My first table tennis tournament abroad was the 5th German Open in 2009. I traveled with 8 other players from the United States. Since I was the rookie, my clothing didn't match anyone else's. But I still felt part of the team because they welcomed me in.
After making the US Parapan Am Team in 2011, I felt a level of team unity that I had never imagined! Not only did they give us all matching clothing so that we could look color-coordinated during the opening ceremonies, but our own building in the Parapan Am village. It was in this building where I could easily identify and start conversations with other US athletes that I might not ever speak to otherwise. I met swimmers, cyclists, basketball players, sitting volleyball players & archers. Even though our sports had nothing to do with each other, after talking to them about training and commitment, I knew we all had something in common.
As if the camaraderie wasn't enough, the US Olympic Committee provided a top notch support staff of doctors, physical therapists, sports psychologists and former athletes. And even though they might not have ever even seen the sport I play outside of their friend's basement, they were glad to help me get settled, get information or any supplies I needed to help me perform at my best. It was only then like I felt like we were all in this together. All of the sports. All of the staff. All of the athletes. The entire US team representing our country as one mighty unit.
And that is something I won't ever forget.