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Ludovica Centro tells us about her experience as a student-athlete in the USA, where she still resides.

Graduated in Forensic Science at Long Island University – C.W. Post in New York, with a Minor Degree in Chemistry, her passion for volleyball led her to visit the United States and here she immediately understood what her future would be…

The beginning of the American adventure

Ever since I was little, I dreamed of going to live somewhere in a foreign place. The idea of coming to America, however, was born after a trip made in 2009 with Volleyro’ to Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
For the first time in my life, I found myself thousands of miles away from home, playing in this mega convention center with hundreds of teams from every corner of the States, but also from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. On the same trip, we went to see the University of Miami and there I was dazzled.
I remember that after that visit, all I did was ask Jesica what I would have to do to become a student-athlete myself.

American Life as a Student-Athlete

I never imagined that I would receive all the support I had from universities, professors, physiotherapists and university classmates. Being a student-athlete in some way, not to sound snobbish, makes you part of an elite. Especially when you have a good average, professors have no problem accommodating various requests due to matches or training. Physical therapists are always available, even when you have pre-season and are at the beach getting ready at 6 am. College classmates see you as a kind of monster because you manage to pass classes and in the meantime spend hours in the gym instead of on books; And they’re also the first ones who come to cheer you on at home games, or who give you their notes when you miss a lesson. I had never seen such a system in Italy.

This experience made me the person I am today, giving me a lot of open-mindedness. I have played and studied with people from many different countries and cultures and therefore I have been lucky enough to be exposed to traditions and customs that are different from those I was used to. I’ve also become much stronger mentally. The distance from home somehow leads you to have to fend for yourself when any problem arises… And let’s also say that all the suicides that my coach made us run, really lead you to have the “Never give up” mentality.

Effort and gratification: the two unforgettable moments

There are two episodes in particular from my experience that I won’t forget:

The first one was my first day of pre-season, I was a sophomore and had just transferred from another university. We go to the beach to get ready and I think “oh that’s cool. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be fun.” I literally saw death! In addition to all the exercises with jerks etc, we had to do timed suicides on the beach. If we didn’t do it within a few seconds, we would all keep running together until we could. We had to run so many times because of me and another girl. At one point she ran straight to the bathroom and didn’t come out until the end of it all while I stayed… In the end we made it, I think more out of pity for the coach than for actually having done the time.
At the end of training I felt so humiliated that I started to apologize to everyone and even to the coach (of course while crying desperately).

The coach took me aside and told me that I should stop apologizing and be proud because I hadn’t given up and I had made it.

The whole time the whole team was there pushing together, charging each other because we all wanted the same thing. It’s a strange feeling to describe, but you feel a different charge and strength when you know you’re being supported by 11 other people.

The second episode was when we won the Conference… For that there is little to add. It had never happened before that the university’s volleyball program won the Conference so it was a unique emotion for many different reasons. All the work of two years paid off in less than two hours.

Experiencing Volleyball in America

Americans are super attached to their university even though I, to be honest, have always been more connected to the people with whom I shared my university experience, than to the place itself. Fortunately, I always keep in touch with friends with whom I have taken courses together and above all, although my coach has moved to Hawaii, I continue to hear from her often and she has just invited me to play for a big tournament in Honolulu. I’ve also been able to maintain relationships with my former teammates and recently went to visit two of them in Texas.

On a sporting level, I found many differences, starting with the rules of the game. In America, at the collegiate level and also at the didactic level, the rules are different. To name a couple, if, for example, the ball touches the ceiling, you can still play, and the libero can serve instead of the center. When I told it to one of my former teammates in Italy, for them it was like talking about fantasy volleyball.

Rules aside, training and athletic preparation are totally different. Most of the players are formidable athletes from an athletic point of view, but they don’t have the same technical skill that I saw in Italy. Here in America, athletic training is fundamental. The game is faster and the ball is pushed more. On top of that, sometimes you find yourself doing tournaments where you have 2/3 games a day and during the week you play more than one league game. If you’re not athletically ready, it’s the end.

A lifetime experience

This choice to become a student-athlete in the USA represents one of the most beautiful and also the hardest experiences of my life, but I would do it all over again.

The tears during training, being totally awkward with the newly arrived tongue (I made myself understood with gestures for the most part), the distance from family and friends, having to relate to a culture very different from the Italian one, are all things that almost 7 years later have proved to be necessary for my growth as a person and as an athlete and have all been amply rewarded.
With the university, we won our Conference for the first time in the history of the school and we were able to go to the Nationals. I have become bilingual (I almost speak English better than Italian now) and indeed, thanks to the strong Mexican and Caribbean influence here, I also speak Spanish. My parents come to visit me often and I manage to go back to Italy a couple of times a year.
The American culture has now merged with my Italian one and 3 years ago I became an American resident. The strange thing is that now when I come back from a trip outside the United States, immigration always tells me “Welcome back home”.

I hope to be able to grow more and more professionally within the company where I am working. For now I continue to play only indoors (next week we have the playoffs of our 🙂 league), but since summer is coming, I already have a few friends who are trying to convert me to the beach…

So who knows, maybe we’ll be able to do some beach volleyball tournaments this summer.