Friend #23: Rachel

With all of my effusing about Uncle Neal and Aunt Mary, I neglected to mention the spectacular drive from St. George, UT to Phoenix, AZ.  I decided to forgo the freeway route through Las Vegas and instead took a lot of two-lane highways near Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon.  Twenty minutes into the drive, I knew I’d made the most amazing choice.  I have never in my life seen such colorful and unique landforms.  I felt like I was in Star Wars and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade all in one day.  I’ve also reached a mile-and-a-half high–7,290 feet above sea level–just where the road veers off to go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

I had a very relaxing weekend in Phoenix with my aunt and uncle.  And I only saw one friend while I was there, my cousin Rachel.  Technically, we’re not related, but we’re family.  Rachel’s mom is the middle of 3 daughters.  The eldest daughter, Lynn, was my mom’s best friend in high school and bridesmaid.  My mom and Rachel’s mom, Jeannie, drove cross-country together back in the 60’s when Jeannie was moving to California to teach.  In more recent years, they would travel together.  And the youngest sister, Mary, lives about 10 minutes away from the house I grew up in.  My mom was the fourth sister. We’ve spent the last several Christmases together, and somewhere in there, we just started calling each other family.  After a roommate debacle a couple years ago, I ended up living with Jeannie for a couple months and Rachel and I got to intersect more frequently, which was great.  She and I are pretty different, which always makes it a lot of fun.

Rachel now lives in Prescott, AZ, but she was coaching in a girls’ high school volleyball tournament at the convention center in Phoenix, so I went down there to watch a few games.  It was the perfect setting to meet up with Rachel because she was so very much in her element.  I’ve watched her at a couple of other tournaments, and even off the court, she is coaching her girls.  She breathes it.  She lives it.  And she is made for it.  Even girls she no longer coaches, she reminds them about college applications, asks them to think about what they’re looking for and make lists accordingly.  Rachel played volleyball at the University of Arizona and has coached in Arizona and California.  There were teams at this tournament from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and even Hawaii.  As I walked around with her, she literally was nodding or waving or stopping and talking to someone every 5 feet.  She is known and respected in this arena.  And even in the midst of a busy day of games, she made sure I was introduced to parents so I had people to talk to.  It was a little overwhelming to walk into that room–there were about 40 simultaneous games of volleyball happening in one giant room.  Teams would switch courts after each game.  I’m pretty good at endearing myself to strangers and asking for information, but Rachel was so at home that she made me feel at home.

Rachel in action

And let me tell you, she’s probably about 5’4″, but she can hold her own with these older, bigger, male coaches.  She’s a David to their Goliath.  And so is her team.  They only had 7 players, compared to other teams with 10 or 12 players.  Since there are 6 players on the court at a time, they only had one person sitting out, and most of the girls played the whole time.  Playing 3 games a day for several days in a row, they were just exhausted.  But Rachel gets them through.  She’s only been coaching this team for 3 weeks and parents and players alike had nothing but the best things to say about her.

My earliest memory of Rachel, she and our other cousin, Marina, came over to our house.  Both of them were wearing dresses.  Marina didn’t want to play too much because she didn’t want to get her dress dirty (she now is a buyer for a fashion company). Rachel, on the other hand, was launching the basketball up at the hoop over and over and over.  I love that memory because already at 3 or 4 years old, these girls were so very much themselves and each has lived it out in her own way.  And 2 years ago at Christmas, Rachel went through all their old family pictures and selected one to print and give to each family member.  And somehow, she found a picture from that day to give to me.  It was a little Christmas miracle.

Rachel and I got very little time together, but we’ll see each other at Marina’s wedding over Labor Day weekend.  That’s the beautiful thing about family.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of time or the best quality time because you know you’ll always connect again.  Until next time, Rachel.

YJ's is the name of her team, Yavapai Juniors, and now I have a shirt, too! Go YJ's!

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