Athletes are at the heart of everything we do. Their stories are the story of the World ParaVolley Foundation. Athlete stories can be found below and on our YouTube channel. We hope you enjoy them.
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China women’s Sitting Volleyball player Wang Yanan
To a beautiful melody, Wang Yanan danced rhythmically with a sweet smile on her face. Without carefully looking, it’s hard to tell that her left leg is actually a prosthesis.
“I have been fond of singing and dancing since I was a child. I want to stand on the stage and perform for everyone,” Wang said.
However, what Wang did not expect in her childhood was that the stage where she “danced” again was the venue for the Paralympic women’s volleyball team.
In 2008, a car accident meant Wang lost one of her legs and this ruined her dream of becoming a dancer. “After the car accident, I felt like I was dead,” recalled Wang, who once lost confidence in life and fell into despair until sitting volleyball gave her life a spark again.
With the help of the Shanghai Disabled Persons’ Federation, Wang started to learn sitting volleyball at the Shanghai Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center for the Disabled to become a professional athlete.
“When I first learned to play sitting volleyball, I practiced passing and padding the ball against the wall. Since I had been grinding on the ground for such a long time, my hands were worn with blisters. At that time, I really wanted to give up,” Wang said. “But I keep telling myself I must stick to the path I chose.”
Thanks to continuous hard training, Wang went from a rookie to a national team member in only two years.
“It takes more than seven years of training on average to qualify for the national team. Wang stood out among over 100 athletes due to her perseverance and zeal for sitting volleyball,” said national team coach Xu Huimin.
Tokyo is Wang’s third Paralympic Games. Fighting hard with her teammates, the 30-year-old helped Team China to a silver medal.
“Athletes with disabilities can only take advantage of limited conditions, making our training more difficult, especially moving and controlling the power of spiking and serving. All kinds of skills are very different from playing volleyball,” said Xu.
The Chinese team for the Tokyo Paralympic Games consists of 12 members. As an experienced player, Wang always takes care of her teammates, winning the nickname Aunt Wang from young players on the team.
The concept of the Tokyo Paralympic Games is “We Have Wings.” “The Paralympic Games provides us with opportunities to realize our dreams. We may not have real wings, but we truly have wings in our heart, giving us courage to fight,” said Wang.
Russia men’s Sitting Volleyball player Viktor Milenin
Milenin was born on November 20, 1987 in Krasnoturyinsk. He took up taekwondo at age 11, attained a black belt and won a medal at the Sverdlovsk regional taekwondo championship. Two months after that victory, he was hit by a drunk driver at age 16 while riding his motorcycle. His left leg was amputated as a result of his injuries.
He found out about sitting volleyball from a prosthetics centre in Yekaterinburg, shortly after his amputation. He got an invitation from Rodnik club captain Sergey Yakunin who regularly made visits to the centre in search of prospective players. He accepted the invitation and attended several training sessions and eventually took up the sport in 2003.
“With the help of the sitting volleyball team I believed in myself and started living like a regular person.” Although Milenin tries to be more reserved and modest, it is known that he is married to 17-time Paralympic medallist in Nordic skiing Anna Milenina. His silver is one medal closer to the tally of his wife, but he admits that he is nowhere close to have the star power his wife has.
“I don’t know how to ski. I always fall. It will take me 40 to 60 minutes to ski one-and-a-half kilometres. In the meantime she manages to ski five to 10 times around me on the same track. She doesn’t try to teach me to ski and I don’t try to teach her to play volleyball,” jested Milenin.
But on the sitting volleyball court, Viktor Milenin is a big star who continues to endeavour for his team. Many teams have tried to snatch at least a set against seven-time gold medallists Iran, but RPC were the only team that braved the challenge in Tokyo. On top of that achievement is a 30-point haul in the final he built from 22 attacks, three blocks and five service winners.
“It’s very important to build the same system that they use in Iran, where there’s strong support for the sitting volleyball team athletes. This is something that we do not have in Russia.
Milenin has now won two Paralympic medals – bronze at Beijing 2008 and silver at Tokyo 2020. He also led his team as MVP to claim back-to-back European Championship titles in 2017 and 2019. He was named Best Blocker, Best Player and Best Spiker in various continental tournaments.
He was presented with the order of Merit to the Fatherland in recognition of the bronze medal he won at Beijing 2008 and received the title of Honoured Master of Sport in Russia.
China women’s Sitting Volleyball player Tang Xuemei
Tang Xuemei finds purpose on the sitting volleyball court
Tang Xuemei was a promising athlete who played for her school’s basketball and table tennis teams. She was in a school dormitory when a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan in southwest China’s Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008. The earthquake that lasted seconds-long left thousands of fatalities and injured people of those trapped in rubble, including Tang who was rescued 28 hours later.
Those early years of promise were clearly shattered by seconds of fear and vulnerability and many lives were completely changed after that. Tang survived but her left calf had to be amputated as a result of the unfortunate incident. The entire time she was trapped, all she longed for was to live.
Indonesia women’s Sitting Volleyball captain Anissa Tindy Lestary
Twenty-eight-year-old Anissa Tindy Lestary has everything to thank for Sitting Volleyball.
The Indonesia women’s captain, who is leading her country at its first ever Asian Para Games competition, had her legs and hips crushed in a motorcycle accident when she was 22 but says Sitting Volleyball turned her life around.
“Volleyball has always been a passion,” she told World ParaVolley after leading her side to a 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-13) win over Mongolia in the opening match of the Sitting Volleyball tournament at the 2018 Asian Para Games. “In 2013, when I got caught in a motorcycle accident, I was depressed for two years. Then my former coach and my friends encouraged me to come back on the court in sitting. It was the best thing that could have happened to me. It changed my life and helped me to overcome my new status as a physically impaired person.”
Rwandan Sitting Volleyball player Solange Nyiraneza gives us an insight into her life
I am currently 20 years old and live in a rural area, about 20 kilometers from the city of Ruhango in Rwanda. It is a wooden house with two rooms and one dining room. The toilet is outside and also the kitchen, but that has a roof above it. Our house is not built for people with an impairment, but I can manage. The only problem is that our house is situated on top of a hill and the way towards the house is very bad.
Ellen Ceelen of the Netherlands National Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team shares her story
My name is Ellen Ceelen and I am playing sitting volleyball for the national team of the Netherlands. I am married to Marcel and we have two boys, Levi and Joah.
When I was at age twelve, I started playing volleyball. In 2001, when I was 18 years old, I did volunteer work in a construction project in Jamaica. There I got ill because of a sepsis caused by a meningococcal bacterium. This sepsis caused clots in my blood and because of this my blood couldn’t longer flow through my veins. As a result 8 fingers and my lower legs died and had to be amputated.
South African Sitting Volleyball Athlete Leonardo Gladile
Leonardo Gladile lives with his wife, Anam, and his two young girls on the outskirts of a squatter camp about 40min from Cape Town. He moved to Cape Town from the Transkei, a remote and rural area in South Africa. He and his wife have not been able to find work and have been surviving for years off disability grants. They are proud people and take care of their home, a temporary shack made from wood and tin sheeting. Each day Anam cleans the inside of their house and Leonardo sweeps the back yard, a small area that is constantly blown over with beach sand.
Every week Leonardo religiously makes the journey to Cape Town for Sitting Volleyball training. He stands on the side of a main road, often in the dark, waiting for transport to pick him up and then return him home late at night again.
Team USA’s Kari Miller – Paralympic Gold Medalist, Coach, Role Model
Kari Miller was serving in active military duty, getting ready for officer training school, when a drunk driver smashed into the car she was traveling in. The driver of her car was killed. Kari survived, but lost both her legs in the crash; one amputated above the knee, one below.
As she recovered, Miller first competed in wheelchair basketball, then discovering sitting volleyball. It was an intense experience: the first ball came at her like it had smoke and fire shooting from it. “I just screamed and dove out of the way,” she says. “My coach immediately informed me that there is no screaming in sitting volleyball.”
Anton Raimondo of South Africa answers some questions
1 – How did you get involved in Sitting Volleyball?
I first found out about sitting volleyball when I joined East London Lynx in Feb 2009. I had never played any form of volleyball before and I was hooked fairly quickly. I loved the exercise, camaraderie and competitiveness of a team sport.
Canadian Sitting Volleyball player Julie Kozun shares her story
Julie Kozun has built a nice little collection of legs. She’s eyeing up a few more with interest.
Kozun, who is from Melfort, lost her left leg below the knee in a lawn-mower accident three years ago at age 15. The 2020 Paralympics hopeful — she’s a sitting volleyball player — has become a prosthetic-leg connoisseur, of sorts.
“I want another one,” grins Kozun, who currently has four, for a variety of applications. “Either the Challenger foot, which has a really big spring thing, or I want one where the foot can extend, for swimming faster. I don’t know which one I want yet.
Manankova Olena of Ukraine – overwhelming support along the way to recovery
My name is Manankova Olena. I’m 22 years old. Living in Dnipro, the eastern part of Ukraine. At the age of 8 I had an accident. My sister and I were riding bikes when suddenly a huge trash truck downed us. Fortunately my sister landed up behind the truck and had just minor injuries. And unfortunately for me I got under the back double wheels of the truck. As a result I had an above knee amputation of my left leg.
Thank God I’m alive after that horrible accident as I got a severe injuries and lost lots of blood. Doctors gave only 5% for my life. I can remember that at the beginning (first month after the surgery) I didn’t want to walk with crutches as I couldn’t believe in what happened with me. I thought that my life is over – I will never live a normal life. It was a long way of recovery.
Pioneer, Paralympic Gold Medalist, Supermom – Lora Webster – USA
Lora Webster has been a world pioneer in the sport of sitting volleyball, and she has her sister Lisa to thank for her introduction to volleyball.
Lora would go on road trips to watch her sister play, and in one of those matches when she was seven years old, Lisa’s team had match point in the old side-out scoring. After 20 suspenseful minutes, Lisa’s team finally won, and Lora was hooked on volleyball.
Lora would play volleyball through elementary school, but she hit a roadblock at age 11 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her left tibia. She underwent a procedure called rotationplasty to remove the cancerous bone, which included the knee. As part of the surgery, her lower leg was rotated 180 degrees and connected to the remnants of the femur to give her full range of movement allowing her to play sports.
Tetiana Savchenko – UKR: “My prosthetic leg never stopped me…”
My Name is Tetiana Savchenko – Number 4 on the Ukrainian Women’s Sitting Volleyball team and I’m 21 years old. I’m studying at the 5th course of the National Pedagogical University named after M. Drahomanov at the department of the correctional pedagogy and psychology. I was born in a big family, which always supported me.
I have a congenital abnormal development of the right lower limb. At the age of 11 I had 12 surgical operations on my account. I’m using prosthesis to walk and it never stopped me to participate at school competitions.
Katie Holloway – USA: Working to play
Holloway, an outside hitter/opposite who was born without a right fibula and had the lower part of her leg amputated before she was two-years-old, was chosen Best Spiker at the 2012 London Paralympics, where the U.S. won a silver medal and lead the USA women’s Sitting Volleyball team to Gold at RIO in 2016.
After the successful London Paralympics Katie moved from the team’s training facility in Oklahoma to California to begin her job as a recreation therapist. Up to that point in her life, the native of Lake Stevens, Washington, had what you would call a fully structured sports career. She played basketball in college at Cal State Northridge – she was the only player with a prosthetic in the history of NCAA Division I women’s basketball and was the Big West Conference’s Sixth Woman of the Year twice – and then joined the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team and lived and trained as a resident athlete in Oklahoma.
Eric Duda of the USA – 16-year Team USA Veteran
Eric Duda has been part of the U.S. Paralympic Volleyball Team for 16 years. But he first needed to learn the sport after his high school freshman math teacher suggested he try out for the school’s boys’ volleyball team.
Eric ended up being a four-year varsity player in high school and went on to play NIRSA men’s volleyball at University of Florida where he was captain as a junior and senior. However, his calling was in the Paralympic world.
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