Get ready for a Fantastic Voyage at the 17th World Maccabiah Games. Follow all the action through the eyes of an athlete (that would be me) and learn more than you ever wanted to know about bowling (please, control your enthusiasm, you're embarrassing yourself). Fasten that seatbelt and make sure your tray table and seatback are in the locked and upright position -- this is going to be one crazy time!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I'm Ready for my Close-up

As promised, I'll be posting random pictures up here as I get the chance and as I receive them from other people (since they did a better job in the picture department than I did).

Here's one from my medal presentation (still get goosebumps looking at it):

Friday, July 22, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I just said goodbye to all my teammates, watching as the dashed off to their connecting terminals. Erica should be here within the hour to take me home. The time of this posting is back on New York (Eastern) time.

These past three weeks have been a whirlwind experience. I can still vividly see our flight arriving in Israel, the sights we explored, meeting all the athletes and competitors -- it is so fresh in my mind. I know these visions won't quickly fade.

Our travel day wasn't without its bumps along the way. Driving to Ben Gurion Airport from Jerusalem, we heard that infamous dinging sound again, but the driver apparently ignored it as we plugged along toward the airport. Then at the airport, we got back to our favorite activity -- hurry up and wait. The line to x-ray the luggage, and check the luggage, and to order food at the kosher McDonald's (that was a great treat ... Chicken McNuggets at 10:30 a.m.) -- it was all about waiting and waiting some more.

After my luggage x-ray, the El Al people needed to search through my baggage. Apparently, my bowling shoes have metal in the heel (it was news to me too) so they wanted to search through all my clothes. Then, to make matters worse, I had to open up my casebox, the box I used to package my four bowling balls. What a pain in the tuchas that was. What was even worse was that I couldn't find my duct tape and had to use the wimpy packing take the luggage screener provided. Thankfully, waiting in my next line, I found some duct tape and wrapped that baby up good.

Before we left Israel, we had a pleasant surprise -- Yifat from the Israeli Women's Bowling team met us at the security checkpoint to see us off to the U.S. She works for El Al and we asked her to come to work a little early specifically to escort us to the gate. It was great seeing her and great seeing everyone's faces as we had a private escort from El Al take us to the gate. And it helped us put off the final goodbye until we were literally ready to get off the ground.

The plane was a big flying party bus. People were up and all over the place. Wine and beer were handed out like water. We drank the flight out of all its alcohol by about hour six, and there were five more hours to go. Who says that Americans don't know how to party?

In reality, this experience was a big party. We shared so much together and had one great time doing it. Whether it was competing on the lanes or getting thrown into the pool, a good time was had by all -- I think that's something we can all agree on.

I'll post more of my musings as the days go on and I'll try to get more pictures up of different things we did and interesting stuff that brightened our days. Thanks to all my teammates and competitors who I can simply call my friends -- you helped make this the experience it was. I cannot imagine these Games without you.

And thanks to everyone who read and shared the experience with me through this blog. I always appreciated hearing from you and carrying your words of inspiration with me each day. Isn't this technology stuff amazing?

Next year in Jerusalem -- but 2007 in Argentina for the Pan Am Games and 2009 for the 18th World Maccabiah Games in Israel. L'hitraot.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Closing Time ...

I just arrived back at the hotel with the rest of the delegation, the "Maccabiah" theme song ringing in my ears. The Closing Ceremonies were quite an extravaganza -- singers, dancers, speakers, more speakers, fireworks, and even more speakers. In contrast to the wild crowd at the Opening Ceremonies, this was a more intimate affair at Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem, primarily reserved for the visiting athletes. I'm not even sure if the Israelis were invited to join.

There was a big push to make aliyah -- to move to Israel and go through the process of becoming an Israeli citizen. Now, I love Israel as much as the next person, if not more, but part of the honor of the games was being able to represent my home in my homeland -- it's a unique feeling that very few of us had the chance to share and experience. I know there are others that feel the same way I do, and if anyone with any pull for the 2009 Games is reading this, just ease up on the aliyah talk a little bit. I'll get off my soapbox now.

Getting to the Closing Ceremonies was an adventure itself. We were originally scheduled to leave Ramat Gan at 9 a.m., which (thankfully) was delayed to 11:30 a.m. After a quick stop at Kfar Maccabiah to pick up Lou Moyerman, our USA Team Manager, we set off for Jerusalem, where all the athletes were gathering for the Closing Ceremonies. We were also staying in a hotel in Jerusalem, rather than return to our team accommodations. Why it made sense for us to leave Ramat Gan, 15 minutes from the airport, and stay over in Jerusalem, 45 minutes from the airport, well that's a mystery still left unsolved.

Enough of the digression. On the way down Highway 1, our bus began overheating (well, at least that's what we think the dinging sound was). Fortunately, we planned to stop at McDonald's and as luck would have it, that's where the bus stopped to rest. After our quick detour, we were back on the road. We went up the hills and down the hills, then up the hills and down the hills, finally making out way into Jerusalem proper.

The schedule had us going to the Kotel in the afternoon, followed by a mass walk toward Sultan's Pool. But there was time to check-in at the hotel, so we thought. Our bus driver, on the other hand, had instructions to go to the Western Wall. That didn't sit too well with Lou, who in the end got the bus back to the Jerusalem Gate Hotel.

Luxury accommodations these were not, but they would have to do and it was only for a few hours. The bowlers elected to skip the Kotel portion and just go right to the holding area next to Sultan's Pool. It was there that we met up with other bowlers and enjoyed a yummy box dinner and went en masse to the Closing Ceremonies. I was very excited that we could all sit together and close this experience as a large group. These were the people we had shared the past two weeks with -- competiting, dining, partying, living together -- and to sit side-by-side as our Games came to a close was a fitting touch.

The water works have already started and tomorrow will probably be no better. Laila tov.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Competition Comes to a Close

Today was the final day of the bowling competition. I cannot remember the last time my hand was this swollen and gnarly looking from bowling. Every shot hurt when I put my fingers into the ball. Fran even had to cut away at my grips to help relieve some of the pressure it was creating.

Her fine handiwork helped a little. On the upside, I went 6-2 on the day; unfortunately, I didn't bowl as well as I would have liked and stayed in 7th place when all was said and done. I would have loved to have had a chance to go for another medal at these Games but, honestly, I was quite happy ending after the 16th game and calling it a day. Doing all that bowling, so many games in such a short span of time -- something I haven't done in years -- is absolutely draining, but I loved every minute of it.

Emil Kizer from Venezuela took gold in the Masters, with Isi Eshkenazi of Mexico claiming silver and Adam Goldberg of Australia taking the bronze. The gold medal match actually went to a second game because Emil, who was the top seed, lost the first game. The first match was 172-164; the title game was 245-225. Emil made the most of that opportunity.

For the women, Michelle represented the USA in the stepladder finals, though she fell a little short in the first match and settled for a bronze medal. Tali Itzhak of Israel took the silver and Yifat Tal of Israel won the gold.

After a brief closing ceremony, we made our way back to the hotel for a final dinner on the pool deck. All the bowlers, including our new Israeli friends and their mishpacha, were with us and it was one great time. Pictures will come, I promise (I know I've been a little lax in that department. I'm better with the words; my teammates are better with the pictures ... we really do make a great team).

Almost everyone was thrown into the water, multiple times. Music was playing, food was served, and everyone had a great time -- it was the perfect way to end this magical adventure in Israel.

Tomorrow we leave our home in Ramat Gan for Jerusalem and the Closing Ceremonies to this years Games. Though we'll be spread again all over the world, the memories we've created here will last a lifetime.

Here's to Sydney (the Maccabi Australian Games) in 2006 and Argentina (the Maccabi Pan Am Games) and Italy (the Maccabi European Games) in 2007 -- may we have a chance to meet up there.

I'm going back to the party, which is now in our third floor lounge. Laila Tov.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Masters, Day One

As if bowling for days on end wasn't enough, I was one of the "lucky" ones to make it to the Masters, a head-to-head competition that takes place on the last two days of the Bowling event. Coming into the Games, my goal was to just make the Masters, and I'm so happy to have the chance to vie for this prestigious title. Unfortunately, we are all tired, a little banged up (my hands are not a pretty sight right now), and the signs of an amazing exhausting trip are really starting to show.

The Masters is a simple concept: everyone bowls each of the other 15 bowlers in a one game, head-to-head match. None of the pins from the previous four days are carried over, so all the bowlers start at the same place. It's important to win matches, since every win is 10 extra pins into the bowlers overall total. At the same time, it's important to bowl well so that you have a high total pinfall with or without the wins.

Overall, I bowled pretty well. I went won three of my eight matches and have a combined total pinfall of 1600. My first match, I lost by a pin, so you can see hot the games are very close and each pin really does make a difference. I finished the day in seventh place, 56 pins behind third place.

Third place is the magic position because the top three bowlers after the 15 games bowl a stepladder format (third versus second, the winner versus first place) to determine the medal winners. As happy as I am to have won the all-events title, I'd love a shot at another medal by making it to the stepladder finals.

The other highlight of the day was receiving the gold medal for the all-events title. I don't have the pictures to put up yet, but I will do it very soon. There are no words to describe the feeling of stepping onto the podium, hearing your name called as a gold medalist, and feeling that ribbon around your neck. After each of the presentations, we all sang Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel. That song has never sounded so sweet, and the view from that podium step, watching all the faces on all the people at the bowling center, is something that I will never erase from my mind. As soon as I can, I'll put up pictures so everyone can share the special moment with me.

Lastly, I just want to thank Fran, Lindsey, and Michelle for hanging out with me while I bowled today. They had all bowled their own eight-game block as part of the Women's Masters competition (Michelle is in second, Lindsey ninth, and Fran 13th) and still supported me through my eight games. I'll be there to cheer them on tomorrow -- I slept in this morning (with their blessing) and they will be doing the same tomorrow morning while I bowl, but Gayle and Meryl will be along for the fun.

I hope to have good news to share after the Masters. Tomorrow night, we also have a big bash for all the bowlers at the hotel pool, which will be a very fun time.

I can't believe that this Israel experience is almost over. More to come ... I'm going back to savor a few moments of Israel. L'hitraot.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Golden Boy

It’s been a long day – physically, mentally, and emotionally. We were all in favor of bowling the six five-person team games all in one day, and it was an incredible challenge. Not only does it take about an hour for each match, but after already bowling 18 competition games and tons of practice, it wears on your body.

My guys and I came up a little short, and finished in fourth (sounds familiar, huh). The difference between third and fourth places was 14 pins. The women finished second in their team event.

The highlight of my day was winning the All Events Title. The All Events Title is an individual competition that is awarded after the 24-game qualifier used to determine the 16 bowlers who continue on to the Masters. Going into today, I had a 78-pin lead; when all was over, it was four, but that was enough to grab the gold. My scores weren’t all that great: 148-235-169-180-183-169 for a six-game total of 1084. At the end of the day, I was so exhausted I could barely smile or enjoy the title, especially knowing that I now have to bowl another 16 games over the next two days. At least the pace will be a little better than the slow, drawn out rhythm we had going on today. Looking back on it, I’m enjoying it very much and will enjoy it even more tomorrow when we receive our medals.

It was nice bowling as a team. We definitely showed moments of greatness and moments of weakness, as well. To break up the day, we bowled three games, had lunch and medal presentations, then our next three games. After three games, we were in second place, three pins behind Australia. The next game was pretty average, but Australia gained another 100 pins on us. We had a disastrous fifth game, but picked it up in the sixth game, only to come up short. It was a valiant effort and I am proud of the way we hung in there to the very end, even if we don’t have a medal to show for it.

What was interesting, though, is that in the final game, our team was paired up with one of the Pacer teams, made up of bowlers who are either not with a full team (some countries only sent one or two bowlers) or are the sixth man on their team. One of the people on the pacer team was the person in second place, so I was watching him very closely. Little did I know that Emil from Venezuela, a very talented bowler, was making his way back into the picture. Like I said, when the final scores were published, I still had a four-pin advantage, enough to take the gold.

So now it’s R&R time. We had a little Chinese food to celebrate Sam’s birthday and I’m sleeping in a little later to rest up for tomorrow. The women bowl early, and the men bowl following the medal presentation. I hope to have good news to report tomorrow, and I’ll try to get some pictures of me with my medal to put up when we conclude. Wish me luck :).

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Would You Like Some Fries With That?

The ladies took the lanes today in the trios. Fran and I had subtly (and not so subtly) told the rest of the guys’ team to enjoy the extra day away from the lanes. I think that bowling so many days in a row was starting to wear on all of us, and that the extra day was a good way to rest up and catch some different Israeli scenery. All the other guys did come this morning, which was very nice, and stayed a few games before heading out to do some shopping and whatnot; the women’s team had done the same thing on Friday during our Trios. I stuck around and supported our ladies through the six games.

Just like the Ladies Doubles, this one came right down to the end. Going into the last game, Israel lead by two pins over Team USA, and 44 pins over Mexico. In the last game, it was a 17-pin difference from first to third place going into the last frame. At the end, Israel held the top spot by three pins over Team USA, and Mexico came up a little short to earn the bronze. It was incredibly close and Lindsey, Meryl, and Michelle really gave it their all.

Tonight, we had a chance to check out Team USA play Australia in the Men’s Basketball semifinals. There were a dozen bowlers who went along, some cheering for each team. The game was played in Ra’anana, so I can officially say that I’ve had a chance to visit (even briefly) one of our partnership communities. Maybe I can get a vacation day back for it. In any event, Team USA defeated Australia 83-70 and is in the final game against the winner of the Israel-France match.

But I think the highlight of my day was getting to eat McDonald’s. I know, it’s a pretty trivial thing in the long run, but it’s something I never get to enjoy because it is not kosher in the United States. Well, as luck would have it, there is a kosher McDonald’s about a 10-minute walk from our hotel, so I was just waiting for the right moment to indulge. Chicken McNuggets and French fries never tasted so good, and at least I had to walk it off when I was done. Sometimes, it really is the little things that get you going.

Tomorrow is the five-person team event and is our last day to bowl and qualify for the Masters event. Right now, I’m atop the leader board with a slight cushion. Hopefully, I’ll bowl well and will have it all wrapped up. Till then …