When Olympic volleyball player Michelle Sawatsky spoke to
students at Garden Valley Collegiate on November 27 as a part
of their Drug Awareness Week, she did not speak directly on
drug use. Instead, she sought to motivate students to "live
your life to the fullest."
Sawatsky, a resident of Steinbach, Manitoba, played starting
setter with Canada's national team. She began playing volleyball
in junior high school "for the pure enjoyment of it"
and she had "no aspirations to be any kind of a volleyball
By Grade 9, Sawatsky was only 5'6" so her coach encouraged
her to try out for the midget provincial team. Provincial coaches
told her "you're a good kid, but you're just not good enough.
And you're way too short to play volleyball."
Not expecting to make it onto the team, Sawatsky moved on
and tried again the following year. She was still too short
to play volleyball and again she was cut from the team. The year
after that, during her grade 11 year, her school team won provincials.
Convinced she was now skilled enough to move up in volleyball,
Sawatsky tried out for the juvenile provincial team. During
these tryouts, the coach actually told her not to waste the effort
in coming, because she wouldn't make the team anyway.
Not three weeks later, the same coach phoned Sawatsky saying
both setters had quit the team, and as a last resort, he wanted
her to fill the position.
"And that was my glamorous invitation into the world
of volleyball," she exclaims, adding that for a second she
had been ready to tell him where he could put that invitation!
Playing on the juvenile team, Sawatsky "decided to be
the best I could be and to try harder than anybody else. I knew
I could be the best I could be because everybody can do that."
Her next step was to play university volleyball. For five
years, Sawatsky trained 4-7 hours a day with the team and three
times a day with her coach at 7 a.m. Her team won the national
championship three years in a row, and two out of those three
years, she was awarded "Player of the Year" for all
Now, Sawatsky's goal was to play on the national team. When
the national coach came to visit, he sat her down and told her:
"At 5'6," you will never play national volleyball".
Then he handed her an invitation to try out.
Sawatsky said she felt discouraged, but her university coach
convinced her she had nothing to lose by trying out. Against
the odds, she became the starting setter for the Canadian National
Volleyball team and that team qualified for the 1996 Summer Olympic
Games in Atlanta. Although the Canadian team did not win a medal
in the 1996 Olympics, they had the opportunity to play against
world class competition.
Sawatsky is also a capable musician, and as part of her presentation,
she sang a song she wrote for a friend who was cut from the national
team just before they flew to Atlanta. As her lyrics indicate,
she could well understand how disappointed the teammate felt.
Looking back on her sports career and her height handicap,
Sawatsky said: "If anyone would have wanted to take drugs
or growth hormones, it would have been me. But that would have
been stupid. I couldn't have competed anyway."
"There are a million excuses not to get to your dream,"
she adds. "Pick what you want to do and go for it."