Written by: Rebecca Pavan
Looking back on the last decade of my life, I can’t help but get emotional. In April, after my Polish volleyball season had ended, I announced that I would not return to playing. When I made this public, I was full of excitement – I couldn’t wait to spend more time with family, coach all summer and after six years return to the classroom to pursue new goals. I had always been aware of what a fortunate position I had as a working professional athlete, but I find looking back, that even being aware of my good fortune I had begun to take my life for granted. Here are some of the things I wish I could experience one last time:
4. getting lost
One of the most beautiful experiences I had overseas had nothing to do with volleyball. With quite a bit of spare time I was still unable to leave my city due to limited time between games. Because of this, I spent many days wandering strange streets alone. When I live in Canada, I rarely walk to just walk. Most of the time when we leave our homes, it is with a specific destination in mind that we usually jump into our cars to get to. In Europe I spent more time wandering, purposefully getting lost in streets that were foreign to me. The beauty of wandering on foot is that the strange streets quickly become welcoming after a few weeks. A strange place starts feeling like your home and sooner than expected you start referring to a new city as yours. It is such a magical experience when a city on the other side of the ocean becomes a place of comfort. If I could, I would like to experience the feeling of a foreign city becoming home one last time.
3. the feeling of walking into a big game
Nothing beats the feeling you get as an athlete when walking into a big game. For me, my body felt lighter, my vision cleared, and my heart filled so much that I could feel it in my throat. Volleyball was more than a hobby for me, as many others can attest to, it was a passion. It was what made me tick and for those few hours that I went to battle against another team, nothing else mattered. This feeling is something few people get the opportunity to experience. So, if you are still playing soak up every, single, last electrifying moment until you can’t stand it any more.
2. Road trips
Who am I kidding? Everyone who has experienced a 13-hour bus trip knows how terrible it can be. Cramped legs, 5am arrivals home and no cell reception on dark back roads. But, if I could, I’d like one more chance to road trip with my teams. There is something so magical about those late-night drives home after a game when everyone is playing cards or just talking about anything that comes to mind. If I had the chance I wouldn’t sleep the whole way but sit awake soaking in the buzz of my teammates around me. I’d wait until the whole bus settled into a comfortable silence with the glow of my coach’s laptop preparing for out next match. There is so much beauty in being one of 30 people all sleeping uncomfortably on a bus. It is an intimate experience learning that one teammate snores, one still sleeps with her childhood teddy bear and another needs to talk to her husband before falling asleep. It is an intimacy that I will never know again, and I miss terribly.
1. The Sisterhood/brotherhood
I’ve never been a girl’s girl, but through volleyball I found so many sisters. In a world where women tear others down because of perceived competition, it is a beautiful thing to work on a big team of like minded women. It’s something that simply doesn’t happen in the “real world.” I was so fortunate to have connected with strong, confident women who have shaped who I am post volleyball. I experienced women lifting me up, encouraging me, comforting me and most powerful of all losing with me. In my time abroad, I didn’t win or lose alone. I experienced what it felt like to play for the woman next to me or the teammate cheering from the bench. If I pass this feeling and attitude onto teams I coach or future children, the world would be a much better place. If you’re still playing be a cheerer, lift up your teammates, and be the teammate that everyone can look to and know you are fighting with them.
It is difficult to articulate what it felt like to play as a professional. I was able to live “the dream” and while there are always painful moments, I would do it all over again. The gift of living abroad, creating relationships with people you would never meet otherwise is such a blessing. The above list is 4 things I’ll miss of the hundreds that I think about every day. I am happy to have a new challenge, but my experiences on and off the court as a professional athlete are irreplaceable and have made me who I am today.
Growing up in Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario (while playing club volleyball for her father Paul, a coaching legend in the region and province), Rebecca has been one of Canada’s most decorated athletes over the last decade. She has played for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, Canada’s Senior Women’s National Team and professionally in France, Germany and Poland. She retired at the end of the 2017 season, and is now completing Teacher’s College at the University of Western Ontario.