July 26, 2011
New Mexico outside hitter Kelly Williamson recently took time out of her busy summer to tell GoLobos.com about her recent trip to China. Williamson went to China to compete in the USA Challenge Invitational Tournament for the BIP/USA Development Team. BIP (Bring it Promotions) in conjunction with USA Volleyball sent two teams of top-level collegiate players to compete in the event. Williamson was part of the Red Team's roster, which included players from top programs around the country.
Q: What was it like to be able to travel to and visit China?
A: I traveled to China with 24 players and six coaches from excellent programs around the United States, and we formed two Bring It Promotions teams. After training for two days in Los Angeles we made the miserably long 15-hour flight to Beijing. As soon as we landed, we loaded onto a bus and traveled another seven hours to the province of Shandong. After such a long day of travel most of us did not even mind our rock-hard mattresses.
Prior to my visit, I was intrigued to experience a culture vastly different from my own and to experience life in one of the fastest developing counties in the world. It seemed that everywhere I turned I could see remnants of past Chinese dynasties mixed in with the sight of cranes and newly built skyscrapers. China is a country bridging its past with its future; and its journey to development will be a true test of the world's ability to cooperate in the effort to become a more sustainable place.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories about the trip?
A: The first tournament we played was hosted by Weifang University in the province of Shandong. There were over 5,000 students and fans at each of our matches during the course of the three-day tournament. Playing in front of such a friendly and energized crowd was incredible!
I also loved the sightseeing opportunities I had while in Beijing. Climbing the Great Wall and visiting the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven allowed me to fully appreciate the cultural richness.
We went to an acrobatics show our first night in Beijing. I cannot begin to explain how unbelievably talented these young men and women were. The opening act climaxed to a girl doing a headstand while riding a unicycle on a tightrope. After a juggling act, a contortion routine and an umbrella and carpet spinning show, I was awestruck when 12 girls in yellow tutus managed to pile onto one bicycle as it circled around the stage. The show inspired a teammate and I to attempt to do the splits on the Great Wall the next day.
Q: Talk about the extra week you spent in China to do sustainability work.
A: I volunteered at an NGO called The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which specializes in conservation work worldwide. The mission of the organization is to protect nature and preserve life. The TNC offices of China are currently working to expand their reach to other Asian nations. While I was there I drafted an assessment on the involvement options of TNC in central Asia. I researched the biodiversity hotspots in countries such as Kazhakstan and Turkmenistan where TNC does not yet have any presence.
Working a 9:00 to 5:00 desk job was a novel experience for me. I am used to devoting a larger part of my day to exercise as opposed to in front of a computer. Fortunately, during our lunch hour, the other interns and I would play basketball against a group of Chinese boys at the diplomatic compound where the TNC offices were located.
Even though my Chinese vocabulary is limited to about ten words, I was still able to interact and make friends. That is one of the things I love most about sports.
Q: How was it playing along side some of the best players in the nation?
A: My team was composed of a fantastic group of girls who play for top division I programs. A couple had already played abroad professionally, so it was exciting to wear the same jersey and share the same court with them. Besides the expected errors that resulted from miscommunication and lack of training together prior to our matches, I thought my team meshed well. Playing against a foreign offense, I feel we all improved as players.
Q: What was it like to represent the USA?
A: Yelling, `one, two, three USA!' after our team huddle was so invigorating. It's inspiring to know that I was representing so much more than just myself or my team.
Q: What was the competition like out there?
A: Experiencing volleyball in another country was very interesting. The Chinese teams we played against practiced six hours a day, six days a week, and therefore were very consistent and low-error. I cannot recall any team missing more than one serve in any game. They ran a lot of combination plays that required us to be on our toes defensively at all times.
Q: Was the experience worthwhile?
A: Absolutely! I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. The experience made me realize how lucky I am to be a Lobo today. I often thought about the crazy series of events that led to the cancellation of the UNM's volleyball trip to China 3 years ago, which in turn sent the team to Buenos Aires where I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the program.
I would like to thank my parents for making it possible for me to go, coach Jeff Nelson for encouraging me to take part and the event coordinator, Tim Kelly, for the invitation to participate. Special thanks to the girls on my team and the excellent coaches as well for making the trip unforgettable!
Q: Would you do something like this again if given the chance?
A: I traveled to Brazil last summer on a similar tour and was so excited I had the chance to do it again this summer. After my experience in China I am definitely considering playing abroad next year professionally.
Q: What are your personal and team expectations heading into the fall season with UNM?
A: Although I wouldn't say I got homesick while playing in China, the experience did made me miss my team terribly. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Albuquerque I met my teammates at the gym, where we played for a couple of hours, then had dinner together. Nothing can replace the hours we train together and the bonds we have forged on the court. I have never been more excited for a season to start!
Personally, I expect to provide leadership and inspiration to my girls and make this season the best yet. I think that translates to winning the conference and making it past the first round of the NCAA tournament. I am looking forward to hosting the Mountain West Tournament and cannot wait to be playing in front of our amazing fans in Johnson Center!