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Following is the address given by Dannie Richards to people attending the 2013 Cowichan Valley Youth Athlete of the Year banquet Sunday.
I would first off like to take this opportunity to thank Don Bodger for inviting me to come and speak today. He has truly done an amazing job putting all of this together, following all of you athletes and getting you the exposure you deserve. He is an unsung hero behind sport development in the Cowichan Valley, and I believe deserves a huge round of applause.
As Don mentioned my name is Dannie Richards and I am honored to be here speaking with so many inspiring and accomplished young athletes. To be honest it is a little intimidating, especially considering when I first talked to Don I was under the impression I was going to be a guest, and sure enough here I am as a guest speaker, so please bear with me! Today I wanted to talk to all of you about my experiences with sport and how it has shaped who I am today. I wanted to share with you some of the highlights and lowlights of my career and the challenges that I have had to over come.
So as I mentioned I am a Volleyball player. Which I am sure comes as a bit of a surprise considering that I am standing here at only 5’5”, and the other volleyball player in the room you may notice is standing at well over six feet. You may be wondering why I chose this sport considering the obvious height disadvantages, and the truth is my parents lied to me. They told me and I was convinced I was going to be 6’ tall when I grew up. I used to measure myself almost every week to track my growth, and wish on every shooting star. It didn’t however take long to realize that I wasn’t growing quite on schedule for my 6' goal. I never really thought of this as a deterrent, although disappointed that I may never be a middle blocker I had my heart set on volleyball and I wasn’t turning back.
It was in Grade 5 that I became absolutely hooked on the sport. I had an amazing teacher that year who was a volleyball star with an equally talented daughter that I absolutely idolized. The year I entered her class her daughter had just finished competing with the national team and was now playing for the University of Washington Huskies. I loved coming to class to hear all about her daughters' successes, games won and lost. I wanted to be just like her and decided that I to wanted to play for Canada and eventually play at the university level.
I remember coming home and using sticky notes to plan out exactly what I was going to accomplish with my sport and how I was going to do it. My number one sticky was that I would eventually represent Canada, just like my idol.
I practiced every single day. Even before bed I would set the ball to myself until I could no longer hold my arms up and would finally fall asleep. I even slept beside my volleyball, which looking back I realize is a little bit strange, but seemed perfectly normal at the time. I used to recruit people to throw balls for me to pass and set, even my older sister practiced with me despite her broken arm. I was absolutely obsessed with the sport. I went to every single volleyball camp and extra practice that I could.
I believe that it was this dedication and passion that got me noticed on the island initially. I am not sure if they do this for other sports but at volleyball camps they generally choose a few award winners at the end and I always received the tries really hard and can’t stop smiling award. In other words her skills aren’t quite there. In fact I am convinced that is why I was chosen for the first rep team I played on. Because I just kept trying.
Finally when I was in grade 10, six years after I had set my national team goal, I had the opportunity to try out for the Canadian youth national team. I flew out to Winnipeg all by myself, was so excited gave it everything I had and got cut from the team. I remember being so devastated yet not disheartened. As I was being dropped off at the airport to go home I thought to myself that I would be back. This was a minor set back, and that there was always next year. That summer I played for the provincial team and worked on everything the coaches had asked of me. I was determined to make the team the next year and sure enough the following year I was selected to represent Canada at the Norceca championships in Florida. Which was a competition where countries from North and Central America competed for a berth into the world championships.
I can’t even describe what it felt like playing for Canada for the first time and put on that red and white jersey. I felt so much pride and had such a sense of accomplishment. It was like I had finally accomplished a goal that I had set for my self so long before. I was finally able to take down my sticky note and check that one thing off my bucket list. It was truly a memorable summer.
The next summer I went on to play for Canada again but this time on the beach. My best friend and I had the opportunity to travel to Poland and play in the u19 World Championships. Which I must say is still one of the highlights of my volleyball career. That was a summer where both mine and my partner’s determination and dedication were put to the test. Just one month before Worlds I dislocated my shoulder and could hardly lift my arm above my head. It was a little embarrassing because I had gone from doing a jump serve to under hand serving. For those of you who know volleyball lets just say it is not the most effective serve, especially on the international circuit. My shoulder seemed to hold out just long enough to make it into the playoffs. Where we had the opportunity to play the top ranked team, which was Poland, in Poland on their feature court. I had been stand serving for round robin but in that game I decided to jump serve and served four aces in a row. Not going to lie the 5th one went under the net and we ended up losing the game, but it was still one of the most memorable moments in my volleyball career. We finished up that summer playing in nationals in Toronto where we won a gold medal. It was a pretty incredible experience winning nationals with one of my best friends.
The next summer the two of us decided we would both go back to indoor and play for Canada’s Jr. national team and compete in Norceca’s again but this time in Mexico.
Following that summer both of us went on to play for UBC. We played five years together and won five back to back National titles. I actually brought my medals today to show everyone because they represent some of my proudest volleyball moments and best memories. To win five back to back national titles is a pretty impressive feat, especially in team sports. Each year the team was different and the dynamics would change as new players came and old players graduated.
I think that people often assumed that there was no competition, but each year was different and each year had its challenges. Why I believe our team was so successful was because we all had the same passion, commitment, determination and desire to succeed. We practiced every day for two hours and gave it everything that we had. We set short term goals and long term goals, always practicing with a purpose. We visualized ourselves succeeding and took each game one at a time.
The other thing that made our team so unique and different from others I had been on was how much we cared about each other. We all supported each other through our successes, failures and challenges. We were best friends on and off the court. The better we were to each other and the harder we worked for each other, the more success we seemed to have.
Each one of us had our own personal challenges to over come, and each one of us were there for each other. In my second year I actually lost my number one fan, which was my Dad. Had it not been for my team of truly amazing girls I don’t know that I would have returned to school. It was there love and support and my own willingness to be there for them that enabled me to continue playing.
I truly think what makes a team and individual so successful in any sport and all aspects of life is their commitment, determination, desire and resilience. You need to persevere, set goals, re-evaluate and set more goals. It is important to visualize where you want to be and be unafraid to let the world know. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players to date, got cut from his very first basketball team. The most successful athletes have let downs and failures, but it is how they recover and deal with these set backs that make them truly successful.
Now here I stand finally done playing volleyball and moving on towards new goals and new plans. I am so thankful for all of the skills my sport has taught me and the friendships that I have made along the way. It has taught me to persevere, commit and never shy away from a challenge. With this mentality I believe that any goal can be accomplished.
As you are all already successful athletes I am sure all of you already embody these traits of commitment, desire and passion. But by continuing to dream, set goals and be unafraid to fail I have no doubt that I”ll be seeing many of your faces in the Olympics to come!