29 September 2020
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

An insider’s account of GB women’s volleyball

February 21, 2011
GB-Womens-volleyball

Jo Healy, a member of the GB women’s volleyball squad, tells Sportsister about her life on and off court in the run up to 2012.

GB-Women's-volleyballSometimes I think our journey to compete at the London Olympics has turned into an obstacle course. We – the GB women’s volleyball team – have had our strength tested in the past year, and we’re still 18 months away from what will be the greatest sporting moment of our lives. This is our inside story.

After having our funding cut by UK Sport earlier this year, the news continued to be grim. We were recently confronted by the fact that our place in the Olympics at London 2012 was under threat. We had to prove we could compete with “credibility”. Thankfully, after an enormous amount of hard work both on and off the volleyball court, the British Olympic Association announced in December that the team could take their rightful host nation spot at the 2012 Games.

Testament to our unified team and the difficulties we have faced in the past year, we have never sacrificed our dreams of reaching the London Games. As a team we cycled 310 miles from our home base in Sheffield to London to raise the profile of volleyball and the necessary funds needed to get to the Olympics in 2012. Four gruelling days of cycling took its toll, but the journey was worthwhile and the team gained the public backing of London Olympic Chairman Seb Coe, five-times Olympic gold medalist, Sir Steve Redgrave, and MP Nick Clegg.

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With the knowledge that playing together comes at a price, in August the team disbanded across Europe to play in professional leagues in order to keep their dreams alive. We are now mid way through the season and have plenty of confronting experiences and interesting stories to tell of our time away from home thus far.

Speaking of the biggest challenges of professional sport, Grace Carter, one of the most charismatic and animated players in the GB squad, says the language barrier has been the biggest test of her time in Terville, France; “because it’s a small town there are not too many English speakers which can make life a little tricky at times! Luckily I took GCSE French 5/6 years ago, which has given me a slight head start on my American team mates, although being able to name my sisters and my non-existent pets was not too helpful when trying to explain that I had a flat tyre on my bike and needed a new inner-tube…not fun times! Having said that, over time I have found that an English word with an exaggerated, almost comic French accent often does the job. Suffice to say, I always have my dictionary close by, and learning continues.”

Captain of the GB team, Lynne Beattie, is playing in San Vito in Italy and although she has felt very welcome, struggled initially as very few people speak English. “I had only been in Italy for a few hours when I was invited to Sunday lunch with one of the members of the club who grew up in Bedford and has been living in Italy for 20years. I was so happy to hear someone speak English, as no one could up to that point. It was also here that I discovered the amount that Southern Italians eat! I had just finished my bowl of spaghetti bolognese, full to the brim, when I was told that it was just my starter! Next came the meat, salad, pizza, focaccia, sausage; not to mention the dessert, all of which I was ‘persuaded’ to try. I don’t think I have ever eaten so much food in one day!”

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Fitting into new teams abroad has been a mixed bag of circumstances for the GB girls. Some have found it easier than others, getting used to the new style of play or simply learning to play with new teammates. In Belgium, Vicky Palmer and I are playing for Volleyball Club Amigos Zoersel. In the beginning, I have to admit we had our share of good days and bad days, but we worked through it and all play together well now. There is an ex Russian national team player who doesn’t speak much English apart from ‘nice job Joey!’ but we have learnt to communicate really well somehow, through sign language and expression I suppose. She is by far the most experienced player on our team and I am relishing in the opportunity to learn and play along side her.

The girls have encountered a far greater fan base than what we are used to in the UK, as the game enjoys a much higher profile and is well patronised by supporters. Lynne Beattie is thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere in Italy; “volleyball is the thing to do here. Watching our matches and training sessions is what people do in evenings and weekends. It is this passion for volleyball that I love and it would be amazing to be able to evoke this passion for volleyball from the British public. Hopefully with the legacy we create from 2012, the support for volleyball will rise dramatically.

“I came to Italy to play because I knew the level of volleyball would challenge me in order to improve as a player and my team is forever pushing my outside my comfort zone. This is exactly what I need to develop both physically and mentally as a player for 2012. The coach is great, the training is intense and I am really enjoying my volleyball here.”

Jenn Taylor, who plays in Germany with GB teammate Jen Thom, also commented that the UK could benefit immensely by promoting women’s sports. “Volleyball is a huge part of this community and being a small place, most people have some involvement with the club, be it playing, having a kid that plays, volunteering or sponsorship!! It’s very different to back home but it’s a great system and I would love to see all of our efforts now and in 2012 set a foundation for the growth of volleyball in Britain.”

We may have been given the go-ahead to compete in London, however the current funding situation means that the team has to raise at least £250 000 in order to continue preparation for 2012. The fight is now on to find monetary backing that will enable the team to train and compete in a full time capacity over the next 18months. Proceeding without this funding would be hugely difficult, apparently impossible. What I do know is that the passion and persistence of my teammates is something very special; we won’t give up our dreams.

We will get a short break over Christmas before recommencing the competitive season in Europe, and with London 2012 approaching rapidly, we are more motivated and determined than ever before to take full advantage of our professional time abroad.

Jo Healy, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

One Comment

  1. Pingback: GoSpike! promotes Volleyball this summer - Sportsister – The Women’s Sports Magazine | Sportsister

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