Friday, March 14, 2014

PSA to Athletes and Non-Athletes Alike

 The Misconception of Playing Overseas

I read several articles over the past few weeks written by fellow athletes that are helpful and enjoyable because of the ability to relate to the experiences shared. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in the many ups and downs experienced while playing a professional sport in a foreign country. However, I often find myself thinking about the people out there who cannot relate to us as professional athletes. Time and time again I find myself becoming frustrated with family and friends when we have conversations about my professional volleyball career in Europe. I know that many of them are proud of me but they often only want to hear about the “good stuff.” They do not understand the reality of a professional athlete’s life. I believe there is a misunderstanding of what it means to play a sport professionally in a foreign country.

Playing overseas is not always rainbows and butterflies. It is a day-to-day grind that requires just as much out of one mentally as it does physically. Often, when I have conversations with my “normal” friends or relatives I hear comments that sting and I take offense to. I used to be able to brush the comments off but after being in Europe for eight months, I feel the need to address the comments as they come. For example:

“How is your trip going?”
Trip? I am sorry, I did not realize that I was on vacation.

“So, when are you going to join the real world?”
I did not know I was not living in the real world. Am I dreaming?

“How long are you going to put off getting a real job?”
Hello, this is my real job!

 “You are going to be in Europe? You need to go to the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful city of Prague.”
Yes I will be in Europe but my work schedule requires me to be in a gym six or seven days of the week.

“I saw you played in Berlin this weekend! How was it? Did you see the Berlin Wall or take a tour of the city?
No, actually I went to Berlin on a business trip not for leisure. The majority of my weekend was spent on a bus, in the gym or hotel.

These are just a few of the many comments I hear on a regular basis. I do understand that if one has not experienced playing overseas for his or her self then one cannot fully understand what it takes to be a professional athlete. I have to remind myself that most of the time, these questions are not out of ignorance but simple unawareness of the requirements of the job. It is also important to know that I do not take this experience and job for granted. At the end of the day, I am very fortunate to get to do something I love every day. I am truly blessed to be physically capable of playing sports for a living.  

My goal is to share a few reasons why playing professionally is harder than most people think. I want to enlighten those who think athletes playing overseas are on a paid vacation touring city after city. There are aspects to this job that are harder than ever imagined but the outsiders do not always see those sides. Fans, family and friends often only see the finished product on game day. It becomes hard to empathize with athletes because one cannot see the everyday process. I would like to highlight a few reasons why I believe playing a professional sport overseas is difficult. 

First and foremost, this job requires an athlete to be oceans away from everyone and everything familiar and loved. Sometimes the only place that feels like home is at the workplace. Which means at the gym or on the playing field. Downtime and days off can be an extremely lonely time where an athlete is looking at the clock waiting for the next time he or she can be doing something familiar and time-consuming. Normally, coming home from work and having days off are a release from the everyday stress of the workplace. However, overseas the stress is often carried into every free day because there are no distractions and nothing comforting to come home too. Having teammates who are from the same country is helpful but that is not always the case. For those athletes who are
surrounded by non-English speakers, it becomes especially hard to be away from the gym.

Secondly, the body is put under stress every day. Although there are far more dangerous professions, people often forget the physicality of playing a professional sport. Day in and day out, an athlete's body is pushed to the limits and by the end of the week the only activity that sounds enjoyable is lying in bed. Athletes are prone to injuries big and small and he or she never knows when it could be the last time they play their respective sport. Injuries are often the hardest times for athletes, as they have to stay mentally engaged and maintain their confidence throughout the recovery. Depending on where an athlete is playing and the resources the team has will determine the amount of rehabilitation he or she receives. Besides injuries, sickness is another topic. The majority of athletes know that having a head cold or stomach ache is no excuse to stay at home. Unless he or she is in the hospital, attendance at practice is expected.

Finally, I often wonder if people understand how much time athletes actually spend devoted to their sport in some way, shape or form. Our work schedule is never consistent and is often times unpredictable. Time off is never guaranteed and performance plays a huge role in the schedule. Playing professionally is a 24-hour job that requires an athlete to put in the same amount of effort at home as he or she would in the gym. A professional athlete is never off the job and living in a foreign country makes it near impossible to feel like he or she is not working. Although an athlete may be at his or her apartment, there is no way to escape the reality of being overseas alone. Also, professional athletes need to be in the best possible condition to practice and ultimately perform come competition time. If an athlete is not taking care of his or her self outside the workplace then performance will be hindered and his or her job is in jeopardy. In reality, there are no days off.

I would not trade this job and experience for the world. I am so grateful for the sport of volleyball and everything it has given me in life. However, since arriving in Europe at the end of August to play volleyball I have seen a whole new side of the sport. I wish to share that side with those who may be unaware of what it takes to play in a foreign country. I hope this enlightens those who believe playing a professional sport is a walk through the park. Also, I hope it encourages all athletes who have the opportunity to play overseas to go for it because as difficult as the job can be sometimes, the memories and experiences are invaluable.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Buffalo Roots Pt. 2

Now that I have left all the readers hanging for about two months, I think it is time I continue my real-life story as a collegiate athlete.

So here I am sitting against the wall with a freshly sprained ankle, icing my foot just wishing I could be out there playing again. I received very little sympathy from my coaches, if any at all. As I said in the previous post, I was out of practice for only two days until the coaches told the athletic trainer that she could clear me to play because the injury was all in my head. There was no way this injury was all in my head. I have never seen a sprained ankle like that in my life.
Sprained ankle after about one week playing
Against my will, I was put back into practice and as mentioned in Buffalo Roots. This is when my dream soon became my worst nightmare.

My first practice back I was very timid and a bit cautious when I was playing. I tried my best to play through the pain and just focus on getting better. Unfortunately, my coaches did not see my effort and simply focused on breaking me down little by little.

Let me share with you some infamous quotes that are forever ingrained in my brain from our assistant coach:

"Hey Megan! If you think like dog sh*t, you are going to play like dog sh*t."

"Go back to the 8th grade, Megan!"

Me: "Hey guys, two more points and we will tie it up!"
Assistant coach abruptly stops practice, "Wait, what did you just say Megan?"
Me: "Umm... two more points and we will tie it up?"
Assistant coach: "Wow, that was the smartest thing you have ever said in your entire life."

Lets just say that I held back my tears the entire practice with a huge lump in my throat. The moment we got let out of that torturous four-hour practice and I headed to the locker room, I broke down completely and did not stop crying till around midnight that night.

From that practice forward I was never treated with respect or appreciation again. Slowly, the coaching staff tore me down mentally and physically.

Between the mental abuse and excruciating practices which ran well over NCAA mandated time, I completely lost confidence in myself and my love for volleyball was dwindling.

The sport that I fell in love with at a young age now became a part of my day that I feared from the moment I woke up. There was only a small portion of the day where I could be at peace and that was those couple hours after practice. As soon as bedtime came around, I was immediately dreading what was to come the next day.

The season seemed to last forever. Every practice I prayed that I would not be ridiculed, every game I hoped that they did not put me in so I could not them a reason to hate me and every time I saw them I tried to suck up to them, knowing that there was nothing I could do to be respected by them.

The new coaches came into the program with an agenda. They wanted to break all the players down and make them hate volleyball. They wanted every player to quit so they would not have to get rid of them. They wanted all of us to leave the program so they could use our scholarships to bring in their own players.

Although things did not go as smoothly as they had planned, they succeeded in their quest for a new team. By the end of the season they had kicked one girl off and made two girls quit midway through the season. In our year end meetings, all of the scholarship players except for one were accused of misrepresenting the program on Facebook and were told that our scholarships were on the line.

Without any proof, a week after our meetings all but one scholarship player were told we would not be coming back on the team and that our scholarships were being striped from us.

I think what tells this tale the best is that two girls that were paying for their schooling and were not on athletic scholarship were offered full-ride scholarships at the end of the season if they would stay on the team.

They declined.

Today I can write this story knowing that I am in a better place and only became stronger from it. However, it took some time. I debated getting a lawyer and fighting for my scholarship because I knew it was a battle I could win. It simply was not worth it.

I am happy to say that I completed my final three years of eligibility at a school I have fell in love with. I have amazing coaches that brought me to NC State and gave me back my confidence. The NC State Women's Volleyball program has meant so much more to me than most people know.

I can finally say that my dreams came true.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Smoking Good Time

As fairgoers wait in line for their favorite ride, anticipation turns to curiosity as a dark cloud of smoke fills the air and the obnoxious sounds of an engine revving come from the nearby Grandstand. 

Every year at the annual N.C. State fair, fairgoers participate in traditions and events that have become staples in the lives of North Carolinians. From deep fried Oreos to the Ferris wheel, fairgoers can choose from a variety of things to do. 

An annual event that has recently made news in a not so positive light is the tractor pull event. 
N.C. State Fair: Tractor pull

"I did not actually watch the event but I knew it was going on from the loud engine sounds every ten minutes or so," said N.C. State senior, Jelani Allen. "Every time I would hear the engine revving it wouldn't take long for the sky above me to be filled with dark smoke.

That cloud of smoke that frequently filled the air at this year's fair proved to be troublesome last year for some fairgoers. According to the News & Observer, a couple of young teenage girls experienced irritation in their lungs and noses and had to visit Urgent Care clinic for lung issues caused by tractor fumes that blew over the sky to the ride area. 

"We're looking at things we can do," said Brian Long, an agriculture department spokesman told. "We have a limited amount of space, but we do our best to arrange everything in such a way that makes (rides) accessible to the visitors and operators as well."

Agricultural officials explored possible solutions to deviate the smoke from the general ride area and from being inhaled by ride-goers. 

"The smoke was not bothersome for me but I did see a lot of younger kids asking their parents what the smoke was or if there was a fire," said Allen. "It was obvious when the event was going on because the tractor smoke was thick and blew over from the wind" 

Fair officials had a lot to deal with this year as they combated the E.coli outbreak that happened at last year's fair. They tried their best to keep the diesel smoke in the Grandstand area. 

According to the Charlotte Observer, Long said that the tractors that generate the most smoke will be the tractors ran earlier in the day because of the air conditions. 

The earlier in the day, the less conducive the air will be for lingering smoke. 

As stated in the Charlotte Observers, Long said that the fair was going to monitor air and smoke conditions during the tractor pull events and have EMS and first aid staff close by in case of an emergency. 

Although there were precautions taken, the tractor pull is a staple event at the N.C. State fair and officials were not willing to eliminate the event all together. 

Read more here:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Stuff About Acuff

In the spirit of Halloween, Jillian Acuff is pictured with her twin brother, Zachary.

Daughter of a retired naval officer, Jillian Acuff is no stranger to travel. This is what makes the holidays that much more important to this aspiring celebrity representative.

Acuff, born in Spain, has lived in four states and is planning to move to New York following graduation. Currently, she is a junior at N.C. State studying Public Relations. Acuff plans on using this degree to work as a celebrity representative. Although she never stays in the same place for long, nothing reminds her of the importance of family more than the holidays.
"My favorite holiday is Christmas,” she said. “I am a big holiday person. I like being with my family so much and it is the only holiday I get to go home.”

Acuff has an older sister who attends N.C. State and a younger foster brother who is two years old. She also has a twin brother who she considers to be her best friend, despite the fact that he goes to UNC. In fact, almost every other picture on Facebook is of her and her brother. Having a tight-knit family has made traveling throughout her life and living in multiple states an easy task. She knows that no matter where she travels to in the future, she always has her family to rely on.

“I want to move to New York as soon as I graduate,” she said. “It has always been a dream of mine to work there as a celebrity representative.” But when “The Big Apple” becomes too much for this southern girl, she knows that every holiday will bring her right back to where she belongs.

Acuff has a busy schedule as a full-time student and bridal consultant at “Victorian Rose Bridals” in Cameron Village. When she finds spare time, she loves to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip. Her blog, Take A Jill Pill, is a small glimpse at her bright future in the world of celebrities.

No matter where Acuff is, you can find her celebrating everything from Independence Day to Christmas with the utmost joy. “For me, the holidays are all about being with the people I love,” she said. “Whether it’s cuddling up on the couch with my little brother watching ‘Elf’ or picking up last minute stocking stuffers with my mom, just the fact that I’m with my family makes me happy.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Get The Facts Straight

As an athlete, nothing frustrates me more than bad sports writing. I understand that grammatical errors and typos happen. What I do not understand is how a writer can publish a story without getting the facts correct. Volleyball is simple, and to write about it should be even simpler. However, after reading the article published in Sunday's Technician, I may just be naive. 

The NC State Volleyball team is off to one of their best starts in program history. Being the captain of the team, I take a lot of pride in what we have accomplished and what people are saying about us. This past weekend we upset UNC in a 4-set match and continued our momentum into Sunday's game against Ohio. We beat Ohio in three sets and impressed a lot of people. 

I was excited to get a hold of the school newspaper on Monday to see what kind of publicity our team would receive. Not only was I disappointed with the placement of our story, I could not help but cringe when I read numerous errors throughout the story. 
Let's begin with the first error.

The first error is when our middle blocker, Brie Merriwether is referred to as an outside hitter. That is like writing about football and mistaking the running back for a wide receiver. 

The second error occurs when our coach is quoted. Anyone who knows volleyball knows that there is no such thing as an "outside back set". There is an outside hitter, outside set, back set, but no outside back set. When I read that Coach Bunn had said that I knew there must of been some kind of misunderstanding. 

The third error goes back to volleyball positions. Brie Merriwether is not an outside hitter but now a middle back. In volleyball, middle back is a position on the court in which players play defence. This is like mistaking a running back for a member of the offensive line.

Overall, this is not the worst coverage that I have read about volleyball but it is frustrating nonetheless. I appreciate Technician for all the coverage that we as the volleyball team receive but I just hope in the future errors like this can be avoided. I have posted the article below and you can find the errors throughout. 

You can find the article here: Carolina Crushed

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Aspiring Olympian

The profile story that I am going to recommend this week is going to be one written about myself. Since my blog is fairly new, I want to give readers more knowledge about myself. This article was featured in my hometown newspaper on May 31, 2012. This summer I played with the Canadian National Volleyball team and trained with them for the month of June before coming back to Raleigh. This story not only provides information about my summer with the National team, it also highlights my volleyball career from high school until now. This remains one of the longest and most accurate articles ever written about myself. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When It Sucks To Be An Athlete

Let's face it, a lot of people like to see athletes fail. Not only at their sport but at life in general.

Athletes are constantly being watched under a microscope as the whole world waits for them to slip up and be made an example of. This is when it sucks to be an athlete. Does not matter if you are the world's best athlete or a non-starter for a college team. The media are going to take any opportunity available to expose athletes for mistakes that they made on and off the field.

Our society has a fascination with gossip. Whether it be good or bad news, people enjoy being the first ones to know things and knowing it fast. Today's mediums provide the world with fast access to the latest controversy surrounding Chad Johnson and ex-wife Evelyn Lozado or the academic scandal involving UNC athletes.

Whether these athlete's wanted their business to be known or not, the world is going to find out. They are going to find out because they are not ordinary. By being an athlete at a college or professional level, you somewhat sign an invisible pledge stating that your life is no longer private. Any minor mistake could be blown up for the whole world to see. Simply because you are an athlete.

About a month ago I could not scroll through my Twitter timeline without reading every other tweet about "Tyrann Mathieu" or "LSU: Honey Badger" being kicked off the LSU football team. Although you can virtually find an article anywhere on the Internet, I am recommending LSU's Tyrann Mathieu kicked off team. Along with the video, the article provides details into a high-profile college athlete's dismissal from one of the top football programs in the nation.

I do not condone the use of drugs or violating team rules. However, the publicity that this young man received was intense. He received this attention because of his athletic status. If he were an ordinary man who failed a drug test at his ordinary job, I can there guarantee would be no news of it.

This is when it sucks to be an athlete.