Taking his lumps

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

The first thing Chris Wolfenden did was cuss. Then he punched the wall.

It was 4 a.m., last Wednesday morning, and Wolfenden, a member of Winnipeg-based Team Canada, was just a few hours from joining his teammates for the first leg of the World League, volleyball's answer to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It'd been seven years since Canada qualified, and Wolfenden, a seven-year vet, couldn't wait.

This is what his whole season had boiled down to, after knee surgery wiped out his chance to play in the World Championship back in November.

If there are volleyball gods, then Wolfenden has done something terrible to offend them.

Because while his teammates left for London, Ont, and their first games against Finland, he went to emergency with a case of the mumps.

"I was checking my face, and went, 'Oh s--- -- I have it,' " Wolfenden, still quarantined at his home, was saying yesterday. "So I went straight to the hospital."

Not until he'd taken out his anger on the bedroom wall, that is.

A 29-year-old from Peterborough, Ont., Wolfenden knew it was the mumps because another Team Canada player, 23-year-old Nick Cundy, had come down with it, too.

But Cundy wasn't on the roster for the World League, an event with a $20 million purse that will see the Canucks travel to Korea, Finland and Brazil.

Not that volleyball is the be-all and end-all at a moment like this.

When an adult gets the mumps, it's far more serious than when a kid does.

We'll let Wolfenden explain.

"You're kind of flirting with infertility," he said. "That's only if it goes south, though. And it didn't. It stayed in my head. So I'm lucky."

Lucky, but very alone.

Wolfenden has been quarantined the last six days. Not even his wife is allowed to touch him, so he's sleeping in the basement.

"It's weird," he said. "We just kind of wave goodnight to each other."

Wolfenden's wife, Carla, is the Team Canada co-ordinator, so he was on his own while she was in Ontario with the team.

At home without groceries, and unable to go shopping, he got someone to drop food off on his step, while he spoke with them through his front door.

Wolfenden says he's actually improved the last few days -- his jaw and neck aren't swollen like balloons, anymore, and it doesn't feel like his head is going to explode.

But he is wondering what in the world he did to deserve a season like this.

"He seems to be cursed," Carla said.

There were two things circled on the Team Canada calendar this year: the World Championship and the World League.

"And he gets struck down by an unlucky thing like this," teammate Scott Koskie said. "I feel bad for him. He stuck it out here all winter, training, six or seven months of no competition, and now to be sidelined. I don't need to ask him to know how he's feeling."

Wolfenden struggled to put it into words.

"You have no idea," he said. "It's something I've worked for almost eight months, trying to recover from the last one. It's pretty much everything right now.

"Seriously, the first match I've ever missed was World Championships, in my seven-year career. So I guess in seven years, you've got an allotment of 10 games you've gotta miss. I'm gettin' them all right now."

Wolfenden is scheduled to get out of quarantine Thursday, the day after his teammates leave for Korea.

But he hasn't given up hope.

He'd like to join them for games June 8-9, in Finland. At worst, in Brazil a week later.

He's convinced he's got the mumps thing beaten.

Oh, and his hand survived the run-in with the wall, too.

"I made sure I did the open-hand thing," Wolfenden said.

Smart move.


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