I’ve been taking a whole lot of weekend trips recently. The reason behind most of them? Volleyball. Since signing on to coach for East Coast Power Volleyball, a club I once played for, I have had the opportunity to travel with the team - from center city Philadelphia, to Kansas City, to Orlando, or to Atlanta coming up next month. This is far from all new to me though.
Flashback 10 years ago, volleyball became my first and most frequent vehicle of travel. Playing on a competitive club team, even at 11/12 years old, meant traveling for the big tournaments around the country. My very first time flying was a direct flight from Philadelphia to Dallas, Texas for the Junior Olympic National Championship. Picture an 11-year-old girl excessively popping her ears and spending far too long in the bathroom because it was cool to get up and not be seated. For the next eight years the sport would be the one and only reason I flew anywhere. My first non-volleyball related flight would be 10 years later, out of the country to Dublin.
At the time it was an easy thing to take for granted. The region’s most competitive volleyball clubs had always been right on my back doorstep, no more than 10 minutes away. However, many girls traveled more than hour each way to get to practices. It was normal for our team to qualify for nationals (or J.O.s) every year, expected. We traveled along the east coast during much of the season – from D.C. to Baltimore to Raleigh to Florida. It was routine in a way, but always exciting. I was lucky enough to have my dad as my partner in crime for the majority of my tournament years. He was my right hand man, always traveling with me, a water bottle in hand, master of frequent convention center smoothie runs. If there was a parent who hadn’t known anything about volleyball but quickly became a number one fan, that was him. I was his priority on and off the court, making sure I got rest, seeking out the best food, wandering around the city sights. We went to Las Vegas for a large qualifier tournament when I was 15.
It can’t be much fun to have a bunch of 15 year olds – in spandex, in a casino hotel in Vegas, yet it’s one of my fondest memories. Rooftop pool in February, yes please. Dinner in the rotating stratosphere and rides hundreds of feet above the strip? I couldn’t forget those things if I tried. And of course there was volleyball. There was always volleyball.
Nationals were in Miami, Florida my 13s year. It was my first time in Florida, first time snorkeling, first time in a limo. One of the parents was a little out there and got us a party limo to ride in to practice at the University of Miami gym. Traffic aided in us spending more time in the limo, less time in the gym. My whole family took advantage of the trip, soaking up the sun (my brother a little too much – ahem, sun poisoning), and on one of our off afternoons we road tripped down to Key West for a snorkeling excursion.
My volleyball story has gifted me with the most memorable experiences. I could never forget speed boating around the Chicago skyline from Navy Pier, or driving thousands of feet up the Rocky Mountains outside of Denver, the Mile High City – the scene of endless snowcapped mountains at the top my Dad called his “church”. It was breathtaking. Maybe even more breathtaking than the post-play afternoon, that we spent along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline.
Volleyball has given me more than I could ever give it. It has fed my competitive spirit, made me a leader, a fighter, a teammate. It has taught me hard work, precision, and the power of passion. As a coach, it now continues to give me a purpose. One that leads me to self-reflect often and harness a new awareness of how my actions have the power to influence others. Volleyball for me has always been about growth - personal, mental, and physical. I tell my team that the court should be an escape – a place to let everything else fall to the wayside. I am eternally grateful for all the opportunities sport has provided me throughout my youth and young adulthood. It unknowingly fueled a passion for travel and discovery, one that it nurtured from one tournament destination to the next. Maybe my path was always destined.