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Ringing in 2017 Down Under

A lot has happened since I last wrote. My season started earlier than I anticipated since I was accepted into the WTA in Auckland, New Zealand at the last minute. I went up to Seattle to train and to spend Christmas with my parents. I had a relaxing Christmas filled with good food and company. I was planning to finish my off season training in Maui and even had a plane ticket to fly down there on the 27th of December. The morning of the 26th, a couple of people pulled out so I immediately packed my bags and booked a flight to Auckland. I had been playing well in practice, so I was very excited to be able to play one of the lead up tournaments down under. The day just flew by.. I packed, practiced and then went to the airport to catch my red eye flight.
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Because of the time change and the long flight, I didn’t get in until the morning of the 28th. The tournament didn’t start until the 31st so I was fortunate to have a few days to get acclimated. I practiced with the girls down there and I felt good going into the tournament. I was playing well in points, so I thought it was going to be a good week. Beautiful place, great facility, and good tennis. What more could I want?

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Unfortunately, in the afternoon of my final practice I felt a twinge in my throat, but thought nothing of it. The next day I woke up with a sore throat, my head throbbing, and just exhausted. I was not feeling like myself, but I wasn’t the only one. There were a couple other players who were sick, so apparently there was something going around. I was determined to power through it since I had come a long way for just one tournament. I was set to play Ipek Soylu from Turkey. She played in some of the tournaments in China where I had played her in doubles. I knew she could be up and down since she takes big cuts at the ball so I planned to weather the storm. I started off by losing a few really close games to go down 3-0, but then the set just continued to slip to 6-0. I have never felt so slow. Those who know me know that I can normally run all day. In the second I was able to sink my teeth into the match going up 2-1. I wasn’t able to maintain my lead, but lost the set 6-4. I was very disappointed, but there was nothing I could do. A little silver lining was that the match was still technically in 2016, so I could start clean in 2017.

To ring in the new year I was able to walk out of the hotel to see the fireworks off of the Sky Tower. It was only a 5 minute show, but it was the first one in the world for 2017 so that was pretty awesome.

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The next few days I stuck around in New Zealand to rest and sightsee since I didn’t have any other tournaments to play. Normally I don’t get the chance to be a tourist in the places I go to, so it was nice to take advantage of that despite being sick. I went to Rangitoto Island, which is the newest volcano in New Zealand. It was pretty cool to see all of the lava and to check out some lava caves. It was only a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. After getting back I also went to the player party with my friends Jamie Loeb and Lauren Davis. It was a fun night full of good food with a great view of the water.

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The following day I went canyoning in Blue Canyon, which was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Basically I jumped, slid and repelled down waterfalls. Since I was sick, I put on two wet suits, wet socks, wet jacket, and a wet head sleeve to keep me warm. There were no other people around, and everywhere I looked there was rainforest. Even though I think it made me more sick, it was totally worth it. Besides I still had a month before my next tournament.

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Hawaii
On the 2nd of January, I flew to Maui to retreat back into off season training. I know what you’re thinking, I’m living the life right now… Well Maui wasn’t a vacation and there was a lot of tough training going on. Of course I did find some time to go to the beach and do a couple of extracurricular activities. The main reason I went to Maui to train is because my coach, Joel, and I have a friend there who we met last year when we went there for the Maui challenger. His name is Tom, and he is a big supporter of my tennis, so I’m always excited to see him. He invited Joel and I to train there for a couple weeks and we gladly took up his offer. I would practice and do my fitness training on the beach. We mixed in some swimming and paddle boarding. Paddle boarding was a huge workout for me since I’m not very good and the waves kept knocking me off.

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The toughest day of fitness was the day that Joel and I unintentionally ran a half marathon on Haleakala. Haleakala is a huge volcanic crater on Maui whose peak is around 10,000 ft. It’s only an hour and half drive up so we ate breakfast around 9 am and then Tom drove us up. We started at 8,000 ft and had planned to run down the switchbacks to a cabin at 6,000 ft and back, which would’ve been about 7 miles roundtrip. Unfortunately the switchbacks were a bit too rocky to run fast so we only full out ran the last mile to the cabin. When we got to the cabin we had gone about 3.5 miles. Our friend Tom felt bad about me not getting my sprints in so he insisted that we finish the trail to run out at 10,000 ft. He had left his hydroflask hidden in the bushes halfway up from the way we came so he said that he would drive up to the top to pick us up. He told us it was only another 4 miles to the top and was insistent that Joel and I should go. We had a bottle and a half left of water and hadn’t eaten, but 4 more miles was what we had planned on doing anyway so we knew we could make it. Before going our separate ways, Tom showed us the coolest lava caves. Technically it was closed, but we went in anyway and they put the ones in New Zealand to shame.

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At 2:15 we set off for the top, but little did we know it would be another 3 hours before we made it to the top. We ran along the bottom of the crater, which was super cool since it was black sand. It made for a tough workout that’s for sure. We ran about 4 miles, and ended up seeing a sign while we were still at the bottom of the crater saying that it was 3.9 miles back to the cabin. That’s when we knew we were in trouble since we were still in the crater and the 4 miles we had thought we would have to the top was not even close to the reality. As we got higher, it got colder and we were both wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a light jacket. In addition we had almost no water left and were starving.

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The saving grace was that we ran into some people who were having a picnic who took pity on us and gave us water and a little bit of food (a rice cake, a mandarin orange and a boiled egg). At that point it was 3:40 and they said it took them 2 hours to come down. At this point we were already exhausted, but we kept alternating between sprinting and walking. It was terrible. I was running with my hands in my pockets because they were numb. It was around 45 Fahrenheit and it felt endless since the climb was extremely steep. Joel started getting altitude sickness so I had to save what little water we had left for him. Here’s a progression of pictures that shows the struggle we went through: me happy and enjoying the run, me realizing we have already run 4 miles and are still in the crater, and Joel on the verge of passing out.

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Meanwhile at the top, Tom was looking for us and walked by a sign with the park map and found out that he sent us on a suicide run unprepared. He was worried we weren’t going to make it out before sunset, in which case we would’ve been in huge trouble since there is no cell service in the crater.

Luckily we made it out 3 hours after separating and over 8 miles later. The total mileage was close to 13 miles. Yeah just a casual half marathon at altitude where we almost died. The best part of getting out was the fact that Tom had brought fresh coconuts to open, which Joel and I both chugged since we were so dehydrated. Basically Maui was no picnic.. It took me days to recover from that one…

I’ll stick to the beach and the occasional boat ride, snorkeling and whale watching.

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So those were my highlights from Maui. Now I’m in Michigan preparing for my first tournament of the year in Midland. I will be in the main draw starting next Tuesday or Wednesday so I’m excited to try out everything that I’ve been working on.