women ranging from ages 15-35 all contributed to the success of the team. When the final whistle blew, I witnessed Terri and Ken embrace - all of the sleepless nights and hard work had paid off; our players circling the field taking turns carrying the American flag while waving to family and friends in the stands; George and Paul hustling down to the field to celebrate; Felicia, Megan and Kelly limping off the field having played through groin, knee and ankle injuries; the U.S. Deaf Women's national team on the podium, hands over their hearts, while the national anthem was played. Though they couldn't hear the anthem, several of the women told me later, they could feel it! I was so proud and honored to be a part of something so special and unique. My life has changed for the better and I look forward to the future of U.S. Deaf Soccer. For more details and pictures, check out: and

Stay tuned for details of our October trip to Costa Rica!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Summer Time ... and the Livin's Easy

Summer is every child's ... and teacher's ... favorite time of year. It's not that we don't enjoy what we do; in fact, we LOVE what we do, but Summer provides for a new and fresh kind of learning. Summer is time for the hands-on, experiential learning that is so hard to come by inside the 4 walls of a classroom. We strive for it during the 10 months of the school year, but we get hit in the face with it during these 2 months of bliss.

Dan spent 10 days at Kennedy Space Center at "Teacher Space Camp" and has now deemed himself a future astronaut - NASA's official stance on the matter has yet to be determined.

Erin went back to Pensacola and spent a week training the U.S. National Deaf Soccer Teams in preparation for the Deaflympics in Taiwan; as well as visiting with friends and family.

After nearly 2 weeks apart we flew out to Los Angeles for a visit with Dan's family and to celebrate and remember the life of Dan's good friend, Michael Brownstein.

Finally, to top off the summer we travelled for one month through Ecuador: summitting volcanoes (check out the photos of Cotopaxi!), whitewater rafting into the Amazon Basin; mountain biking down the Avenue of Waterfalls; camping inside of volcanic craters; surfing the points along Ecuador's Pacific Coast; spotting humpback whales migrating off that same Coast; meandering through the streets of Ecuador's colonial capital, Cuenca; or motoring in a canoe half way down the Rio Napo towards Peru and into the dense Amazon Rainforest to spot the pink freshwater dolphin (and to perfect our skills with the blow gun!). It was another trip of a lifetime!

It is the adventures like this that make learning, and therefore teaching, so exhilirating! Life is full of incredible lessons and experiences, and not only in nature, but also within the human spirit that is woven into this rich tapestry along the Equator. From the indigenous people of the high Andes working their fields at altitudes where we could barely breathe, to the colorful and resourceful spirits of the Amazonian tribes, the wealth of the human spirit is as evident in this small country as it is any other place in the world. We hope our pictures (you can see a slide show on the right column of the blog) and our spirit inspire you to get out and see this beautiful world you live in!