Our plane landed after midnight in Natal, Brazil. We arrived in a rain storm that lasted for almost the extent of our stay, but we managed to have a rainless match day, and a few quality hours on the beach. The locals swear it only rains the occasional day or two, maybe 20 days a year.
To shake off the jet lag, my production partner Jon and I went for a rainy four-mile run down the coast of Ponta Negra, the East coast of Brazil. The coast is lined with giant dunes and beach resorts; a few of which were national team hotels, made evident by the more than 20 military guards positioned in front of each hotel equipped with assault rifles. I was a bit uneasy as I ran by because none of them smiled and they all had their fingers hovering over their triggers. To make myself more comfortable, I decided I was going to try and get them to smile by making eye contact when I ran by. I was successful with one and a half of them. They were all very young and I only saw one woman who, interestingly enough, had a nightstick instead of a gun. No crazed fans would be breaching the gate, that’s for sure.
We did however get access to the “friends and family” FIFA hotel to meet up with Chris Wondolowski’s brother, Stephen.
Stephen, his father, his mother, and two of Wondolowski aunts made the trip to Natal for the first match in Group G. Chris’ wife, Lindsey, and their baby, Emersyn will be joining the Wondo crew for the second match in Manaus.
Stephen and I sat down over Capirinha’s, poolside, on the deck overlooking Ponta Negra Praia (beach). The winter sun was beautifully gentle, and perfectly warm this day. Stephen and I were both pinching ourselves as we talked about living a dream of being at World Cup Brazil. For him, it was even more surreal as he was there supporting his big brother. He and his father had managed to breach the armed security to pay Chris a quick 30 minute visit the day before the game. He said Chris’ energy was high and the team really felt like they had a good thing going into their first match against Ghana. We spoke in depth about Chris’s preparation on his journey, about this defining humility and competitive spirit, the warrior spirit that got him here.
His character came from his Kiowa mother, Janis Hoyt, who had just arrived from Walnut Creek, California, and was still adjusting to the long travel. It was such an honor to sit down with such a beautiful, strong, eloquent, and powerful Native woman. The moment I looked into her eyes, I could see where Chris came from. Her sharp facial features and golden skin, he also inherited. We talked a while about traveling to this Brazilian paradise in support of her son, Bau Daigh. Jon and I showed her a raw digital cut of our project and her emotional reaction validated the work we are doing to tell this story.
She was overwhelmed with the loving pride of a parent and the supportive enthusiasm of a fellow Native American; seeing that her son’s story of hard work, tireless belief and humble determination will positively impact our future generations. A moment I will never forget.
“Good job, mom! Good job, mom,” I said. She was a wealth of knowledge and offered insight about “Christopher” that only a mother could give. She was hopeful and anxious to see him out there the following night against Ghana. But first she needed sleep.
That night, the night before the game, US Soccer put on a welcome party that will go down in history. It was in a massive warehouse designed especially for viewing games, drinking, eating, dancing, and your wildest World Cup celebration dreams. Thousands of US fans were in attendance including the American Outlaws, USA’s premiere supporters group. They’re known to get a little rowdy in the best way possible. The Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina match was airing and people were downing beers, chomping on Brazilian bbq, and cheering on Lionel Messi. A DJ played electronic pop hits on a stage equipped with strobe lights in the back of this outdoor warehouse. I was a little put off by the music choice because quite frankly, I didn’t come to Brazil to listen to the same crappy club music I can hear at any nightclub back home. I suppose I’ve been training for Brazil for the last year and a half because I’ve been dancing multiple times a week at Brasil Brasil Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Rachel and Gisella, American Brasilana’s, taught me Afro-Brazilian, Funky Brazilian, and Samba steps. Little did I know that these moves would come in handy.
The World Cup match ended and without missing a beat, the DJ stopped, and a live, 15-part Samba band began playing. Quickly, they drew the masses from the enormous projector screens to the dance floor. I found my way to the front so I could dance with the band. The combo of my tan skin and my samba moves, I suddenly appeared to be Brazilian. Soon, two Brazilians samba’d their way to me and asked me to join them on stage. I couldn’t refuse; I’m a performer! The fun didn’t stop there as people started crowd surfing and getting down to the sweet sounds of Brazilian music. I danced until I couldn’t any longer. My legs felt like I’d played 120mins (a full 90 minute match and two overtimes), my clothes were drenched with sweat and my cheeks hurt from smiling. I slept like a baby, which was good because the next day was game day.
Game day means sporting red, white and blue, patriotic tattoos, beer consumption, and enough song and chants to wake up the city of Natal.
I had just enough time to go for a barefoot run on the beautiful beach of Ponta Negra where the sand was soft and the water was warm.
Bogie boarders and surfers lined the coast line as they rode in the salty white wash. Agua de coco (coconut water) and brazilian bikini vendors lined the beach for the multitude of international tourist. Soccer matches were happening every 20 yards where two pairs of Havaianas (Brazilian flip flops) where used as goals. This was undoubtedly a piece of heaven for travelers and footballers alike.
After the run, I geared up with my Golden Eagle feather and USA kit to head to the game. We planned to march to the match with the American Outlaws to experience our World Cup dreams coming true. Nerves ran high, but optimism reigned supreme as this would be the third time we would play Ghana on the World Cup stage.
Ghana has proven to be a challenging opponent for USA having knocked us out of the round of 16 in the last World Cup, South Africa 2010 and defeated us in the group stage of World Cup Germany 2006. How does the saying go, “third time’s a charm?”
My game charm was the Golden Eagle feather my Uncle Fred had adorned me with before I left Lummi days away from my trip to Brazil. That and traditional red paint he gave me to put on my feet, hands, heart, and neck for protection.
We met at a bar 800 meters from the Arena Das Dunas and prepared for our march to the match. Literally a sea of red, white and blue took over the entire block.
Locals drove by taking photos of the mayhem. We must have sang the national anthem 10 times by the time we arrived at the stadium. Once we got there, sportsmanship kicked in as we faced our rival supporters Ghana. They had drums, flags, song, and laughter as we shook hands and talked smack all the same. The bets were on and it was game time.
When I got to my seat, it was almost as if time stopped. I had arrived. Tears formed in my eyes as I was realizing my existence in a real life dream. I was at my first ever men’s World Cup. I was reporting from World Cup Brazil on a story not just important to the game of soccer but to my fellow American Indian community, moment of pure joy! My seat-mate, looked at me, gave me a hug and said, “aww, happy tears!” To which I responded, “I just can’t believe I am here!” We laughed and cried together as the first whistle sounded.
It was a mere 30 seconds before U.S. captain Clint Dempsey gave the Stars and Stripes a 1-0 lead. It was the 5th fastest goal in the history of the World Cup. Arena Das Dunas went crazy! Cheers of celebration from the US side and shock for the Ghanaians. It might have been at that moment that I lost my voice because I don’t think I could scream loud enough! Despite having gone down an early goal, the Ghanaian fans continued their upbeat drum and dance celebration. The party continued into halftime with U.S. up by one point.
Although we had the lead, we definitely took some injury losses in the first 45 minutes when U.S. striker Jozy Altidore tore his hamstring and Clint Dempsey broke his nose. Aron Johannson and Chris Wondolowski started warming up, but Johannsson got the nod. Ghana scored a second half equalizer but it wasn’t enough for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s genius substitution in center back John Brooks who scored a header off an 86th minute corner from Graham Zusi to clinch the 2-1 victory. This marked Brooks’ first ever goal and World Cup goal with the men’s national team. Brooks told his teammates on Sunday that he’d dreamt he’d scored a goal off a header in the 86th minute to win the game 2-1. Quite the premonition and dream come true for Brooks, literally.
The living dream was in progress with the first victory in the Group of Death under our belts, putting us one game closer to making it out alive. We celebrated hard that night with late night bites and more song and dance. I managed to make it out to the beach in the morning for some agua de coco and a dream game of footy with some fellow travelers before my flight back to São Paulo. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Temryss Lane, Lummi Nation, is aNike N7 Ambassador, a former professional and Team USA soccer player, and was a contributor for the Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports Network. In 2010, Temryss represented the USA as the Official US Futbolita where she reported on the team’s journey at the World Cup in South Africa. She is currently covering the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.