2012 LONDON OLYMPIC GAMES
Olympism encompasses four ideals. Fair Play, Respect, Sportsmanship, and Perseverance. Fair Play is honoring the rules and regulations of the sport. Respect: respecting yourself, your opponents, and the game. Sportsmanship can be a combination of honoring the anti-doping rules as well as being respectful regardless of winning or loosing. And perseverance, continuing to push through the difficult times and challenges that come our way. Perseverance is the ideal that comes to mind when I tell my story.
In April of 2009, I had just finished my student teaching in southern England and was asked to join the US National Team on a trip to Cairo, Egypt for a series of exhibition matches. I hadn't played volleyball in 3 months, but it was time to seize this opportunity and begin pursuing a dream I had dreamt since High School. I was surprised at how fast the game came back to me, considering that was the longest I had been away from volleyball since picking up the sport in 7th grade. The tournament went well despite the time away and I was asked to return to Anaheim in May to begin training with the team. Prior to my departure from Egypt, my head coach gave me three skills I would have to perform at a high level in order to have a shot at being one of three middle blockers on the Olympic Team in 2012. Number 1: Ability to attack a variety of different sets at a high efficiency. Number 2: Ability to read a variety of international setters and block a lot of balls. Number 3: Serve a good serve in the court...often.
May 2009, the beginning of a four year journey that would forever change my life. I was learning so much in that first month. A new way of blocking that I was beginning to understand, learning to hit a variety of shots efficiently, but still trying to figure out that serving thing. Over the next four months, blocking and hitting were making progress, but serving was not. I began placing my worth as a player in how well I served. As athletes we are always trying to improve in the areas we are not as "strong" and become complete players. However, I arrived at the point where I was so self-absorbed with my serving performance that it effected the other skills. How I served on a daily basis determined how I felt about myself on a daily basis. I began to realize my identity was wrapped up in performance and who I was as a volleyball player. That performance mind set began to consume my mind on a 24/7 basis. My thoughts revolved around anxiety and fear of failure. There were several times I spent time with family back in Pittsburgh and I found it very difficult to get on that plane back to California. I had to face that fear of walking through those gym doors. However, each time I walked through those doors, was another step in persevering through this obstacle.
How did I keep going? My faith in God, and trust, in His plan and purpose for my life.
My favorite scripture and also the very first one I wrote in my journal before beginning this Olympic quest, is Proverbs 3:5-6. "Trust in The Lord with all you heart, lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will lead your paths straight." All I wanted was for God to remove the anxiety and fear of serving...a quick fix. I knew He could, however, that was not the purpose He had. There's the human "plan" and then there is God's plan. Let me tell you, His was WAY better.
2009 through 2011 I dealt with performance anxiety and fear of failure. I missed out on tournament after tournament because of what the fear had done to my game. There were a few moments in those years where I had been released from the fear, but then tried to take matters into my own hands, instead of allowing God to take control. I remember thinking, why do I need God to serve a ball over the net? This is ridiculous. I had done it my entire life up to this point. Why did I all of a sudden need Him to play volleyball? Growing up, God to me was church on Sunday's and prayers before dinner and bed. It wasn't until I began to struggle with fear of failure and anxiety inside the gym, that I was introduced to what a relationship with God was. I had to learn to release control and allow Him intervene into every corner of my life, including playing sports with Him. Think about it, when you are married to someone (I'm not married, so this is an assumption), but I imagine your spouse has to be aware and let into the corners of your life in order for the marriage to function. So why is that any different for you and God?
I had to learn to release control, open my hands, and stop gripping things that were out of my control. I couldn't control the results of tomorrow and the decisions of others, I could control coming in with my best efffort, continue to learn, and saying and doing everything I could to help the team get better. God taught me over those 3 years that I needed Him to serve the ball, I needed Him to persevere through this fear, and I needed Him to play with true freedom. He was building my character and changing me (trust in the Lord with all your heart), teaching me to fix my eyes on Him through the really tough days (lean not on your own understanding), find joy and trust everyday that He had a purpose in every challenge (acknowledge Him in all your ways), and that his timing was perfect (He will lead your paths straight).
In October of 2011, a month prior to leaving for Italy, I had a breakthrough in my serve. During a waterbreak, I was messing around with a jump float (for those of you who do not know what that is..it's a serve where you take a small jump and strike to ball in the center to make it float). I remember after the first few reps, I finally felt some freedom and the fear began to lift away as I began to trust that God was going to continue to be with me through this process. Daily, I had to rely and remain in Him (...praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit..Ephesians 6:18) to lift away the layers of fear that had been built up over the past three years. My hands had to remain "open" to what God had for me that day and trusting that He would be with me in tackling any challenge that would be thrown my way. Over the next 5 months while playing in Italy I had begun to improve weekly, the fear continued to be lifted because of my trust in God, and the freedom I felt while serving began to reflect my entire game. I was playing my best volleyball. Daily I had to release control and acknowledge this gift of freedom God had placed in my hands. By the time April of 2012 rolled around, I found myself excited to jump on a plane to California and walk through those gym doors. That freedom I had serving and playing WITH God, allowed me to compete with so much joy and play the game I love with a true smile on my face. April, through May, and into June God continued to enter into every corner of my game and life. They chose the final 12 for the Olympic Team July 3. When I heard the words, "We are taking you with us to London," I couldn't help being overwhelmed with gratitude for this journey and the adversity that lead me to finding a relationship with God. One of my favorite moments of the Olympic Games came in set one, match one, against Korea...walking across the service line. As I stepped across that endline the biggest grin came over my face. It screamed freedom, confidence, and joy. And that's my Olympic Story. We will see what is in store for the next four years...