I started using the hashtag, #SummerofUS about two months ago. For those of you who don't use twitter, a hashtag is used to keep track of a story or the progression of information on twitter. Type in the hashtag and you can see the most recent or most popular "tweets" with said hashtag. Usually it's something catchy or funny about the subject, and in it's best use, draws further attention to the story. That isn't at all what the #SummerofUS was meant to do. It was just an expression of my emotion about the upcoming summer.
Twitter plays a central role in the #Summerof US. It all started last fall, when a series of unlikely tweets lead to Ellen being ask to "virtual coach" with Karch Kiray and the US National team as they competed in Serbia. (That whole story is at
That alone was one cool story, but as you will see, the story continues.
Music is another influence in the #SummerofUS. I feel like I have an eclectic mix of music on my IPhone, and as much as I should maybe avoid the country genre, I don't. One song that has stuck in my head since it's release was Brad Paisley's
. It used to make me sad, because it made me think of Mark and Jaime, and their final summer together. It's a lovely light little song, and I don't think Brad intended for me to twist it's meaning, but it did supply me with a sense of urgency. It's cancers fault really. Cancer changes many things, and urgency is certainly high up on the list.
Then about the first week in May I read an piece on the New York Times that scared me into action. Dr. Peter Bach wrote passionately about his wife's re-occurrence, her decline and eventual passing. (
It filled me with fear, and energized a search for something really special for US to do with this summer.
We used to say, tomorrow, next week, next year, or when we can afford it. I'm not doing that anymore.
Not long after, again on Twitter, I started to see rumblings about the USA Volleyball Cup. Brazil was going to come to the Los Angeles area and play the US team who had been so supportive of Ellen in the fall. My mind was made up. We would take this story full circle. I immediately contacted Ellen's cousin Sissy Stallings, who has lived most of her adult life in LA, and inquired about locations and logistics. She told me that although they wouldn't be there, we were welcome to come stay at their place! After doing some research about flights and event tickets, things started to fall together. I contacted some of the players (twitter, of course) and they seemed legitimately excited to meet us. This was going to happen!
When I told Ellen what I was planning she was really excited. We haven't taken much time of our own, and usually are not quick to do things like this, but this was different. A solid plan was in place, and we were headed west!
We flew from Pittsburgh to Dallas and then into Orange County's John Wayne Airport. We didn't think we would get to the gym in time to watch practice, but decided to go anyway. We planned on coming to practice the next day, so at least we would know where it was. That was where we got the moment we flew all that way happened. It is something I'll never forget. The #SummerofUS defining moment.
As we walked into the gym it was obvious that practice was over. Just a few young high school players were getting hitting lessons on one of the 20+ courts in the American Sports Center. We wandered around a little, and then I noticed a woman pushing a cart full of food. This of course got my attention! We followed her to a small cafeteria that was like a whose who of American volleyball! As we stood outside, I ask Ellen if she thought we should go in, and she said "of course, we flew 2,400 miles!"
We opened the door and walked into a room filled with our countries very best volleyball players. Most of them looked up from the lunch they were being served, maybe a little confused by the boldness of the skinny woman before them. Then it was if a light went on in each of them, and smiles creased their faces.
The sound of sliding chairs, and hugs for both of us, as we introduced ourselves to friends we had never really met.(except on Twitter!) Christa Harmotto was the first to recognize us, she had spent time with us at Jam the Gym 3. Ellen would later tell me, "If you walked into a room with Gretzky, Lemieux, and Crosby, and
rose to greet
because they knew who you were, how would that make you feel?"
The next day we came back to the gym for practice. It was the 4th of July so the entire team was decked out in their best Red, White, and Blue. Even Coach Kiray, who sported his own uniform form the '84 Summer Olympics! It was classic, and we both felt uniquely privileged to be able to take it all in. After practice Ellen spent a few moments with Karch, and he referred to Ellen as Coach Toy. I know that made her feel wonderful! We got to meet some of the girls parents, and they ask us which girl was "ours"!
We could only say all of them...
The matches were outstanding, and showcased what incredible depth American volleyball is blessed with and that the things Coach Kiray has been drilling into these fine athletes wins matches. Brazil was good, but they couldn't contend with the consistency our US team employed. The first night at Cal Irvine the US won 3-1, and the next night at USC they swept the Brazilians 3-0! With that, the volleyball portion of the #SummerofUS was over.
While in California we also got to catch up with some friends who have made the Golden State their home. Sissy's son Paul and his wonderful wife Starr invited us over for a cook out at their home on the 4th of July. Starr grilled up fajitas, and her family and friends were warm and engaging. At the first match at UCI Ellen found her coach at Pitt, Mike Hebert in the crowd and spent some time chatting with him. Chris Houck, the dominant middle from Ellen's State Championship season at Plum met us at lunch and surprised us by bringing along Lisa Gallippi! ( I was surprised!) Later we got to spend the afternoon with our dear friend Jory Rand and his lovely wife Jo on Manhattan Beach. Jory recently relocated to LA as a weekend anchor after spending six years as a sportscaster at KDKA. We miss you here in Pittsburgh Jory!
The next day we flew home, well sort of. We missed our connecting flight home in Dallas, and American Airlines was nice enough to comp us up with dinner and a room. I literally got to the gate as the plane pulled away,(ten minutes early) after running a half a mile through the busy DFW airport! It was Ok though, we laughed a lot!!!
The #SummerofUS continues this week with a family vacation in the Outer Banks. I'm looking very much forward to sharing this part with Aly and Mason, and with Ellen's sister Pam's family. The hashtag tells a lot of the story, but not all of it. I started out afraid. Cancer does that. I'm not afraid anymore, just looking very much forward to what we can do next summer, and in the summers to come. We will take them one at a time and enjoy every minute. We should all use urgency to do things that we want to do when possible. With that, I wish for you your own #SummerofUS!!!