Author: Michelle Nizza
“2020 is going to be my year”. Did you say it? I most definitely did – and it started off pretty solid! BTH saw 2019 closeout together in the most fulfilling way, with some fireworks and a lot of grapes, ala Spanish tradition, courtesy of Rocío and Fran. January and February saw our men and women compete (against exceptional opponents), the latter dominating at home. Off the court team bonding shenanigans ensued, from birthdays at La Fábrica to the very memorable adventure at Wachusett Mountain. Heike and Viktor demonstrated experience and skill in their respective winter sports, while Robin glided effortlessly, snapping videos down her run. Joao took to snowboarding with relative ease (we have proof) while I, decked out in Jamie’s bright orange snow pants, mastered high-speed collisions with the barrier (regrettably, also on film).
Overall the year could not have started any better. I recall posting my March schedule, excited for what it represented in the months that followed. Between Indoor and Beach, every weekend through spring and summer would be spent with my all-time favorite people: my teammates. My family.
I woke up on the morning of March 12th and headed to Boston Logan Airport for the second consecutive weekend meetup with my beach teams in LA. But this day was different. Reports had been surfacing for some time about the presence of a new illness, but gossip would have some of us question its severity. It’s just the flu, right? Wrong. As numbers started isolating and major organizations closed their doors, the email came through. The next tournament at West Point, Laura Walker, had been canceled. This was closely followed by our own Boston Invitational and, ultimately, widespread suspensions of both practice and the season. Shortly before boarding, and many phone calls later, I went home.
Over the next few weeks, the world at large had us wondering what was next. The acute effects of separation from our game and peers were felt immediately in the Boston Blue Connection thread. Love, support, and miss you’s were a constant stream, reminiscent of poutine in Montreal and 7m shots on Flavi. Adding weight, we saw some of our international athletes return home without proper send-offs (lack of closure is unacceptable in the BTH Family). I, myself, struggled hard in the absence of running hugs and chest bumps from Natascha and Right Wing position dance parties with Isabela.
Training at a top-tier gym in Back Bay, my job rebounded most impressively. While other clubs laid off staff and braced for the economic impact, mine moved to a virtual platform. This turned out highly effective for members and trainers, not only with regard to physical fitness but also emotional and mental wellness. Interacting with others made quarantine more bearable, creating some derivative of normalcy.
If I could work out with my clients, surely I could do so with my teammates, too. So I sent a message.
On March 27th, BTH had our first online practice. Seven of our women sweated out the stress of isolation, relieved to see each other’s faces. The sessions that followed steadily grew as our men joined in, and the invitation was extended to my beach teams. We consistently trained together every Saturday and Sunday regardless of state, and even country. While Katiann, Kim, and Elise rose early from Southern California, Olivia joined in Boston, and Sofia gave it her all from Brazil. Thanks to Robin from our BTH Men’s Team, we even made some new international friends with a BTH alumna and her team. Maria from Germany connected us with her greater network, SG Narva Berlin, for an epic high-intensity day complete with 45 (incredible) athletes! It was a humbling experience to coordinate such an event and see handball bring so many together in trying times.
And then, Bruna took it to the next level. Our social media had been active, posting “fit-spiration” with our local community in mind. She wanted to do more and had the foresight to move our practice to Instagram Live. It began as a solo hour, hosted by myself, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first session was a bit intimidating, as I realized how odd it felt to be alone, working out with people watching. I might have talked to my lamp while on camera. We quickly upgraded from inanimate objects, and, at the suggestion of Elise from BTH, in support of the Greater Boston Food Bank. On May 16th, I was joined by my first co-host, Marianne, and at her suggestion, the infamous burpee workout came two days later for Darko. Along with Rocío and Manu, BTH managed to surpass our donation goal of $1000, trending under the hashtag #ONETEAMONECITY.
It was overwhelmingly beautiful and inspiring for our club to experience such togetherness. We received positive feedback from the greater handball community, so much so that we quickly evolved to the hashtag #ONESPORTONENATION. After what felt like a century, on June 6th, I got to see my teammate Hannah from USA Beach Handball, who joined us to launch the next series. Sliding from her wet grass in Seattle, we traveled south to San Francisco and made a new friend from one of our favorite competitors, Cal Heat. Thomas proved he had kept up on his quarantine fitness, powering through his lifts and drills with impressive stamina.
Even though Nationals didn’t happen we still “went” to Detroit, where fellow American “Joey Handball” had us laughing uncontrollably. I wondered why it was so easy for him to talk throughout the workout, only to go back later and discover his Shake-Weight antics, unknown to me at the time. Joey: 1 Michelle: 0.
Our series came to a finale on July 11th with one last trip overseas. Boston-born Hendrik of USA Team Handball joined us six hours ahead from Germany and gave quality insight into training, rehab, and game culture from an area where consistent play is a staple.
While no one can say with resolve that a pandemic is desirable, people host an unbelievable capacity to adapt. On a personal level, I am really proud of my club and everyone who made these small workouts greater than what was written on paper. These series have become testaments to the unity of our handball community in the USA, and have even shed light on some newer, up-and-coming teams (looking at you, Flint!). As we start to see athletes take to outdoor play and restrictions ease, there is a lot to look forward to. We will soon be practicing and competing again safely, growing in both skill and numbers. I, for one, am grateful for the positives that came out of the craziness and cannot wait to get back on the court, where Noelia will inevitably kick my butt trying to teach me defense.
All in all, 2020 may not be my year. BUT, I dare to say it is OUR year. It is one that, in spite of tragedy, continues to prove resiliency abroad and at home.
Much love to our handball brothers and sisters. Never-ending thanks to everyone involved. #GOBLUE.