The USA squad poses with American Superfans Ellen and Tim Toy (center, middle row)
Omaha, USA, July 25, 2015 – The United States volleyball team has had a remarkable journey on the court over the last year, from winning the 2014 FIVB World Championship to being front runners of the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals through day 3 here in Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
However, the squad has made an impact in communities across the country off the court just as much as on the court. One such instance is working with Ellen and Tim Toy over the last two years that started with a chance tweet Tim posted that caught the eye of Team USA regarding Ellen’s battle with cancer. American setter Alisha Glass got her teammates together in 2013 to film a video message wishing Ellen a quick recovery from cancer.
Since that initial outreach between the Toys and Team USA, a bond has been formed. Ellen has served as honorary captain in the past, and she and her husband have become Super Fans of the program. This week the Toys have driven to Omaha to watch the World Grand Prix, even though it was a last minute decision based on how Ellen was feeling.
“Volleyball has always been my vehicle in life,” Ellen said. “This has obviously been helpful for me in my recovery, just giving a better sense of what goes on outside the word and to be around these great people and their motivation to help me. It has been such a great opportunity for me.”
The Toys made the long trek half-way across the United States by car to watch their beloved USA team play this week at the World Grand Prix, and have enjoyed the experience. On Saturday morning, they were invited to watch the team train as they prepare for a match against two-time defending World Grand Prix champions Brazil later in the day.
“I think it is really cool,” said Glass of the Toys’ long drive to watch them play in Omaha. “They are such volleyball fans. They want to see it played at the highest level. Their story is inspiring to us, and we try to do the same for them and play our best so that feel inspired by us.”
USA captain Christa Dietzen, who along with Glass played collegiate volleyball at Penn State University, feels an inspiration through their story.
“It means so much to us,” said USA captain Christa Dietzen. “They drove 13.5 hours from Pittsburgh, maybe even longer. They are so inspiring to us. We got connected to them through social media a few years ago. We are so thankful for them to be here and be a part of it.”
The Toys have long followed the exploits of Glass and Dietzen having lived near Penn State University.
“For many years we have been traveling to Penn State University and have watched the growth of a lot of these players who played on the Penn State team,” Ellen said. “It was awesome to have those opportunities. We just drew a relationship with them outside of their knowledge, via Twitter. With Tim’s help, we have strum some great friendships.”
As part of Ellen’s journey through cancer, Tim started a blog site that includes many feature stories on the USA squad, journeyed out to Omaha to watch this week’s World Grand Prix Finals.
“It has been a special privilege for us, especially to get the opportunity be with these (the USA players) today and get behind the scenes a little bit to see how they really work,” Tim said “We have found them to be such fantastic people, always involved in supporting Ellen through her journey and being supportive of me from the very first tweet from Alisha (Glass) that connected us to being here today. It really is a special privilege for us to be here, and get to watch some great volleyball and hang out with some really great people.”
Working with the Toys is not the only off-the-court endeavors the USA is taking part in this week during the FIVB World Grand Prix. Through an initiative launched by USA outside hitter Jordan Larson-Burbach, the team is supporting Team Jack in helping raise awareness and money for pediatric brain cancer research. The team has a website asking fans to pledge money for every service ace the Americans earn in this week’s World Grand Prix Finals with all money going for Team Jack’s efforts in pediatric brain cancer research. For more details, visit https://pledgeit.org/acesforthecure.
And the giving back will not stop this week. After concluding the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, the squad gets a break from the competitive game, but not the real life game.
With co-founders Courtney Thompson, Dietzen and Tama Miyashiro, the team created the “Give It Back Foundation” earlier this year where team members share the mission of leading the next generation of athletes toward healthy competition and generosity.
In their first event, the team travels to Seattle, Wash., July 31-Aug. 2. On the opening night, the American players will give insight into the team’s strategies and techniques. On Aug. 1-2, the players will conduct a Give It Back Camp that was sold out within days once it was announced early this spring.
Give It Back Foundation’s mission statement states that “through our camps we hope to cultivate self-confidence, self-awareness, leadership skills and an excitement that allows every athlete to enjoy the process of working towards their goals.”
The Foundation gives back 100 percent of its net profits to charity. For details on the Foundation, visit giveitbackfoundation.org/