World Grand Prix 2013: Lessons of the Vagabond

Sept. 04, 2013, 8:41 p.m. (ET)

I’ve just become the first person in my family to travel all the way around the world. We’ve recently completed a five-week trip to Brazil, Serbia and Japan for the 2013 FIVB World Grand Prix. That’s five weeks of hotels, bus rides, rice and learning how the rest of the world works. The opportunities we get by being a part of Team USA never cease to amaze me. I think “seeing the world” is probably the most common bucket list item there is, and here we are doing it on somebody else’s dime while doing what we love. It’s a pretty good deal. I also feel that it offers me a lot of perspective and interesting lessons. I want to share a couple things I’ve learned from the vagabond lifestyle we live.

Travel is often highly romanticized. When I tell people I’m leaving for a month to go around the world I think they’re often picturing exotic locations and sightseeing tours. In our line of work we’re mostly seeing the inside of a gym and fighting jet lag. And the more you travel, the more you realize that being outside of your comfort zone is, not surprisingly, not always that comfortable. We’re usually rationing our emergency American food supplies and praying for decent wifi or gyms with air conditioning. Also, if somebody could get on the whole teleportation thing, that would be great. Don’t get me wrong though, I love my job and all it entails. But mostly because I know the most important thing about “seeing the world." Traveling isn’t about where you go or what you see, it’s about who you go with and what you do together.

That’s why, when I’m home and people ask me how it went, I’m going to tell them that this trip was amazing. I won’t have a ton of pictures to show them of scenic views or stories of famous landmarks. But I can tell them about my team and what we’ve done. I’ll tell them about playing on a seesaw in Brazil and finding the most adorable puppies at a pet shop in Japan. I’ll remember sitting at dinner in a hotel in Serbia with the whole team yodeling at full volume and playing charades and swapping ridiculous pictures or quotes with our teammates back home. I’ll tell everyone about the trip we took to a Serbian orphanage full of young people with developmental disabilities where we had the absolute best dance party ever. And after seeing the pure joy and love in the faces of those people, I would challenge you to find anything on this earth more beautiful than that.

Of course, the center of our trip was the volleyball and I have plenty to say about that too. I could tell you about who we beat and who beat us and why. We had some thrilling wins and some soul-crushing losses, but the game scores aren’t what is most interesting or memorable to me. What we’ll remember are the lessons we learned from both the wins and the losses. We had moments in which we weren’t good enough that will prepare us for the next time and moments when we found out that just doing what we do every day is what makes us good enough. We trust in our system and each other. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s the foundation upon which we’ll build in the next three years.

And 20 years from now, I probably won’t be able to tell you whether or not we beat Italy in this tournament. But I’ll remember what it feels like to battle with this team. I’ll be able to picture each person’s face in the middle of celebrating or when I look them in the eye in crunch time. I’ll remember the trust. And I’ll remember the love—for each other and for the game.

Playing volleyball overseas has given me even more reason to love the game. The world can be a really messed up place. You can’t watch or read the news without seeing some example of that. I don’t understand most of the things that we do to each other. But when I step into the gym I find a world that I can understand. I know exactly how I have to hit the ball to get it to where I want it to go. I know that if I work hard I will get better. I know that, whether we win or lose, there is a reason that I can point to and say this is why.

Wherever I go in the world, I walk into the gym and there are four lines, a net and a ball. And whatever language they’re written in, the rules are the same. The game doesn’t care if my opponent and I are of the same race or religion, if we come from the same political systems or have the same values, or whose country has the higher GDP or stronger military. Whether we’re American, Chinese, Serbian or Algerian, when we step out onto the court we do so as equals. That makes sense to me. That’s the gift that sport gives to our world and why I love it.

I hope you all have a chance to see more of the world at some point in your lives. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities we have to do so. But that’s not the biggest reason I’m grateful. I get to do what I love with people that I love. And I cannot imagine a better way to live life than that.

Although, if the rest of the world could figure out the miracle of peanut butter, I think we would all appreciate it…

Blog written by Cassidy Lichtman (Poway, Calif.), U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team