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I scored a hat trick against a 9-year-old

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You heard me. A hat trick—that’s 3 goals—against a 9-year-old. Actually, it was a team of 9-year-olds, although some may have been as old as 12. And yes, I’m proud of it. My team needed me and I delivered. That’s what former Division III 2nd Team All-SCIAC athletes do. Deliver.

Of course, I say all of this in jest, although I really did score the hat trick. What I need to add is that my team was comprised of all girls and one small boy while our formidable opponents were mostly boys and we were down 3-1 at the time. And yes, we did win.

Backing up a bit, I decided to travel (via local bus, no less) to the Kong Lo Cave in central Laos after reading that it was “uncomfortably spooky” in my Lonely Planet guide. The bus dropped me off in the Kong Lo Village, about 6 hours east of Vientiane, around 5:30pm. While at first glance it seemed that there was little to do there, my competition radar soon lead me to a dried-up rice paddy where a few dozen children had gathered. One “field” of older boys had already begun playing soccer and a group of girls and smaller boys were playing various games nearby. I changed into my trusty Livestrong shorts (too soon?) and jogged out to join the fun.

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After a few minutes of serious hand gestures, which probably looked more like an interpretive dance, I was able to convince the girls to ditch their game of “reverse limbo” in favor of starting a soccer match. Naturally, two captains stepped forward and arranged the rest of us into a line for selection. Despite being on the opposite side of the world, and not understanding a word that they said, it was as if I was back in the Valley View Elementary school yard! My team obviously did not see my athletic strengths and initially placed me in the goal. After letting three balls past me (I saved like seven more but they seemed to forget that pretty quickly— so fickle) I was moved to the front line. That’s when the momentum changed—goal, goal, goal. In the end, my girl power squad cleaned up against the boys (8-7) and we snapped a celebratory team pic (the ball was pretty flat, therefore I could palm it in spite of my tiny thumbs). A few of the girls escorted me back to my “lodge,” and we parted ways with high-fives all around. It was a pretty special experience.

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The next day my new Swedish friend Gabby and I rented a boat and rode through the 7.5km cave, with only headlamps and the occasional mood lights to guide the way. It lived up to its reputation—spooky, otherworldly, gorgeous, unlike anything I had ever seen. Totally worth the trip. And, I was able to get my competitive fix for the month, so I killed two birds with one stone (or rather, with one flat soccer ball). Oh, and check out what cut through the middle of our match— some local traffic!

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