When Kelsey Ochsendorf graduated from college, she gave herself a gift.
A trip to Disney World? No, much better.
She bought an airline ticket to circle the globe.
For nine months, starting late summer 2007, she traveled on a shoestring budget to four continents and 19 countries.
She traveled part of that time with Ben Tepher, also a 2003 Willmar graduate. She traveled solo most of the miles with a backpack and a digital camera.
She returned last May after nine months overseas. She's since worked three jobs, including assistant girls JV hockey coach in Willmar.
In high school, Ochsendorf played on top lines with the likes of Gretchen Dahl and Sara Lohrman. Her last two years, Willmar went to state both times, won or tied 23 Central Lakes Conference games and won 41 games overall.
Asked how the evolving girls game has changed since she played?, Ochsendorf replied: "I definitely notice the skills, especially stick handling, are stronger and the play is a little more physical."
She played lacrosse at Minnesota State, Moorhead while earning a biology degree.
At the holiday break after a stressful fall semester her sophomore year, she flew to Australia.
"I spent five weeks and it was the best experience of my life," she said this week. "I learned I could trust my instincts and that there were other places I wanted to see."
The next two years she spent researching a global journey.
Through an agency, she bought an airline package for $4,500. She'd do it differently next time: in Southeast Asia she found it would have been cheaper, faster taking a train or bus between countries.
"I could have saved, maybe $1,500," she sighed.
Other than that there wasn't much she'd change. She bought a $200 camera before leaving and a hard drive in New Zealand to store photos. Periodically, she burned the images to a DVD and shipped it to her parents, Karen and Kevin, along with souvenirs.
The trip started in New Zealand. She worked at a rural tavern doing odd jobs and stayed in a small outbuilding for free for a month. She hooked into "Couch Surfing" which helped her find free lodging throughout her travels and with "I-to-I", which offers world-wide opportunities in volunteerism.
In Australia, along the Great Barrier Reef, she worked on a dive boat doing dishes and filling air tanks. She had taken SCUBA training stateside and was able to dive up to five times a day. On a PC, she displayed colorful underwater photos of sea life taken with a rented flash camera.
Her itinerary was planned but only between airports. Once in-country, her method was to find someone who spoke English and ply them for information and advice.
After Australia, came stops in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Sari Lanka, India and South Africa, and then eight countries in Europe. She hiked back country wherever possible
She worked at a sea-turtle conservation farm on Sri Lanka and at a Malaysia Nature Park she was a laborer who also got to play with the monkies. She spent more time as a volunteer handling cheetahs and lion cubs at a nature reserve and lion park outside Johannesburg, S.A and there was time spent at an orphanage in Nepal while hoping to but never getting into Tibet.
In Nepal she witnessed Tibetan Monks being beaten in the streets during a period of civil unrest.
"You wanted to help but you knew we'd end up in jail if we did," she said. "They were all bloody. I'd had some EMT training, so it was painful to see that and not be able to so something. It's one reason I want to (go into medicine)."
Her diet was constantly changing and at times exotic. But only once did she become ill, that on a long trek in the foot hills of the Himalayas. She never feared for her safety, she said.
"Being a female, you have to use common sense and avoid some situations," she said.
Looking back, she concedes she has a competitive temperament but the trip "really relaxed me. I learned Yoga and would wake at dawn looking out on the Indian Ocean, great mountains or at the African plains and meditate. I was uplifted by the generosity of people everywhere and I learned that good people, mostly, make up the world."
She wasn't ready to come home, but her older brother, Jared, was getting married, so reluctantly, she ended her journey.
Back at her home base, she ran into her former coach Ross Dahl. He mentioned an opening in the coaching ranks. She also went to work full time at Bethesda Heritage nursing home and at Green Mill bartending part time.
"I've paid my bills," she said. "Now I'm saving to go back to school. I want to study to become a physician's assistant. I'd like to move to Northern California. I hate the winters here."
Photos from her adventure at www.myspace.com/oxy_travel_journal.
Hannah Smith, Cardinal junior, was named Performer of the Week in Girls Basketball, after totaling 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists and four steals in two wins.
On Feb. 3, Casey Sussenguth was named Men's Basketball Top Player in the MCAC South for the second time in three weeks. The Ridgewater College freshman averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds over two games.