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Struggles abroad for former Gamecocks playing professionally overseas
Women's Volleyball  . 

Struggles abroad for former Gamecocks playing professionally overseas

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people in different ways. For former South Carolina volleyball student-athletes who are playing professionally overseas, not only were their jobs put on hold, but their ability to get home was an adventure as well. Fortunately, the former Gamecocks we caught up with are safe, and like the rest of us, they’re taking stock in all that has transpired.

“We were just about to go into our playoffs season,” said Mikayla Shields (2016-2019), who is playing in Finland. “Everything went downhill pretty quickly. We were on the bus on the road for a game, and as we were driving, we found out it had been canceled. A couple of days later, the whole league was shut down. That’s about the time that everything around the world was happening really fast.”
Mikayla Shields
Mikayla Shields

“There was an announcement made through the Greek Volleyball Federation web page saying it was suspended,” said Dessaa Legros (2013-2016), who was playing in Greece. “Then the girls from my team translated the message to all of the non-Greek speakers. I was currently recovering from surgery, I had recently torn my Achilles, but I had an idea our season would be cut short because I had friends in other leagues whose club had canceled playing earlier.”

For Sarah Blomgren (2012-2015), different decisions had to be made, at least initially. Playing professionally in Spain, she had two weeks left in her season as well as the playoffs.

“As things got worse and more diagnoses were happening in Spain, the Spanish Volleyball Federation decided to allow matches to be played without access to the public, so no spectators, only essential personnel,” Blomgren said. “A few days after that decision was made, we had a team meeting with our club director discussing talks of postponing the Spanish league. At this point, staying and finishing the season was my last priority as I was thinking about possible travel bans from all of Europe to the U.S.”

Blomgren’s reasoning was sound as President Donald Trump announced a travel ban on Europe on Wednesday, March 11 that would go into effect just a couple of days later.

“At 3 a.m. on Thursday morning, I booked a Friday flight home just before the ban went into effect,” Blomgren said. “It was a whirlwind of a week as things progressed rapidly. I couldn’t get ahold of my club that night and flights were being snatched up, so I made the decision to book a flight and tell my club the next day that I was leaving.

“They understood as it wasn’t an ideal situation for me to be stranded in Spain for however long. The day I flew home, the Spanish Federation announced that our season was officially canceled. Because I left before any of the craziness, it was extremely easy to travel back home. I flew from Barcelona to Los Angeles and when my plane touched down in L.A., the airport was a ghost town! It took me a total of seven minutes to de-board the plane and get to baggage claim. There were no safety precautions or screenings in place yet, so I was extremely lucky to not wait in seven-hour lines like some of my other friends that flew home a few days after the ban. They had some really crazy airport, flight cancelation, and layover stories.”

“Once I got back, I was in a two-week quarantine since I had come home from Europe.”
– Mikayla  Shields

Legros was not able to get home quickly for different reasons.

“I wasn’t able to because of my surgery,” Legros said. “It wasn’t safe for me to fly at the time. I’m currently still on the island. They restricted travel to the UK, Turkey, Netherlands, and Germany so it’s difficult trying to find manageable flights in my condition. Usually there would be some direct flights back to the States or at-least one connection, but now a trip that was once 14 hours turns into 24-72 hours with multiple connections and layovers.

“My only challenge now is finding an affordable ticket where I am and also one that won’t require me to spend 17 hours in an airport. I can’t fully walk at the moment so it would be difficult for me to navigate these airports that are working at half-staff and be self-sufficient.”

Meanwhile, Legros also has to keep a close eye on finances in these uncertain times.

“The team here ran into financial problems, and I actually haven’t gotten a real salary since January,” Legros said. “With my contract they were required to provide me food, so every Monday they bring me veggies and meat. I will say it has prevented me from being as independent as I’d like and to be way more conscious of my spending habits than before, since I don’t know when I will head home.”

Shields was able to return to her native Florida, but not directly.

“I remember calling my parents after they canceled our first game, and they hadn’t canceled the season yet, but they said we should go ahead and get a flight home for if and when the season does get canceled,” Shields said. “That way I’d have a way to get a home. There were a lot of players who had a hard time getting home because a lot of places in Europe weren’t allowing you to fly anywhere. I was fortunate that my parents had the foresight to get me a flight back home. If I had waited a couple more days, I probably would have had a much harder time getting home. The day after I flew home, they closed the airport that I had flown out of.

“Once I got back, I was in a two-week quarantine since I had come home from Europe.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the world, the former Gamecocks have time to reflect on how the situations were handled in different countries.

“I think everybody had a couple of days of panic,” Shields said. “Everyone was closing their borders, so it was really hectic.”
Sarah Blomgren
Sarah Blomgren

“I think Greece did a great job,” Legros said. “As soon as they had the first cases, they put a curfew for the first week. Once that didn’t slow it down, we were and have been on quarantine going on almost two months. We have to have documentation on us at all times, limited to being outside for an hour, and suspended public transportation. You can only move about if you have proper paperwork. If caught, it’s a fine of 300 euros and your license is suspended for 60 days.”

“I think they downplayed it in the beginning, and did not react hastily in their decision making,” Blomgren said. “There wasn’t much unity between the federation and some of the clubs in Spain, as the decision to continue to play was left up to the teams in the beginning. Overall, I’m glad I left when I did.

“My contract would have been up at the end of March anyway, so they paid half of my last month’s check and my flight home.”
With their athletics careers put on hold, the former Gamecocks are thinking about their future.

“This pandemic has reminded me of the frailty of humanity and how, now, like always, God is still in control and is still trustworthy,” Blomgren said. “I was already planning on this being my last season overseas, so although this season didn’t end the way I expected it to, I still feel confident in my decision to retire from professional volleyball. I decided that it has been a fun run, but I’m ready to get to the real world and start a career in the USA and be closer to my family. Right now, I’m looking into medical device sales.” 

“Due to being hurt and alone during this pandemic it’s been a combination of being mentally and physically tough, but life here on the island is peaceful, so it’s helped me to focus on what I can control and to just enjoy the now,” Legros said. “I wouldn’t say it changed me, but it taught me and showed me that I’m more resilient than I thought I was.”