When the sitting volleyball competition starts in Beijing, one U.S. athlete’s thoughts will also take her to Kunming, a city in Yunnan, far south of Beijing. One of several Chinese Americans who qualified for 2008 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams, SuGui Kriss is a libero for the U.S. Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team.
Kriss spent several years of her childhood in the Kunming Children’s Welfare Institute, an orphanage with a wide range of children, many with multiple disabilities. Kriss has a condition called amniotic band syndrome and is missing some of her fingers and part of her foot. At age 8 in 1995, she and a close friend were adopted by American families, and Kriss became the fifth of six children, three biological and three adopted, in the Kriss family of Ravena, New York. She has stayed in touch with her friend throughout her childhood as well as with those workers who helped secure her adoption.
Kriss says she always wanted to go back to Kunming to help those who helped her, and so in 2006 with her parents’ support, she traveled alone to the orphanage where she spent seven weeks feeding and caring for the children. It wasn’t easy, she says. Two children, in particular, touched her deeply. One was a young girl whose disability wasn’t readily apparent, but who was drawn to Kriss. Another was a boy about 10 who could not walk, but knowing that he was scheduled to be adopted by an American family, Kriss tried to teach him the English alphabet and to speak some English words. Unfortunately, having forgotten most of the Mandarin she knew as a child, communication was difficult.
The year 2007 was truly a watershed year for Kriss. She grew up playing volleyball, but it wasn’t until someone from a club team in Albany told her parents about sitting volleyball that she even heard of the sport. In fact, she thought her volleyball days were almost done. She played varsity volleyball for Loudonville Christian School in Albany for four years and served as assistant coach. She helped lead her team to the 2006 volleyball state Class D semifinals as the team’s setter, and so she was thrilled with the chance to train with the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Sitting Volleyball team in Edmond, Oklahoma, within days of her high school graduation in 2007.
While it’s too early for Kriss to predict whether she will pursue sitting volleyball after Beijing, one thing is certain. Her pilgrimage to China solidified her resolve to work with children in some way. After the 2008 Paralympic Games, she will work for the fall semester, then she plans to enter Schenectady Community College in spring ’09 to study culinary arts. Until then, her road to Beijing has been as much an emotional journey as it has been an athletic pursuit.