Great State: Sitting Out Volleyball

Great State
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EDMOND, OKLAHOMA — The sport is Sitting Volleyball, but the name occupies a space in direct contrast to the effort these athlete put out. The University of Central Oklahoma is the national training center for sitting volleyball. The women’s team is ranked 2nd in the world. The best players from across the U.S. practice in a wellness center on campus, which puts teenager Bethany Zummo in elite company. “Especially now,” she says, “When you have so many people going out for different positions.”

Born without bones in one lower leg, doctors amputated when when was 2 years old. But growing up, Bethany played volleyball anyway standing on a prosthesis. She played sitting too starting in the 7th grade. “Any team I could get on I would play,” she says. Zummo grew up in California, then came to Edmond to train. Olympic dreams that once seemed impossible suddenly became very real. “The team started talking about London and then the Olympic year came around. I was like, ‘Oh my God. This could really happen.”

On a Wednesday afternoon at the gym, the USA Sitting Volleyball, Archery, and Weightlifting teams got a big sendoff from UCO staff. “You have ushered in a new culture here,” said the UCO President, “It’s a culture that says there are no limits.”

The Paralympics were due to start in a few days, but scanning the crowd, Bethany was absent. Olympic rules, instituted only weeks before the competition, reduced the number of players allowed from 12 to 11. As the 12th player, Bethany’s Olympic dreams for 2012 rest on something other than her own abilities. “It’s stressful,” smiles Zummo. “But I try to keep a positive attitude about it.”

The team photo sits in a frame along a gymnasium hallway. Bethany Zummo the athlete may have to wait 4 years for the next send-off party. But the flame survives. She knows, just like her fellow athletes, that part of reaching for a goal requires patience. If the goal is far away it might take a while to get there. Bethany says, “If there is the slightest bit of yes I will go for it.”

The Sitting Volleyball team spent a week in Amsterdam to train and get used to the time difference. Bethany Zummo remained in Edmond waiting for a call from her team.

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