My Volleyball Story, April Chapple.
I learned how to become a pro volleyball player, thanks to hard work, determination, discipline and dedication.
Here's my story.
After I was born it didn't take me long to get sick.
Firstborn children are often sickly.
I was no exception. Little did I know what I was going to have to overcome.
I was born in Kaiser Hospital in Los Angeles where at 8 months old they diagnosed me with...spinal meningitis.
My aunt had spinal meningitis when she was young and the only thing that saved her life was an intensive penicillin therapy.
But she was older than I was when she was stricken which really worried my parents. They decided to cross town to USC Medical for a second opinion.
Luckily the doctors said 'no" meningitis 'yes' measles. I had a 104 degree temperature.
Not long after this first scare my parents kept noticing that I continued to be sicker than usual.
Every couple of days I'd have a rash, a fever or some reaction to some unknown substance.
Later they found out I was allergic to commercial baby food.
My father bought a mixer and started making natural juices and food substances for me.
Fruit juices, carrot juice, beet, spinach and that awful cabbage juice were the only substances my baby body didn't react to negatively.
They said I ate that stuff like a football player but I never gained weight.
At 10 months I started walking.
Normally that's premature and a cause for celebration, but for me it was only another one of life's challenges.
We found out how severely bowlegged I was which apparently was one of the results of that high fever I had when I had the measles.
I was left with both of my legs and feet turned completely inward.
At night, I had to start sleeping with a metal contraption consisting of two lateral bars with clasps that my feet were inserted in.
Periodically the doctor or my Mom would adjust a knob which would force my legs and feet to turn outward while I slept since I was too young to have formed the muscles needed to turn my feet out naturally.
And yes, I was completely immobile in bed. I couldn't turn and I couldn't turn over. Think "torture chamber".
How tough is it for a kid not to be able to move around when they want to?
Now if that was all then this would be a short story. But it wasn't.
During the day I had to wear a pair of huge iron braces that were attached to these special shoes and were connected along the sides of my legs all the way up to my waist.
If you saw the movie 'Forrest Gump' then you've seen exactly the type of contraption I had to wear.
Imagine a young Forrest Gump with his leg braces and you've almost got the picture.
At age 2, I graduated to these huge weighted metal shoes that my Mom said were painful just to see never mind have to wear.
I still hadn't gained much weight so by the end of the day my legs were painfully sore all the time.
In addition to everything else, my hair started to fall out.
Whether it was stress related or just a result of the high fever I was a two year old girl with no hair.
Adults thought I was a skinny little boy as a kid and as you can imagine kids teased me A LOT.
For some reason, as a kid growing up and getting older I never really focused on my physical aspect. I didn't focus on "Oh man I wish I had this or had that" nor did I feel sorry for myself.
I'm not sure why.
I just was.
I do attribute a lot of this to my father.
My father didn't let me focus on what was "wrong" with me.
He always talked about what was right with me and the things that I could do well, like reading and writing.
My parents had long discussions on what to do with me and how to treat me so I'd have a normal childhood.
Remember I was the firstborn, so I was the experiment. They had to figure out a game plan they could follow, and they did.
They discussed whether I should wear a wig or not.
My father refused.
He was totally against it. He didn't want me to hide behind anything I wasn't born with.
I'd say my father's take was "If God didn't give it to you, then either you work for it or you didn't need to have it".
My Father taught me that the only love I actually needed in life was that of God, that of myself, and that of my parents.
His lessons always entailed loving God, loving my parents, my family and loving myself no matter what.
They talked about my leg braces, my hair and lack of it and/or how skinny I was.
I should have grown up with issues.
And in my mind, I never had any.
That is just how I grew up. I was constantly teased at school and on the street.
But in kindergarten I was reading second and third grade educational material. I was smarter than the majority of the kids in my class.
In second grade, I had a teacher accuse me of cheating because she said my penmanship was too perfect. She insisted my Mom was doing my homework.
My writing ability was great because my Mom was a school teacher and she made me do extra writing and penmanship exercises even after I was done with my homework.
And besides, I loved to write anyway so I didn't look at it as 'extra work.'
A little drama in life is expected but this wasn't a fun situation having to prove my intelligence.
When I was four and a half, on the advice of my grandmother, my parents put me in ballet class so that the exercises would strengthen my legs and turn my feet out naturally.
I loved to dance and it didn't really feel like physical therapy.
With their encouragement I started taking all sorts of classes that were physically challenging.
Swimming, tumbling, piano, gymnastics, tap and modern dance.
As my confidence in myself and my abilities grew, so did my leg strength.
By this time I developed a new strategy for when kids teased me.
I started to ask them if they wanted to read with me. Nine times out of ten they stopped teasing and talking about me but they wouldn't read with me since I was reading material that they couldn't read.
Since I had started kindergarten so early in age it made me the youngest in everything I did through life.
In junior high and high school I was younger than everybody in my classes.
The same thing occurred on the varsity volleyball team, junior Olympic volleyball teams and club volleyball teams I played on.
When people thought I was too young and said I didn't belong...I wouldn't focus on the hurt.
I just became super-determined to improve my talents and volleyball skills.
By the time I was in high school...when I asked anyone to play volleyball with me, nine times out of ten...they said "Yes!".
I was a sophomore in high school when I set three goals for myself.
I first learned that I would have to be the first one in the gym and the last to leave, all the time.
And I was.
I learned early on that I'd get nearer to accomplishing my goals by looking for all sorts of opportunities to play with people and players who were better than I was and who could teach me how to become a pro volleyball player and a better well conditioned athlete in general.
If I had to arrange a ride to practice I would. If I had to take a bus to practice I would.
I practiced passing and setting against my garage door so often the paint color changed on the garage door but my ability to control the ball improved enormously.
I think I learned how to do things the hard way because I wasn't really worried much about how people thought about me.
I made learning how to become a pro volleyball player a priority in everything I did.
I would stand in front of the mirror before going to bed and practice my armswing without a ball one hundred times so my elbow was above the level of my ear when I pulled it back, and I knew my armswing for my serve or my spike was automatically done correctly.
I did this so much that sometimes I would be asleep and I would sit up in bed and do my arm swing in my sleep, I was told.
I made myself faster by doing three, four or five series of 10-15 sprints at a nearby park.
While I was there I did my own quick step and jump training exercises.
I went to the beach and ran sprints in the sand to make myself faster when I played indoors.
I learned the importance of summertime and offseason workouts and I never if rarely missed any.
It was during these times of training where I, like most athletes, made my biggest improvements in speed, in jumping ability, in ball control and in mental toughness.
I learned quickly that trying "to get better" during my season wasn't going to make me stand out.
I had to already 'be' better before my season started if I was going to win a spot or keep a spot on the team I wanted to be on, especially if I wanted to be a starter.
When you are willing to work hard to reach your goals then many times the opportunities you are looking for --make themselves available.
You know why?
Because the universe works that way.
You start talking about your goals to yourself, your friends, to others and then little by little things start to work in your favor.
But you have to be dedicated, disciplined and determined, before that happens.
The fastest way for me to learn how to be a pro volleyball player, or a standout collegiate player or a starting high school player was to get beat in practice, over and over and over again.
It didn't feel good, but it made me hungry.
It made me hungry to learn how to get good and how to be accurate at all six volleyball skills.
When you do that, people begin to notice. Coaches begin to notice.
Players begin to notice. Your game and your skills and your ability begins to improve.
This type of attitude marks the beginning of how to become a pro volleyball player, or a highly recruited high school player.
Trust me it has happened to me repeatedly.
I never knew how I was going to get over to Italy to play my first season.
But, that summer after my fourth year of college I just kept working out and I knew I had to be in shape when I got the call and I had to keep repeating my goals to myself and I kept telling people why I was working out and what I was working for.
One day, at the end of summer I received a call from Elaine Roque an All American player at UCLA who had been playing in Parma, Italy for several years.
She was ready to come back to the United States to finish school and play beach and she needed another player to take her place on her Italian team.
We didn't know each other but she had heard about me. She played middle blocker and I was an outside hitter.
I didnt care, I was ready to play any position and my bags were packed.
Thanks to that phone call Elaine taught me how to become a pro volleyball player in Italy by giving me advice on how to get there, what to bring and what to expect.
I stayed there for 13 years.
Life Lesson: Don't focus on yourself and what you believe are your shortcomings.
Focus on your natural abilities and work to develop and enhance volleyball and life skills you do well while constantly improving your weaker ones.
This will pay off in life both on the court and off.
My Volleyball Story April Chapple was written for the Volleyball Voices project created and produced by April Chapple.
All rights reserved.
Volleyball Voices copyright 2019-20.
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