My Path to the Olympics: Part 1

“Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”

~Bill Bradley

 

Over the past 6 months, I have gotten several questions from young athletes regarding how I became an Olympian. There is obviously a lot that goes into qualifying for the Olympics, but I thought that I would go over my story, and outline the path that I took to be able to represent my country at the Rio Olympic Games. Some of you may have heard this before, but for those who haven’t, here you go 🙂
 

The first time I told my parents that I was going to be an Olympian, I was 5 years old. At that age, I didn’t really understand what that entailed, but I knew that it was something tough to do, and I liked that.
 

I was a very active kid, and I loved all competition and sports. My parents signed me up for gymnastics to work on coordination when I was 5, and that evolved into me playing rep soccer and basketball, tennis, and then volleyball. Having volleyball-playing parents, I was immersed in the sport since birth, and had been begging them to let me play forever. Finally, when I was 10, I was allowed to join my first club volleyball team. I was a few years younger than the other girls, but my excitement at being able to play far outweighed any trepidations I may have felt being so much younger than everyone else.
 

I took every opportunity I could to get better, and that usually meant going to practices with girls that were several years older than me. It was intimidating sometimes, but I knew that I wanted to be a great volleyball player and Olympian, so it was worth it. My goals were more important to me than potentially looking silly, and I knew that the only way to keep improving was to play with players who were better than me.
 

When I was 14, I made the Canadian Junior National Team. The other girls on the team were 16 or 17. I was still playing multiple sports at this time, but that summer, volleyball became my priority. The sport went from being a September-April hobby to a year-round passion. I continued to play all sports in high school, but volleyball became my focus. My goals grew to include getting an NCAA scholarship, and becoming the youngest woman to ever play for Canada’s Senior National Team.
 

My biggest inspiration and idol at that time was an American volleyball player named Logan Tom. Logan was a young prodigy who was doing absolutely everything that I wanted to do. She was the top American high school player, and she made the US National Team when she was 16. She went to Stanford and won 2 NCAA National Championships. She went to her first Olympics when she was 19. After college, she played professionally in the top leagues. I was in awe of her and everything she did, and I wanted to do the same things. Following her career allowed me to keep raising the bar on my own goals, and provided a constant source of inspiration. I think it’s important for everyone to have role models. I feel so fortunate to have had such a great player to look up to, and to unknowingly push me to be the best.

 

Logan Tom. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)


 

I worked my butt off to get better every single day, and my goals were always pushing me to be the best I could be. That dedication paid off when I was 16, and got the opportunity to try out for the Canadian Senior National Team. I was both ecstatic and terrified. On one hand, I had the chance to achieve one of my biggest goals. On the other hand, the other athletes were anywhere from 5-15 years older than me, and I didn’t think I was good enough. I thought that I would be grossly out of place and potentially embarrass myself in front of much more talented and experienced players. I didn’t want to let my goal slip away, though, so I took the risk and went to Winnipeg, Manitoba to try out for the team.
 

Once I got on the court, my fears melted away, and I just played my heart out. No matter what happened, I wanted to leave the try out knowing that I tried my best and gave everything I had. I also wanted to learn whatever I could from the people surrounding me. Despite my anxiety and doubts, I ended up making the team, and with that, I achieved my goal of becoming the youngest woman ever to be on Canada’s Women’s National Team.
 

Over the next couple of years, I continued to play high school sports and club volleyball during the school year with Junior/Senior National Team mixed in between. I had to miss several weeks of school in order to train and travel with the Senior team (we were in the 2004 Olympic qualifying process), but my friends got all of my notes and homework for me and gave it to my dad. He always scanned it and emailed it to me wherever I was. While my teammates were napping or exploring whatever city we were in, I was doing homework and studying. It was tough missing school, and it was definitely challenging dealing with the age gap and being away from my family. I saw it as a sacrifice that needed to be made for me to be the person and athlete I wanted to be, though. Pursuing our dreams is never easy, and if it is easy, we aren’t dreaming big enough. I wanted to be an Olympian, and this was what I needed to do to get there, scanned homework and all.
 

In my last year of high school, Canada missed out on qualifying for the 2004 Athens Olympics by one berth. I was both devastated and hopeful. I was devastated because we were so close to qualifying, but I was hopeful because I knew that I was still very young. Hopefully, there would be many more chances.
 

After high school, I accepted a scholarship to the University of Nebraska. I was always a very focused student, so while there, I immersed myself in my team and my studies, and pressed pause on the National Team. I was so fortunate to be at such a strong volleyball school, with teammates who were some of the best players in the US. Being able to train with and against the best every single day, I knew that I would continue to improve by staying there over the summer with them. In 2006, we won the NCAA Division 1 National Championship (still one of my fondest memories). I graduated from Nebraska in 2008 with a degree in Biochemistry, and was ready to pursue a professional career.
 

In 2010, I rejoined our National Team, with the goal of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics. During the fall and winter, I was playing pro in countries such as Italy, Brazil, Korea, and China, and during the summer months, I was competing and traveling for Canada. When the Olympic qualifying tournament came around, we missed out on earning a berth for Canada again. I was 26 years old, and was wondering if I would ever be able to play in an Olympic Games.
 

To be continued…..

Read Part 2 of my journey here!
 

xo, Sarah

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