Winter Olympics Special: Athletics and Global UGRAD

As the world’s attention turns toward the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, we asked current and former Global UGRAD participants to reflect on the importance of sports in their lives. The following are short paragraphs written by students who excel not only in the classroom, but in stadiums and gymnasiums around the world. In shining a spotlight on the contributions of sporting events and their participants, we hope to show how sports bring cultures together in a spirit of fair competition and respect. Check out the dedication and perseverance of some of our Global UGRAD participants below.

Michelle Ceren, El Salvador, Global UGRAD 2016-17, Marymount University

Michelle preparing to strike a volleyball during a game.

Motivation is the fuel that can make you wake up early in the morning to practice or give you the energy you thought you lacked after a long day of work. For motivation I always think of my goal. I picture myself in a certain scenario, e.g. I see myself singing the national anthem in front of the crowd, winning a game or a medal. I picture myself doing what people think is impossible.  I also think of the past and the obstacles that I went through to be where I am. I tell myself that sacrifice and hard work, sooner or later, always pay off. So I keep going.

I love that in volleyball everything is about balance. This sport requires a lot of technique: arms and legs should be in a certain way when touching the ball; even moving around the court has its own skill. But technique is nothing if the team lacks strength of body and mind. The first one helps to hit and defend. The second, I would say, makes the difference between a good team and an exceptional one. Finally, volleyball is a team sport and I love how it has taught me that you need others to achieve greater things. Working as a team is not easy but the rewards are beyond words.

I have two favorite moments in the Olympics: the closing ceremony and when athletes get their medals. During the closing ceremony the world becomes one for one night. Only by thinking that people from so many different places gathered together sharing the same passion for sports makes me feel joy. There are no races, religion, or division, though we see beautiful cultures with their colors and traditional clothes. The world is, for one night, a big family. I also love when athletes get their medals. Most of them cry. Only they know what they have had to go through to be standing there. I find that very inspiring.

Parahat Nepesov, Turkmenistan, Global UGRAD 2017-18, University of Wyoming

Parahat dressed in basketball attire on the court at the University of Wyoming.

I love everything about basketball, the shoes, ball, the sound of sneakers when they make contact with floor, the sound of net when you score, the basketball court itself, and the hype around the game.

Motivation comes from my love of the game first. I just lose myself and feel free once I step out onto the court – I don’t think about anything else. Moreover, motivation comes from my constant grind and practice, so once I am in the game I try to put in all my effort on the court. And of course being 1st is always better then being 2nd.

I like everything about the Olympics. It only comes every four years, so it is a crucial moment in the life of each athlete that participates. I love the opening ceremony because it represents the culmination of all your hard work and the countless hours spent in the gym, and that moment is the time when you fight for your dream.

Sandy Karam, Lebanon, Global UGRAD 2017-18, Western Kentucky University

I have been honored to represent my country several times in regional and international track and field competitions, specifically Race-Walking; I also hold all Race-Walking Lebanese records. My sport has helped build a big part of my character, teaching me patience and perseverance. It also helped me improve on so many levels in my studies my professional life, teaching me how to manage my time and prioritize what’s most important, all while having a balanced student-athlete life. Training is not the easiest part, but it is now part of me and it helps me be more focused and stronger to surpass my daily stress. My main source of motivation is seeing how proud my friends and family are; I always remind myself of those moments during the hard times. I’m so passionate about the Olympic Games to a point where I volunteered in Rio 2016, and I decided to watch/volunteer at all of them until I qualify.

Anton Prokopovich, Russian Federation, Global UGRAD 2016-17, Presbyterian College 

Anton on an outdoor basketball court.

Basketball. The thing that I like the most about playing basketball, whether it is playing an official game for a team in a tournament or just shooting and playing around by myself on a street court, is that it makes me really focused on the process of the game and being in the moment. That’s why basketball has always been kind of an escape from everyday life for me and allowed me to recharge mentally. Other than that, it is a truly beautiful game with endless variety of techniques and styles of play, which is why I consider high-level basketball to be not just a sport but also a form of art. And even though I no longer play professionally the love for the game keeps me coming back on the court.

Zina Al Sadi, Jordan, Global UGRAD 2016-17, Wright State University 

Zina smiling with a city skyline in the background.

I am driven to play soccer from my passion for the game; soccer for me is a lifestyle. What keeps me motivated is seeing myself and my team achieving what we aim for and reaching our dreams in playing in the biggest competitions against the highest profile teams. I particularly love playing within a team, sharing smiles and tears with friends, challenging myself to improve day by day, team spirit, and bringing all people together. The Olympics are a great chance to bring all sports together and to see everyone working hard to win. I love that there is passion everywhere, an outstanding atmosphere, and champions to root for.


Milica Knezevic, Serbia, Global UGRAD 2017-18, Wright State University 

My whole life I have always been an athlete. As a child I fell in love with volleyball and definitely saw my career as a volleyball player, but becoming paralyzed changed everything that I have known upside-down. Except one thing: I still was in love with sports. That helped me not just to find the passion to compete again, but to overcome the worst thing in my life and gain back my independence. I have goals and I strive everyday to get one step closer to reach those goals. When I feel low or when I lose motivation, I always look at the things that I’ve already survived and all the success that I’ve already had – then I just keep pushing myself. From the other side, my trainers are people who aren’t known for giving up or believing things are impossible. Besides helping me with workouts, they encourage me to be the best version of myself. At the end, everyone who ever competed in any sport knows that there is no better feeling than celebrating your victory. The Olympics are like a crown of one’s sports career, and being able to compete with the world’s best athletes, representing your country, attending a spectacular opening ceremony as the whole competition itself is just a dream come true. And that’s why my goal is to compete in the Paralympics.

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