Maria Vallone was named to the Women’s National Team player pool in 2016. Since then, she’s lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina while playing for handball club Municipalidad de Vicente Lopez, participated in numerous international tournaments for USA Team Handball, and represented Team USA at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
The Rochester, N.Y. native shares her story during Pride Month about how sports became such a huge part of her life, embracing all parts of her identity and how she eventually found handball. Take a look:
"It’s a given that women athletes who identify in the LBGTQ community would tell you that they probably admire Abby Wambach. My kindergarten teacher told my parents that I had the most natural athleticism she had seen come through her school since she taught Abby, who, at that time was in high school, about to head off to play collegiate soccer in Florida.
We’re both from Rochester, New York and had the same teacher, and her words continue to stand as the best compliment I think I’ll ever receive. I know it’s silly, but that small connection and recognition of seeing some sort of potential in me when I was six years old still motivates me to this day, even when I hit my highest and lowest points.
Like most American athletes, I grew up playing every sport but handball, and focused mainly on softball. Occasionally, I would play a handball-type game in gym class.
I was quiet, and it was easy for me to use sports as a shield in high school to make friends on any team I was on, but also never really open up to anyone. Since middle school, I knew I was only really attracted to women, but I kept to myself and never dated anyone. I wasn’t heavily recruited for softball, but I ended up committing to a competitive Division lll program at Bethany College.
From the time I stepped on campus, I knew it was time for me to be as proud to be a gay woman as I was to be an athlete. I was lucky that almost all of my college teammates, sorority sisters, friends and family welcomed me embracing my sexuality. When it really comes down to it, I finally felt free just living as myself and loving who I wanted. If someone has a problem with that, they aren't worth having in my life anyways.
I really believe there is a special grind mentality needed to be a successful Division lll athlete, once you have it you can succeed at any level. I graduated from Bethany with All-American honors and soon after, earned my MBA while serving as an assistant softball coach at Seton Hill University.
Coaching is very fulfilling, but I realized I still needed to compete. I wanted to play a sport with contact and started looking for tryout opportunities for rugby and football. While I was doing my research, I randomly reminisced about gym class handball enough to search for handball as well.
I think it’s so important for each person to focus on their own journey as an athlete and human being. Four years ago, I decided to pursue the open tryout I found for USA Team Handball just to see what might happen.
Since then, I’ve won a USA Team Handball National Championship title, played internationally in Argentina, and competed for a medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. That completely blows my mind. Looking towards the future, I hope to continue representing my country and playing this amazing sport.
If I saw Abby today, I would just yell to her 'Hey! Mrs. Pegelow was right!' and walk away."