In October, the University of Michigan gives its students and faculty a long weekend as an annual fall break. For most, it’s a time to relax, catch up on work and spend time with family. For the Michigan softball team, it was a life experience. 

By 6:30 a.m. that Friday, the Wolverines were already loading the bus for their trip. Four hours later they were in the air — destination: Cuba.

Once in Havana, the team was charmed by the beautifully ornate architecture, the cars straight out of the 1950s and the delicious food. 

“The food was amazing,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We ate a lot of plantains. We ate a lot of vegetables and a lot of meat and rice. … Totally my kind of food. It was great.”

Hutchins couldn’t decide what food was best — the Cuban beef, chicken she described as fantastic or Cuba’s national dish, ropa vieja. She even claimed to have eaten so much meat that she went vegetarian for a week after returning home.

The Wolverines continued their trip on Sunday, away from Havana, by traveling to Viñales. There, they explored the caves, marveled at the mountains and visited a tobacco farm where some of the most famous Cuban cigars are made.

But these tourist spots and the food weren’t what defined the trip for Michigan. It was the people and what the team did with them that made it fantastic.

The team played two games against a Cuban softball team, one on Saturday and one on Monday. Despite the grounds of competition, the atmosphere was light. The teams spent much of the time interacting and talking with each other in addition to playing the game itself.

After Monday’s game, Michigan held a clinic for the Cuban team. They practiced everything from ground balls and hitting to putting rotation on pitches using a spinner.

At the same time, the Cuban team helped the Wolverines practice their Spanish. As most of the team struggled, to both the Cubans’ and Wolverines’ amusement, junior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez and senior outfielder Thais Gonzales helped bridge the language barrier so everyone could communicate more easily.

The clinic ended with a language both teams spoke fluently — dance. Music played from a speaker while the players gathered in a circle around each other, moving together to the beat.

After it all, Michigan gave the Cuban players their gloves, cleats and backpacks along with some other miscellaneous items they brought with them. 

Sophomore pitcher Alex Storako saw her outlook change after the experience.

“I think my biggest takeaway from Cuba is how fortunate we are to be able to go to this beautiful university and have the greatest experience this year,” Storako said. “This past year, everything we’ve gotten we’ve just been extra grateful for. Every little thing is just magnified for sure.”

In just five days, the Wolverines explored a country’s sights, ate tons of delicious food, had fun with new friends, learned a life lesson and came home with a fantastic answer to an inevitable question.

“What did you do over fall break?”

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