Alexis Noren and Emily Sheldon helped lead the Puget Sound women's basketball team to an NCAA Division-III Tournament berth in March. A little over three months later, they took their talents to Costa Rica for the Third Annual Costa Rica Basketball Tour through Beyond Sports. Below, Noren and Sheldon share "one of the most memorable weeks of our lives."
Upon receiving our invitation via email back in February, we were Beyond excited to get there (pun intended). Other than sending in our acceptance letters, jersey sizes, and food allergies, we really didn't know what to expect - everything else was taken care of for us. We packed our bags and after a short 15-hour travel day, we arrived to Costa Rica feeling exhausted yet restless to start our experience.
Our base hotel was in the capital city, San Jose, which happens to be in the middle of the country. In other words, traveling to any beach town took us at least three hours. However, it only took ten minutes into the first bus ride to realize how different the Costa Rican driving culture is compared to the U.S. For example, the drivers treat the double yellow lines as mere suggestions and the pedestrians have no fear. This made the bus rides feel slightly longer, but entertaining to say the least.
The first stop on our itinerary was La Fortuna where we zip-lined through the rainforest during a tropical monsoon. The views and animals were hiding in the rain, but the weather made us feel like we were in a dramatic Hollywood movie scene. Later that night we went to the natural hot springs heated by the Fortuna Volcano. Kudos to the program directors for scheduling the hot springs at night; had it been during the day, we probably would have suffered a heat stroke in the Costa Rican humidity. You may think we're being dramatic, but it was a legitimate possibility.
The next morning, we traveled back to San Jose to go straight to our first basketball game against a Costa Rican club team. It took about a quarter of the game to get used to playing with international rules and new teammates, but once we did, we ended up winning by 30+ points. Our post-game meal was a traditional Costa Rican dish consisting of rice, beans, plantains, watermelon and/ or pineapple (which is so much more flavorful off the vine compared to grocery stores' selection in the U.S.). We also had a choice of beef, chicken, or fish. Luckily we loved this combination of foods, because we ended up having it for nearly every meal - including breakfast. Since returning to the states, we realized we may have indulged in too many helpings, and have been eating nothing but salad.
Our next adventure took us to a picture-perfect beach town called Manuel Antonio. We were there for three days and spent our time surfing, soaking up the sun on the beach, and parasailing. At night we went to local restaurants overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Not only did we make friends with the locals, but we also became friendly with the monkeys and sloths that liked to hang around with us. After our relaxing stay at Manuel Antonio, we returned to San Jose to play against the Costa Rican National team. The gym we were supposed to play at had backboard issues, so we ended up playing on a dusty cement court. Despite the odds, we came out injury free and with a win!
The most rewarding part of the trip was working the two clinics with local children. Our first clinic was at the National Arena with the Special Olympics program, and the second was with a local elementary school in San Jose. The language barrier made it challenging to communicate with the kids, however, their love and excitement was so prominent that our poor attempts at Spanglish didn't hinder the experience. It was humbling to see how much it meant to the kids that we came all the way from the U.S. and devoted hours from our busy schedule to focus entirely on them.
We ended up winning all three of our games in Costa Rica, but truthfully, the games were only a fraction of the memories that we made. Thankful doesn't even begin to describe how we feel when reflecting on the opportunity we were given to explore such a beautiful country. The days were packed with activities, and we were fortunate to spend the time with great players and even greater girls from across the U.S. We learned so much, including the fact that you can't sneak toothpaste in through customs. In the end, what we're trying to say is if anyone has two extra tickets to Costa Rica anytime soon, you know who to call. As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida!
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