Submitted by Kristie Lum
This past winter break, the Capilano Blues women’s volleyball team travelled just over 4,800 kilometres to Havana, Cuba for the experience of a lifetime. With the help of the Canada Cuba Sports and Cultural Exchange, the Blues arrived ready for a week-long adventure of new experiences, Cuban culture and international competition.
As part of our trip, we would play the Havana Club team. The women’s national volleyball program in Cuba has been a dominant force on the world circuit ever since it emerged in 1978 – and particularly in the past decade. In the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, the Cuban women became the first women’s team in any sport to earn three Olympic gold medals.
We arrived in Cuba on December 27 with a warm welcome from our tour guide and translator, provided by Canada Cuba Sports and Cultural Exchange. Wasting little time, the Blues headed to the Cuban National Training Centre to meet the Havana Club team for our first taste of international competition. The Cuban players were 15 to 18 years of age and attended a sports school where they lived and breathed volleyball, training every day of the week. There is no doubt that a few of these young teens will be competing at the national level in a few years. Having an opportunity to train and compete in the National Training Centre was a new experience for both teams as the centre is usually limited to only international competition at the national levels.
In the first match, the Blues fell 3-2 to the Cubans in a back and forth five set match. We were back at the gym bright and early the next day for a mixed training session. The practice began with the Blues leading a traditional warm up followed by a variety of drills provided by each team. The teams consisted of half Cuban players and half Capilano players, providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Cubans passion and love for the game, combined with an advanced technical and strategic view of the sport provided by the Blues, made for a positive learning environment for all players and coaches.
It was quickly discovered that the English-Spanish language translation was going to be a challenge. But by the end of the session it was apparent that the language of volleyball could overcome any language barrier. Following the practice, the Capilano Blues treated the Cubans to lunch at the Havana Golf and Country Club and had time to get to know the players and staff while learning more about the Cuban people and culture before heading back to the court. In the afternoon, the Blues evened the series with a hard fought and spirited five set victory.
The Blues would claim victory in the last two matches against the Havana Club team (3-2 and 2-0). But, the true victory was found in the experience of each and every individual who participated in the international competition and cultural exchange. At the end of the week the Blues presented each Cuban player with a Capilano Blues sports bag which was filled with items ranging from clothes and volleyball equipment to school supplies and personal necessities.
Experiencing the national Cuban training facilities and seeing the equipment which they use every day reminded each player how fortunate we are to not only have the facilities and equipment we are provided with, but also to have the everyday necessities that we take for granted. Coach Wayne Desjardins, on behalf of Capilano University, presented the coaches of the Havana Provincial Team with volleyballs, used Capilano uniforms, equipment and coaching attire. In return, the Cuban team presented the Blues with keepsakes which represented their country and their culture.
Nelson Mandela once said, “sport [has] the power to change the world . . . the power to unite in a way that little else does… [and] it speaks to youth in a way they understand.” The Capilano women’s volleyball team had the chance not only to take part in international competition but experience firsthand that no matter what country, culture, language, age, race, or gender, sport is a common ground that can bring people together and for that moment on the court have everything in common. The Blues returned from Cuba on January 4 with a new, refreshed outlook on their competition and ready to take on the second half of their season.