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Athlete Spotlight: Arielle Palermo

Current Team, Country & Location: Clube Kairos, Sao Miguel Island, Portugal (D1 Portugal Women’s Volleyball League)

Past Professional Teams: N/A first pro season

Post-Secondary School & Location: Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Home Town: Burlington, Ontario, Canada

Youth Club & Location: Halton Hurricanes, Burlington Ontario 

High School: Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School (Burlington ON)

Other sports or activities you have committed to in your life:

I tried all sports growing up ranging from competitive figure skating, soccer, volleyball, basketball, and cross country

Competing in the women’s top league in Portugal for your first professional season, what have been some of the most significant ‘shocks’ for you as a first year pro athlete?

As I entered my first professional volleyball season, I was aware and had heard of other Canadian volleyball players’ experiences playing professional in Europe. However, I aimed to approach this season with an open mind, without specific expectations, allowing me to form my own perspectives on my season and my experience in Portugal. While I was used to the routine of lifting three times a week and daily training through my university varsity career, the major change was transitioning to playingvolleyball as a full-time commitment. I no longer was managing my academics and athletics, as my entire day now revolved around volleyball. To fill the gaps between or after training sessions, I actively searched for new hobbies. The most significant change in my routine was the game schedule, playing every few days, coupled with the unique aspect of flying for all away games due to my team being based on an island. Although I was aware of this when signing with the team, adapting to frequent travel proved to be one of the most substantial adjustments. Another big change was recognizing that volleyball had evolved into a business. It was no longer a casual after-school activity but had become my full-time occupation. Consequently, performance took center stage, with specific expectations for each player. Failing to meet these expectations could pose challenges and potentially lead to being released from the team—an aspect now inherent in the job.

This is your first full season playing as a libero after your standout career as one of the best outside hitters in Ontario. How has that transition been as a full-time back row boss for Clube Kairos?

This being my first full season as a Libero has been a very enjoyable experience for me. Over the past three years, I navigated a transition from being an Outside Hitter at university to assuming the role of Libero during my summers for the National team. This required a great deal of patience, as I knew the levels I could perform at and push myself. However, transitioning between positions posed challenges in delivering my best performance initially. Trusting the process and allowing myself a few training sessions to reacquaint with the dynamics of each position has proven crucial over the past three years. Now, being able to play full time as a Libero is incredibly exciting for me. Choosing to specialize in this position as I entered my professional career was a conscious decision driven by my desire for comprehensive development and growth in my game. With more experience in the position, I can now read plays and perceive the game in a different light. Witnessing the progress in my development from my initial days as a Libero three years ago to my current season is truly exhilarating.

Life on an island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean is very different to Kingston or Burlington in Ontario. What have been some of the positives & challenges to where you are living and playing?

Life in Europe in general has been very different compared to at home for me, even more so now that I am currently living on the island of Sao Miguel. I have really been enjoying the experience. The island is a very beautiful place to live, as it is a more relaxed lifestyle. I have been embracing everything around me, including trying new food, immersing myself in the culture on the island, and finding new activities to partake in during my free time. However, it does pose its challenges, as I do miss my family and friends while living abroad.

You were a very high-level soccer player too! Can you tell us about your path in soccer, and what factors lead to you choosing volleyball?

Growing up, I really enjoyed playing various sports, as I loved the opportunity to challenge myself and compete in multiple different activities. Throughout my elementary and high school years, I actively joined all available sports teams, spanning from cross country to basketball, soccer, and volleyball. As high school approached, I opted to pursue volleyball and soccer at the highest level, anticipating the inevitable decision that I would eventually need to choose one sport. This proved to be one of the most challenging and significant choices in my athletic journey. The decision-making process was long, taking me months to arrive at a final conclusion. Both sports held a special place in my heart, and I had enticing opportunities to continue them at the university level. Several factors weighed on my decision, such as choosing between NCAA and U Sports, early recruitment in soccer versus volleyball recruitment starting later in high school, the camaraderie with friends on different teams, and, most crucially, my personal love for each sport. In the midst of this contemplation, a thought-provoking question from a speaker at a volleyball conference lingered in my mind: “What sport can you see yourself doing every day, shaping everything you do around it, and still loving it and being happy?” Although I didn’t have an immediate answer, it resonated with me. Ultimately, I recognized that the confidence and joy I felt when playing volleyball were subtly different from when I played soccer. Growing up in an intense soccer training environment, I struggled to feel fully confident in my abilities in that sport. In contrast, volleyball was introduced to me at a young age through summer camps with friends, creating a space where I felt challenged yet maintained confidence in myself and my playing capabilities. Reflecting on my 17-year volleyball journey, I still feel the same excitement and love for the sport, a sentiment I deeply value and cherish. I am so thankful to my family for their unwavering support and providing me with opportunities to engage in multiple sports. I feel fortunate to have been in a position to choose a sport to pursue, and this journey has shaped my enduring passion for volleyball.

What is something (sport or other) you think you could have excelled at if you had committed the same level of excellence to it as you did for volleyball?

Looking back to my high school days, if given the chance to explore a different path outside of volleyball and soccer, I believe I would have pursued triathlon competition. I grew up competing in long distance running, solo qualifying for OFSAA throughout my high school running career, and I was also working my part-time job as a lifeguard as I am a very strong swimmer. I feel that this is an activity I would have enjoyed to pick up and try to pursue at the competitive level.

As you pursue this game professionally across the world, what is something you appreciate about your youth, collegiate and national team experiences playing in Canada?

As I am currently pursing volleyball at the professional level across the world, I am able to look back and reflect on how I got to where I am today. The different experiences—both positive and challenging—that have not only shaped me as an athlete but also as an individual. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunities and experiences that volleyball has afforded me, from forging lifelong friendships to creating unforgettable memories. When I was younger I always said I just wanted to play volleyball because I was having fun. This enjoyment has been the driving force behind my pursuit of the sport at the professional level. I am grateful for all of my volleyball experiences—from playing when I was 6 years old at summer camp, through my club career at Halton Hurricanes, my elementary and high school teams, to my varsity years at Queen’s University, and my time with both the Next Gen and Senior National Team, culminating in my current professional career. It is amazing to reflect on all the paths that I have crossed, all of the challenges and wins, and how a sport can bring so many people together and into my life, I am very grateful for all my experiences with each program I got to work with, because without those experiences I wouldn’t be where I am today. I appreciate all of the coaches and athletes that I have gotten to work with in my volleyball career, as in club, my teammates and coaches changed almost every year. This resulting in me learning how to work with different people as well as work with different coaching styles, which has helped me significantly in the long term. I am grateful for the different youth programs that I was able to be a part of, showing me a glimpse into what being a professional athlete and national team athlete could look like one day. Through Team Ontario Camps I was able to determine that volleyball was something I wanted to pursue past University as I wanted to challenge myself and fulfill my dream to be a professional athlete one day. My university experience was a pivotal chapter, and I am thankful to the coaching staff and teammates who believed in me, supported my goals, and helped me navigate the complexities of both athletic and personal growth. Their unwavering support instilled confidence in me, fostering my pursuit of volleyball at the varsity level and contributing to my aspirations to join the Senior National Team. I am also grateful to my teammates, who were not just colleagues but close friends, making the sport even more enjoyable. Being part of teams where camaraderie extended beyond the court was a truly enriching experience. Each chapter in my volleyball journey has contributed to my growth, and I am thankful for the collective efforts that have shaped both my athletic and personal development.

What has been different about leaving home to play professionally, compared to leaving home for university? What has been similar?

In my experience so far, I’ve observed that the season timeframes in both university and professional volleyball are quite similar. Upon joining my professional team in early September, we underwent pre-season training, played a few games, and officially kicked off the season in early October. The season extended until just before Christmas, followed by a brief hiatus from games, allowing me to spend a few days at home during the holidays before returning to commence pre-season training for the second half. This second half typically runs until April or May, depending on playoff outcomes. Comparing this to my university schedule, the structure was quite similar, with the main differences being a higher frequency of games and off periods tailored around exams. Once immersed in the routine of training and games, the challenge of being away from home lessens as I am so busy that time starts to fly by, which was similar tomy university days. Similarly, the game schedule in university limited my opportunities to go home during season, and this aspect remains relatively unchanged playing pro volleyball. However, I would say that the primary difference between pro and university, is that I do not get to see my parents every weekend at all of my pro games. In the end, I would say that the schedule and lifestyle in professional volleyball closely resembles the experience of being away from home during university. It does get more difficult over long periods of time being away from family and friends, but it is always reassuring to know that I will be home eventually. I consistently remind myself to appreciate my current circumstances and surroundings. The unique opportunity to pick up and move to Europe for months, embracing different cultures, lifestyles, and meeting new people while playing my sport, is a rare experience. By grounding myself with this reminder I am able to constantly be grateful for where I am today and know that home is only a phone call away.

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