with Emma Schieck
03 Oct, 2023 · Volleyball
Emma Schieck, Paralympic sitting volleyball player and gold medalist in the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games, shares her journey into adaptive sport and the challenges, relationships, and unforgettable rewards within it.
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[music] Welcome to this week's episode of The Voice and Sport Podcast. Today we are talking with Paralympic gold medalist in sitting volleyball and 2023 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emma Schieck. In this episode, Emma discusses her journey through sport…
And from there it was like there was no stopping me. I played basketball, I did karate, soccer, horseback riding. Everything that I could try, I wanted to try.
her transition to sitting volleyball…
I was really not sold on it. It was incredibly challenging. I was in pain in places I didn't know I could be in pain. I felt like this sport that I worked so hard to gain confidence in, I wasn't good at it. I had no confidence. I didn't want to be there. And if it wasn't for the amazing support system that I had at home, my love for volleyball, and my desire to chase any adventure and opportunity I can find, I know that I would not have stuck with it.
And the shift in perspective she needed to develop a deep love and appreciation for the competitiveness and extraordinary nature of the Paralympic movement…
I really wasn't interested because in my mind, I can play standing volleyball, my legs are fine. Why would I ever go into the sitting volleyball world? And that was my ignorance. That was my lack of knowing about this sport, the Paralympic movement, and how incredible and competitive they are.
With unwavering determination and resilience, she persistently pursues adventure and opportunity. We learn about her journey to Tokyo and her role in the Paralympic team, as well as her passion for advocating for Paralympic sports and athletes, inspiring them and encouraging all girls to play, disability or not.
Emma is an amazing part of our Voice in Sport community as a VIS mentor. And before we get started, if you love this podcast, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Emma, welcome to the Voice in Sport Podcast.
Thank you. I'm excited to be here.
It's always a pleasure to have a gold medalist on this podcast. I'd like to say that we've had quite a few and I'm really excited that we have you on. So first of all, congratulations for winning that gold medal. It's so incredible. And we're gonna go through how you did it all the way back to the very very beginning when you were born.
Awesome. Let's do it.
What is your story? When were you at your youngest time aware that you had a disability?
Yeah. I was born August 6th, 2001, and that is the day that I acquired my disability. Before birth I was completely able-bodied and an incident that happened at birth left me with what is called a brachial plexus injury. And that means that my left arm doesn't straighten, it doesn't rotate. It doesn't go behind my back and everything is just a little bit different about it. It builds muscle differently. But that has really never stopped me sport-wise. I have always wanted to play sports just like everybody else. And honestly, I can't really remember a time from before I played sports.
So when you were younger, what were the conversations with your parents, around your disability and your arm? Do you remember some of those early conversations and what would you encourage other young women out there to just understand and know what it's like to be a young athlete that might not fit in to how everybody else is on their team?
So, my parents, they had to make a lot of decisions with my arm regarding surgeries I was or was not going to have. Even choices within those surgeries, like which range of motion they were trying to give me. They also ultimately had to make a decision on when to stop giving me surgeries.
So when I was two years old, I had my last surgery because my parents were of the mindset that at some point she has to figure out how to live life with what she has. If her range of motion's always changing, that's gonna be tough. Because I stopped having surgeries at such a young age, we really never had the disability conversation.
I mean, I wasn't oblivious and I would, you know, make jokes about it, mention it. I was never, ever afraid to talk about it because it's all I've ever known. August 6th from the first day I was born, this has been my life. So I wanna say the first time I really started having conversations about disability was when I started playing with the sitting volleyball program and I think at that point I was, I wanna say 15 years old. So it was the greater part of my life at this point. I'm only 21 right now.
So, when did you first get into sport?
I came from small town, Statesville, North Carolina. There weren't other kids with disabilities. So my parents, not having those conversations with them and not having peers that I can relate to,
I was just going through life like every other kid. I was signing up for soccer, like every other kid at age two or three. And I loved being active and I loved spending time with my friends and being competitive. And that's how I started in sport. And from there it was like there was no stopping me. I was, I played basketball, I did karate, soccer, horseback riding, everything that I could try, I wanted to try. And I was going to this new elementary school that was just opening up in my hometown and they were having this like sports try-it day, where they just wanted to raise awareness for their sports programs, which is great. And so I talked to my mom and we were gonna go and I wanted to try volleyball. And the reason I wanted to try volleyball was because my cousin had shown me that she had played beach volleyball once on a camping trip. She was not like a volleyball player at all. So I wanted to try volleyball, and my mom wanted me to not play volleyball because she was really worried that they spent all this time trying to create this almost able-bodied life for me where my arm wasn't going to get in the way that she didn't want me to enter this world of volleyball where your arms are a huge part in that.
And volleyball was first. And I walked into the gym. It was me and a woman named Linda Crucitti, who was my first mentor and one of the biggest impacts on my life, out of anyone I've ever met. And we walk in the gym. And my mom was really worried. She's always, she's so supportive, but she's always been super protective and just wants for me to be able to succeed. So she tried to pull Linda aside and tell her, hey, like she has this disability, I'm worried about it. I don't know if she's gonna be able to do this.
And Linda was not interested in the idea of this hush conversation and literally grabbed me by the arm and was like, no, she's fine. We're gonna figure it out. She can do this. And I, to this point, hadn't really talked about having a disability. So as far as I was concerned, Linda was right and just followed her.
And I remember getting my first serve. Over the net underhand serve. I don't even know if I was all the way back at the service line, but that's when I clicked and I knew, I was like I can totally do this. My mom signed me up for volleyball. Linda was my first coach, and I knew that's what I wanted to be playing for as long as I could.
[music] I love that you had you know somebody that was your mentor really young in your career in sport. That’s one of the big things we do at Voice in Sport is, you know, bring on mentors like yourself to help other young girls believe that they can stay in sport and also just have somebody that believes in them, right? Who might see something different than how you see yourself.
So when you think about the power of mentorship and what Linda did for you, what biglesson did you walk away from that relationship and having a powerful mentor in your life?
Linda, was such a great mentor to me, not just because of what she did for me volleyball wise, but when I think of Linda she's the person who taught me how to swim because she understood what my arm was like and how to make accommodations there
She was all about just like making this safe environment where we were supported and able to do hard things learn how to swim with a brachial plexus injury or figure out how to serve when really every other coach is gonna teach you how to do it with two arms and you only have one that works all the way.So she was incredible and I know that without her I'm not sure what sport I would've ended up in or if I would end up in sport at all. So I'm really thankful for her.
Oh, that's amazing. We know unfortunately, she passed away from cancer. And then soon after that you were actually cut from the team. So can you walk me back to that experience? That must have been really hard for you. Especially at that age, a lot of young girls do drop out of sport.
So what kept you in it? And what advice would you have for other young girls that might be going through something pretty tragic like you went through at that age? But how did you stick with sport?
I look back on it and it was definitely a lot for little 12 year old Emma to be handling. It was the summer going into seventh grade. I was going to this IB school, which is like a magnet middle school, but we didn't have sports teams, so you had to try out for your home, middle school’s sports teams.
And this middle school was incredibly competitive. If you weren't playing club volleyball for years going into that tryout, you were gonna have a hard time. And I hadn't played club at all. I played volleyball with Linda and with my elementary school, and that was what I did.
So Linda was supposed to be helping with those tryouts and it was just a sense of comfort to have a familiar face when I was walking into this tryout with really nobody with me.
And then the first week of August, Linda passed away. So I remember her funeral being on my birthday and then to have to go through that tryout after 1) such a traumatic week and 2) without Linda was awful. And then not making the team and being devastated. That was probably the most upset I've been after a tryout, I wanna say.
It's not the only team I've been cut from, but it probably was the one that hurt the most because it was also the first. I hadn't been told no before. Before you just, you sign up for the team, you go, they give you a jersey, you play. It's fun. That's it. And I remember this being the first time where I have to make a decision. It's so easy when you're in a situation like that to say, okay, maybe this isn't for me. Maybe I should do something else. At that point, I was like, I was still riding horses. I was still playing basketball, I was doing well in school. There were a million other things I could have been doing, but I was like, gosh, Linda would be so disappointed if she knew that I was gonna give up right now.
So I figured, okay. I'll give it a year. I'll start playing club, maybe that'll help. These girls have been doing this for years at a much more intense level. Maybe I need to give myself a fighting chance. I started playing at the club that Linda had encouraged me to try out for the year before because I knew that's where she would've wanted me to be.
That's where I should go. And it made a huge difference. I came back the next year I made the varsity team and the coach was super impressed. And it was cool because that was also the first time that I got to see my hard work pay off. That was like, okay, this is awesome. I can do this. Maybe I do have a place in volleyball.
Absolutely. Look, we all get cut. It teaches you lessons, but it's also about, how do you react to failure? That is what builds such strong humans. It's why women that play sports end up being such incredible leaders after sport, right? In the workplace. So I'd love that you tell that story because it could have been very easy just to say, you know what, forget it. I'm done with volleyball. And you found a different way, which is amazing.
So if a girl is thinking right now Hey, you know what? I feel I'm really done. What advice would you give her to come back to sport if she's thinking it's about time to be done?
For me, when I was in the situation, I had several chances where it would've been very easy to walk away, but what went through my head that led me to stay was the best moments, the times with my teammates that I did love.
The time I got that first serve over the net and I was so happy and knew that this was something that I could do. Knowing how much fun that I had and how much I loved it and how cool it felt to make that team. In eighth grade, after being told no in seventh grade, that was, for me, enough to keep me around.
Okay, so we go from high school sports of playing volleyball, and then at a certain point you did transition to sitting volleyball, and we know a couple referees approached you at tournaments, and asked you to consider the sport. At what point did you really take it serious? And then, why did you decide to shift?
So in 2016, another referee had approached me about sitting volleyball, asking if I would be interested in the sport. And at this point, I was brushing this referee off, really wasn't interested because in my mind I can play standing volleyball. My legs are fine. Why would I ever go into the sitting volleyball world? And that was my ignorance. That was my lack of knowing about this sport, the Paralympic movement, and how incredible and competitive they are.
I started with the A2 program at the time. It's essentially our developmental sitting volleyball pipeline within USA volleyball. That moment was when I first started exploring this sitting volleyball world, this disability community, and this entire really new world of things that I hadn't even thought about before. So I started training with the developmental program in June of 2017.
I was really not sold on it. It was incredibly challenging. I was in pain in places I didn't know I could be in pain. I felt like this sport that I worked so hard to gain confidence in, I wasn't good at it. I had no confidence. I didn't want to be there. And if it wasn't for the amazing support system that I had at home, my love for volleyball and my desire to chase any adventure and opportunity I can find, I know that I would not have stuck with it because at the end of that camp I told the girls that I was rooming with, that it had been fun, but I would probably never see them again because I wasn't going to come back. And ended up giving it one more try. And I'm so thankful I did.
Because that November, 2017 national team camp was when I realized, this is it. This is awesome. This sport is fun. These athletes are incredible. These are the best coaches in the world and I feel like I can do something with this.
It's challenging because you're sitting and your arms are functioning as legs, and instead of running and jumping, you're pushing yourself. So it's almost like you have to learn how to walk again. And then you have to learn how to run again. And then you have to learn all of the little niche movements of volleyball again. And once that came, that's when I was even more sold on it.
So what did that do for you when it came to your identity? Because you were doing well in standing volleyball. You were excelling even though you had a couple bumps. We all have those. So when you shift over to sitting volleyball, what did that do for you when it came to joining the Paralympic movement and also just thinking differently about your own identity?
As I became more involved in this community, having to understand that people don't play sitting volleyball because they have to. That was the misconception that I had in 2016 when the first referee approached me was that I don't need to play sitting volleyball because I can play standing volleyball. And then in 2017, I had the same mindset. I just happened to be talking to a more persistent referee this time who wasn't taking no as easily for an answer.
I went to a sitting volleyball tri-it day in Virginia in April of 2017. And there was another guy, his name was Robbie. He has a very similar disability, a little more severe than mine, but very similar.
And Elliot, the name of the referee who happened to also be the national Team Development Program coordinator who told me to go sit down with Robbie and figure out how to play. And I walked over with Robbie, sat down, both of us with all four limbs. Our legs worked perfectly fine and tried to play this sport and struggled.
So that was when I started to realize that the Paralympic movement and Paralympic sports are not a last resort for people. They're not something that's oh, I have nothing else. I might as well do this. No, they're very difficult. They're challenging and competitive. No matter what your disability is, no matter what your sports background is, playing a paralympic sport is going to push you and it's going to be different.
So once I started to realize that and start being around people with disabilities more often, I became much more comfortable learning about and talking about my own too.
Oh, that's amazing. I think it's such an incredible sport and I know that obviously one of the biggest things that we face as athletes when we're starting new sports is confidence. So how did you build up your confidence when you were starting a new sport? Because we wanna encourage everybody at Voice in Sport to try different sports, especially at younger ages, right?
You don't wanna get locked in too early, you'll burn out. So the more sports you can try, the better. But that also makes it really hard cuz you might totally suck at that sport when you start. So how did you build your confidence and what tips would you share to young girls who might wanna try a new sport but they're afraid to?
Yeah. First of all, I did totally suck when I first switched. I totally sucked and I had no confidence. And I think for me, what was important to remember and what I would encourage young girls to remember is, yeah, you and everyone else. If that's how you feel when you're starting a new sport it's not just you, it's okay to talk about it.
And that's really, what got me through it. I remember sitting next to some of my teammates and being like, gosh, I know what I'm supposed to do. I know I can pass that ball. I just can't do it right now because I'm sitting on the floor and can't figure out how to move. And they're like, you know what?
Yeah, it took us like two years to figure that out. I get it. And just, saying it out loud and hearing someone be receptive to it makes it feel like it's okay. It's unrealistic to expect yourself to feel confident in every moment of every practice, especially when you're starting a new sport. Acknowledging that you're not feeling confident, bouncing it off of somebody and knowing that's not for forever is huge. And even today,, I'm 21 years old, so I've been playing volleyball for 14 years. I've been playing sitting volleyball for almost six years.
I'm a gold medalist and I still have moments where I leave a practice almost in tears because I feel like I am the worst athlete in the world. And it's not true. It's never been true. It's never going to be true. But sometimes it feels like it. And that's okay. It just means you're human.
That's all it means.
Let's talk about some of those things that you do to really help you through moments like that. We know that you have a volleyball journal and at VIS on our platform, we also have a VIS journal for the girls. We really believe there's so much value in writing down affirmations, talking about your goals, writing down your dreams, making sure you have tactical plans on process goals versus outcome goals.
So tell us a little bit about your volleyball journal and how that helped you, when you started it all the way till you've won Olympic gold medal. How do you use that journal?
[music] I love writing things down. If I can write something down, I'm going to write it down.So I knew that I was still in this transitional period where things were frustrating. I wasn't feeling confident, and it could help me a lot. So the first thing that I did, and it was something that my assistant coach and this athlete had encouraged us to do, was to sit down and write why you play volleyball?
That's the introduction of your volleyball journal. Why do you play? it was literally like 15 pages. Why I play volleyball because I love this sport. But essentially what it was: I play volleyball because of all the times that I couldn't, because of when I was a manager and I had to sit and watch, or when I was hurt and couldn't play, or I was out of town, whatever it was, I remember how much it hurt to be told you're not good enough or to not be able to play volleyball, and that's why I played.
And then for me, something that I like to think about is how far I've come and how many opportunities I've had because of volleyball. So I kept a running list of all the places that volleyball had taken me. If it was Greenville, South Carolina, where I played a tournament, or if it was Tokyo, Japan, where I was competing in the Paralympics, then they're both on the list, just the same.
And then from there, it goes into logistical things. Like I was rating how well I was serving or different kinds of tosses that I was experimenting with and what I liked and didn't like, and it lived in my volleyball backpack.
And if I switched volleyball bags, the journal switched bags. And it was important to me. Holding that journal and knowing, okay, when I'm grabbing my shoes out of my backpack, seeing it, remembering, okay, this is why I'm here today.
This is why I'm playing. And then obviously having it as a resource whenever I'm working through things. [music ends]
I love it. I'm a big know your why person so I think it's one of the best exercises, regardless of you're talking about sport or life or the things you wanna get accomplished knowing your why and coming back to that always is a great grounding exercise.
So you end up going to the Paralympics in Tokyo, which is absolutely incredible and winning gold. But how you got there was also a little stressful. And I wanna go into that because preparing for competitions can be nerve-wracking, but for you it was a little bit that had to do with COVID.
So there are a lot of obstacles. But 48 hours before the team was supposed to fly, you found out that one of your teammates and one coach had tested positive for COVID. Some of your teammates had to quarantine, but you were deemed not to be in too close of contact. So you got to go to Tokyo a few days later.
What was going through your mind when that happened? Especially after working so hard in anticipating that trip.
On July 10th, 2021, I got the phone call that I was going to Tokyo, and I'm not exaggerating, less than 24 hours later I was on a plane on my way to my team's training site in Oklahoma.
With that being said, I was really nervous about the COVID situation before we even had these issues. So I had decided to leave my team's training site about a week and a half before we were supposed to go to Tokyo to go home and quarantine. I didn't wanna be around people. I felt like at that point, I had honed my skills as much as I was going to.
I'll stay in shape, I'll keep touching a ball, but I'm gonna do it on my own just in case. Just in case something happens. And as we know now, something did happen. The 72 and 48 hour COVID tests come around for the games. I take my 72 hour test. It's negative. I'm so excited. Okay, maybe this is starting to get real. We can start packing. So I call UNC, I was in college at the time and unenrolled for my classes for the semester because I figured, all right, we're good. I check my phone and I see this email, it's like, emergency meeting.
All athletes must attend. At the time we didn't know if anybody was gonna go. We didn't know if the quarantine timeline was gonna work out how anything was gonna work. Is someone else going to test positive?
There were a lot of unknowns and so that kind of started the chaos of the next few weeks. Eventually we found out that four of us out of the 12 rostered athletes were neither testing positive nor close contact. So the four of us went to Japan. It was me, Katie Holloway, who's now Katie Bridge. Jillian Williams, who's now Jillian Coffee, they both got married recently and Lora Webster.
The four of us went to Japan with nothing but hope. Really just a little faith that the rest of my teammates would get there. And I would be sitting on the bus on the way to practice and look over and one of my teammates would be crying and we'd get to practice. And there's only so much you could do with four people at practice.
But for me, this is also my first Paralympic experience. There were a lot of firsts going on for me. Mostly feeling the camaraderie of the village, specifically the Team USA building. I remember sitting outside of the Ralph Lauren fitting, and two athletes walk by and they're these young women and they're like, hey, we heard about what's going on with your team, and we just wanna let you know that if they can't get here and you need to put us in jerseys and hide us in the corner of the court just so that you guys have enough to play, we'll do it.
Whatever it takes so that you four at least have a fighting chance, we'll make it happen. And to just, feel that level of support. And then I go into this Ralph Lauren fitting, and for the first time ever, I have this blazer that they are gonna tailor to fit both of my arms. And I've never had a piece of clothing fit both of my arms before.
So that was a whole other thing. And in the midst of all this excitement we get a GroupMe notification that another teammate tested positive, and all of a sudden this is a much less fun experience because what is that gonna mean?
We don't know who's gonna get here, if anyone's gonna get here, but, we are here so we've gotta do it, and from there eventually people started rolling in. The rest of my teammates, except for our libero, Bethany Zumo came in a few days later. And then I wanna say 15 or 16 hours before our first match, Bethany pulled into Tokyo the team, USA building, and we all had an arrival party for her.
We stood outside cheering and then got right to bed because we had to wake up the next morning for a game. So it was a lot, but we got there.
Wow, what a rollercoaster.
So we never know what's gonna happen when you're headed to the Paralympics. You might have this dream of how you're gonna get there, but then it never is exactly how you imagine it. A big part of working through that is making sure that you're not just focusing on your physical health, but really thinking about, okay, how am I prioritizing my mental health? How am I preparing myself to be focused and deal with any sort of circumstances that might be challenging? So now that you've been through that story that you just described, what are some of the routines and the things that you do for mental performance that you would encourage all young women athletes to do as they think about prioritizing mental health?
The way that I've taken care of myself and my mental health has changed a lot. Not even like year to year, but even closer, like month to month based on where I'm at, what I'm doing, what season of life I'm in right now. So going into Tokyo, going into the Paralympics, what was really important to me was my teammates.
That entire year leading up to the games, it was leaning on my teammates and little non volleyball moments with my teammates. I think the non volleyball part is key, and that's what I would encourage young women athletes to do. It can't be all about your sport. It can't, you'll burn out, you'll get overwhelmed.
On a larger scale. I actually wasn't even with my team the entire year leading up to the games. I was in this cycle where I was doing like three weeks with my team and then I would go home for two or three weeks, then I'd come back because it was really important to me to have that balance.
I also, I really appreciated what one of my teammates had to say going into the Games. If you're a competitive athlete, you're going to be stressed about things you can't control. What are your teammates doing? Or how are they gonna perform?
How am I gonna perform? I have no idea. And going to the Paralympics, one of my teammates, Heather Erickson, we were at a team meeting and she said, I think we all just need to trust that our teammates are going to do what they feel like they need to do to be ready to compete. And that's something that for the last two years, has stuck with me very intensely.
And it makes me feel more at ease. It's a team sport. My wellbeing and the team's wellbeing relies on each one of us, right? So once I was able to digest that breath of fresh air, that's made everything feel a lot more manageable to me.
Amazing. Let's take it all the way back then. Right before that gold medal game. What was the mental preparation that you did to get yourself ready and set yourself up for success for that game?
The night before the game, we had a stats meeting talking about game strategy. This is what we're gonna do, this is who we're going after. And I walked into the room and it looked like something out of a mad scientist movie on the whiteboard.
And the entire wall was filled with multicolored markers. And we have an amazing coaching staff and statistician, they are the best at their job. I don't doubt that, but I remember looking at that board and thinking, if this is all of the information that we need to win, how are we going to pull this off?
This is a lot.
So I was just overwhelmed. And I went to my room that night and I didn't say a word to any of my teammates.
And I started focusing on the things that I could control. Because of COVID, the Paralympics, Tokyo had this rule where, no matter what the outcome of this game is tomorrow, I've gotta be packed to go home tomorrow night. I have five bags in this room. So I sat in silence and packed and just tried to convince myself that it could be okay.
I told myself, that was a lot and that's okay because this situation is a lot.
And China had beaten us pretty badly a few days before . And I remember thinking, okay, you may go home with a silver medal. But that's worst case scenario is you go home with a silver medal, you're playing in a gold medal match tomorrow.
That is huge. You have to be okay if you lose that game tomorrow, you have to be okay with silver because that's an amazing accomplishment. No matter how you look at it. There's not many Paralympians in the world. There's even less paralympic medalists, and as you go up the ladder, there's even less of each one.
So I had to be okay with that. Trying my hardest to maintain any sense of routine that I had and just being there for my teammates in any way that I could, because I know that whatever I'm going through, it's not just me.
I'm here with 11 other girls. They're in the same situation and they are having the same stress in different ways, I'm sure. But we are all walking into a game that is high stakes against the team that beat us less than a week ago. There was a lot going on leading into that but obviously it worked out okay.
So how did it feel to win the gold medal? And the moment you got home with your family and your friends, what did you do?
[music] So that, gosh, that game. Going through that gold medal match after the first set was just in shock that we won a set and started to think, oh my gosh, we can do this. And then the second set, we won that set and we're one set away from a gold medal.
That's crazy. And then the third set, we lost the third set, and all of a sudden it starts to slip away. And my teammates were really good about it. They're like, okay, it's one set. We knew they were gonna keep fighting. We still have this, we have the upper hand.
Let's finish this. And I'm standing on the bench next to my teammate Lexi Shifflett, and I haven't gone into the game yet. I had, I played the set before, but I hadn't gone into this fourth set yet, so I was still an option.
And my assistant coach Michelle, turns and looks at me towards the end of the game. She points, she gives me a thumbs up and I'm like, oh gosh, they're gonna put me in, aren't they?
And I looked at Lexi next to me and I said, okay, if we get this point, it's game point. I go in matchpoint to serve for the gold medal. That's a lot. I was panicking a little bit. Sure enough we didn't get the point and so I had a minute to prepare myself. We get the next point. I go into the game and actually you can hear the announcer gasp audibly when she saw me go in because she used to be on the team. And she goes, no way. It's that moment of oh my gosh, Emma's going in. So I went in and I remember thinking in that moment, All I have to do is not miss, and my sports psychologist would be so mad if he knew that was the mindset, because you're not supposed to think negatives like that.
It's not, don't miss, it's over and in, but really, I was going back and I took a look at the front row in front of me and it was Lora Webster, Monique Berkland, and Heather Erickson. And that is a huge block of some of the best sitting volleyball players in the world. If I can get this ball over and in, they will handle it.
I have Bethany Zumo and Kaleo Maclay next to me. The best libero on the best setter in the world. All I have to do is give these girls a chance to play and they will handle it. And so I couldn't remember my serving zone from the night before because there was a lot going on. And I just remember over and in, don't miss this, don't miss this.
And I didn't miss it. And it was an ace and we won. And I couldn't believe what was happening. I don't think I remember anything for the next 30 minutes. Everything was just a blur. It was unbelievable. And I called my mom from the locker room. They had a huge watch party here at my family's house, and I called her and FaceTimed her and she was just crying and everybody and around her was like cheering and jumping and they couldn't believe it.
That's gotta be so incredible. It's such an important moment also for the Paralympic movement. So I wanna talk a little bit about that. I know you're very passionate about advocating for the Paralympians and athletes with disabilities in general. Can you tell us about really what's happening in that space right now and what do people need to know in order to get behind the Paralympic movement and help advocate for the athletes involved?
Yeah, so there's a lot of awesome things going on in the Paralympics all the time. I think honestly more important than me talking about what's going on in the movement is me telling people that these things are happening and you just don't get to know about 'em because we aren't streamed, our games aren't shown, and that's a problem. So what I want everyone to do is when these games are on, watch them, ask to see them, show that you're supporting them using the right terminology. Paralympic, it's not Olympic. That's huge. That makes a big difference. So it's those little things. And a big part for me the personal note of it at all is when I started playing sitting volleyball, I was apprehensive.
I didn't know about the sport. I didn't know what I was getting into. And I didn't think it was for me because I was ignorant and I had no idea. And if sitting volleyball didn't find me, I was never gonna get there on my own. And I don't want that to be the case for the next generation of Paralympians.
They should have their sports normalized, they should have their sports celebrated, they should have their sports called the right thing. That's a huge part of it.The other big thing is able-bodied or having a disability, play, do it. My able bodied friends play sitting volleyball with me all the time. It's fun, it's challenging. What I noticed was when I started playing sitting volleyball, I became a better standing volleyball player.
And that goes for a lot of Paralympic sports. Try them, give 'em a shot. You'll have so much more respect for the athletes and I guarantee they're going to be a lot more challenging than you think they will be.
Well, I really wish that we could see more of the Paralympic games as well as the Paralympic athletes. I think it's one of the things that we just don't have visibility to women athletes, period. But then women athletes in Paralympics It's hard to find. It's hard to find on TV. It's hard to find any of these women in the media, and it's so important that we share their stories.
On that note, I wanna know, if you have this opportunity right now to share five Paralympic women athletes from any sport, who should we know about and go read about?
That's a great question. So selfishly we're gonna talk about my teammates first. Number one, I'm gonna say Kaleo Maclay. What I love about her, she's all over social media.
She gets a lot of hate from people on social media because herself like me, like many other Paralympians are able-bodied passing. You look able-bodied when you see them. And I think that she does such an amazing job raising awareness for the Paralympic movement and the versatility within disability.
Number two, I'm gonna go Sydney Barta. She's a student at Stanford. She does track and field, and I really like her because she's doing a lot of Paralympic advocacy in the college athletic space. There's not many Paralympic athletes doing that because we aren't starting paralympic sports young enough often.
I am gonna say number three. This one is pretty well known, but I'm gonna say Jessica Long because she's, I think, really awesome.
She's has a lot of visibility. She was in that Toyota commercial for the Super Bowl two years ago. She's a really great story. I really like her.
Number four, I'm gonna talk about the Canadian Women's Sitting volleyball team because in Tokyo they were advocating for media coverage like nobody else. They had shirts made up and they were posting in these shirts and they succeeded. The Canadian Broadcasting Network, they actually ended up airing more of their games because of the work that they did.
And it's a shame that they had to do that work while competing. But I think it's awesome with what they accomplished. The number five is Danny Arabic because she made her Paralympic debut in Tokyo 2021 and then followed it up six months later with another Paralympic debut in Beijing 2022 which I think was incredible to come out swinging as a two sport, two games athlete.
That's amazing. And she does a lot of great advocacy work too. So she's awesome.
Amazing. Thank you so much. I'm sure there are so many more women athletes that we need to know about. So I challenge anybody who's listening to this podcast to make a list of another five and then show them some love on social media and share their story and encourage people to follow them.
So I wanna dive a little bit further into just like the Paralympic awareness and movement. How do you think that all of us can get involved in our community to make sure that everybody feels included in sport?
Absolutely. So, for me, I think a huge part of it is playing adaptive sport. When you have the opportunity to, whether that's creating the opportunity or you hear about an event happening and you just sign up and give it a shot, because that is normalizing adaptive sport and giving people with disabilities who may not otherwise be able to play the opportunity to play.
Now, on the other side of that, you're going to have a lot of athletes with disabilities like myself who play traditional sports before adaptive sport. And what I would encourage you to do is treat these athletes like athletes. They're your teammate or they're your competitor. My best friend is also my teammate.
Her name is Maddie Ball, and she has one arm, she has a prosthetic. And so a lot of times she played beach volleyball. Growing up, people would come up to her after a game and talk about her arm. They wouldn't talk about how she was an amazing athlete, how she beat them, how she outplayed them. It would be, you're an inspiration because of your arm, because of your disability.
And that's tough because I almost find it more impressive that she was able to outplay you, not that she was able to outplay you with her arm. That kind of takes away from what she's accomplished as an athlete. So when you're competing against these athletes, take them as seriously as any other opponent because that's what they are, when you're competing with these athletes, don't discount them because of their disability.
Absolutely. And you mentioned one of the collegiate athletes. Can you talk a little bit about what you hope to see in terms of inclusion and visibility at the college level? Because you were at college and you graduated, so you've been through that experience.
So what can the NCAA do to improve awareness around able body athletes and disabled athletes?
I would love nothing more than to see intercollegiate adaptive sports become a thing. I think that would be awesome. I know it's not realistic for every university to have it. I know we are a long ways away from that but I do think we could be doing more. And even at UNC Chapel Hill where I graduated from, I remember being so excited because I found out that there was intramural sitting volleyball.
And I thought that must be the coolest thing ever. What are the odds that my university has intramural sitting volleyball? So I went and what I found was that the nets were about two feet too high. There were no court regulations. It wasn't taken seriously, was what I pretty much found.
And it was just frustrating and disappointing. And I would love to see that idea be executed on a more professional level because really the struggle that we have, the reason that. Paralympians are getting hate on Instagram. The reason that the Paralympic games aren't being aired as much you can't find out about adaptive sports is because at the end of the day, they just aren't taken seriously enough.I feel like the NCAA and colleges and universities have the opportunity to take it seriously and set a precedent and do some really awesome things. So I would love, love, love to see that happen.
I would too. I mean, there's so many inequalities when it comes to the NCAA in terms of who is participating at that level. There's just so much more work to do. So thank you for mentioning that. I hope in the future we bring in some more of those teams. so I would love to kind of wrap up. At Voice in Sport, we always talk about what advice we would give to younger athletes to keep them in sport because at the end of the day, we know how powerful sport can be not only for our soul, but for physical, our mental side and you gain so much from being in sport. So when you think about the experiences that you have had so far in sport, what would be one single piece of advice you would tell your younger self?
Keep having fun with it. Period. Point, blank, exclamation point. It's have fun. At the end of the day, you picked up a volleyball for the first time because it was fun. You keep playing because it's fun. That's the priority. Everything else will follow.
And what is one thing you wanna see changed for the future of women's sports?
I wanna see the way they're talked about casually change. That to me is important and I've started to see it. I graduated with a sports administration degree from UNC and I started to hear it in my classes, Collegiate basketball. The women's teams, they were talking about casually, the athletes, like their names were popping up in class all the time.
But not the volleyball players, not the field hockey players, not the lacrosse players, not WNBA players, really just college women's basketball because they were doing really well. But I wanna see the rest of it be talked about casually in the same way that we talk about men's sports.
I think that makes it a more welcoming environment. I think that encourages women to stick with it.
Given that you've already been to one Paralympic games and walked away with a gold, I hope that's gonna be your future here for Paris. So I would love to know from your perspective, when it comes to the environment and it comes to the visibility and the Paralympic movement, what do you hope to see that will be different? The Paralympic games in Paris?
I think for me, the one thing that I know wasn't because of COVID and I would love to see change, is the amount of airtime that we're getting, the way the games are streamed.I think three out of our five games weren't aired. So I would love for that to not be the case, I think that's how we raise Paralympic awareness.
It's how we normalize the sport, normalize the athletes, celebrate the athletes, and better the games. So I hope that's different in Paris.
Well, Thank you so much for coming to the Voice in Sport podcast. We're so excited to see what you're gonna do in the next Paralympics. And again, congratulations on your gold medal and all that's ahead of you.
Thank you. It's been fun. I appreciate it.
This week's episode was co-produced and edited by VIS Creator Eliza Bowman, a lacrosse player from Johns Hopkins, and CIS Creator Campbell Leid, a former rower at the University of Virginia. Emma's story teaches us to always be open and trying something new, and that's a new chapter that can start at any moment and change our lives.
Emma reminds us that the community of women athletes is incredibly diverse, supportive, and full of unique stories that deserve more visibility. And at the end of the day, Emma encourages us that harnessing self-confidence in all the small moments is what sets us up for gold in the big moments. We are so grateful to have Emma as part of our VIS community as a VIS mentor. Please click the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might enjoy our conversation.
And if you liked our conversation with Emma, please leave us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify. You can follow Emma on Instagram @Emma Schieck or connect with her on the Voice in Sport platform. If you're logged into Voice in Sport, head over to the feed and check out our articles about mind, body, nutrition, and advocacy topics. Take a look at the session page and sign up for one of our free or paid mentoring sessions with our 250+ VIS mentors and 80+ VIS experts in sports psychology and nutrition. And if you're interested in learning more about the Paralympic movement and athletes, check out episode number 84 where I speak with Paralympic track and field athlete Scout Bassett about overcoming adversity and disability.
See you next week on The Voice in Sport Podcast.
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