Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Never Meet Your Heroes.."

"I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people." Maya Angelou

It was described as apocalyptic. The entire town of Tacloban was leveled. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest in history, swarmed the Philippine Islands on November 8, 2013 with 115 mph winds and left in its violent wake a destruction only seen in video games and Schwarzenegger movies. Over 200,000 homes destroyed and 6,300 people dead with another thousand missing. The end of the world had come to life.

Just 100 days after the tragedy, a young woman came to Tacloban and began the process of healing the city using what she herself had used in her own life: sports. Geraldine Bernardo, part of the Global Sports Mentoring Program, brought a program she developed called RePLAY, ReLIVE, ReNEW to the teachers and students of Tacloban using sports and games to bring this battered coastal city hope and purpose. 

ReNEW. ReLIVE. RePLAY. They weren’t just catchy words on a pamphlet. They are Bernardo’s ethos. They are what she speaks of, lives and sweats, under the relentless Philippine sun.

Geraldine Bernardo, Dina, grew up a self described “chubby kid” who was steered away from sports as a youngster because it would take her focus away from her studies. She idolized Bruce Lee growing up and would dabble in martial arts along with biking, swimming and skating. Her high school years she began to redefine herself by following fitness guru Jane Fonda’s aerobic workouts and cutting out sweets. She went into college studying physical therapy and found interest in exercise physiology and biomechanics which got her interested in weight training. 

It was at the University of the Philippines she also met the most important person in her life, her soon to be husband Jay. They have been a true team ever since. Thanks to her husband’s encouragement, Dina got involved in the performing arts: dancing and singing, skills which would serve her going forward as a gifted public speaker and completely at ease in front of audiences. She added to her burgeoning resume by graduating from the Asian Institute of Management with a Masters in Business Management. After their marriage in 1994, Dina and Jay began a series of small business together along with helping take care of her family’s interests as well. Years later, the couple hit a professional rough patch culminating in layoffs, lawsuits and the feeling of being burned out. Dina searched for answers.

In Chinese mythology, a subject Dina immersed herself in as a young student; Qu Yuan was a trusted soldier, advisor and poet for the state of Chu during the Warring States period of Chinese history. He was slandered by jealous officials in his own party and was put on trial for treason and exiled. He wrote poetry in his exile of his love for his country. A few years after his exile, his country was conquered by the Qin State: the very enemy he had proposed fighting against before his party had turned on him. Overcome with grief, Qu jumped into the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month which caused the rest of the townsfolk to jump into their boats and paddle up and down the Miluo, banging the water with their oars and beating drums to keep evil spirits away from him. They even tossed lumps of rice into the water to ensure the fish would eat the rice and not Qu. He was never found.

From this legend, the idea of Dragon Boating began. Imagine a supersized 40 foot canoe with 20 paddlers on each side of the elaborately carved vessel, a dragon’s head at one end and a dragon’s tail at the other. A lone steersman sits at the rear of the boat and a drummer at the front beating out a stroke count for rower unity. In Southeast Asia, it is a celebrated and honored sport tradition going back 2000 years.

Dina saw it as the ultimate team sport: rowers working in unison for a common goal. She decided at the age of 37 and with no previous sports experience, to give it a try at the local club in Manila. Her muscular frame and long arms lent herself perfectly to her new found passion. Three months into the Club season, Dina saw the Philippine National Team was having tryouts. She missed the age cut off by 10 years but with Jay’s insistence and her perseverance, she went anyway.

She tried out for two months but failed to make the first cut because she couldn’t finish the running criteria of a mile and a half in 12 minutes. She grabbed a book and began to learn how to pare her time down. She would try out in the morning with the team, go to work the rest of the day and then run in the evenings. On June 14th of 2003, her perseverance paid off and Geraldine Bernardo put the Team Philippine jersey on her back. Two months later she was named the Captain of the team.

She put her business acumen to use and helped organize and consolidate her diverse team into a functioning and thriving unit. She delved into the science and the math to help her team reach their potential. A few years into her National team stint, with four hour practices five days a week and on top of that cardio and weight training, her teams work paid off. At the age of 39 years old, Dina and her team captured a gold medal in their first Southeast Asian Games, adding to their 10 medals in the China Circuit races the previous two years.

In this amazing story, Dina also saw a different side of sports. She saw the athletes who worked so hard just following their passions. She saw what sports can do and how it can be used as a vehicle for social change and she saw, through her own eyes, how far people can take themselves if just given opportunities. She has also seen the side most of us don’t get to see. Abuses in leadership and the treatment of athletes; a part of sports she has been warring with ever since.

And so it began. Dina worked with the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission. She was the first Filipina to be accepted into the 2012 inaugural class of the Global Sports Mentoring Program for emerging women sports leaders through the U.S. State Department which lead into her work at Tacloban after the typhoon. She has started the Sports for Women’s Empowerment and Employment Program (SWEEP) and the Sports Management Council of the Philippines, hiring young men and women to pay forward her ideals that sports can heal, can encourage and can inspire. 

The past couple of years, in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Dina has organized a program for U.S.A. Volleyball to reach out to coaches and communities around the Philippines. She has touched the deaf and disabled communities along with player and coaching clinics in elementary, high schools and colleges around much of Manila, Cebu and Baguio. In every clinic, she makes sure the participants are fed at the end and are given shirts that they wear proudly. She also leaves volleyballs with the programs so the ideas of the day are continued forward. None of those things are assumed in the Philippines.

If you read the blogs about J.P. Maunes and Adeline Dumapong, you should know that their work with USA Volleyball is through Dina. She is the nucleus of this atom and has no intention of slowing down. 

On a Sunday afternoon in late September last fall, Dina came to Bahay Mapagmahal, a school for disabled children. For an afternoon, the kids played sitting volleyball in an activity room the size of your kitchen and laughed and smiled, competing for hours. Dina acknowledged that she worked in the orthopedic hospital that this facility was attached to by its parking lot but never knew it was there. She smiled and entertained the children, talked to the schools administration and as she does with all of her outreach, left an indelible mark on so many. When she climbed back into her car, she began to cry. She wanted to do more.

There is an old adage: “Never meet your heroes, they’ll disappoint you every time.”

That’s not always the case. Heroes heal, encourage and inspire. They find ways to the light when the paths are dark and full of obstacles. They know how to say yes when the rest of the world says no. They promote inclusion and opportunity and they wrestle with their own demons to further their humanitarianism.

Geraldine Bernardo is a hero. And everyone who has met her is better for it. 

"Nothing is given to man on earth - struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible - the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen." -- Andrew Bernstein

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Pain is a part of....."

“A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted. “ Andrew Bernstein

Find a hero. Start looking. It is the fireman who races into a building to save somebody’s life? Is it the police officer who disrupts a robbery? Or is it the middle-schooler who steps in between a bully and his mark? Or is it still the Mom who leaves early every morning to catch the bus to work so she can pay for her children’s clothing and schooling, without complaint, self pity or anger, and still has the time to read to them before bed?

Heroes are found in different shapes and colors and sizes and places. They are among the shoppers on line in the 18 items and less lane. They are next to you in the traffic you sat in this morning. They are all around us- we just need to look with better eyes to find them because chances are, they don’t think they are heroes and certainly don’t want to be thought of in that way.

Adeline Dumapong is one of those heroes.

You might know her because she is the first Filipino to win a Paralympic medal. She won the Power lifting bronze medal in 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.

You should know her because of all the work she does with persons with disabilities in the Philippines.

And you should know her because she is the kind of tireless and humble role model our young athletes should know more about.

But chances are you don’t know anything about her. Yet….

Born December 13, 1973, Adeline Dumapong grew up in a town called Kiangan in the province of Ifugao. She was one of six children and at the age of three, she was diagnosed with polio and lost the use of her legs and was confined to a wheel chair. 

“From what I can remember,” Adeline says, “My family has always treated me 'normally'. No special treatment. At home, there was division of labor and my parents would always give me chores that I could do like washing the dishes, folding clean clothes from the laundry, cooking rice or arranging shoes. Those chores didn't require walking, so they would be assigned to me. Looking back, I am sure that my parents gave me considerations, of course. I just didn't feel it then, which was exactly the point. I remember that there was a time when I asked my parents why they were not treating me 'special' and my father said that although I am special, like all my siblings are, I still have to do my share in the household chores.”

But Adeline’s father who was a mid-level public servant didn’t have the resources to care for his daughter. At the age of 6 years old, Adeline was sent to a school for children with disabilities called Bahay Mapagmahal which translated in the Filipino language of Tagalog is “Loving Home.” This dormitory was located behind the Philippine Orthopedic Center in Quezon City, seven driving hours south of her home.

Adeline recalls her time there as disciplined, run by Sister Roos Catry of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. “Bahay Mapagmahal dormitory during my time, we had a very strict structure to adhere to, from waking up at 5 am to lights off at 8 pm. We had written rules and regulations and we had duties which we had to do. Discipline is enforced. Failure to comply had a consequence ranging from no food, no television, temporary removal of wheelchair and, or isolation up to 12 midnight depending on the gravity of the offense.” Sister Roos is entering her 39th year at the helm.

“As a child of 6 up to around when I was 9 years old, I just accepted the situation and adapted to it. Every start of the school year, after spending 2 months with my family, when my mother would bring me to Bahay Mapagmahal, it would take me 2 weeks to adjust to the Bahay Mapagmahal way of life.”

But for a young girl who missed her family terribly, she began to question her situation. “When I was around 10, I started resenting my parents for bringing me to Bahay Mapagmahal. I even asked them if was really their child and when they said yes, I asked them how come they could stand sending me away to that 'horrible' place.”

One of the things that helped was the facilities adherence to learning musical instruments. Bahay Mapagmahal has developed a constant among their students called the “Rondalla on Wheels” which is the kids playing stringed instruments for concerts and fund raising functions, helping to keep the school afloat.

“Life in the dormitory was not easy but it was there that I was formed.” Adeline notes. “I was there for 10 years. I looked up to other alumni that would come visit us and told myself that I would also make something of myself. They were my role models. There were also a lot of fun and laughter and friendship.”

Adeline has always been a lover of sports. “Being an Ifugao, one of the indigenous tribe of the northern Philippines, and with a stocky build, I would always be part of a physical activity. I was into everything; racing, basketball, swimming, discuss throw, javelin, shot put, anything. It was a way of getting out the compound of the hospital where our dormitory is. Only athletes were allowed to go 'out' for training.”
This new found freedom translated immediately into her idea of “making something of herself.” As is the case with many of Bahay Mapagmahal’s alumni, they come back to the school to pay it forward: teaching music to the new students or just to help out in the dorm. Adeline, at the age of 23, and already graduated from a University and employed, married and yes, found power lifting.

“In 1996, a friend from the hospital asked me to try power lifting, I said why not. It was also a legit way of showing my male friends that I am stronger than them. It started as sort of a joke but I joined a national competition and I fell in love with it and the rest is history.”

“Part of a prize from a local competition was 2 months free training in the gym that my coach owned. In 1999, I was sent to Miami, Florida to compete in the qualifying tournament for the Sydney Paralympics 2000. I got a gold medal which qualified me for the Paralympic Games. It was the first time that our country would participate in the Paralympic Games. Nobody had any expectations.”

Adeline didn’t realize she had won a medal in her first Paralympics, right away. “I was just happy that I made that 110kg lift. It was only when my coach approached me and hugged me that it dawned on me. I have no video of my lift that time because the person taking the video jumped for joy when they saw that I was going to get a medal and the camera fell off the ground.” 

She won the bronze medal, the first Paralympic medal in Philippines history and the only one they would win for the next 16 years. “When I was at the podium and looking at the flags, our flag, being raised, I had goose bumps and I started crying. There was also the realization that winning that medal was not just for myself but for the whole country. That Paralympic bronze medal felt like a gold medal for us. Everybody was happy about it. It opened doors not just for me but more importantly for the Disabled sport in the Philippines.”

Two years after her medal winning performance, she gave birth to Alyssa Mei. “Alyssa changed me.” She says candidly. “When I didn't have her yet, I was not particularly fond of children. I didn't hate them but I did not long for them as well. When I didn't have her yet, I was very driven and hard on myself and on others. I remember my young self as fearless and fearsome I guess. I was a champion for the underdogs; I was a voice for the others who were afraid to say what they wanted to say. I fought hard for my ideals, for the things I thought were right. I pushed myself to become the best wherever I was so that I can back up my ideals. Then I fell in love and had Alyssa. Slowly but surely, Alyssa changed me. I became more human because of her. She taught me to be afraid but she also taught me about patience, gentleness, simple joys and unconditional love. She continues to do so now in more ways than one. There are times when I look at her and I just go 'wow', she's my daughter. She really made me a better person.”

Adeline continued to train and took 7th in the 2004 Athens Summer Paralympics. She ran into some adversity where she was injured just before the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics and took 6th in the 2012 London Paralympics. She is currently ranked 9th in the world at the age of 43!

“The London and Rio Paralympic Games were supposedly my last games.” Adeline confesses. “Before London I thought it was going to be my last Paralympic games but I continued training and I still won competitions and then qualified for the Rio games. Then, I had the same thoughts before the Rio games; that I will retire after that. However, it's been 5 months but I am still training and my coach said I can still do another cycle up to Tokyo 2020. So, I gave up on giving up. I figure, I'll just do this while I still can and when I don't win anymore, I'll stop. I really enjoy being with the national team. I am one of the most senior athletes there both in age and experience and I like that I can reach out to the younger athletes and share with them my journey; I still like being part of a team even if at times it can be challenging as well.”

In her normal deflecting way, Adeline spends her life spreading the gospel of Para sports to the Philippine Islands and beyond through her work and her ascension as a role model. “I am most proud of being part of our sport organization, Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled, the National Paralympic Committee (PHILSPADA-NPC Phils.) When it started in 1997 and when I won the 1st ever Paralympic medal for the Philippines in Sydney 2000.” She says. “It was only a bronze medal but it truly felt like gold but even more as it opened doors not only for me but for the whole disability sport population in the Philippines. Disability sport in the Philippines has come a long way since year 2000. Today, we have 74 athletes on the National Para Team, playing 17 different sports and participating in major IPC competitions around the globe. Aside from being an athlete, I have worked as a volunteer for PHILSPADA NPC Phils. during the off season. Just last November, I was invited to help them reorganize and revive the organization and again I have accepted.”

In the fall, Adeline used her contacts in the Para community to teach both coaches and athletes sitting volleyball in their programs and facilities. She watched the training as some Para leaders were helped out of their wheel chairs and others would ease to the ground and toss their crutches and canes aside and for a few hours, became athletes. She watched as a ribbon was strung across the rec room of what was once her home, at Bahay Mapagmahal and the children, squealing and laughing, played sitting volleyball for hours. She had a hand in these events and in growing the sitting game in her arena, but to ask her, she was barely there.

Her work with these organizations is purely to grow the awareness and outreach of Para sports in the Philippines. “Our organization has no money and they are only giving me allowance for gas now but I am happy. On the practical side, I do need to earn a living to provide for my daughter and me, so now I am taking my masters in Community Development at the University of the Philippines so I can teach and/or become a consultant. A friend of mine gave me the start up money for my studies; hopefully I find a scholarship soon. I am proud, too, of the fact that I am going back to school after 22 years to better serve the community through sport.”

On that humid Sunday in late September, as Adeline sat in the room of Bahay Mapagmahal where she grew up, she couldn’t have imagined the events that would bring her back but as is the tradition there, she is back. Sister Roos is leaving in March to head back to Belgium and the school’s music group, called the Rondalla On Wheels has a new president. “I have many organizations but I have temporarily said goodbye to them so I can concentrate with Bahay Mapagmahal’s Rondalla On Wheels and PHILSPADA NPC Phils.” New President Adeline states. 

In an Advil commercial, Adeline Dumapong puts her life into one sentence; “Pain is a part of life, we have to be able to rise above it.” While there are many who can follow that script, very few do. But Adeline lives it every day, in and out of her wheelchair, training and advocating for those like her; those born with or having developed a disability but that still want, need and certainly deserve opportunities.

They are out there. Sometimes in the shadows, sometimes behind the scenes and a lot of times you don’t know who they are but they can affect your life; veer it into a direction you couldn’t have imagined. The everyday heroes who populate our planet but get overlooked because they are quiet and keep their head down and do good work and never think of themselves as heroes.

We have to look with better eyes to find them and tell them, “thank you!”

If you would like to help the Rondalla on Wheels you can follow them on facebook or you can make a donation on their website

Monday, January 23, 2017

"The Impact of the Ripples...."

“A hero is somebody who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” Bob Dylan

Capes are uncomfortable in the tropical rainforest-like temperatures and humidity of the Philippine Islands. Even if they were more comfortable, it is a given that John Paul Maunes wouldn’t wear one.

He doesn’t see himself as a hero: he’s just sharing his gifts with the community. A promise he made to a friend many years ago. His work with the deaf and persons with disabilities has been far reaching and ever evolving and it started as a young boy.

John Paul, or J.P. as he prefers, resides in Cebu, an island and surrounding others of over four million people, where he grew up with a brother and a sister. “All my life I was raised by people with disabilities.” J.P. says. “My Mom has a disability. She was a doctor and was working in the community and one day, on her way to the community she was on the bus and the bus got into an accident and she almost lost her two legs. I also grew up living in the same house with my Uncle who has a mental illness. Growing up among them you can hear a lot of negative things and that was hard for me as a child to grow up in that environment.”

“When you go to school and there’s a family day and you can see all the kids and their parents playing the games together and you just sit here with your parent; it’s hard because you cannot do the same things as your classmates because your Mom has difficulty moving around or she cannot do physical activities. In the neighborhood I was often teased by my friends about how my Mom would walk. It was painful.” He has struggled reconciling how he and his Mom and Uncle were treated now he is working as an advocate for people like them. “All I saw was a loving mother; I was raised by a loving mother: a Mom and a doctor who was taking care of poor patients in a community and by a loving Uncle.”

J.P. was a normal boy in Cebu. He loved soccer and basketball and played as often as possible around school but beginning high school, his world became a prison. “When I was 14 years old I was diagnosed with chronic granuloma. They told me there was a lesion in my head and they had to remove it and I had to take medication. I was 14; I loved to play soccer, I loved to play basketball, I loved to go out and then suddenly they tell you that you can’t go out and play and do what regular kids do.”

His condition gave him seizures and often landed him in the hospital. “The first time I can remember I was sent to the hospital, I felt my Mom’s finger in my mouth and she was trying to resuscitate me. She told me I was not breathing anymore. The next thing I know, I was already in the hospital and then there was a Doctor in my room telling me, ‘You are not a regular kid anymore. You have to take medicine; you can’t play your regular sports. You can’t play basketball; you can’t play soccer or swim. You have to just stay at home.’ That was the most disenfranchising moment of my life.”

It was out of this darkest time in his childhood that J.P. would befriend someone that would inspire and revise his life forever; his deaf neighbor Peter Paul. “It was my entire childhood in high school. I was second year in high school and so I had this medication and I had difficulty adjusting it and a few months after I met this deaf guy, Peter Paul. We were the same age and he was playing basketball and he invited me: ‘C’mon, lets’ play, let’s shoot some balls.’ I told him I couldn’t play and he said, ‘No, what’s your problem?’ That’s the time I started to play after so many months being confined to my room, I started to play basketball and he told me he’d give me a sign name and he gave me the sign name of ‘Michael Jordan’ when we played basketball. He told me, ‘You’ll be my playmate every afternoon here,’ so that was the most empowering moment I had after being diagnosed with that medical condition.”

J.P. credits Peter Paul with teaching him sign language and getting him back on his feet once again. “He taught me how to take life positively and knowing also he was there and had a permanent disability I had a reflection: How could I feel so sorry about my suffering? Here is this guy with a permanent disability who was disabled from the first place so I think it’s only a matter of mentality and how people see you.”

J.P.’s new inner strength was tested right away. ‘When we were 17, Peter Paul had an accident and passed away. The day before he passed away, I saw him. It’s still quite mysterious. I ran home and my house was empty and our neighbor told us that my parents and family were in his house and when I arrived at his house, I had the surprise of my life when I saw his mother crying and my parents crying and I said what’s happening and she told me that he passed away in an accident.”

Peter Paul’s influence in J.P. was deeply ingrained already but J.P. recalled one of the last conversations he had with his best friend. “Just days before he died, he was telling me I needed to volunteer in the community and that people were needing help and how I was one of the few people who know how to communicate in sign language. For me, I did not really want to, I just wanted to sign with him and communicate and he said no, you have to. It’s a God-given talent; it’s a gift and you have to share it with the community and I told him I would think about it. So after that happened, the day of his burial, I told myself… I promised myself, I promised him that I would serve the community. That was the first time I engaged myself in the community and I was looking for communities and organizations and I found one community in Cebu which introduced me to the deaf community in Cebu and that started my journey.”

J.P. became a registered nurse and tried to balance his advocacy for the deaf community with his workload. When he finally decided to give up nursing and work full time for the deaf and persons with disabilities, his family reacted badly to his decision to walk away from a career and follow his passion. “My dream was to become a doctor to follow in the positive footprints of my parents but later I realized that you don’t have to really study medicine and heal people to change people’s lives. It’s only a part of it. Healing the lives of people is more of a spiritual thing and being able to give impact to them. That has been the journey I have been through. Half of my life I lived with people with disabilities and I realized that every person has their own purpose and I think when I started to search for mine, I found myself. I ended up here in this advocacy and maybe everything has a meaning and everything has a reason that it’s happening in your life and I think that’s one of those things that had me engage in this purpose.”

For the last decade or so, J.P. has spread himself throughout the deaf and disabled community. He started a foundation and worked with local governments to bring attention to the widespread sexual abuse among deaf women and children. He was instrumental in putting sign language interpreters on the evening news in Cebu and his help in making polling places easier for the deaf and disabled to access lead to a large uptick in that population’s voting in the 2016 Philippine presidential election. He launched a program called PADS (Philippine Accessible Deaf Services) and has used that to bring sports into the lives of the deaf and persons with disabilities. He has started a ‘Dragon Boat’ program with the help of others that allows his deaf and persons with disabilities to row, side by side, working together in an ultimate team environment, propelling a 40 foot wooden canoe through Cebu Bay. Male, female, deaf, blind, disabled: are having and continuing to compete and practice going forward. 

In October, J.P. was also instrumental in bringing in sitting volleyball to his groups. Teachers, coaches and athletes participated and learned the basics. As he watched the persons with disabilities start to play and laugh and compete, he became very emotional.

“I can still remember it like it just happened yesterday. Since I started working for people with disabilities, I had never had the chance to see them really play and engage in sports. There are times in festivals and things that they get invited to play basketball but not as a serious sport, as more of just entertainment of people with disabilities. It was like a circus show and I really don’t like that, I don’t like seeing that. When we started to organize sitting volleyball, that was the first time I saw them by themselves being human beings, being able to fully participate in a sport where people see them not just as a person with special needs but as an athlete.”

“That was so empowering to witness that particular moment in my life and hearing them laugh, I think that laugh came from the heart. I have never heard them laugh. That’s why I couldn’t contain myself because it was the loudest laugh I heard and I think they felt so dignified playing a sport. I think I was so thankful to give them a chance to become a bridge in restoring their dignity of the people we have trained in sitting volleyball. Even up to now, I still see them and most of the guys are now part of our dragon boat team. There’s this burning fire in their eyes every time we see each other. That’s something that you don’t see every day. It’s an opportunity we don’t want to miss and thinking about that day.”

The planning that goes into J.P.’s programs is voluminous and so many of the people on the planning side of things never got to see the fruition of their labor. “I think it’s a rare moment from the planning and then to see how it unfolds and being able to feel the feedback; the impact of the lives and how we were able to change lives of people, it’s a once in a lifetime experience that for me, not all people will be able to experience and I was just so grateful for that moment.”

Leo Tolstoy once said talking about charity that people who think they can’t make a difference are short sighted: “Add your light to the sum of light.” He said. For J.P., that is what gets him through the struggle he faces each and every day. “It’s so challenging, like walking in empty halls. It’s so lonely out there; being able to talk to people, trying to convince them. If only I had more skill I could do more. It’s so difficult, so hard. Every day I always think about this mission of being able to set up the sporting programs. My great motivation was when I was able to come to the United States a few months ago and able to see with my very own eyes how things are going out there and then saying yes, I can do this in the Philippines. How people there started from the ground up and if they have done, I can do it too. I may not be able to see the bigger picture later on because I have to pass it on but something has to start somewhere else and it’s so challenging right now.”
But the light continues and sitting volleyball has become a lynchpin in getting persons with disabilities involved in sport. “In Mandaue City where we had our first sitting volleyball clinic, I am so happy they have allocated the funds for a clinic and a tournament this coming summer of 2017. Also, the department of education and particularly the city of Mandaue has communicated to us and wants us to conduct more clinics for the students. So they are very eager to integrate sitting volleyball here. Also a few weeks ago we organized a small clinic for sitting beach volleyball.”


“One of our participants, who broke her leg a few months ago, was sitting there on the beach watching us. We were able to get her to play and she was another reason we realized why we play adaptive sports. One of the participants who was in Washington D.C. works for the Sports for Change program and she told me that while there are a lot of discussions in the U.S. about where this is going, it was the first time she saw it unfold with her very own eyes: the impact of sports on the people, on the members of the community, There’s a lot of discussions in the U.S. where they are doing it and you can literally see that happening here.” Because of this, J.P. has been invited to a conference in Florida over the summer to talk about his programming and share his successes with his U.S. colleagues.

“I was so happy to hear that and to share with her the different experiences, the stories of the people that we engage through our sporting program; it drew a lot of interest. It’s so nice to see people talking about adaptive sports, more people getting involved in these disability programs and the growing interest here in what sitting volleyball looks like. Since we inaugurated it here a few months ago, there has been a growing interest in our community about how are they going to engage and learn about it. I am trying to fix my schedule right now to organize a few more sitting clinics. We are talking to the guys who provided us with the volleyballs and maybe they can invite more people to come here to Cebu and organize a volleyball clinic for the officials and for the volleyball stations so we can collaborate with them and their sporting programs to include sitting volleyball. I’m really excited about 2017 and just so happy about the acceptance of people with disabilities working program. I hope to do more and I hope to provide more engagements of people with disabilities and programs where we can work together.”

For J.P. sans cape, he continues his work tirelessly. “My motivation is in the faces of the people we have been meeting in these past few months. If I turn back on this mission, I turn back on them. That keeps me going, thinking about them, thinking about the smiles and all the laughter that we have experienced the past few months. It motivated me to do more. The feeling is so good that you get addicted to it, no matter how difficult it is.”

His work requires him to knock on hundreds of doors a week, looking for help, looking for volunteers and venues and taking constant steps to grow the advocacy. “Financially, when the person or the organization would say no to you, it’s just another person but I know there are thousands more out there for me to get connected and to hear the stories of these amazing people. It doesn’t matter if they cannot help financially but we tell the same story and they feel ripples, the impact of the ripples. I still think that someone someday will knock on my door and tell me hey, let’s work together and start something from what you started. I’m waiting for that day to come. I also know I cannot do it alone. I need people with me, my team, everyone. They say it takes a community to raise a child and I believe that philosophy. It’s not about one person; it’s about the community taking ownership. For me, I try to plant the seed and convince people. Convince more people to play this sport and share this beautiful moment and the experience I have. I think our world here is sharing a really good feeling and it’s just one step at a time.”

While he is driven by promises made in his youth, and by the faces and the ripples, J.P. is not without sadness at times, thinking about what he has sacrificed to follow his passion. When he faces those demons, he looks into the eyes of his newest motivation: his son. “Being able to work in the community doesn’t really have a lot of financial support, it’s hard. You live by the day. And being around 30 and I’m already in the middle stages of my life, the reality is that I may not be able to give him the luxuries compared to that of other parents. But I think the legacy that I can give him is a better future for him regardless of what happens to him. The thing that I am doing now, he’ll be able to recognize it. If something would happen to me tomorrow, am I sure my children would have a better future compared to what I went through when I was a young boy? The people I meet and the things that I see will happen to my child and my children’s children and that’s the main motivation.”

“It’s the purpose of why I am here right now.”

“Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It's something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success.”
—Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)   Athletic Coach

If you would like to help J.P. and his work, you can donate to his organization P.A.D.S.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

WRP- "We are the sum of our experiences..."

In this final post, Reid Priddy talks about a number of things that affected his careers including injuries, personal demons and his future. He refers often to his camp here in Phoenix in late fall and talks fondly about his years spent here learning the sport. 


I don’t know the number of fractures but certainly there were a lot. I definitely broke my face. That was 2011 and actually 2010 was kind of like when my injuries started. I had three significant injuries. I had always wanted to win the World Championships and it was one of the things that if it wasn’t time for my family to move on and for us to do something different, I would consider playing in the World Championships in 2018! But it was absolutely time and appropriate for me to move on but I just love that tournament. It’s such a hard tournament to win and to win it would just be so special.

 So in 2010 that was my absolute focus and I was going above and beyond to prepare for it. My son was going to be born right before we were going to go to Italy for the World Championships so I was doing extra work in the weight room and extra time on the court because I knew I was going to take a few days off when he was born and I didn’t want to have any regrets and I didn’t want to lose anything. But what I found was I had more to give. I found this extra gear. I just felt like I could play for like four hours, I was hitting at the highest I had ever hit, my jump was massive, my strength was massive, I was eating the right things. It was all converging at the right time and my son was born and I didn’t sleep for like three days in a row and I was so amped that I came out for a Saturday scrimmage and played a set and I tore something in my back. To this day, I don’t know what it was but it set me back three weeks and it totally interrupted that World Championship. So that was sort of the first thing.

The next summer we’re playing and it’s toward the end of the summer and Max Holt drifts into me and elbows me in the side of the head and breaks my zygomatic arch, pulls my cheek bone away from my….ugh, it was just gnarly. So I had two surgeons operate on me: full reconstructive surgery that went well but I had a bleed after the fact and had to go back into emergency surgery with no anesthesia, I couldn’t have it and I had the opportunity to listen to the entire O.R. absolutely freak out while my eye was being swollen shut with blood. I almost lost vision in that eye but they were able to save it. Then to the ACL injury in 2016, those last 6 years were overcoming a lot of injuries. 

His Personal ‘Reboot’ in 2015

I was not healthy. I did everything I could in 2014 and 2015 to get to a place to be 100% by the first day of practice when the guys got back from playing overseas. I wanted them to see me and say, ‘Okay, Reid’s good, it’s a non issue and let’s move forward.’ This has happened to me several times in my career where I’m not really good at self governing, I will overplay when I’m in those scenarios and I get hurt. So I’ve done all this work, I’ve gained weight, I’m moving around, I’m jumping, I’m passing, I’m playing well and the second day of practice…

We have an event, a NORCECA event. Anytime we have an event that is in our zone, it’s a different sponsor. So if it’s an FIVB event, it’s Mikasa balls, NORCECA event we have to use Molten and for whatever reason, the Molten feels heavier. Scientifically speaking, maybe I’m totally full of it but any player you talk to, when you go from one to the other, the Mikasa feels lighter, the Molten feels heavier. So the second day they bring out Molten’s and we start doing our practices which entail spinning to each other and in essence there was a ton of overhead volume that day and the next morning I went in and I was on a box hitting to a teammate and I felt a pop in my pec(toral muscle). I ended up tearing my pec but we didn’t know it, we just thought it was just a strained muscle, ‘It’s okay, let it go.’ I took a day off and played the next day and it’s worse. I took two days off, played the next day and it’s worse. Finally we get smart and take an image. For those reading, I would say, just take an image right away. It’s just so much better. Even if your trainer thinks they know and it’s not going to change what we’re going to do recovery wise, why not just get an image if you’re well insured. It might cost some money but it’s well worth it in the end. So I wind up wasting like two and a half weeks and I don’t even go on that first trip because my shoulder isn’t ready.

When the team gets back we’re right into World League and we’re in our lifts and I do a hex bar squat which I hadn’t done yet up to that point; I was doing dead lifts. For whatever reason, the way I lifted it, I tweaked something in my lower back. It’s a small thing that leads into a big thing. Now all the while I am pressing, I am pressing, I’m pressing, I’m pressing, I’m pressing and it just leads into this scenario where I am developing this low back, low butt pain that no one can identify and it travels up to my back. We get to the point where I lose the entire summer and it wasn’t until I had that conversation with John, where World Cup was now off the table, that I sort of have to take inventory and say, ‘Okay, am I doing the right things? I now have this 8 month gap before the next year, what do I do? Do I just stop or do I keep pressing or should I keep doing the right things?’

So I decided, ‘No, I’m going to get ready and if that’s in two weeks or in two years, I’m going to do what it takes to get ready as quick as I can even though I’m not preparing any more for anything. John and I had our talk on Tuesday and I was with a bunch of friends on that Wednesday and they just started grilling me. One of them was in therapy so he knew how to just start talking to me. And I started getting all of this stuff out I was carrying; the stress I was carrying. Turns out that the desire I had was creating so much stress and cortisol and bad stuff that I was almost toxic internally. It was almost causing my body to not heal but to get worse in areas. The very next day I drive to Anaheim, get out of my car, thoughtful about the night before and I just text my buddy; ‘Sorry that last night was all about me but thanks for pulling that stuff out.’ But I felt this tangible thing, like my body just unlocked. It was as if it just relaxed. And two days later I was attacking like nothing had happened. It was one of those things where, ‘Shoot, John already submitted the O2 roster, so too late,’ at that point it was over, the decision had been made regarding World Cup but let’s just keep building. So I did build. I think I was ready to play in October but I didn’t take any deal until January in Italy and that was that.

I think it was just that I was pressing too hard and it was just stress. I just wasn’t allowing the process to happen. I was overly stressed that I was missing out on this opportunity or that opportunity instead of just letting it go and just saying it’ll happen when it’s going to happen and I can’t control it. I just got so wound up that I think my body, instead of releasing the good hormones and that kind of stuff and just sort of being at peace, wasn’t. I was just sort of wound up and cortisol was building. There’s a book out there I want to read about how stress can kill and I totally believe it. That’s actually one of the things I’ve tried to learn. How do we construct a life that is stress free; you know young kids and demands and all this stuff. If we can figure out how to truly be stressed about nothing, understanding that we can’t control everything and we just sort to have to adapt and move, I think our life will be longer and more enjoyable.

His last Pro Team

When I was in Italy, my team was a phenomenal club to play for. Uber professional, it was a great city. They had an amazing staff, from the weight coach to the physio to the doctors and they just had it all and it was all under one roof. Being a professional, that’s not the case when you go to these European teams, it’s not like that all the time. So this had a great apartment, a great life, a great city and a great team and I just remember thinking man, I could do this for another 5 years! I truly believe I am playing the best volleyball of my career. I look different, you might not put me on the highlight reel but as far as my numbers, there’s no part of my game that is going to cause us to lose. With my competitive drive and what makes me a team player, I knew that I would be a value anywhere, that I could play and I could help. But at that same time, my wife was in this Italian apartment with no support structure, with a young little baby and a son that was going to be entering kindergarten next year. That became really obvious that even if this is something that I could do and enjoy, it’s not a complete picture. They’ve put up with enough and they’ve gone through enough. It’s time for OUR life to be OUR life and not just my life. So I really think it became clear that this is going to be it, this is the final run with this particular lifestyle.

Why number eight?

Number 8 was not a not a number I chose, it was just given to me and it’s become part of my identity. When you get on the National Team you don’t get to choose your number per se but that number happened to be free and they gave it to me. I love number 8 because if you turn it on its side it’s infinity, there’s balance to it. It’s an even number and there’s been great players who have worn that jersey. I think it’s a great number, I love it.

His time in Phoenix.

So I started playing volleyball in Florida and we moved to Phoenix so the jury was out, it was a total unknown. I had a new passion but my Dad had to move because of his job. So what about me? I have this new passion, is there going to be an outlet for me. It just so happened that we moved to Arizona the very year boys volleyball was sanctioned and we happened to move to Ahwatukee where Fred Mann was going to be and he was, I think at the time, one of the best coaches, or at least had more exposure than any coach I knew of. I really didn’t know the scene and I hope I’m not offending any people but he was a great coach for me.

I think it helped tremendously that our first time going to Boy’s Classic, we registered as BYA, which meant Barn Yard Animals. Our buddy Sean Scott, who was one of the best High School Volleyball players in the state, his Dad drove us to Berkley to play and we just screened shirts. I still have that jersey; in fact I have saved a jersey from every team, which is kind of cool. We played in the LDS community and they have a lot players and I can remember we would sometimes play at LDS churches on rug, and wherever we could get games and I played a lot of sand volleyball. Of course winning State was obviously super fun. I had never won anything as an athlete so that was certainly a lot of fun. Then my senior year it got interesting, it started becoming a thing. Now volleyball is like this thing that I wanted to pursue and I think we went undefeated that entire year and then lost in the State Championship, so that was a real bummer.

I love Phoenix, I still do. My wife isn’t on board yet but we love real estate and I’m already grilling friends to tell me the areas, what parts of town am I looking at? There’s something about the desert I just love. We have a place in Las Vegas that we’ve been in the last 5 or 7 years or so and I love golf and I love the desert so coming back has been great. Plus the relationship with Matt Peterson and all the old stories: this is my 20 year anniversary from graduating high school. I wasn’t’ able to go but a lot of great memories and a lot of growth, a lot of maturity even though it was just a few years. My parents were here for 7 so I would come back. I had all of my first jobs here. When I think back about what put hair on my chest, it was at 15 years old. We were middle class, we certainly had everything we needed but as it came to these extracurriculars, I needed to work to contribute. My friends in high school like to remind me of just how much of a poor mooch I was. It’s very embarrassing. I would work 40 hours a week during the summer in warehouse jobs. I was a busboy.

It’s super awesome when I was a Senior. Matt Peterson who graduated a year before me, was really instrumental in the camp that just happened come together because he was the connector to Troy and the guys I work with. He got a job right out of high school and he gave me some money to go to JO’s that year. He was 18 or 19 years old and he just invested. We were great friends and he said, ‘I want to support you in this,’ and so that obviously meant the world. Not too many 18 or 19 year olds are doing that stuff. I was certainly working for those opportunities. I played for a club in east side San Diego my Senior year and my parents had a relationship with someone that they worked with, I think it was American West at the time and he got buddy passes so I would fly on standby and take a train to Del Mar and stay with our good friends up there. So many people were pivotal in making this thing happen. All my friends in Phoenix that were buying me Taco Bell and stuff like that. Now that you’re pulling all of these stories out, maybe I’m overdue for a reunion party just to say thank you to all these people.

What defined maturation for him.

One of the easiest ways to start is just the understanding that the most important thing I do on this earth is relational based; my relationship first with my creator and my relationship with my family. Those are both relational based. I think for much of my life I was operating as if what I achieved; the things that I did or the things I accumulated were the most important things I could do in life. So it was a really big paradigm shift. So wow, the most important thing is relational, I’m not very good at relationships so if that’s really the most important thing then what does it mean to be good at relationships. So once that realization started to sink in, then it sort of took the pressure off. I’m not defined by whether or not I win or lose this game. I can focus and pour into the process even more and not be as result driven. Results still hurt if they’re bad results and you still have to manage your ego when results are good and that was certainly a learning process as well.

There’s a period of time I had a pretty good stretch: a lot of wins, I was one of the highest paid players in the world. So you really have to check yourself; that doesn’t define me. The wins, the money, the achievements, the accolades and the attention don’t define me in the same way the losses and the failures define me. So what does define me? Who am I? How do I relate to my creator? How do I relate to my wife? How do I relate to my kids? How do I relate to my parents, my family and my friends? I think once I started to make that distinction about what’s really important, I started to be healthier and more grounded and more comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t out there trying to prove something, like my value wasn’t on the line. So I think that’s really hard as athletes, if we think the action speaks something about our value as a person, it can get really overwhelming and it can go either way, right? We can become egomaniacs when the action is good because we think that’s our value and when it’s not we can be the worst people to be around and be disparaging and depressed and really struggle.

Those volume of experiences, and we are the sum of our experiences in some sense, then the more you add up. That’s where I could get to a point in 2016 where I didn’t feel like there was anything that could happen that I wasn’t prepared for. You can rest assured in that position, right? You can be less anxious if you feel like you know how to handle it or if I don’t, I’m connected enough with my creator that I will receive the help that I need to get through this experience or that experience.

That’s why I’m sharing my story because I want people to know that it didn’t come easily and it didn’t come through the good things, it came through the hard things. It was the struggle. These last two years were extremely humbling. There were lots of times that I felt undervalued or overlooked and instead of overreacting, I just sat in it and started to be okay with it instead of being preferred or having the benefit of the doubt, any of those things. Somebody in passing asking me what I’m doing. ‘Oh, I’m making a comeback for the team.’ ‘Oh, the guys are doing really good though.’ I mean really? ‘It’s a pretty full team, you’ve got Taylor and you’ve got Aaron and you’ve got Jaeschke who was twice player of the year, you got Paul and Garret and Jablonski ,’ and so that kind of a conversation would happen all the time and of course I would want to defend myself. ‘Hey, I started for 14 years!’ Unlike my natural self who wanted to defend myself, I would just bite my tongue and take it. You know what, I’m just going to put my head down and work. And that was really hard for me. It was really humbling and that happened on a regular basis. That scenario where people were so surprised because the team was doing great. Of course I already had that; I was already dealing with that, having those insecurities. ‘Gosh, these guys are having these great experiences without me, do they need me? Is there still a spot for me? Can I make a comeback?’ I think that going through the humility of those two years, and even leading into the games, that’s a huge stage.

There’s always that thought of going through the games and not playing. Or those 8 points against Canada; those were not a proper representation of the way I was playing day in and day out. If those were the only 8 points logged in the archives of the annals of volleyball, that would not have been a characterization of what I was capable of. But I had to live with the reality that maybe that could be all that was there, so the reality just sort of builds into this humility to where it just helped. I was able to get to a point where this is it, it just doesn’t define me. I’m proud of my team, myself, my wife my kids, I’m proud of the way we responded these two years. It was a team effort. We fought through doubt and insecurity and humbling moments and all the rest.

The margins of winning at the highest levels 

They really are thin, especially when you start looking at probability numbers. This is where I think stats can take the next jump. I think it would be amazing if we could find some bench mark, within the proximity of the setter to establish more accurate numbers, just to see who is really impacting the game the most. So who’s attacking the ball at 20 feet way above everybody else in terms of efficiency? Everybody at the highest level is talented so it really comes down to in-between the ears type stuff and competing and being comfortable under pressure and performing under pressure and facing expectations, all that stuff. I would be able to perform at a high level with a great mental mindset and an awful mental mindset. People can still perform with bad mindsets. I think you know what kind of space you’re in when you’re in big games and if you just want it to be over and you just want to move on, than you’re in a bad spot. The best spot you can be in is if you’re under pressure and the outcome is totally unknown and you want that game to go on forever, you never want it to end. You’re just totally enveloped in the process. You aren’t just thinking about hurry up, let’s just get to 25. You are right in the mix, you’re just thinking about point 16. You’re just thinking this is amazing, I’m so stoked that I’m in this situation, come on let’s go, next point.

These last three months since the Olympics, I literally have said yes to two events, standing in for two friends and that’s lead to where we are today. I’ve lost 10 pounds of lean muscle mass and I’ve put in a ton of time trying to develop and reflect content for this 4 day event. And even as we are talking, you’re asking questions that I’ve never thought about before. I want to ask you if you’ll share with me this audio because I am literally answering these questions for the first time and I feel like I’m finally in a better spot to answer them because I’m able to reflect more now whereas before it was just 20 years of forward motion. I’m doing a lot of looking back and now that this four day event is over, it’s time for me to really get serious about looking forward.

Tokyo in 2020

I believe that I can make an impact as a player still and I want to do that. I’m in a weird spot because I would love to just be able to show up at the beach and perform for a National Team coach and let the chips fall where they may. I’m confident in my ability to adapt, my ability to compete and my ability to learn. I don’t know how long it would take but I like my chances in that scenario. But that’s now how it works, right? There’s total autonomy. I’m actually having a meeting with a couple of beach coaches tomorrow and I just have to figure out this whole new landscape to where I need to find a partner, I have to find a teammate. Who’s going to be a part of this journey and it’s hard to do.

I would love to find a complimentary partner where we could start now and build something going forward. I don’t necessarily like the idea and I’m having trouble picking a one year partner, like a stepping stone. I don’t know, it just feels awkward to me. It feels impersonal, it feels odd. I also don’t like the indirect communication that goes on in beach; the texting back and forth. I’ve been very forthcoming; I’ve met with a few players and called guys directly, I think that’s how things should be. I don’t know that I have a mission statement. I want to win a gold medal in Tokyo; that is certainly the goal. I’m excited to play on the AVP, I love the AVP. That’s what I watched growing up. I’m intrigued by the FIVB, let me put it that way. I think it’s been really fun the last three months working out, I’ve been watching a lot of video of Bruno and various teams around the world. You know, what are the best doing, what it looks like but the goal on the beach is Olympic driven. It’s not a profession I need. It’s clearly not a financial thing. It’s 100% about the Olympics, that’s the whole point about transitioning to the beach. That’s my whole drive and focus. I’m not quite sure what it looks like now but I have a good idea how to get there in terms of the infrastructure that I want to build which sort of leads me to what I am doing right now. The stuff I am saying yes to now, from that a business is forming where I can inspire and share my story and build some resources to start my own infrastructure. I’m sort of like crowd funding. If you are reading this and you want to be a part of my journey to Tokyo in 2020, the way you help me get there is to bring me to your events. Let’s do a camp, let’s do something. I’m investing in that because I am seeing it have a positive impact. It seems like the more I am putting myself into those positions, the more positions are opening up in more places so I’m just trying to say yes to the demand and see where it goes. I’m not sure what the next four years will look like but that’s sort of the direction I’m headed.

The Arizona Region would like to thank Reid for his time and his contribution to volleyball in Arizona and the U.S. We hope to have Reid back soon in the valley doing camps and more clinics. To follow Reid, go to his website here. 

WRP- "You don't just get to win..."

In post two of our conversation with four time Olympian Reid Priddy, Reid goes into detail about the differences and what he gleaned from each of his four Olympic coaches. Admittedly uncomfortable answering this question, the insight into his last 16 years on the Men's Olympic team is unrivaled.

His coach, Doug Beal, in his first Olympics in 2004

Well Doug (Beal) was so innovative he invented the two man pass. Doug surrounded himself with the absolute best coaches in the game Our staff was Doug, Hugh (McCutcheon), Rob Browning was our stat guy, Marv Dunphy and Carl McGown. It was ridiculous. We got a lot of support there, so that was awesome. Doug’s delivery is pretty dry, so at the time it was hard to receive. A little bit dry, a little bit sharp but virtually everything he had to say I came to appreciate so much as I matured. So I think as a younger player it just seemed like a hard environment at times, but as I matured a lot of things he said like, ‘You don’t just get to win,” became like staple truths and tenants that I hold to. And what he has gone on to do as our CEO in leading USA Volleyball, I think it’s been phenomenal.

It’s really amazing to me how there’s certain people who just have it out for him for what I would consider very selfish self-serving reasons. I think it’s very hard to please everybody but I think as a volleyball community there is so much gratitude we should be showing him in the amount of respect he receives across the world, and rightfully so, is really intense and impressive and when I come across people in our sport who have this personal vendetta, I can very quickly identify them as self serving individuals that can’t be team players, that don’t have a greater picture in mind. Now I understand that he comes from an indoor background and it probably took some time to fully appreciate how to best serve the beach community and I think he has come a long way and doing well but he has always tried to surround himself with the best and when people get that and work together as a team, that’s why USA volleyball has gone from a 5 million dollar operation to a 25 million dollar operation under his leadership.

I think with Doug there could have been a little more relational development towards younger players. I think that that team didn’t have a ton of continuity maybe from the top down and I think that we could have cleaned up some relational issues but honestly when I think about that quad I think we had a great finish. We were not about a 4th place finish. Brazil was, by far, the best team. I think Italy was the second best team. I think Russia was the third best team so relative to our level I think we had a good finish. I hate saying that, I mean I wanted to win a medal but I think that maybe communication wise, finding ways to help us young guys receive those messages earlier so it wouldn’t have been on me maturing to really receive but there could have been some tactic or delivery that could have been a little bit more tactful for me as a young player. I don’t know I haven’t really thought about it so I’m trying to put it together.

His coach in his second Olympics, Hugh McCutcheon

The culture that Hugh created was just predetermined and thought out and he had a plan and it started with us writing a mission statement in 2006 which we did begrudgingly. I don’t think we as players saw value is spending two days in a hotel room trying to craft a mission statement but it became absolutely instrumental and informative to the culture. I think Hugh kind of saw that there was some relational gaps in the earlier quads but I think he made it a value and a priority to build and encourage each player to relationally connect and he established right away the concept of, ‘Look, we are all going to be treated fairly but that doesn’t mean we will all be treated the same.’ So the way that he treats Lloy and Lloy’s practice plan is one way and Reid’s is going to be another way. So there’s this idea of it’s going to be fair and equal but it’s not going to be the same and he was going to get to know each guy individually.

He also built a system to where he helped manage risk and so different guys had different roles and everybody kind of understood their role and we became extremely fundamentally sound and so we worked in such a way where there were very, very, very few practices, I can maybe remember two in the entire quad, that I would call throw away practices where we should have just grabbed coffee. That is phenomenal to me that that mission statement became our daily litmus test and gage; did we take a step towards this or away from it? Staying the same, through Hugh’s eyes we were either taking a step forward or taking a step back. I just think that he was instrumental in building that culture and those relationships.

We happened to be in a spot where a lot of us were in positions around the world to rise up and be the best. We became one of the best passing teams, we had the best setter, we had the best opposite and we had some of the best middles. I mean it was great. I think as a coach it’s hard to identify what’s going on in real time. There would be times that it would seem that collectively we would be panicking a little bit in a time out, but without fail when Hugh would go and watch video he would come to us and know exactly what needed to happen and the changes we needed to make. I think that when we went through pool play in the Olympic Games we learned a lot as players in Hugh’s absence. In timeouts we would be down often to start a match 1-7 or 1-8. Nobody was saying a word. We just all sat down and got some water took a break and went back out. Literally I just remember it being quiet and nobody was panicking and as a player it’s just really comforting to recognize that nothing needed to be said, we were going to approach this next point the same, irrespective of the score. We were here to do a job and that job is to do everything we could to win the next point. I think that was really powerful experience to go through and I think it helped in his absence because it was hard to play without him there. He was our leader and all the stuff he was going through, our hearts were with him and his family and that was just such an unbelievably painful thing for them to be going through.

The murder of Hugh's Father in Law in Beijing

I think initially there is a little bit of fear. There had been terrorist threats, we didn’t know if this was an isolated incident. And certainly once they tried to assure us it was isolated then it was just kind of like sorrow, this is awful, and kind of does put things into perspective. Knowing Hugh and all the work you put in, the last thing you want to do is mail it in. The only thing we could do was what he trained us to do. That was the best way we could help was just play hard, play smart. That was our mantra, it was basically a pared down version of our mission statement. So that’s what we went out there and did. The first match against Venezuela we almost lost but we stayed in there. I think that was the most emotional, the most difficult. And then slowly it was just kind of like you know what, the best thing I can do is just be focused on this right here. This is the fort that we can hold down while he’s gone. I think that gap between what was happening real time and on the video analysis obviously closed and we were able to be working simultaneously. I think he’s making all the right moves of on the fly, I think it’s great.

On crafting the 2008 Mission Statement

He led us through the construction of a mission statement. We did a little bit of small group things. What are we setting out to do, that was the first thing. Our mission statement reads something like “We are setting out to win the Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing,’ and to the rest of the world we had no business saying that. We had no business writing that. If the rest of the world would have seen that, they would have laughed at us. We weren’t trending, we weren’t on the rise, we weren’t the next hottest team or the team to look out for in 2006. So we made that our mission, this is what we are setting out to do.

And then we went through a process of saying , ‘That’s our goal, how are we going to get there?’ What are things we think we could be the best at? Well, we can be the best at competing, we could work the hardest, we could be students of the game, we can be great teammates; all of that language was in there, That’s what we held to, and there was a lot of values that stemmed from that mission statement.

You know when we talk about team work, it was a highly eclectic and maybe semi-confrontational group, a very competitive group. You would have thought we were all playing for thousands and thousands of dollars in a simple wash drill with the amount of competitiveness that was going on but Hugh had a very specific value that we adopted that was honest and direct communication, that we were to be forthcoming and if we had something to say to someone, we said it. If we didn’t have the ability to say it for whatever reason then it was our responsibility to get over it. It wasn’t allowed to fester, it wasn’t allowed to go to a third party so that sort of culture built into this beautiful working culture that got the most out of every rep and got us to work together as a team, and that was super efficient as roles were defined.

I don’t know what the stats were but it felt like we knew when we needed to risk and when we could just play smart because we were so confident that we could score real points. From Clay’s (Stanley) serve to our block and defense, we knew that the game was never out of reach so by the time we got to the Olympic games and we were down 8-1 at a time out, we knew we could score real points and I think that really helped us in recognizing that we were always in the game no matter what the score was. The best compliment that team ever received that I heard was that you never knew what the score was by looking at how they were playing. You couldn’t tell if we were down or we were up. We had one way of playing, it was professional, competitive and it was passionate. But you could never see by our faces if we were up or down, that was the best compliment I ever heard.

McCutcheon- Standards v. 

The standards remained the same. There was no content of like, ‘Okay, Reid and Clay, you need to work this hard.’ The standards were all the same. The roles maybe were different. I don’t know that it ever happened but Lloy obviously did a lot to bring his family to Newport Beach when it needed to happen. There was going to be some flexibility with practice times or with his start date to the National team versus a newer guy. A newer guy might be told, ‘Hey, we’re starting on this date and you cannot go home and see your family, you’re 22 years old, that’s not possible. But Lloy, you’ve got children and you’ve got a family.’

Hugh was unbelievable at making the families feel like they were a part of the team and I think that was awesome. My wife felt like she had a jersey on, that’s how much he made the families feel like they were always with us. We’re in this together. Your support system are all in this together so there were not players-only events, especially as it related to outside events. To me, that’s just a little bit odd because we spent so much time together as players that if there was going to be a dinner and we’re at home, I mean you’ve got to include our support system because they’re in this with us.

The standards never change. But there might be different rules. Like Lloy, Tom, guys who have displayed self control and maturity and are of a certain age, Hugh’s not going to tell them they have to be in bed by this time but if you can’t have a couple of beers at dinner…? It’s not going to be run like a University or a College team, with those types of rules. But if you’re just out of college and you really haven’t proven the ability to handle yourself or be a professional, you have to earn that right. Those are sort of those things that were going to be treated fairly but not the same.

His third Olympic Coach, Alan Knipe

That was a tough quad. I think it was tough for everybody. If there was a quad that I would like to get back, sort of redo, I would like to redo that quad. Knowing what I know now, there are several things I would like to do better. There’s more that I would change about what I did than Alan. Playing as a professional volleyball player, there is no off season. As great of a life as it is, it can be very demanding. Typically what happens after an Olympic games is you’re just thinking next summer I just need time off because we’re all going to go to our Pro teams. As soon as the Olympic games are finished, within 48 hours typically, 72 hours maybe, we are getting new gear and moving into new apartments somewhere around the world that is not our home. We’re transitioning from this experience that was amazing and starting with an entirely new team, new season with zero breaks. The reason I say this is to set up our mindset when we won the gold in Beijing.

Nobody was thinking about what sort of time frame they needed at the break, everybody was saying, ‘That was amazing! Brazil had just dominated the world for five years, six years and now we can do that; enough of us are returning, we can do that. Let’s rival Brazil. Everyone, we are going to be here day one, 2009. We’re going to go win World League; we’re going to win it all.’ So we all go to our teams and we find out in December, kind of the first domino to fall, is Hugh saying I’m moving over to the girl’s team. So okay, that’s a bummer but we thought at the time we were kind of self operating. We can do this; self operating. We didn’t quite understand the impact of that at that time. Then it took Doug and USA Volleyball a while to name the new coach. I think they named Alan as the head coach in April and we’re coming back in May. That’s like 8 months, 9 months from the finish of the Olympic Games to naming the head coach and it just sort of seemed like it took a little bit of steam out of that mindset.

Alan hadn’t been on a trip with the A team in the 8 years that I had played. I knew Alan through his reputation as the head coach of Long Beach and a ton of positive stuff of him and Long Beach and people who had played for him and had nothing but good stuff to say but I personally had no contact. It just sort of started on that foot and I thought that could have been better. It just seemed like it took forever to make that decision.

Essentially the dynamic that developed over the four years was a disconnect between the 2008 group and the group that wasn’t a part of that experience. I think we lacked leadership. I wish I knew what I know now about leadership so I could have been a better leader and understood the dynamics that were happening. We had played in a highly rule specific environment where rules were defined. Hugh helped manage risk for us by developing rules like no matter what is going to happen, no matter who is attacking , somebody has the responsibility of tip coverage. There is never a question of who it’s going to be and no matter what- the ball never falls. Another rule was we never miss two serves in a row. Another rule was you never allow a guy to hit line on a triple block. You never miss a serve on game point. So he decided to play the numbers game and manage risk for us. We went on to play in that system and we went on to win so I don’t think that group was cocky. It certainly was not about, ‘Oh we won this so we’re going to go out and win everything.’ There was a drive and I think we totally recognized that. Like Doug said, ‘You don’t just get to win.’

What ended up happening was, as young players started to filter into the system, they weren’t accustomed to those rules and Alan didn’t have those same rules, and even John: they don’t manage risk the same way, it’s a different framework. Without ever having that big conversation like, ‘Hey guys, you played this way but we’re going to play a different way,’ there was never sort of that systemic dialog; ‘Okay, this is the system we’re going to run. It was okay, you older guys you continue to run in your system but we’re not necessarily going to reinforce those same things to this younger group.’ And over time that created a really big divide between the older and younger guys. So John took two years off and became an Assistant two or three years into the London quad and by the time he got there, he’s calling meetings with all of us, Alan included and said, ‘Hey, I see a really big divide between old and young,’ and I think what ended up happening was us older guys, out of just sheer frustration, would just blow up on the younger guys. The younger guys were like, ‘Oh my gosh, these older guys are just so angry and bitter and just jerks.’ But in reality, we just played a certain way and didn’t necessarily understand the new way to play and the young guys, bless their hearts, were just trying to fit in.

Over that like 4 to 6 year period, when John became the head coach, as an older guy, I had to adapt to their style of play which was really crazy to me. It was a really difficult process for me to go through but I’m thankful for it, it’s made me better and more understanding. I’m glad I was pressed but it was really hard to not say, ‘Hey guys, this is how you play and compete because I’ve been here for 8 or 10 years.’ I’ve got to learn how to play their style, what their mentality is. The younger generation was not confrontational, it was not a value to not be super direct and I had to be positive; there was a lot of adaptation. So when I look back on, what I would call that quad that I would like to take back and redo, I look at myself and I wish I could have been a better leader and could have better recognized that chasm that was taking place because we all wanted to win, top to bottom and we had the tools to win. By the time we got to 2012, I think some of us older guys finally let some of that frustration go and said, ‘You know what, the Olympics are bigger than any of us. Why are we holding onto this bitterness. Let’s find a way to lead better.” Once we did that we started performing so much better. I really wish us older guys understood all that was taking place but it was just a little bit above our experience level at the time and we had to go through that painful experience and obviously that painful loss to Italy to sort of reflect and to see what was taking place.

I think Alan understood that the National Team is a special team and there is too much of a disconnect between the people who have played before and the people who are playing now, there’s like zero connection. He didn’t do things that were huge. He asked, ‘Why are we training in California but we’re not competing in California?’ He leveraged his relationships at Long Beach and the boosters there to start hosting matches in California which is huge. It was huge for the brand; it was huge just for us to play at home. I think he made it important to say we are investing so much of ourselves into this experience and then when you move on from the National team you have no touch, so he started reaching out to alumni and started building this alumni network which I hope now, that I am an alumnus, that I’ll be able to add to that and really try to take that to the next level where there is personal contact between the players and the guys that have competed and worn that jersey. I think that should be a super tight alumni group. So I think those are two great things that Alan did and initiated.

His fourth Olympic Coach John Speraw

I think John did not want to manage risk. He wanted the players to not even think about risk and when I say risk I mean errors and unforced errors. It was his mantra to play focused, fearless, tough and together. So those four things: focused- he wanted us to develop the skill of being hyper focused. Fearless- he wanted us to be fearless. He would never talk about mistakes. He wanted guys to just go and be fearless, then tough and together. So as I said to the coaches I spoke to over the weekend; I absolutely loved both mantras. I like the play smart and manage risk of Hugh and I like the focused and fearless because I love to play aggressive so if I’m the child of those two guys, if I could live in a world of both, I would. I like both of them.

This staff put a ton of systems work in. He didn’t want there to be any grey area in terms of systems. Offensive systems, defensive systems, what do we do on this pass, what do we do on that pass when the ball hits here; there was no scenario that would take place on a volleyball court that we didn’t have a system for in place. Coaching by this staff was a lot about developing systems. Mike Wall and Matt Fuerbringer and Nate Ngo, Anton Willard, those guys spent a ton of time developing an entire systems handbook for the first couple of years of the quad and so practices became kind of retro coaching in the sense of we’re out there and we’re going through practice, and they’ll pipe in every once in a while on an individual basis if they see something that applies to the whole gym. By and large, we’re out there working hard and in our systems and the next day, after the coaches would have watched video of the entire practice, they would have selected clips for us to watch and that’s how we sort of got specific feedback. So it was high detail and high system. I haven’t’ been able to connect with John yet, we’ve been playing phone tag this last week but I think John has always valued creativity and the concept of finding ways to win, whatever it takes. If there was one thing that I think we went a little bit away from, I think it would be that concept. Down the stretch, we could have been a little bit more creative and we kind of got a little bit stuck in, ‘We’re going to win this way.’ I’m not just referring to myself, I think we had a team that was really deep. I think there was lots of ways we could have had success and I know John and I know he did what he thought was best and he has no regrets, so he’s not going to be worried about the things I’m saying and I respect that about John. But I think one of the values within in our system is to find ways to win no matter what it takes to win. We always did these little drills where there were rules and he would praise us for almost being able to break the rules, to get creative, use our brains, find the edges, Any chance we could to get an edge we did and I think we had lots of tools that we could have used to gain edges, so that was it.

Being asked about the coaching in each of my Olympics is certainly the most uncomfortable question I’ve ever had because I don’t feel comfortable doing that but I think there’s more positives and I feel fortunate to have played for all four of these coaches and certainly developed relationships that certainly will outlive volleyball, so I’m very thankful.

In his final post, Reid will talk about his personal demons, injuries and answers questions about his future toward Tokyo, 2020.