Okimura Blog: Thank You!

By Lori Okimura | June 21, 2019, 8 a.m. (ET)

Thank you.

Over the next few days, the USA Volleyball Board of Directors will select its next Board Chair.

To that person, whomever it will be, I’d like to say “Thank You” in advance for accepting this huge responsibility.

I wish the new Board Chair the best as they prepare to take the helm of one of the largest and most successful National Governing Bodies of the 50 that exist under the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) at an exciting period of change. There is no secret manual for being Board Chair, you have to find your own way, and I am confident you will.

The work is not easy. And, yes, although we are all volunteers, I’ve always believed if you were willing to accept the position and the responsibility that comes with it, you must treat it as serious work because there is certainly a high degree of liability. Every single one of our predecessors faced challenges, but in this new era of sport business, even they didn’t face the types of challenges we face today. I thank them all for their service, and the next Board Chair for continuing the guardianship of our organization.

I’ve worked my entire career in the volleyball community. In collegiate athletics, media relations, professional tours, tournaments and events, club administration and coaching, licensing, marketing and sponsorship, broadcast, sporting goods manufacturing, and in the international volleyball world helping shape the sport at the global level. I’ve tried not to ask anyone to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself (and with all those jobs, believe me I have done just about everything in our sport including building courts and raking sand). I’ve learned a great deal from every level of volleyball at which I had the privilege to contribute. I learned things during my tenure with USA Volleyball that I didn’t know were possible, and at times recently it left me extremely disheartened about aspects of our sport. But I also learned something I already knew, there are countless passionate individuals all throughout our volleyball community, very good and positive people that counteract some of the negative aspects. The clock has run out on my time with USA Volleyball, and all I can say is there is still a lot more to learn.

I made my first trip to the FIVB in the early 1990s, my first speech to the Congress in 1998, and worked many years as a technical supervisor on the World Tour with some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing in international sport. I watched the evolution of NORCECA first as a sponsor, and now as president of the Marketing Commission and Board of Administration member. I was mesmerized so many years ago when Mike Hulett and John Kessel introduced me to the world of sitting volleyball.

I’m pleased to have an opportunity to continue supporting a dear close friend, Barry Couzner, president of World ParaVolley, joining WPV’s efforts to promote sitting volleyball around the world and push for inclusion of Beach ParaVolley in the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympic Games. I am thankful for the opportunity to work among such passionate people as I have found in the WPV Family.

Lori Okimura with Barry Couzner

Thank you to the president of FIVB, Dr. Ary Graca, for his collaboration to establish a renewed working relationship with the United States. This was a major goal during the last years of my tenure, and I hope the new working relationship will continue to flourish each year. I’ve been involved in the FIVB since the late 1990s in many different ways and continue to serve on the FIVB’s Beach Volleyball Commission. The international side of volleyball has always close to my heart.

Thank you to President Cristobal Marte Hoffiz of NORCECA, once a customer of mine and now a trusted friend and colleague. I can think of few people with as much passion and perseverance as President Marte Hoffiz. It has been an honor to serve NORCECA, and I remain dedicated to the work we are doing for North America, Central America and the Caribbean territory.

Lori Okimura with Ary Graca and Cristobal Marte

Lori Okimura with Ary Graca

Thank you to a woman named Darya Safai, whom I met at the FIVB World League in 2015. She educated me about the discrimination that women in sport still face around the world. She reminded me that there are still places in the world where women are not welcomed openly. She showed me what bravery and integrity can do to bring much needed attention to issues of discrimination.

Lori Okimura with Darya Safai

One of the best parts about serving USA Volleyball and the Board of Directors as Board Chair has been the ability to take what I had learned over almost 30-years in this community and putting it directly to work on behalf of our organization. Relying on personal and professional relationships established at all levels of our sport and reaching out for help to make us better, stronger, more productive, more relevant. Seeing my peers in the global volleyball community do the same. Learning from our past mistakes and making difficult decisions to ensure our future is better. Changing the business model of a National Governing Body to reflect a focus on the business of sport. Witnessing the operations of the 40 Regional Volleyball Associations of USA Volleyball, the lifeblood of the organization. Enjoying the passion and expertise of those I was fortunate enough to serve alongside during my time on the Board, and the vast network of what we affectionately call the volunteer “Leadership” which keeps our history alive. And working alongside the employees of USA Volleyball who have a great passion for what they do, and the people they serve.

A massive thank you to all the parents, coaches, officials, event organizers and others who have reached out during my time on the USA Volleyball Board. I’ve enjoyed our conversations, learned a lot from your questions and concerns, and am grateful that by doing what you do, you provide important access for all who wish to learn, enjoy, and support our sport. Thank you to the sponsors, because your support, engagement and creativity allows us to build the brand that has become USA Volleyball.

Thank you to my fellow NGB Board Chairs and Presidents, to Lisa Baird, Rick Adams and everyone at the USOPC past and present who are among the most dedicated, hard-working and loyal people in Olympic and Paralympic sport. One of the most rewarding experiences during this time was to be part of the newly established Board Chairs and Presidents working group, led by Barry Siff (formerly of USA Triathlon, now CEO of USA Handball). It is a remarkable opportunity to help other national governing bodies as well as to learn from our shared interests, accomplishments, and even our mistakes. I wish that group the best moving forward as they change the dynamic of good governance in the Olympic and Paralympic movement.

The importance of the work being done in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community has everything to do with our athletes. I am so incredibly proud of our teams, and love to see them at work and at play. I enjoy them as people, as much as I enjoy them as the superstars of our sport. I’ve enjoyed learning about our U.S. National Team athletes, and their unique characteristics. Their likes and dislikes, and the intensity of their process. Their desire to give back to the next generation, and the work they are doing to coach and develop talent all along the “Path to the Podium.” You inspire us all. I am a lifelong fan. Thank you to each of you, and your families. Go USA!

Lori Okimura with Tri Bourne and John Hyden

Lori Okimura with Men's National Team and Jacqueline Kennedy

Lori Okimura with Women's National Team

Lori Okimura with Women's Sitting Team

I wish all of our U.S. National Teams and staff the very best on their Road to Tokyo. I will be watching and wishing for the best possible outcomes for all of Team USA. And I will be celebrating the retirement of an icon in Olympic sport, NBC’s Peter Diamond. It’s hard for me to imagine an Olympic world without Peter’s influence. His influence has provided a much-needed broadcast platform for volleyball and beach volleyball at the highest levels of Olympic television coverage for decades. He has been our silent benefactor in all ways, responsible for creating opportunities for Olympic volleyball and beach volleyball coverage to shine worldwide. His absence will be profound because his contributions were so meaningful and impactful. Thank you, Peter, for your many years of mentorship, friendship, and for providing us with some of the greatest Olympic memories in our sport.

Lori Okimura with Peter Diamond

Before I came to USA Volleyball’s Board of Directors, I spent 16 enriched years working with and serving on the Board of an organization called Kids In Sports LA in Southern California. I owe a debt of gratitude to their former executive director, Keith Cruickshank, president emeritus, Anita Defrantz, and chairman emeritus, the legendary Rafer Johnson. Rafer opened my eyes to the importance of service to others, and leadership beyond the field of play. He is a constant reminder of what we can achieve through hard work. Thank you so much.

Lori Okimura with Anita DeFrantz and Rafer Johnson

This work we do, it comes at a cost.

Recently, I was asked what the hardest part was of being the Board Chair. About 1,000 things popped into my head. I thought about every less-than-flattering email or anonymous letter filled with complaints or compliments I’ve received over the last several years, including those on social media which bring a whole new flavor to the communications mix. I’ve read them all. And you have to keep in mind that most people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.

Then it hit me. One of the hardest parts of this experience, and really of any experience I’ve had in my volunteer life, has been my interaction with victims and survivors of sexual misconduct, bullying and abuse. It has also been the most important work I have had the privilege to do. Forging into this area of sport is not for the feint at heart. And it’s not something you do halfway. I deeply respect the USA Volleyball leadership, and CEO Jamie Davis, for prioritizing this area of sport within our volleyball community. I wish others in our community would prioritize finding a way to collaborate more on this issue.

If I had a nickel for each person I’ve spoken with who asked me why I “waste my time” on SafeSport trying to correct mistakes of the past, I would not need to win the lottery. This is not a laughing matter. And it’s not a problem that will disappear just because we ignore it. It’s an ongoing battle for the survivors who relive their abuse daily. The survivors are among us and they are finding their voice, women and men alike. Believing them is the first step. Thank you to those who believe.

And I would be remiss not to mention how thankful I am to three women in particular whose bravery many, many years ago and whose courage today has shaped a new area of awareness and policy about issues concerning SafeSport within USA Volleyball. To Christine, Julie, and especially Sarah, and all those who supported your fight, I am indebted to you for your honesty and bravery. Somehow, a mere thank you does not seem enough.