Helping Hands in Tijuana - Athlete Journal by James Monson

I hope everyone is doing well. Looking forward to summer starting, I imagine. I know I can't wait for things to warm up. I have returned from Mexico safe and sound. I got back to Calgary last Monday evening and was able to catch up on a few things. I left for Winnipeg on Thursday and that's where I am right now. I wanted to write about my trip sooner but I was just too tired and busy to write. My apologies for the late response.

Had just an awesome time down in Mexico. There were about 18 people from my church that went down to Tijuana. Including to other speed skaters, Cindy Klassen and Danielle Wotherspoon. We had two 15 passenger vans and spent two days driving there. Surprisingly the driving wasn't that bad. We had lots of drivers to take shifts and it gave everyone some time to get to know each other. The first day we drove to Pocatello, Idaho and the second day we made it to Barstow, California. The next day we drove to San Diego and met up with the people from Amor Ministries. It was a little crazy because we had to pick up some insurance forms and then find the Amor offices and then cross the border and we weren't quite sure where we were going, so we ended up doing a lot of u- turns in the vans. One of the guys who was driving that day quickly got the nickname "sir u-turn".

With the help of some Amor staff we were whisked through the border control with no problems and no waiting. We drove about 30 minutes into Tijuana, to the compound where all the other groups were camping. In total there was almost 1000 people camping. One thing that stuck out the most for me was that, there is no break between San Diego and Tijuana. I always Tijuana was further away from the Border. All there is a fence along the border and then right away the city starts. So it's almost like a continuation of San Diego across the border.

When we got to our campsite the tents we all set up and food was being prepared. There was a company called Camping Pro's, we hooked up with. They basically have everything ready to go and they cook breakfast and supper for the group. So it was like an all inclusive campsite. It was easier then having to bring everything down with you.

The first day on the worksite we met the family and their children. We also met quite a few of the neighbor’s children. We pretty much spent the whole day mixing concrete by hand. There was no power tools allowed, mostly for safety reasons. It took five mixing stations going all day to get the floor done 6:00 pm. We were told we had to leave the house before dark, again for safety reasons. The house was 22 feet by 11 feet. We were able to get it done in time, but I know at the end of the day everyone was exhausted.

One cool thing that happened was a soon as we started working, a lot of the kids starting helping out. It was hard to communicate but we managed. They would just grab a shovel and start mixing or getting sand. It was also the Spring break for the Mexicans schools, so the kids were around most of the day.

The second day was a lot easier. Not as much back breaking work. We put up the walls and got most of the roof finished. With not as much work to do and so many people, we all couldn't work at the same time. So we had a few more breaks and some of the group would play soccer with the kids or jump rope. It was a good time just to bond with the family.

The third day we finished up the roof. Got the shingles on and started the first layer of stucco. We were actually a little a head of schedule. Remember were not building a house in Canada. There was no electrical, plumbing or insulation. So we were able to clean up the yard and take out a lot of the garbage. The family we were building for already had a house on their lot. We built the new house right next to their old one, so it was kind of like a small addition. When I say already had a house, it was a little sketchy. Chipboard walls and roof, with some tarps covering all the holes in the roof. So it wasn't that solid. But the family still wanted to keep it.

The last day of building was the easiest. Everything was done and cleaned up. We just had to put on the final layer of stucco. That took about 3 hours. We then went to small town just south of Tijuana, called Rosarito. We shopped the local street market and had some tacos for lunch. Some of the guys and girls got there hair braided. It was a lot of fun.

After that we went back to the house at about 6:00 pm when the whole family was there. Both the mother and the father have jobs and would work most of the time. We handed over the keys to the family and that's when the water works started. It was very emotional. There were hugs after hugs. And a lot of tears! We also gave the family some new blankets and some clothes for the kids. They were very appreciative of everything.

That was it for the building part of things. Everything went smoothly and there were no problems. We spent one last day at the campsite. Most of the time at night we would sit around the camp fire and play games and then sing some worship songs. One guy on our team brought a guitar so he supplied the music part of things.

The next day we drove up the coast to Laguna Beach, just south of L.A. We spent some time there and then went to Newport Beach for the rest of the day. Some of us rented some boogie boards. The waves weren't huge but big enough to have some fun. We spent the night in Anaheim. Everyone was pumped about having a hot shower again and getting clean. The next day we went to Disney Land. That was also a blast; I haven't been since I was about 12 years old. I was too tired by about 6:00 pm but some of the group stayed right until midnight. Hardcore!

We then spent another two days of driving to get home. I thought on the ride home everyone would be tired and grumpy. It was just the opposite, everyone was in good spirits and the ride home was pretty good. We got home Monday night around 10:00 pm. All in all, the trip was pretty amazing. No major problems, everything got done, we had some spare time to do some fun stuff and the group gelled right from the start. For me the best part was I didn't have to think about my skating at all. It's exactly what I needed.

I'm now in Winnipeg for two weeks. I'll go back to Calgary on April 30th. That's when are off ice training will start and the new season begins. I will use this last couple weeks to fully recharge the system and get things primed and ready to go. I will continue to write the updates for this upcoming season. I appreciate all the support and love hearing any feedback.

Take care!