There are days where Lauren O’Reilly wonders what she is doing.
She could be like most people her age, enjoying summer vacation while waiting for the next school semester to begin. Or she could be done her post-secondary education and getting ready to embark on her career.
Instead, O’Reilly finds herself thousands of miles away from home, doing the same thing over and over every day.
But the bad days are greatly outnumbered by the good days.
“I am convinced I am on the right path, but there are days you wish you had a summer and could go with your friends to the cabin,” she admitted.
“But no second thoughts, this is where I am supposed to be.”
The 22-year-old from Langley is in Winnipeg with the Canadian senior national team program.
She has been there since March, shortly after helping Trinity Western University’s women’s volleyball win the bronze medal at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships, the program’s best-ever finish.
She is working towards helping Canada qualify for next summer’s Olympic Games in London.
“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to go to the Olympics,” O’Reilly said, although she never really knew what sport she would play in.
Always athletic, all she knew was that the Olympics were her goal.
And once she reached high school and put her efforts into volleyball, it became clear, this was the sport that would take her there.
During her Grade 10 year, she unsuccessfully tried out for Canada’s junior national team program.
Undeterred, she was back the next year and this time made it.
“That was my first experience with the national team and that made me want to dream a little bigger and play for the senior (national) team,” O’Reilly said.
“That is when I thought it was a realistic goal.”
O’Reilly is now in her third season with the senior national team as the starting setter and Canada’s head coach says he has seen a huge improvement.
“Her personality on the court is the same, she just increased her performance and her on-court decision making,” said Arnd Ludwig.
“She is adapting very well to the individual strengths of the hitters.”
The team just finished a four-game exhibition series in Manitoba against Argentina yesterday (June 27).
This kicks off a busy stretch for the squad.
The team head to Mexico this week for the Pan Am Cup and then has a tournament back in Manitoba.
In August, they will face the Netherlands in a series of exhibition games in Ontario.
September sees the team head to Puerto Rico for the NORCECA Continental championships and then to Mexico in October for the Pan American Games.
And then there is one more trip to Mexico in January, this time for an Olympic qualifying tournament.
Only a dozen teams from around the world will qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.
Canada is ranked 20th in the world.
While it is always a special feeling when she pulls on Canada’s red and white jersey, to do so at the Olympics would be an unbelievable experience.
“As a kid you always watch it on TV and you see all these athletes competing for their country,” she said.
“It is the ultimate goal as an athlete.”
Her coach at Trinity Western is not surprised by O’Reilly’s success.
“You see a kid with a lot of talent, but you are never sure whether or not they are going to fulfill that talent,” said Ryan Hofer, who has known O’Reilly from her high school days when she played in the Fraser Valley Volleyball Club system.
“She has worked hard, she is committed to helping (Canada) reach the Olympics and she is pretty driven right now.”
O’Reilly possesses the necessary tools to be a great player.
“What makes her special is her athletic ability,” Hofer said. “She is quick, she is fast (and) she has an uncanny ability of locating the ball.
“She has these qualities in place that every coach is looking for in a setter.
“And with those qualities, comes an ability to make her team better, which she does.”
O’Reilly also loves the fact that she can be a role model for younger players, including her sister.
“Whenever I put on my jersey, I always think of my little sister and the position I am in right now,” she said.
“Being on the national team makes me a hero to so many girls who play volleyball.
“Because I have this platform of being on Team Canada, I can be a role model to young girls across the country to dream big.”
“It’s inspiring to know how proud my little sister is of me and how young girls look up to me because I get to represent my country.”
Despite chasing her dream, it can still be a grind.
She misses her family, for one thing, and the daily regimen can be difficult.
A typical day involves six hours of practice, weight training and conditioning.
“On a daily perspective, sometimes it is tough to remember the future goal of the Olympics, when it is Friday, you haven’t had a day off, and you are so tired,” she said.
“Not feeling like you have a life, like volleyball consumes you.”
“Some days are bad; you just have to hope the next day is better,” she said, adding that having a boyfriend in town helps give her life some balance.
She has also had to leave her Trinity Western teammates and her studies, although she has done some of her coursework online as she works towards her degree.
But in the end, it all comes down to the fact she is chasing her dream.
“There are so many other girls who wish they were in position so we strive to play like that every day,” she said.
“Not taking it for granted that we are here, that we get to represent our country and it is a privilege and not something to be taken lightly.”