A Long Way From Home
By Jack Hamann
American professional volleyball players spend much of their lives overseas, away from family and friends. The life of an athlete abroad can be tough, but many consider the challenge well worth it.
Courtney Thompson was alone, fumbling for her keys at the top of three flights of stairs. Hooked on her elbows were heavy bags, some filled with groceries, others with sweat-soaked spandex, socks, and shoes. In the parking lot below, under leaden Polish skies, her square little white car—wrapped with ads from a team sponsor—was dripping mud from the pothole-filled road leading to her apartment’s steel security gate. Thompson was in Lodz, a long way from home.
Just a few months earlier, she’d been awash in red, white, and blue. It was London, where Thompson had fully embraced it all: the crowds, the anthems, the USA uniforms, the silver Olympic medal around her neck. Family and friends were there, along with the teammates, coaches, and staff who’d been part of her Olympic journey.
Now, after another long and largely forgettable team practice and weight session, Thompson prepared to eat the way she usually does in Poland: alone. Her apartment soon smelled of sautéed vegetables and smoked salmon, masking the aroma of a row of well-used volleyball kneepads lined atop a space heater. Clothes hung in every room in various stages of damp: clothes dryers are a rare luxury in Eastern Europe. As she carefully chewed each bite, her expression was weary.
“Most of the time,” she said, “you just see us competing. You see a game. You see the end result. You see the Olympics. You see the last two weeks of a four-year sacrifice. What you miss are the thousands of hours of getting reps. And getting up when you don’t want to get up, because you’re tired. And crying because you just had your third breakdown of the year. Because it’s just really, really hard.”
To read the rest of the article, click here. It includes the rest of Courtney’s story, as well as an interview with Rachael Adams and Geena Urango.