An open door for Thanksgiving

Courtesy Mikayla Lyles

Courtney Range and Kyra Dunn were among many Cal teammates and friends who joined the Lyles family for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal.

I am experiencing my last Thanksgiving as an undergrad, as a 21 year old and as a basketball player for the University of California Berkeley. Thanksgiving -- that first homecoming of the school year when you rejoin your family for long held traditions and catch up with old friends, all centered around a delicious “one-time a year’’ meal like no other. It's familiar. It's comfort. It's home.

Never in a million years would I have pictured my last four Thanksgivings to be spent with different people, in different places and enjoying different meals. As a student-athlete you don’t always know where you are going to end up for Thanksgiving; sometimes it’s at a tournament, sometimes a single game, or sometimes even a road trip!

It’s like holiday roulette; you don’t know what you are going to get. Whereas most undergrads continue their traditions by going home every year, we have the unique and embraceable opportunity to create new traditions.

For me and my team, holidays have become less about the destination and where that Thanksgiving meal will be held, and more about the people we are with.

Regardless of where we have ended up on Thanksgiving Day, my mom always has made it a point to provide me and my team a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal before we hit the road. I am a local kid, so home for me is only about 30 minutes away. For someone like my teammate Avigiel Cohen, who is from Israel, this became her new tradition.

For four straight years, Avigiel has come to my house for Thanksgiving, the first year wide-eyed with wonder over the abundance of food representing this American holiday. Since then, she has indulged in some new recipes and added some of her own mom's recipes. She has always had a destination to look forward to, despite the hectic travel schedule of Thanksgiving tournaments and games.

This year, it was Hind's turn. Hind Ben Abdelkadar, a freshman, is from Belgium and can now say she has enjoyed her first Thanksgiving as well.

The last four years, my Thanksgivings have included beaches, snow, food comas, lots of laughs and lots of leftovers. It has become tradition for my Thanksgivings to include teammates, international friends who couldn't go home, and even friends of friends who just needed a seat at a welcoming table.

Sometimes we are packed like sardines in a can, eating from dinner plates perched on our laps. But when sweet potato and apple pie fumes are lingering throughout the house, rubbing elbows with people suddenly doesn't seem so bad.

Thanksgiving has become the newest version of "open door policy." Everyone is welcome!