Extraordinary middle hitter volleyball players like three-time Olympian
in themselves and in their capabilities.
Many times that meant learning how to deal with those people who
thought that their dreams and goals were unreachable.
If you are a young player surrounded by people who don't believe in
your goals or your plans for how you want to excel in this sport, then
Learn how one of America's best volleyball players set goals and
how she learned how to take steps in reaching those goals.
When I look back on all the things that influenced and helped me to
become the person I am today, I never really realized at that point in
time that they were good things. The roads traveled, the decisions,
good or bad, made.
So I guess it’s not so much a story but a
journey. A journey that each
of us takes, some in different ways than others. However all the same,
we make it.
It’s what we call life.
Our lives are strange that way. In the end it doesn’t matter where you
come from or what you have or don’t have. It comes down to the ideas
and desires and dreams that you follow through with, and never let go
I believe that the strongest motivators in our lives are our dreams and
People will do almost anything to get what they want…they will work
extra hard, they will give up being with friends, being with family.
Sacrifice many of the things that other people may take for granted. In
the end they are that much stronger and happier for doing so.
As for myself, my journey with sports started when I was really young.
I have an older sister and naturally we had sibling rivalry growing up, so
anything she participated in, I was close to follow.
We were born and raised in the same town our entire lives. Only moving
once, from one side of town to the other…so in that respect I guess I
was fortunate in not completely changing my surroundings.
However, even with that I still found it hard to make friends, I was a bit
of a loner in school, never really fitting in. I was always the tallest in
kids…I was different, and at that age different wasn’t a good thing.
I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it better now.
My being different set me apart from the others, I had an ability within
me that I had not yet learned about.
Through my years in elementary and junior high I was usually found
playing hand or tether ball on the blacktop.
I don’t even know if they still play those games now…but my
mother always said if there was a game with a ball involved I was
playing it. Again, I didn’t see any connection.
When I got to high school, I once again followed in my sister’s footsteps
as I did when I was growing up. She was one year ahead of me in
school and she had joined the swim team her freshman year, and I had
witnessed how easy it was for her to make friends with her teammates
and so I figured I would do the same. It would keep me in my comfort
So there I was a freshman in high school on the swim team…trying to
convert my social phobia into making a good teammate and friend for
others. It was hard at first, I was so used to not having many friends to
be surrounded by so many people all the time was weird for me.
However as the year went by I opened up a little more and made a few
good friends which also helped me in the transition from junior high to
high school. It was a whole different world. So I continued to swim until
my junior year in high school when my life took an unexpected turn.
You see it's strange why certain people are put in your life…the old
saying that everyone is here for a reason, yeah well I believe it now.
I had become friends with a girl on the swim team that was also on the
We had become almost connected at the hip, we did everything
together. However when swim season was over she had
her volleyball practices to go to, and once again I was left alone.
High school is a scary place to be when you feel alone.
It’s a time in our lives when we are transitioning and questioning
everything about us. We seem to be more concerned with what the
other kids think of us than what we think of ourselves.
We seem to lose sight of the important things. And care more about the
superficial ideas and trends of the time. Maybe because I was a bit of a
loner I sheltered myself too much, I guess you could call me a nerd if
On the weekends I was at home, I rarely went out I never dated and
boys scared the hell out of me.
However not always, I mean I had friend from sports, and I could be
seen as “one of the guys” but not as a girl they liked.
If I had the choice I would choose school over social events. I loved the
hard classes like chemistry and physics. I think now it may have been
more of an avoidance tactic than anything. If I was busy with sports
and school the social scene couldn’t bother me. I had an excuse to not
Watch as Middle Hitter Volleyball Player Heather Bown is honored during her senior year at the University of Hawaii.
My parents never seemed to notice. It’s funny how we can hide things
that are right under our noses.
So anyhow, the end of my sophomore year in high school I figured I
would try out for the JV volleyball team. As you can guess, once again I
was the tallest on the team, which in my opinion was the only reason I
made the volleyball team.
I mean I was horrible; I couldn’t even pass a ball. I didn’t know the
footwork for anything. All of the girls that were there had played club
I mean I was 16 years old and I was just for the first time picking up a
ball and playing with girls that had been playing volleyball for at
least 3 years if not more.
I was ridiculously intimidated.
My self confidence, which was never high to begin with, fell through the
However, I kept trying.
So my junior year I competed on the JV volleyball team and had fun, it
was so much different from swimming. I mean I could actually talk to
other people during volleyball practice…swimming was way too
difficult, my face always being in the water and all, you could
Middle Hitter Volleyball Olympian, Heather Bown talks about being courageous everyday!
The season flew by and I struggled a lot, but enjoyed myself enough to
want to keep at it. However my love was still in swimming.
It wasn’t until I made the decision to join a volleyball club in my area
that things really started to fall into place for my path in life.
As many of you know with club volleyball you travel to different volleyball
tournaments and many college volleyball coaches have the
opportunity to see all different levels of players.
From beginners to advanced and all of us in between. As you can guess
I was in the beginner category.
A view of the London Olympic stadium middle hitter volleyball player Heather Bown competed in with Team USA
When I returned to high school volleyball the next year (my senior year)
they had to put me on the varsity volleyball team because of my age.
Now I was excited to be on the team and be able to contribute
So I would go to volleyball practice everyday and give my
best…even though I was still in the learning phase of the game.
However, I still say that now and it has been 12 years. Nonetheless I
learn new things everyday, and I believe that the day I stop learning is
the day I retire from the sport.
Anyhow, I honestly can not tell you what brought up the conference
between myself and my volleyball coach one day, but we had a
meeting and in that meeting I heard some of the harshest but at the
same time motivating words I think I have ever received in my career.
Now when you are a young volleyball player still trying to figure out
what you are doing on the volleyball court, you really would like to
have some support from those that are your superiors, but on this day
support was definitely not what I was going to get.
In the course of the conversation I was told “you will never be a
Now he was referring to Division One in High School.
In other words, making me doubt myself and my reasons for being on
the volleyball team.
I don’t think I have to tell you that in about 0.1 seconds I started to cry,
and cry, and cry. I couldn’t believe it. I mean you go through life with
disappointments, and believe me I had had some good ones.
However, I wasn’t expecting that from him. So I had to deal with it. I
never really understood until the day I started getting letters from
schools that were interested in me to come play for them.
Now up to this point I had never even thought about going to college.
After the harsh words spoken to me I made a pact with myself that I
would do everything in my power to prove him wrong.
I would be a Division One middle hitter volleyball player, I would be
worth something to the team. So with the letters came also requests to
come see me play.
Well you can imagine this posed a bit of a problem, seeing as I never
got to play on my high school volleyball team. So a coach had
contacted my volleyball coach to let him and I know he would be
attending a game, and gave the exact date of the volleyball game he
would be attending.
So that day comes and you would think that maybe my volleyball
coach would allow me to play just a few minutes so that the college
volleyball coach could see what I had to offer, but no.
Not one minute of the game. This coach had driven 3.5 hours to my
school to see me play and I sat the entire time.
I was devastated, totally lost on the concept that my volleyball coach
could not allow me the chance to go to college and play.
I thought it was all over.
Maybe he was right maybe I couldn’t be a D1 volleyball player.
But after the game in the parking lot the college volleyball coach said
something to me that turned my life around. He said to me that he
didn’t have to see me play in the volleyball game, but that even in
Then he handed me a phone number to call when I got home. It was the
number to the Head Volleyball Coach of the University, a real D1
University. I was so nervous to make that call; I had no idea what to
So I was off to play volleyball in college. My freshman year went as
fast as lightening especially with all the transition in playing and
learning, and all the new experiences.
I was again lost and the only thing I had that was the same was
I still felt so behind everyone else, so it was natural when I didn’t get
recognized for things, I would just continue my preparation as if nothing
happened, but in my heart I was dying for someone to say hey…"Great
It wasn’t until the end of my freshman year when another bomb was
dropped on my dreams, almost shattering them again.
I had gone into my end of year meeting with the volleyball coaches and
we had a talk, within the course of the meeting I had mentioned that I
wanted them to train me for the 2000 Olympic volleyball team.
I wanted to go to the Olympics!
The response I received from one of the volleyball coaches was “Don’t
set your hopes too high”.
Don’t set your hopes too high?
I was crushed. Maybe I had delivered the proposition in the wrong
Watch as Middle Hitter Volleyball Player Heather Bown Talks about Military Service and Sacrifice
So with a deflated heart I competed another season with the same
college volleyball team, but just could not get myself to really feel
So after my sophomore year I transferred schools.
Leaving my home state and going quite a bit further than I had ever
been before for school and volleyball.
When I arrived at my new home, I hated it.
I regretted leaving what I had, and thought maybe I had made the
biggest mistake of my life.
However, as time always does, it showed me that my taking the
initiative and moving out of my comfort zone was something that I
needed in order to help me grow.
So I was off and running with a new volleyball team and a new air about
me. I felt free and alive.
After my junior season I was given the opportunity to try out with the
USA national volleyball team. My new volleyball coach had
arranged for me to be a part of a tryout.
I think I almost fainted when he told me, I was terrified.
They were all so experienced and, well… really, really good. I was…
well…not those things.
So the day of the tryout came and I didn’t even know what my name
was, I was so nervous. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there,
having the chance to be looked at by the USA national volleyball
So I made the best of it and just did what I could. Hoping, and praying
that it was enough.
At the end of the day, I was fortunate enough to be selected to be part of
a group that trained for the World University Games Volleyball Team in
At that point I thought the hard part was over, but I was way wrong.
Even though in college I was somewhat successful, when I got to
the national volleyball team it was a whole different ball game.
Actually it wasn’t even the national team it was the WUG (World University
I had always just kind of accepted the fact that I was never going to
be skinny like the other players, but it was finally ok with me. I was just
comfortable in my skin and I was being told I was not the right image.
I couldn’t do it. I began to play volleyball badly because I wasn’t happy.
My secret has always been that I am happiest
when I am playing volleyball
because I feel free.
I was no longer free.
I was encaged in an image process. (sic)
That I didn’t
know how to be.
So needless to say that summer was the hardest on me psychologically.
I had to really get to know me for me and really love who I was in order
to make it through.
I learned that there are a lot of people out there that believe they know
what is best for everyone else, when the only person out there that can
really answer that question for you is the one that looks you in the
mirror every morning.
No one else.
You may think things turned all happy and
pink once I was on the
national volleyball team for good.
This occurred in Feb of 2000.
I left school early, not finishing my degree, and moved to Colorado
Springs full time to live and train.
Although my confidence grew the more practice I had in both my
It came in the summer of 2001.
I was told by one of my national team coaches that “I thought
I was better than I really am on the volleyball court”.
past I had learned that I am the only one who can 100%, I would be
open to learn.
Now this cut me like a knife. I was not expecting it from a volleyball
coach of mine at this level.
So once again I had to dig deep and confront the ugly monster that was
once again stirring. All that I had worked so hard for was demolished in
a split second. My self doubt was again in the forefront of my mind.
It seems as though no matter where you go or what you do in life there
will always be obstacles, be it people or things that will cause you to
stop and debate if you are really on the right path in life.
It’s those moments when we really see what we are made of…
I had three very defining points when I had to question myself and if it
was really worth it. I could have easily listened to others and packed up
and gone home…or never even tried in the first place, but I did.
I have traveled the world and been exposed to different cultures,
people, and sights. I have grown up with the world as opposed to
growing up in the world.
None of that would have been possible had I not believed first in myself
and loved myself enough to venture away from what was comfortable
and easy for me to do.
Challenging myself and pushing myself whether it was on the volleyball
court, or in the classroom, or in life in general.
Like I said before 'Life is funny that way… you never really know what
you are going to be faced with and what will come of it.'
But just remember, even in the darkest moments of your life something
good will come from it.
Just believe that and even if you mess up every once in a while it
doesn’t always mean the end of the road; it just means you have to
make your own path for a while and who knows what you might find.
Sometimes the best things in life are unexpected gifts.
So I wish all of you a good journey and maybe our paths will cross
Read more volleyball stories like Heather's Bown.
This story was written by Heather Bown exclusively for the Volleyball
Voices project created and produced by April Chapple.
No reproduction is allowed. All rights reserved. Volleyball Voices
Do you have a great story? Share it!
The Volleyball Voices editorial project is an ongoing work in progress and I invite you and all Inspiring Female Volleyball Players readers to contribute their own personal stories of the obstacles they had to overcome in order to enjoy or excel at playing volleyball.
The purpose of this project is to empower, educate and inspire female volleyball players to become self-confident athletes with positive body images and through this collection of stories to provide ideas and inspiration to IFVP readers that will serve to help improve self-esteem.
The ultimate goal is to create the largest collection of inspirational female volleyball players stories on the web and your help is needed to accomplish this goal.
Are you one of the female volleyball players that have had to overcome any of the obstacles in the list mentioned above?
If so, please add to the collection by submitting your own story of overcoming obstacles.
About Breakfast Club 60
Elite training for very advanced hard working players who INTEND to play volleyball in college.
Exclusive opportunity to train with teammates/friends with similar high goals and are ready to push YOU and themselves to improve.
Not for the curious, weak hearted or distracted player, we do more in 60 minutes than most clubs and teams do in three hours.
If you’ve never attended a Breakfast Club class contact Coach April BEFORE registering.
About Brunch Club 60
Perfect for regular Boot Camp class players and players who've ALREADY played on a City of Las Vegas/NYS Elite local league team and who're interested in more advanced training and/or trying out for the Volleycats Elite 14s/15s/ local team competing in June/July/August.
Ten (10) - intensive 60-minute sessions of semi-private (small groups of six) volleyball practices
Sessions are a specially designed mix of skills conducted by Coach April within the one hour session