This is the third and the last part of my interview with Courtney Thompson, silver medalist from London, member of the U.S. volleyball national team, Budowlani Lodz’s setter. Below you can read about Courtney’s time in Puerto Rico and her being a member of Athletes for Hope. Enjoy!
Before you came to Poland you played in Puerto Rico and this may be a shocking information, because you don’t really hear about this particular league in Europe.
I know, I know! (laughs)
What were you thinking about when choosing Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico’s got a great place in my heart. First of all some of it came, because I didn’t have a ton of opportunities. I’m not a tall and typical setter and so I think that if someone came to watch me for ten minutes they would say: ‘She’s small, she doesn’t look like a volleyball player, her hands are kind of funny’. But I think my strength’s come out over time. It’s hard to say. Anyway, being a short setter and I haven’t had a lot of exposure with the national team, it wasn’t like I was getting calls from Italy and Russia like my teammates. My coaches from home believed in me and knew what I could bring, but getting someone to give me the contract, it wasn’t the case. I had a few [offers] from Azerbaijan that was a good opportunity and one from Italy that was ok, but Puerto Rico is a shorter season, which would allow me to be home with my family for Christmas. I have a brother who was in the military, he’s gone a lot and he was able to be home that year. My other brother just got married and they had a kid, so it was nice to be able to be home. I would sacrifice those things if the opportunities were great, but it wasn’t like that. Also in Puerto Rico for me it’s fun, because I played there before and I know a lot of the people. The town that I played for is a, we call it blue collar. They work hard, they don’t have a lot. It’s a very simple life, they know what matters, they like to have a good time and volleyball is important for them. When you kind of get the big picture it’s just a game, but you also love it enough to put everything to it. It’s just the cool balance. There are tons of fans and it’s important to them. For me to be able to play for something that’s bigger than just me and trying to make money and get better at volleyball — certainly that’s important, but I like to be motivated by things that are bigger than that. I loved playing in Puerto Rico because of that. It was like there was an element of giving back. It wasn’t just ‘oh, I’m gonna make a bunch of money and be better for next summer’. You know, it wasn’t easy, there are a lot of ups and downs and in times you question like ‘ok, my teammates are in Italy, I should be playing in Europe, blah blah blah’, but at the end of the day you’ve got to just play anywhere you are.
You just have to do whatever suits you best, you have to feel good about it and if you do, then there’s nothing wrong with your decision.
Exactly. And I think it ended up good, because I wasn’t confident about going in, but the way the year in Puerto Rico ended up, I kind of felt like I found myself as an athlete again. And in our gym, in the USA gym, it can be hard to keep your confidence, because you’re playing with the best in the world everyday and you’re getting beat a lot.
And that’s what motivates you.
Yeah, for sure.
So when you got into talks with the team from Lodz, it surely came to your mind, that it will be a really big change for you. You know, coming from Puerto Rico to Poland, and a lot of Americans think that Poland is a city in Europe.
(laughs) Yeah, I know! When I signed here I was looking for a different challenge. I love Puerto Rico, I played there three years. I wanted to play good volleyball, I needed to be challenged and wanted to play in a good league. I knew that Poland was one of the best leagues in the world and so that was kind of where I was at in my career. It’s a totally different style of volleyball. I played in Switzerland and Austria and those leagues aren’t so strong, but consistently I just wanted a different experience.
There’s one more thing I wanted to talk to you about: Athletes for Hope. You’re a member of this organization. Tell me more about what it is and what do you do as a member.
It’s an awesome organization. They came and did a presentation to our team a few years ago and basically it’s about a lot of things you can be interested in community-wise. Literally like: I like to work with children, kids with disabilities, I’m interested in all kinds of things like that. You tell them where you are, what city you’re in and then they do everything for you. They set up places to volunteer and it makes it very easy for the athlete. They also work with a lot of other organizations, so that people are getting a lot out of it. Being an athlete can feel very trivial. My job comes down to siding out and scoring points at a high level, so at some point you ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’. I always question that. For me a lot of my motivation and my desire to keep going comes from being in the position to give back. Athletes for Hope is the easiest and best way for us to do that. They’ve been huge for me. I can call the guy that I work with, Chris Wyttenbach, and I can tell him: ‘Hey, I’m gonna be in Seattle for a week, I would love to do something.” Or “I’ll be home in Christmas time” and last Christmas he hook me up, we met and went to this children’s house.
Does it always happen in one place or can you do this wherever you are?
He does it all over the country. We tried to do this out of the country, but it gets a little tricky with the language barrier and everything. I would love to do something here [in Poland] and I actually talked to our organization about that. Again: it gets hard for them (children) to speak English.
You know, the players from Budowlani Lodz usually do that sort of things also. Maybe it’s not as big as in your case, with Athletes for Hope, but they sometimes organize meetings in children’s houses etc., so maybe you could also get involved in that.
It’s cool, I would love to. What we do can be stressful, there are a lot of expectations and you’re getting paid to do this. In the summertime there’s a lot on the line and you’re fighting for your dream, so to be able to, once a week, give something that has nothing to do with volleyball and to help someone [is great]. You know, those kids don’t care. They see the U.S. [sign] on your jacket and they think it’s cool, but in five minutes they forget about it and just want to play. It’s awesome to be able to walk away from all of that and say ‘Ok, it’s not all about me, it’s gonna be fine, life goes on.’ (laughs)
And you’re in a very good company there in Athletes for Hope. I went to the website and saw some very big names.
I think it’s such a great company. I’m so thankful that they’re there and we get to work with them. The organization is really great, and Chris… wow. I think I need to call him, thanks for reminding me!
You’re welcome (laughs). Thank you, I really enjoyed talking to you.
Thank you! There were some really good questions there.
— end of the third part —
And that’s it! Thanks for reading and sharing this interview with others. I hope it was a good read for you.