Stacy Sykora: I'm coming clean


Often, life has in store unexpected moments and events that change you forever, that deeply hit you and influence your decisions; events either big or small that can mark your soul and your life indelibly. This is, at least, what happened to Stacy Sykora. When that terrible accident happened, Stacy was on a bus with her teammates of the Vôlei Futuro heading to the first match of the Brazilian championship semifinals. There were only 500 meters left to the sport palace, when suddenly the driver lost the control of the vehicle and the bus leaned on a side and left Stacy severely injured. That day her life turned around: “ I don't remember much about, but after the accident everything has changed. At the beginning I was confident that I could be back physically and mentally very soon, but time was passing instead and I was not recovering: I became anxious and I was eager to recuperate and so I was even more worried and blocked. Eventually, little by little, I found a way to calm down, to think about my life and eventually I changed my mentality: now, I want to live my life to the maximum every single day! Once I was worried about silly things as eating or drinking before a training, or about being too tired to give it all on the court. Not anymore now. Volleyball has always been a constant in my life and thus I want to give my best during each training; but off the courts I cannot forget to live: I don't want to waste my time because life has already showed me that everything can happen”.
The accident took place in 2011 and since that day Stacy has totally embraced this philosophy: her enthusiasm in welcoming us, in taking the pictures and her will to tell us everything about herself is a clear demonstration of this attitude: “I don't hide anymore; I finished wearing a mask only because I am a strong player who took part to the Olympic Games. I have both good sides and weakness and as I do not hide myself on court, I don't hide myself in love anymore either: I have a girlfriend and I'm happy with her now; I am sorry if someone has a problem with it and doesn't accept my homosexuality, but I'm happy and this is the most important thing. Before the accident I had other girlfriends, but in the past I tended to hide it: this is the first time I say it openly. I have a girlfriend but that does not prevent me from being a good player or a good person”. And living this new relationship so openly is part of the new life of Stacy: “I have been living far from home since 1998 : I was often alone and I would not call my parents at all. Now finally I have someone to share my life with and every evening I am eager to go back home to stay with her. Now that Shivonn is here with me, I also started calling my parents everyday: simply, I am living my life at full so that if I died today, at least I would have been doing what I like and what makes me happy. I always think that when I die I will be alone and so now I want to take advance from every single moment with the people I love” . An attitude that we could sum with the carpe diem philosophy that is living the present without worrying too much for the future: “I am more focused on the present than in the future now. Sure, I'd love to be back in the national team, but I don't know if that dream may come true again. Now I am here in Urbino and I am happy: we'll see what happens. The only thing I am sure is that I love volleyball. Volley is my life: when I was nearly dead in Brazil, the only thing I could think about was volleyball. It is a constant in my life now and I am sure it will be in my future too! Even though I had to be a ball girl!”
Volleyball is the only element that seems to have survived that terrible accident; a sport that entered in Stacy's life almost by accident on a sunny beach in Texas: “my two elder sisters used to play volleyball: they used to attack and I would defend but they didn't want me to play with them. I remember that once I was on the beach and naturally they didn't let me touch the ball. I was about to serve when a man approached me and taught me to serve the ball underhand! I wish I knew who this man was to tell him thank you: he was him who introduced me into this sport!” That stranger had unwittingly started the career of a player who would be considered the best libero in the world and a model player to be inspired by! But Stacy is grounded and far form being the “star” of the national team: “many of my teammates own a picture with me or my autograph. But I don't want to be considered the best. My greatest quality is precisely staying grounded. I love helping my teammates, but only when and if they are happy to receive my suggestions. For instance, the second libero of the US national team, Tamari, sees me as a model and I am happy to help her as you can see from her eyes that she is eager to learn, not only the technique but also the attitude on court. She esteems me and I am honored as I know that she can give a great contribution to team US”.
Although she does't want to be considered the best libero, Stacy sure was one of the first liberos in the volleyball history when this role was created in 1998. Before, Stacy was a spiker who loved digging and with excellent results: “my coach at that time was Laurie Corbelli, who in 1984 had won a silver medal with the national selection. Once she told me: “Stacy, you are a great spiker and undoubtedly you are going to be in the national team, but I doubt you are going to be an active protagonist of it or that you are going to play the Olympic Games. But there is a new role that could fit you”. I had left track&field and basketball competitions precisely to fulfill my Olympic dream and so I didn't back down. I remember I was starting everything from anew, that there were no clear indications on this role and that I had to learn everything. In those moments I didn't miss hitting much as I had too much to learn to become a libero and to become a good one. I had to thank Laurie if I succeed mastering this role and only thanks to her advice I could eventually wear the uniform of the national selection and be a protagonist in this team. The number 5 I have been wearing is a homage to Laurie as this number used to be hers”. But the Olympic Games for Stacy represent only another trophy to win by trying her hardest: “for me every tournament is important! Actually, the Olympics only take place every four years and last only 14 days: this is a very short lapse of time within one person's life. Personally, I see the Olympics as a path and then, what you do during those four years is what really counts. In those two weeks you have to give your best, but foremost enjoying yourself and absorbing as much as possible from that experience is what really counts. Losing or winning, does it really matter at the end? I hardly remember where I put my Olympic medal, maybe somewhere in some bag. When in 1998 I had the medal in my hands I told myself: “so, have you done all these sacrifices for this?” Now I believe that the path and the moments you live during the Olympics count the most!”
Instead of the medal, wearing the uniform of the national selection is more meaningful: “wearing this uniform is very important to me; I am proud of being American and playing for the USA has a concrete meaning for me: entering the court means playing for my family, for my nephew and when I sing my national anthem I feel like a soldier going to war and ready for anything! I always think” gosh.... I representing all the Americans and I am playing for each of them” . In that moment, on the notes of “Star-Spangled Banner” I think about the people who have died for for the freedom of our country and I always play for them: I feel that all those people are watching me and are next to me. The national team, without any doubt, marks my sense of belonging to this country”. Far away from Texas and United States, Urbino libero seems to have find a second house here in Italy: “I started my career in Italy: I arrived here when I was 20 years only and I have been raised here becoming who I am now. At heart I feel a bit Italian: each season I played in a foreigner country, I would always come back here also for a couple of weeks”.
After the season in Jesi in 2004-2005 and after leaving her mark in Spain, Russia and Brazil, the Teaxas born libero came back to Marche, this time to play in the Montefeltro for the Chateau D'Ax Urbino: “When I was offered an opportunity to play in Marche region I simply had to catch it as I would have met again the staff I had already had in Altamura in 2008, like for instance Laterza, a person I trust and with whom I am sure things gonna be alright. I want to live this season at the height each day without thinking too much about the future: I want to give my best each day in every match and every training. As everyone else, when I play I want to win and this team has all the characteristics to reach great results together with a great sense of unity: none of us play for herself but for the group and this is our best weapon”. Only the championship will tell if the Robur Urbino has got what it takes to climb the ranking this season. But one thing will be always true: the new Stacy Sykora, with her vitality, her will to live intensely and wholly, without masks nor half measures will be able to lead her team in such an important season for the club. At heart, like the same Stacy teaches us, the journey to reach that goal is what really counts in life; and in her company this path will be undoubtedly full of energy!

The originale article with more photos is published on October 2012 issue of Pallavoliamo.it

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