It was on a visit to the United States for a volleyball tournament when Ludovica realized her next chapter in life would take her to America. After completing her student-athlete experience and graduating with a degree in forensic science with a chemistry minor, Ludovica Centro recalls her days as an athlete at Long Island University in New York.
The Beginning of the American Adventure
Since I was a child, I have always dreamed of living in a foreign country. The idea of coming to America however was born from a travel volleyball trip I took with Volleyro’, when I visited Miami and Fort Lauderlade. For the first time in my life, I found myself thousands of kilometers away from home, playing in this mega-convention center with hundreds of squads coming from everywhere in America, with even teams show up from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In this same trip, we [my club team] went to see the University of Miami and I was very surprised! I remember that after my visit, I didn’t do anything but ask Jesica what I would have to do to become a student athlete like them.
The life of an American Student-Athlete
I would have never imagined the amount of support that I received from the university, from professors and physiotherapists to regular students at the university. To be a student athlete, not to sound snobby, puts you amongst the elite. Especially when you have a good GPA, the professors have no problem accommodating requests or issues that may arise from matches or training. The physiotherapists are always available, even when you have pre-season and you’re at the beach training at 6 in the morning. My peers would see me as this workhorse because I would be succeeding in my classes while also spending hours on the court, rarely finding time for my textbooks. These same classmates would also be the first ones to cheer us on at home matches or give me their notes if I missed a lesson due to a game. I’ve never seen a system like this in Italy.
This experience made me the person I am today, giving me a sense of open-mindedness. I had played and studied with people from many different countries and diverse cultures and I had the privilege of being exposed to traditions and customs that I am not used to. I became stronger mentally. The distance from home put me in a sort of mode that helps you deal with your problems… and I’d say after every “suicide” that my coach made us run, it developed the mentality of “never give up”.
Fatigue and Gratification: Two Pivotal Moments
There are two stories in particular from my student-athlete experience that are unforgettable.
The first was on my first day of pre-season, sophomore year. I had just transferred from another university. We went to the beach for training and I thought, “Ah, how cool. It will be hard but fun!” ...Oh how I was wrong. In addition to the hitting drills, we had to do timed sprints on the beach. If we didn’t finish in the specific amount of time, we all had to continue to run until we finished on time. We had to run so much because of me and another girl. At a certain point, she ran straight to the bathroom and did not exit while I remained. At the end, I had more pity for the coach for having me make the time. At the end of the training, I felt humiliated and began to say sorry to everyone and to the coach (obviously crying a lot).
The coach took me aside from the group and told me that I had to stop saying sorry and that I should be proud because I had not given up and that I had done it!
The whole time, the entire team was pushing together, encouraging everyone because we all wanted the same thing. It’s a sensation that is difficult to describe, but I felt a boost and a different power when you’re supporting and laboring with eleven other people.
The second story was when we won the conference championship, for this there is not much to more to add. The program had never tasted success like this before. The emotion was unique for many different reasons and the hard work was made worth it in less than two hours.
A livello sportivo ho trovato molte differenze, a partire dalle regole del gioco. In America, a livello collegiale e anche didattico, le regole sono diverse. Per dirne un paio, se per esempio la palla tocca il soffitto, si può ancora giocare, ed il libero può servire al posto del centrale. Quando l'ho raccontato ad una delle mie ex compagne in Italia, per loro era come parlare di fantavolley.
Regole a parte, allenamenti e preparazione atletica sono totalmente diversi. La maggior parte delle giocatrici sono atlete formidabili da un punto di vista atletico, ma non hanno la stessa bravura tecnica che ho visto in Italia. Qui in America la preparazione atletica è fondamentale. Il gioco è più veloce e la palla viene spinta di più. Per di più, a volte ti ritrovi a fare tornei dove hai 2/3 partite al giorno e durante la settimana fai più di una partita di campionato. Se non sei pronto atleticamente è la fine.
Un’esperienza di vita
Questa scelta di diventare student-athlete negli USA rappresenta una delle esperienze più belle e anche più dure della mia vita, ma rifarei tutto da capo.
Le lacrime durante gli allenamenti, l’essere totalmente impacciata con la lingua appena arrivata (mi facevo capire a gesti in gran parte), la lontananza da famiglia e amici, il doversi relazionare con una cultura ben diversa da quella italiana, sono tutte cose che a quasi 7 anni di distanza si sono rivelate necessarie per la mia crescita come persona e come atleta e sono state tutte ripagate largamente.
Con l’università abbiamo vinto la nostra Conference per la prima volta nella storia della scuola e siamo riuscite ad andare ai Nationals. Sono diventata bilingue (quasi parlo meglio inglese che italiano ormai) ed anzi, grazie alla forte influenza messicana e caraibica qui presente, parlo anche spagnolo. I miei genitori mi vengono a trovare spesso ed io riesco a tornare un paio di volte all’anno in Italia.
La cultura americana ormai si è fusa con quella mia italiana e 3 anni fa sono diventata residente americana. La cosa strana è che ormai quando torno da un viaggio al di fuori degli Stati Uniti, l’immigration mi dice sempre “Welcome back home”.
Spero di riuscire a crescere sempre più professionalmente all’interno dell’azienda dove sto lavorando. Per ora continuo a giocare solo indoor (prossima settimana abbiamo i playoff della nostra lega :) ), ma visto che l’estate è in arrivo, ho già un po’ di amici che stanno cercando di convertirmi al beach…
Quindi chissà, magari riuscire a fare qualche torneo di beach volley quest’estate.