Monday, June 28, 2010

Chapter 1: My Life as a Volleyball Vagabond

“Volleyball is the sport through which I am able to express my God-given talents of being an athlete. It is a sport which involves relating, pushing, and encouraging your teammates. It has helped evolve me into the person I am today.” -David Beard

I am the epitome of a volleyball baby. My parents met at a grass volleyball tournament in South Florida; my dad, Bill, who stands at six feet-five inches, was able to secure the height gene required by the sport, while my mother, CJ, a college player-turned-coach, provided the skills and knowledge necessary; needless to say, volleyball is in my blood. I was approximately two hours old the first time I touched a (mini) volleyball. I had been given my first jersey, courtesy of Mama Rivera, before my second birthday. I was eight years old when I played on my first "official" volleyball team. At the 1996 FCCJ volleyball camp, the local news channel interviewed me about my dreams of one day achieving Olympic Gold. By age ten, I had decided to fully dedicate myself to the sport, giving up all others. There is not a single memory that I possess in which volleyball is not present.

It became apparent to me that volleyball was becoming more than just my hobby when I was about eleven years old, and instead of having throw pillows or stuffed animals on and around my bed like most of my friends, I had about three volleyballs. I felt more comfortable wearing spandex than skirts. Volleyball and I had forged a relationship. When I wasn’t playing volleyball myself, I was watching my mom’s college teams play. I attended practices, watched workouts; I would do anything to get myself around the sport. My mom’s college players had a profound impact on the lives of both my sister and me, providing us with many role models who, to this day, continue to provide insight in both life and sports. These amazing women helped to lead us towards the goal of one day becoming a student-athlete.

Before continuing, it is important to explain a little background information about the company that has made this entire globetrotting experience possible. Bring It USA Promotions, or BIP, is a professional volleyball agency that serves as representation for male and female volleyball players overseas. In 1999, BIP expanded their international tours into university tours, exposure tours, and recruiting tours; currently they are serving over 20 tours annually. My mother, affectionately known by the BIP staff as Ceej, was introduced to the company while on the December 2001 Exposure Tour as a coach. Since then, she has become one of the Southeastern USA representatives for the company, integrating junior’s tours into BIP’s current activities. In July of 2002, Ceej took her first junior team, Team Alabama, to four European countries: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Sovenia. The girls on tour were asked to keep a written journal of the many adventures and great sights along the trip, mostly for their own memorabilia.

I was thirteen the first time I went overseas. Living in a small town outside of Birmingham, Alabama, I was accustomed to the slow paced lifestyle that is associated with the southern states. As the youngest member of Team Alabama, my volleyball playing experience was severely lacking compared to that of my teammates’, despite my current placement on my high school’s varsity volleyball team. My mother, and fearless leader of our tour group, had been a college volleyball coach since 1987, and would continue to coach at the college level until my sophomore year of high school when she retired to spend more time with my younger sister and I. It is through volleyball that my family and I have been given the incredible opportunities to travel around the world and meet some of the most extraordinary people. It is volleyball that has given me, and now my sister, the means to both a college education and, potentially, a career path. At age thirteen, I could never have anticipated that my travels abroad would have accelerated to the most recent count of 15 foreign countries. Without these experiences to guide me, I would never have developed into the young woman I am today.