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October 13, 2011

Touching Down In Mexico

Lauren Billys joined Ursula Lange and their pilots in the cockpit of the plane in which their horses flew to Mexico.

Anyone who ever said the Pan American Games are “kind of a big deal” made the understatement of the century. It finally hit me that this was a huge deal when I stepped onto the tarmac on Monday after 16 hours of traveling to look up at a HUGE jet only to realize that this jet was the one that would take Ginger and me to the Pan Am games.

Our three superbly hilarious Mexican pilots made the trip more than entertaining. Ursula Lange, my Puerto Rican teammate who will be riding in the dressage, and I got to ride in the cockpit for landing and take off. I was amazed just looking at the coastline of California outlined by thousands of lights and a full moon. Our pilot conducted a mini-photo shoot of us with our horses, us with all of the pilots, us in the cockpit, us in the cargo area, and throughout the plane.

Knowing that we would not get any sleep until Tuesday evening and exhausted from our unplanned photo shoot, Ursula and I made a bed on the floor of the cargo jet out of horse blankets and Puerto Rican duffle bags only to wake up to our landing.

When we landed in Mexico, we were escorted to customs, where the Pan Am staff met us to grab our bags and help us through the customs process quickly. Once we made it to the horses, we drove in a federal police car behind the horses to the venues. First to dressage, to drop of Ursula’s horse, and then finally to the eventing facility called La Hipica Club. Nearly every other billboard while driving for 2½ hours around Guadalajara contained some sort of advertisement for the Games. As we were driving on the freeway, there was a lane designated for only Pan American Games officials and athletes. Wow, this is amazing.

Once I finally arrived at La Hipica, I was met by a kind and understanding staff. I am THE ONLY person at the club who does not speak Spanish! I have managed, in a way that I don’t understand at this point considering the language barrier, to make friends with the riders from the small Latin American countries at the event. The barns are new and spacious for the horses, and the staff is very accommodating.

As I rode Ginger on Tuesday, I shared the arena with riders representing other countries. Many of them belong to the cavalry of their respective countries and are competing in the Pan American Games off of their cavalry training. It was at that time that I realized this is more than a competition. This is an experience, a chance to make history, and a tradition that I feel honored to be a part of. I knew that moment of realization may come and hoped that it would not intimidate me, but it did exactly the opposite. It empowered me. I realize that I will commit to doing my best and what comes of that is what it will be, but for now I have confidence in the partnership I have built with my horse and excitement for the upcoming challenges.

Finally on Tuesday, after not sleeping for 36 hours, we attended a ceremony with the remainder of the Puerto Rican athletes as they raised the flag in Pan American Village. Again, it was only more reinforced as to what this opportunity was: an experience of a lifetime!

Pan American Village is excellent! It is the location for the accommodations for all of the athletes competing in the Games. There are multiple buildings with each floor dedicated to a country. The facility is brand new and houses thousands of athletes. At all times, everyone is wearing some sort of team wear and looking incredibly fit. I am sharing my room with the dressage riders, the chef d’equipe for the equestrian team and the taekwondo team for Puerto Rico. We embody every bit of the word fierce (mostly because of the taekwondo team). The village has every service from Starbucks to a spa to a 24-hour cafeteria (the last being my favorite feature). Honestly, the facility is incredible and makes you feel like an international athlete.  

I am drinking this in, one moment to the next. I still am in awe over this opportunity and vow to do my best with the horse I have on my given day of competition. It is an honor to be here making history and experiencing a tradition that has been passed on for many years.

Viva Puerto Rico en los Juegos del Panamericanos!

Thanks for reading! 

Until next time,
Ginger and Lauren

P.S. I intended to take pictures of everything today to share with you, but it was too wet to do so. I will do my best to include them in my next blog!

LaurenBillys.com