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Not Your Ordinary Summer Vacation




Oct. 10, 2012

Redshirt junior Abby Dowd burst onto the scene last year in just her first season at Pitt. The transfer from the University at Buffalo started 23 of 30 games, recording a team-high 35 3-pointers on the season.

Dowd did not come to Pitt via the traditional route.  She earned MAC All-Rookie team honors her freshman year at Buffalo (2010), but elected to transfer -albeit without basketball - after the season.

She landed at Pitt and was content on being a `student,' but found out she missed basketball more than she thought after attending a women's game during the fall of 2010.  She emailed Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato to inquire about walking onto the squad ... and the rest is history.

Dowd earned a walk-on spot in the spring of 2011 and last summer was awarded a scholarship - she transformed that opportunity into a leadership role for the Panthers.

In addition to basketball, Dowd is an active volunteer in the Pittsburgh community and even gives tours to prospective high school students who might have Pitt as their next step in life.

The dual Communications and Sociology major will graduate in May (she carries a 3.8 GPA) and as the below essay entitled - What I Did This Summer - indicates, this comical and articulate young women has a bright future ahead of her.  

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It seems to me, if one wants to do any justice in describing an experience it is mandatory to use a catchphrase. 

For example, Dorothy's day trip to the Emerald City wouldn't have been half as memorable had she not gotten her catch phrase stuck in the heads of classic movie-lovers generation after generation: "Lions and tigers and bears, OH MY!"; good work Dorth, quality catchphrase, quality to say the least.  I think it's safe to assume we can all agree on that.  But, let's be honest, unless you work at the Pittsburgh Zoo or are trying to channel the Safari Steve Irwin, this catchphrase is worthless and not applicable to any real-life scenario.  So, for all intense and purposes and to describe my summer, I have taken it upon myself to slightly alter it: "Kangaroos and Canadians and kids, OH MY!" While it might not necessarily be in the running for a Wizard of Oz script revision, the effort and alliteration are worth reading on.

In my mind, this summer I was a bit of a globetrotter, and I don't mean one of the Harlem Globetrotters!  For this ADD soul, I have found that hopscotching through the hemispheres is the perfect remedy to ease one's year-round restless city sitting.  For me, this came to fruition through spending one month visiting one of my best friends in Australia and a month and a half working at a summer camp in Canada. 


 

 

While I could come up with a host of scenarios, my original intentions were simply to have an exciting couple of months and then come back to Pittsburgh revitalized and ready for another season of Panthers Basketball.  Ultimately, though, I came away with so much more than a couple simple adventures and a couple funny stories from a couple different countries. And of course, a lot of growing along the way and stories for my teammates.

The Gold Coast, Queensland Australia [The KANGAROO component]:

I think it is impossible to delve into a discussion of the Southern Hemisphere without first noting the plane ride.  Predictably, 14 hours on a plane can have an adverse effect on any person who enjoys the simple joys of life, for example, walking or sleeping laying down....or not having to worry about the possibility that your blood is in the process of clotting, for that matter.  Regardless, while the plane ride is far from an ideal situation, personal experience says the fourteen plus hours of plane panicking is well worth it.  Australia is every bit as surreal as any picture makes it out to be.

During my stay on that mystical island, I spent the majority of my time in the Gold Coast with one of my best buds, Casey, who was studying at Griffith University--I use the term "studying" loosely as we spent the vast majority of our time outside of the classroom and, instead, traveling.  Our Australian sight-seeing took us to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Byron Bay.  As it turns out, in the Southern Hemisphere - May and June are winter months. 

While "frigid" isn't necessarily a word I'd use to describe the temperature, I will admit that I did not necessarily pack for the weather.  This was confirmed several times, but most specifically:
1) During our five-day stay in the 47 degrees and rain of Melbourne when I was frolicking the city streets in running shorts and crew socks because it was the warmest attire I had. And 2) During our one night stay in Byron Bay where our motley crew opted out of staying in a $24 hostel and, instead, opted into sleeping on the beach.  Predictably, the elements were not in our favor as it was, once again, sub 50 degrees and drizzling that night.  Nobody ever said living the life of a wannabe hippy nomad was easy.  Well, there's a reason for that and the reason is that it's freezing and sandy and just all around not very glamorous...this moment of clarity was confirmed at 8:00 a.m. when I was crouched under the hand dryer in a public bathroom trying to avoid hypothermia.  In all honesty, having 7-10 strangers see me in this position was not one of finer moments.  Stay in school, kids.  Education really is important.

Despite my wardrobe ignorance, though, every minute I was in Australia was magic.  I will now take the time to list the reasons why and some things that I learned over the course of the month:

    1. Fast food transcends all borders; there was, quite literally, a McDonald's on every corner in every city.  Not only that, but the Aussies love their KFC and Pizza Hut.
    2. The world really is so incredibly interconnected.  One morning in Melbourne, Casey and I were eating breakfast in a Greek restaurant [side note, Melbourne has the highest population of Greeks outside of Greece itself. Who knew!?], listening to two women have a conversation in Greek, ALL OF A SUDDEN, the song "All Summer Long" by Kid Rock started piping through the entire establishment.  So, it would seem that, not only do fast food restaurants infiltrate every corner of the globe, so too does the musical styling's of long haired American rock/country artists.  Truly, globalization is fascinating. 
  1. Just because one might be athletic and excel at land sports, the same is not true for water recreation.  After an hour and a half of attempted surfing (note the verb choice of "attempted," as opposed to something more along the lines of "accomplished") I managed to stand up for a combined total of maybe 4 seconds. Essentially, what I am saying is Ohio quite clearly breeds surfers...and by "surfers" I obviously mean invalids.  Pathetic.
  2. Byron Bay, Australia is the single most stunningly beautiful place I've ever been. Everyone needs to go.
  3. While one dollar and two dollar coins might be convenient, they are also extremely easy to confuse with quarters.  But what a pleasant surprise when you think you only have 25 cents but it's actually 2 dollars!  Come on, America.  It's time to invest in this form of currency.
  4. The Australian accent is far from easy to imitate....and not for lack of trying. 
  5. Vegemite does not even remotely taste like peanut butter or Nutella, nor is it a substitute for either of the two. Ever.  Not under any circumstance.
  6. While cute, Kangaroos really just don't smell good. STILL WORTH PETTING, THOUGH.
  7. ******Traveling with your friends, old or new, is one of the single most gratifying and rewarding things I've ever had the privilege to do*********

>>>INSERT: a four-day stay in Aruba with my mom, her partner and my sister prior to leaving for Canada.<<<

Muskoka Woods, Ontario Canada [The CANADIANS and KIDS components]:

Unsurprisingly, the pilgrimage from Dayton, Ohio (my hometown) to Canada is infinitely more tolerable than the haul that is going from Dayton, Ohio to Australia.  That being said, crossing the border and waiting days on end for the Canada Border Service Agency, fondly known as the CBSA!!!!!!, to validate your temporary work permit is the height of annoyance. But that's besides the point.


Several summers ago, one of my best friends, Faith, told me about one of the most incredible places that she had, not only ever worked, but that she'd ever seen.  This place was Muskoka Woods.  During my month and a half in Canada, I had the pleasure of working as a co-instructor for radio broadcasting at Muskoka Woods, a "co-ed youth resort" for kids 7-17.  Essentially, that's just a glorified way of saying that I worked at a summer camp....but to simply call it that, a "summer camp," would not be doing it justice in the slightest as it truly is "glorified" in every sense of the word. 

Located on Lake Rosseau, Muskoka Woods owns over 1,000 acres of land and has over 2,000 feet of shoreline and young adults come from all over the world to work (let's please highlight that I said WORLD as opposed to country.  I'm talking Northern Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, England, blah blah blah, etc. etc. etc.). This place has to be in the running for the most unbelievable kids' camp on the planet.  What would you like to do? Paintball, BMX, cake decorating, fashion design, zip lining, video production, guitar, gymnastics, wind surfing? YOU NAME IT, there's over 50 options.  And, if that's not enough, rumor has it Justin Bieber has a cottage on Lake Rosseau, so.....parents, hide your daughters.  Regardless, during my time there, I was on a one-woman crusade to have the name changed to Camp Disney World, and justifiably so.  Three months later, I'm still waiting for that to come to fruition....

Before I delve into my job as one of the radio instructors, I feel morally obligated to disclose that, prior to this summer, I had ZERO radio experience...unless you count adjusting my car stereo and listening to the American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest from time to time. 

Essentially, what I am saying is, in no way, shape or form was I qualified to handle radio equipment, let alone run a radio station with kids all summer long.  Ultimately, despite my equipment incompetence, I somehow managed to navigate through the occasional technical difficulty (NOTE: when I say "navigate through" I actually mean that I would panic, have a minor mental breakdown and then SOS for help from someone who know what they were doing) and have some of the most interesting and comical moments of my life with the crazy campers who took radio; kids honestly are hilarious.  Keeping in mind that kids have propensity to say anything under the sun at any given time and that the camp radio station was broadcasted, not only all over camp, but also a little bit off camp as well, I was constantly teetering between feeling horrified and reveling in delight at the extreme dysfunction, absurdity and hilarity that was my life. 

Finally, I will admit that consistently and without fail, each and every week campers would tell me that I reminded them of Miley Cyrus, both in appearance and the sound of my voice.  As such, I lost any and all self-identity and was only referred to as Miley by both my peers and my campers for the bulk of the summer.

As I did before, I will again take the time to list some of the things I learned working at Muskoka Woods:

  1. Never will I ever be too old to sleep on the top bunk.  Also, never will I ever settle for the bottom bunk; just consult Richard Gere in Pretty Woman on his thoughts on staying in the penthouse, the top really is the best.
  2. Playing a casual 7 am game of soccer with a hoard of internationals is enough to make one question the validity of American athletics...
  3. Canadians do not have a fraction of the national pride that Americans do.  I say this not because I'm biased, but because it is simply the truth.  Canada Day does not hold a candle in the wind to the Fourth of July.  I don't think I even need to reference the Olympics...
  4. Since we're on the topic, attempting to celebrate the fourth of July in a country that is not America is a difficult task.
  5. Further, watching the Olympics in Canada with only one communal television was one of the single hardest things I've ever had to endure.
  6. Reliable internet access is something that I take for granted.
  7. Mosquitos are horrible foes.
  8. Poutine is a Canadian delicacy that Americans need to broaden their pallets for.  French fries topped with cheese and gravy? Oh my God.  Do yourselves a favor, peeps: TRY IT.
  9. *******Ultimately, no matter where you go or who you meet, whether they're from the halfway around the world or your best friend from Buffalo, New York, people really are the same everywhere, despite religion or race or gender; people are people and...even in spite of Olympic allegiances...friendships can be fostered from all over the world.*******

Finally, I will end my Canadian experience with some of the more memorable quotes that I encountered:

  1. "Abby, you're terrifying on the dance floor.  That's what I'd expect if I met Ke$ha."
  2. "Hi, my name is Jasmine and my last meal would be salami."
  3. "When Abby raps people die."
  4. "Are you singing `The Climb' on the radio right now?  You sound just like the original."
  5. "Do you ever voice record people when you're in a place like a bathroom?"
  6. "I'm Sarah and my fun fact is that I have two dogs and one step sister."
  7. "Abby, if Miley Cyrus and Amy Winehouse had a lovechild, you would be their baby."
  8. ME: "Ok, anything pressing to discuss before we go off air" 10 YEAR OLD BOY: "Yeah, one question: Are you single?"
  9. "Abby, what are you wearing?  It's a good thing we're on the radio and no one can see you."
  10. "Come on, Canada!!!! Go for bronze!!!! UPSET FOR BRONZE!!!!!!!!!!!"
  11. "Abby, can I please do a shout out to Leonardo DiCaprio?  I know he's not at camp, but he's just on my mind."
  12. "The best years of your life are the ones you don't remember." -11 year old boy talking about age 7.

 >>>INSERT: A quick trip to Florida with my mom's side of the family<<<

Before I knew it, after what seemed like only five blinks and three breathes, I was back in Oakland as if I had never left, let alone ventured halfway around the planet.   To simply say that I had a fun summer and met some great people would be to do an extreme injustice to my experience.  Yes, I did have fun; yes, I met some incredible people; yes, I went to some incredible places and saw some incredible things.  But it was so much more than that. 

While I was in Aruba, one night at dinner our waiter, Raul, said to us, "Life is so sweet, but we make it very difficult.  We just need to enjoy the good."  And he is right.  So often I find myself caught up in the monotony of the everyday, lost in my routine--self-consumed with things like school work, or making sprint times or whether or not I'll be able to meet all of my work requirements.  But in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters and I won't remember any of it.  The world is so big and the people so diverse that it is short sighted and naïve to let yourself get overwhelmed with insignificant details.  What I'm saying is, make the sprint and at least revel in the fact that you're burning some calories; finish the ten page paper and study for the exam because nobody wants to huddled under a hand dryer for the rest of their life.

Life is dynamic and exciting and there is so, so much to look forward to and be optimistic about ; so many people to meet, so many places to go and so many things to experience. 

One night when I was walking back to my trailer under the vast Canadian sky with its infinite stars, I came up with another catch phrase: "Live hard, love hard."  Over-dramatic?  Yes. Slightly annoying?  Even more so.  But to do anything less is to rob yourself of life, because time really does fly.