Hugo Storer: Mentor, Teammate and the Paralympics

June 18, 2014, 12:47 p.m. (ET)

blog by Charlie Swearingen
video by USA Volleyball
June 18, 2014

Every athlete must one day come to terms with the mortality of their careers. How an athlete chooses to phase themselves out in their tenure's twilight frames their career. For some, this may be minimalistic fizzle, but for a small few, their character will shine brightly forever. Hugo Storer has proven to me to be the latter.

I can remember the very first 3 points I played during international competition. We were playing Brazil in a qualifying tournament for our world championships later that year. As I came off the court, the most machismo member of Team USA, and someone who until then intimidated me, pulled me aside. His words were comforting and inspiring. They were also constructive and clear. I had met Hugo before, but that truly was my introduction to #9 for Team USA.

After sharing this experience with teammate, #2 Dan Regan, I was confident that this mentoring behavior Hugo exhibited was a true reflection of his character. Dan told me he too had been mentored by Hugo. I then secretly polled other current national team athletes and discovered that if you wore USA on your chest, then most likely you had been mentored and affected by #9.

This week, #1 Travis Ricks, started in a key match against Iraq. I watched as the veteran (Hugo) looked on as Travis assisted Team USA take 2 sets from Iraq. The veteran seemingly did so without jealousy or animosity, but rather he showed excitement in Travis's play. In a conversation later that day with Travis in a Polish coffee shop, I asked how he thought he played. I was asking Travis to describe his own play, but instead he told me something that truly inspired me. I knew that others must know what I had just heard.

Travis told me that in between sets, Hugo pulled him towards him and said, "Listen, I know I'm phasing out and you are phasing in, but let's work together so that no one can tell the difference between you and me." Such an unselfish suggestion truly shatters the foundation of sportsmanship and possibly redefines what inspiration is.

Truth be told, Hugo is very passionate about the game and his play. Occasionally, you will hear him yell on the court, typically in Spanish, when he doesn't execute a play as perfectly as he wanted. There is no question as to the meaning of the words for those that do not speak Spanish- we all understand him. He also will enter into aggressive 'negotiations' with a teammate from time to time due to a disagreement, but he also will be the first to apologize and offer a handshake to finalize such 'negotiations.' It is obvious that he is very passionate about the game he has played his entire life, which is an indicator that he simply wants the game to be better than when he was first introduced to it.

Hugo has a close partner in crime on the team, #10 Edgar LaForrest. These two played minor league volleyball together in Puerto Rico for years and I have been told they were very good players. Both were involved in accidents: Hugo in 1982 and Edgar in 1986. Hugo went to the Athens Paralympics as a member of the US Men's Disabled Standing team. Standing disabled volleyball was dissolved after Athens, and the two were reunited after Edgar was discovered for sitting volleyball. Hugo soon rejoined team USA sitting volleyball and now both are gunning for a Paralympic berth to the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. Achieving this goal would be the perfect capstone for these two seasoned athletes.

If you were to investigate the defining characteristics of teamwork, you would find the virtues of humility, generosity, and loyalty. Hugo doesn't exclaim these virtues, he simply practices them humbly and silently. He is the definition of a true teammate. While #9's days as an athlete may be numbered, aren't every athletes? Like life, we don't know when our time will be up. Hugo has shown us how to compete and how to act as a true teammate and professional in addition to playing every point as if it's his last. So while we don't know when his last match will be, it is certain that his career is no where near twilight because it will shine on brightly and indefinitely. He will leave the game better, much better, than when he found it. Thank you for such an exceptional example and thank you for believing in us all.