Five years ago, I had no insight as to my Latvian heritage (I am half- Latvian). I had very little to work with, and indeed in 2012 I still do not know about any relatives in Latvia.  What I do know, and what I cherish, is that I now have many wonderful Latvian friends who may indeed prove to be my “Latvian family!”  My family research initially led me to the Edmonton, Alberta, area, where my father was born.  From conversations with Latvians in that area, I now have many wonderful friends there, many of whom I see each summer at Ligo – the Summer Solstice Festival.

As luck would have it, I learned from my Edmonton friends that a group of ten women, some of whom had participated in the World Masters’ Games in Edmonton in 2005, were travelling from Riga to Utah, where they would participate in the Huntsman World Senior Games (www.seniorgames.net).  They play Competitive 3 on 3 Women’s Basketball.  They had also planned three days sightseeing in San Francisco before the Games.  Although I now live in Portland, Oregon, I decided to fly to San Francisco to act as a “tour guide” for these ladies because I had grown up in the SF Bay Area. Thus began one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I spent Wednesday, October 3, through Saturday, October 6, with the “tall girls,” as they were self- described. We laughed, we talked, we saw sights all over San Francisco, and – to prove they really were ladies – they SHOPPED!  I observed a keen interest from all of them about US culture and society, and I saw in them a great deal of pride in both Latvia and what they personally were achieving.  It was, to say the least, very, very refreshing to me.  I wanted our visit to go on and on – and now that they are back in Latvia, I miss them a great deal.  Hugs, kisses, gifts along with honest, heartfelt emotions were flowing freely in both directions during their stay, as well as invitations from both myself and them to visit as guests in our respective countries. Those three days added a whole new facet of richness to my life.

After departing San Francisco, the team went on to Saint George, Utah, where the games are held.  Many of these ladies had been at the games in 2008, where they won both gold and silver medals for their teams.  Competing this year against some 10 teams from all around the United States and Canada, it would be hard to imagine them repeating their earlier victories.  Indeed, they did not do a repeat of 2008.  This year they won one gold and two silver medals in their respective age groups!  Gracious and lovely as they are, they destroyed their competition in eight competitive games on two separate days. If you visit the Senior Games website, there is a gallery of photos including the 3 on 3 Women’s Basketball. There are pictures of several of the ladies scattered throughout the gallery – and you can clearly see the grace, determination and agility of these “tall girls.”  They wear gold around their necks, but more importantly, they have “Hearts of Gold!”

 Phil Lapin, October 17, 2012

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