In Team Sports Girls Win Even in Loss

I am sure a lot of people back home wonder why I am still coaching in Switzerland, the land of ski, where basketball is a minor sport at best. Facilities are limited, practices sporadic, and talent questionable.

But I still get a kick out of coaching the varsity girls. Last Thursday after teaching until 5 pm, the team and I hopped on 2 different buses and 3 different trains, to travel to Zug to compete in an international SCIS tournament. We lost every game except one, but the results don’t tell the whole story.

When we were down by 20 points against the American School of Vienna, who went on to win the tournament, we came back within a couple baskets. We fought intense battles, losing by a point or two in other games.

Sometimes you play your hardest and still finish next to last. Normally I would be frustrated, but after our final game, I felt content. Our losing tournament was really a success. My players bonded together, improved with every game, and built long lasting memories. They learned to play all out every game even when falling behind.

Though I hate to lose, winning is no longer the be all of my existence. One becomes wiser with age; I know that regardless of the score, the value of team sport is immeasurable. Team competition helps girls grow stronger and healthier, better prepared to negotiate conflict, overcome set backs and believe in themselves.IMG_6207_copy

This year, my players are going through tough issues that come with adolescence. During a scary time period where terrorist attacks, date rape, and random violence reign, they take those tottering steps toward adulthood. They face challenges with heartache and tears: break ups with boyfriends, friends falling out, college rejections, academic pressures, poor grades. But when they come to practice, they run hard, forget their troubles and giggle again.

They make up crazy systems of attack with even sillier names, like double D – sounds like a bra, not a double pick, high post play – Quiznos, peanut butter, and Dani boy.

Towards the end of one game earlier in the season, when we were ahead by 20 some points, our point guard called out, “Mississippi.” I watched in disbelief as all my players sat down on the court except for our point. While our opponents froze in bewilderment, stunned by our bizarre, sit-down offense, our guard dribbled right up the middle of the key for an easy lay.

And I laughed. Gotta love Swiss basketball.IMG_6214

This would never happen in America.

Though I am still every bit as competitive; I still study the game, call crucial time outs, diagram perfect plays, I am more mellow about the outcome. I understand that by just competing and being part of a team even my least talented players will learn lessons lasting lifetimes.

Farewell to Papie

photos Guy Lechault-1Impeccably dressed and coiffed, cher Papie, Guy Lechault, was a dapper, hardworking, upstanding French citizen. Born in Rouen on Dec. 1, 1926 to Robert Lechault and Jeanne Ducreux, he was raised during hard times between two world wars.

During WWII in Occupied France, like all able-bodied French boys, he was carted off to work for the enemy. Fortunately, he wound up with a German farm family where he was treated justly during unjust times. A few years later back on home soil, he was drafted and sent back to Germany with the Allied forces.

In 1951, he married the love of his life, Francoise Elie. His eleven-year-old granddaughter will tell you, “He met Mamie in a boîte de nuit (night club)!”photos Guy Lechault-9

They actually met at a tea dance popular after the war. Papie sure could heel turn across the parquet; he twirled me around the tables at our wedding. When my German teammates came to celebrate, without missing a beat, Papie raised his glass to them in cheer, “Prost.

Together Guy and Francoise raised three children. Two lovely daughters and one fine son, who became my husband.

photos Guy Lechault-7Before the days that Grand Hotelier schools turned out perfectly trained servers and sommeliers, Guy was a self-taught man learning the trade in bars, restaurants and then at Trouville’s seaside casino. In addition to impeccable table etiquette, he cajoled with the customers in rudimentary English, German, and Dutch. In later years, when guests arrived at Le Grande Bec hotel/restaurant, perched on cliffs above the English Channel, Papie welcomed them to France by serving Normandy’s finest fare from land and sea.

Papie loved sports and could recite the scores of his favorite teams. Once an avid football player, he enjoyed kicking a soccer ball on the beach with his 3 grandsons.

His first granddaughter was the apple of his eye until his adopted granddaughter stole his heart with her infectious laughter and mischievous brown eyes.IMG_1975_copy

Papie was a bricoleur (fixer upper) extraordinaire. He painted homes with the precision of a professional and there wasn’t an appliance that he couldn’t repair. While tinkering, he was also what the French call a râleur (grumbler). I learned a lot of new French words listening to him swear while hammering, chiseling, and drilling away.

In his profession, obliged to work impossibly long hours, family time was precious.

He saved tips to take his children across the country for one week of ski holidays in the Alps. After we moved to Switzerland, and then well into his 70s, he carved the slopes of Mt. Blanc with his son and grandson. Three generations of Lechaults etched life long memories in perfect powder.

His work ethic was so deeply ingrained, he never missed a day on the job putting in 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. In his free time, he remained active fishing and biking until the last few years, when his heart weakened.

IMG_3393_copyNon-judgmental, Papie welcomed me wholeheartedly into the Normand clan with his warm heart. On my first visit to Trouville, he offered me Coca Cola to make me feel at home. Once I developed an appreciation for wine, he served grand crus from his cellar knowing I favored the Burgundies of his mother’s home region.

Though he could command the timely serving of entire restaurant, there was no table he preferred to reign over than the one in his own home where he poured wine, carved roasts and shared the lively repartee that is so very French. After enjoying a 5-course family meal, he would doze off in his favorite chair in front of a football match.

Papie had an infectious smile and an engaging style; he was movie star handsome and as charming as a politician, but without the BS.

Kind, tolerant, industrious, a self made man of humble origins, a loyal husband, loving father, and proud grandfather.

Guy Lechault would have turned 88 this December, but in our hearts, vibrant Papie will remain forty-something forever.IMG_2675_copy

1 December 1926   –   25 September 2014

How was your Summer Holiday?

IMG_4546Every September the favorite back to school topic is how was your summer holidays? Holiday? I spent my summer at our family cabin in Wisconsin running a resort and preparing meals for a dozens of hungry “campers” who thought they were at the Club Med of the Northwoods. It seemed like when we weren’t hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, and eating we were recovering from hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing and eating.

We never saw the bear, but we sure had lots of other excitement: one sever allergic reaction, an episode of vertigo, a tick bite, an acute lumbar spine injury, a broken toe, 2 herniated disks, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis elbow, and an infected bite from an unidentified creature. Thankfully these ailments did not befall the same person.

We were so lucky to have access to free medical advice. When in doubt call Dr. Nat.

“I am a pediatrician,” she repeated, “and I hate to break it you, but you are all over the age of 18.”

Ah, the blessing of having a doc in the family. “I’ll tell you what I told you the last time you called. Go to urgent care or check with your general practitioner!”

So we learned that if you call 911 on one of those old-fashioned land phones, the rescue squad could locate a cabin hidden back in the woods with only a fire lane number.

Ze Frenchman, the only one who ignored the doctor’s advice, waited to seek treatment until the bite on his shoulder morphed into an abscess the size of a turnip requiring minor surgery and major antibiotic intervention.

We also had a lot of back injuries. Fortunately, we are blessed with a first rate chiropractor, Dr.Dave. Unfortunately, he moved his practice 50 miles further north to Eagle River.

It seemed like every day someone had a chiro appointment, so we switched in names of patients depending on whose pain was greatest.

“I twinged my back,” Nic said, “but right now my toe hurts worse. I dropped a weight on it.”

Dr. Dave was surprised to see our son, who lives in Minneapolis, limp through the door.

“Doc, you always know we’ll be bringing a bus load from Summit Lake,” I said. “You just never know who’ll be on the bus.”

In between our ambulance rides, urgent care visits and doctors appointments, we had a blast.

We had birthday celebrations for my dad, my sister, and my niece. We threw a wonderful party for my mom’s 80th. We toasted my sister’s retirement, my siblings wedding anniversaries and our daughter’s first official day on the job.

You know those Frenchman; they never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass in good cheer.

And surprisingly, on the coldest summer on record, we ran out of ice every day because we were nursing so many injuries.

But hey, no one is complaining. When friends and colleagues asked about our summer holidays we tell them, “It was great!”

When we look back on our Summit Lake summer, we forget the aches and pains; all we remember is the love and laughter.

So, do tell, how was your summer holiday?

Step into Wellness with Walking Sticks

IMG_0191_copyMy dad, a former All American athlete, teacher and coach, has always maintained an active lifestyle and tried to stay in shape. In the past, he recovered from heart and hip surgery by walking regularly. Though his neuropathy has gotten progressively worse, he is not one to sit still, so I gave him walking sticks for his 83rd birthday and told him to set the trend in Sterling.

Since the 1930s, Nordic walking has been used as a means for cross country skiers to train during the summer months because it closely simulated the same movement. However it wasn’t until the late 90’s that pole walking or ski walking took off around the world.

When the activity first originated in Finland, people called it “dementia walking” because people thought walkers forgot their skis. The craze once laughed off as foolish nonsense has gone global. An estimated 3 million people practice pole walking regularly. Since 2004 over a fifth of the Finish population take part in the sport. http://www.onwf.org/

Now doctors are aboard, agreeing that it is one of the best forms of cardiovascular workout because it uses all muscle groups. They also recommend that it is ideal for those in cardiac recovery.

  • Engages 90% of your body’s muscle
  • Increases heart rate
  • Burns more calories than ordinary walking
  • Trims the waistline
  • Improves posture
  • Takes pressure off the feet, knees and back
  • Proven to lower Body Mass Index in 12 weeks

Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning forms the core of the workout. Nordic walking requires muscular endurance, balance, range of motion, agility, coordination, efficiency of movement, and visual acuity. Pole walkers must focus forward not down, which helps improve posture. Some experts argue that ski walking provides more health benefits than walking, biking, jogging or running.

According to an article in American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2013, “studies conducted by NCBI National Library of Medicine show that Nordic walking exerts beneficial effects on resting heart rate, blood pressure, exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption, and quality of life in patients with various diseases and can thus be recommended to a wide range of people as primary and secondary prevention.”IMG_0189_copy

In the mountain villages one can see hikers of all ages using walking sticks. In our fitness courses, we teach Nordic walking to our high school students. It is particularly popular with long distance athletes whose joints can no longer take the pounding. When I told my friend Tina, an x runner, about it she immediately joined the movement.

Accolades aside, Nordic walking’s best health benefit is helping maintain a long, active life.

So, what are you waiting for? What better way to invest in your future?IMG_20140816_162919_901_copy

Join Grandpa Jim and get fit.

Loving Football – Catching Brazil’s World Cup Fever

brazilian-soccer-fans-commemorating-group-happy-victory-flag-background-34849799Born in the U.S.A., the only football I knew growing up was the one where men wearing girdles wrestled over an oval pigskin on the gridiron in a sport that excluded girls. The game Americans refer to as soccer and the rest of the world calls football was not popular in the States.

But when I moved abroad, I fell in love with the other football. My German basketball club teammates taught me how to play. I loved chasing the round ball down an open field as my appreciation and understanding of the game evolved. In international schools where I worked, I even officiated PE class games where students “explained” in no uncertain terms how to call offside.

Whether I was living in France, Germany or Switzerland, once every four years, the planet stopped spinning on its axis during the World Cup Football Championship. Shops close early, giant screens light up, and riots break out as world cup frenzy hits the streets. In Switzerland roadways are blocked because the game is on the big screen in Geneva’s central square, in France traffic halts for merrymakers spilling onto the Champs-Elysées and in Germany a 100,000 fans erupt in joy by the Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.football fans

With 3.3 -3.5 billion fans and played by 250 million players around the globe, football is the world’s most popular sport. Requiring virtually no equipment, football can be played anywhere from the favellas of Rio de Janeiro to the slums of India.

At its inception in 1930, the 1st world cup, held in Uruguay, included only 13 invited teams. Today, teams battle across every continent to qualify for the 32-team tournament.

National victories become political statements reflecting global tensions. The World Cup was not held in 1942 during WWII or in its devastating aftermath in 1946.The 1954 world cup, held in Switzerland, was the first to be televised, which brought unprecedented marketing opportunities.

Brazil estimates to bring home $11 billion from 600,000 tourists and 3 million Brazilians in attendance, however financial experts are skeptical. South Africa showed a reverse effect where countries are harmed economically from hosting the event. Brazil’s hosting has been controversial from the get go with protests breaking out daily. Should a country with such a great poverty level be hosting a billion dollar event making stadiums that cost hundreds of million dollars?

As with any sporting event involving big bucks, controversy follows suit. Rumors of official bribes and FIFAs questionable tactics abound. And for the first time ever, a player was suspended for biting an opponent when in the heat of battle Uruguay’s Louis Suarez chomped down on the shoulder his Italian opponent. Seriously?

National pride escalates with each victory, boosting ratings of the leadership in countries that advance to the next round. Team affinity becomes extreme, but with my own personal ties to several countries, I am content when USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, or any Scandinavian country wins. Though I would never admit to my French family, I was the only one who wasn’t too disappointed when France lost to Germany in the quarterfinals. With fond memories of my time in living in Marburg, I still feel loyalty to the country that once hosted me.

With youth soccer clubs booming, I am tickled to see that America finally caught the football bug. Germany's Mueller challenges goalkeeper Howard of the U.S. during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Pernambuco arena in RecifeUSA advancement to the final sixteen and goalie Tim Howard’s stellar performance versus Belgium put USA on the map in world football scene.

Politics, money and fan violence aside, football at its purest level, is good, clean fun. During the tournament, boys and girls around the globe fill sandlots, dead end streets, and empty fields, running around, kicking balls, juggling their own World Cup dreams.

Confessions of a T-shirt Junky

IMG_4503_copySpring cleaning forced me to fess up. I am an addict. My vice – T-shirts. Think I am kidding? I cleared out my cupboards and counted 92 cotton shirts.  I hoard them, savoring the memories they evoke.

My collection includes styles with or without collars, long, short or no sleeve, light shirts, tight shirts, baggy shirts, depending on the era representing colors of every season. Not only the standard, red, white, blue, oh no, my stock includes magenta, turquoise, olive, plum, aquamarine, cornflower, cerise, burnt sienna, pink sherbet, electric lime, shirts in more shades than found in a giant box of Crayolas.

I lack fashion sense, yet my shirt assemblage rivals Imelda Marco’s shoe collection.

I am loath to part these treasures; T-shirts tell the story of my life.

In my closet, I found shirts labeled McKinzie-Smith Basketball Camp, dating back to the early 80’s when Phil and I started the first girls’ basketball camp in the Sauk Valley area. I also have my favorite college basketball T-shirt designed by the point guard who helped me break scoring records with her right-on-the-money passes.IMG_4505_copy

In the attic, I discovered the family heirlooms – my dad’s old gray Sterling High School Phys Ed shirt and my grandpa’s gold and maroon Eureka College Football Staff polo shirt.  I have T-shirts with photographs commemorating my son’s Swiss National Championship team and my daughter’s All-Star high school team. I’ve never worn them because I didn’t want the pictures to fade. Who could pitch those?

I uncovered decade’s worth of T-shirts from the various International Sport Schools Tournaments. Each shirt listed participating teams from Athens, Frankfurt, Brussels and Paris to other cosmopolitan cities across Europe. As a coach, I traveled to destinations most people only dream of. Every shirt reminded me not only the championship games, but of the landmarks visited: Manneken Pis Statue (Boy Peeing Statue) in Brussels, Hofbrau Haus in Munich, Acropolis in Athens, boardwalks in The Hague, canals of Venice. I still have t-shirts from the teams I played on in France and Germany.

On another shelf, I uncovered souvenir shirts from family vacations to the Badlands and the Grand Canyon and from the tag-a-long trips when we followed our kids’ teams competing at Daytona Beach, in San Diego’s Surf & Slam and up and down the mountains in the Swiss Championship.

I still faithfully wear one of the dozen UWSP basketball t-shirts on game day, even though my daughter graduated from there nearly a decade ago.

Another series of T-shirts bear the emblems of the American School of Paris and International School of Geneva where I have taught for the past decades.

No one helps me kick the habit. My two Big Kids, taller and buffer, feed my obsession by giving me their out grown, hand-me-downs to add to my stockpile.

A college teammate used to proclaim a dessert of the year; well I have a shirt of the year. The 2014 award winner is a mesh, white Nike T-shirt inscribed with the women’s basketball Redbird logo that my coach gave me when she drove UWSP to hear me speak at the NCAA Final Four banquet.

My lil’ sis once promised, “when I retire I will make you a quilt out of all your favorite T-shirts.”IMG_4502_copy

Well, Karen, could you hurry up and retire. We are running out of storage space.