Katie Brand Blog - Exceeding Wildest Dreams

Senior Katie Brand is currently with the U.S. Collegiate National Team on a 12-day tour of China, with stops in Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing and other cities in between. She will check in periodically throughout the two weeks, sharing her experiences of not only high-level volleyball but the Chinese culture as well. For the first post, please click here.

I'm back with more y’all!

I left off with the start of our first gameday here in China, and it was a thriller! It took place in Jintan where over 2,000 fans packed the arena. We were playing the number-two ranked professional team in China, and they played with incredible speed and accuracy, precisely placing the ball to create chaos for us with each attack. They took the first two sets by storm, but c’mon, when have you ever seen the USA give up? We came out firing in the third set and kept them under 15. The fourth and fifth sets were a dogfight, but ultimately, we left with the win! 

The next morning, tired and sore, we hopped on a bus to Lishui. Once there, we dined, practiced, snoozed, and geared up for our second match. A smaller city, with a slightly smaller fan base, made it easier to breathe in the arena. A few times, however, I went back to serve and sucked in a lung full of cigarette smoke as the crowd behind me puffed away. Talk about adversity. Thankfully, we played the same team as the night before, so this time, after an in-depth film review, we were ready. We took the win in four sets, and the second my head hit the pillow when we got back to the hotel, I was out.

Bright and early the next day, we were on the move again. This time to the city of Nanjing. Spoiler, it's been my absolute favorite city thus far! We went straight to the Nanjing Massacre Museum upon arrival. I was nowhere near prepared for what I witnessed. In 1937, the Japanese army invaded Nanjing and went on a six-week raid of the city and killing over 300,000 people. The museum was built around the remains of some of the victims, and my heart will never forget what I saw. One of our travel guides, Sandy Vaughn - an absolute legend in the volleyball world – remembered being 12 years old and living two hours away from the attack. The perspective he was able to add as a living witness made it real for me.

It was clear once we left, practice had to be canceled that day. Our minds were too full and our hearts were too heavy. So instead, we ate at a Vietnamese restaurant that had us trying some dishes I could have never even dreamed up in America. Once full, we left to settle in at our hotel, which had to been created for royalty! Between the mall in the basement equipped with Burberry, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabanna, and many, many more, plus the sensational spa on the fourth floor, and the game room on the eighth, of which the ping pong table was utilized, it is insane! 

Once settled in, we boarded our double decker bus to an elementary school in the heart of the city. I sat on the upper level in the front of the bus, and I've decided that's my new favorite carnival ride. Driving in China is like one giant game of chicken, and our bus driver was FEARLESS! By the grace of God, we arrived safely, only clipping the heels of a handful of pedestrians on the way. I completely forgot about my exhilarating ride though once I met the children. They were all geared up in their volleyball uniforms and ready to learn. Their parents all surrounded the court, cameras in hand. Our only form of communication was our love of the game which allowed us to bond instantly and made me feel right at home. By far, my favorite experience of this trip. I will never forget how those kids looked up at us, how eager they were to learn, or how the simple love of a game made this all possible. We exchanged gifts at the end and off we went with memories that will last a lifetime.

The staff gave us that night off to explore the city, and boy, were we excited. We walked all around what reminds me of the Asian version of Times Square. We window shopped until we found the most American looking burger around. We sat in the restaurant for hours savoring our food, telling stories, laughing until we cried, and all the while not noticing how quickly we were becoming, not just the best of friends, but teammates. It's in those small moments something beautiful is happening - we're forming bonds built on trust that changes this experience from a team of strangers representing the USA, to a family fighting for one another and pulling each other along when we need it. It brought a smile to my face as it reminded me of my family in purple back home. Our laughs carried us off into the night as we joked up and down the streets on Nanjing, and we ended the evening back in the hotel, snuggled up to watch another Chinese movie we could only pretend to understand. But I've learned from this trip it's not what you spend your time doing, it's who you spend it with that makes it so enjoyable.

This tour of China has already exceeded all of my wildest dreams, and I can't wait to see where it takes me next! I'll be sure to check in again soon!