Team USA volleyballer comes to help, leaves inspired

Army Recovery Care Program
Courtesy Story

Date: 03.28.2015
Posted: 03.28.2015 23:34
News ID: 158484
Team USA volleyballer comes to help, leaves inspired

By Gia Oney, Madigan Army Medical Center

FORT BLISS, Texas - It’s not every day that you’ll hear a professional athlete say that an amateur in the sport has helped her, but in the case of Nicky Nieves, a power hitter on the national USA Sitting Volleyball team, the athletes competing at the 2015 Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, have become an inspiration to her, and a reminder as to why she loves the game.

Nieves was born missing her left hand, a medical question for her doctors that still goes unanswered today.

“They thought it might be the umbilical cord that wrapped around my arm,” said Nieves, “but when they wanted to run some tests, my mom didn’t want to, so we didn’t.”

And why would she? The absence of her hand has never hindered Nieves from achieving athletic superiority. As a senior in high school, Nieves earned the conference player of the year award and led Osceola County, Florida, in kills. Her prowess on the court caught the eye of the volleyball coaches at Queens College in New York, where she would go on to play her freshman year.

In an odd turn of events, Nieves was spotted by a player on the USA Sitting Volleyball team and was asked to try out.

“In the back of my mind, I was like, ‘I’m not doing that!’” laughed Nieves, who admits that she was skeptical about sitting volleyball. She credits her father with encouraging her to try something new, and now Nieves is an outspoken advocate for the sport, indicating that it’s much harder and faster than standing volleyball.

After her first year of playing volleyball at Queens College, Nieves left the team to join Team USA, where they went on to win the gold medal at the Parapan Zonal Championship in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 2011.

Prior to coming to Fort Bliss for the Army Trials, Nieves was helping the team representing the Marine Corps to train and prepare for the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games in June. Her admiration for all of the athletes, regardless of branch, is overwhelming.

“[These service members] have seen some really tough things and have gone through some really tough times, and [their situation is] not something that’s holding them back,” said Nieves. “They’re coming out here and they’re athletes, just like me or just like an able-body person, and they’re not letting anything stop them. They’re really gung-ho about doing their best and competing. I love it.”

Nieves is very impressed by the inter-service rivalry, but more so the similarities that the service members share across the branches.

“They all go out there and do what they can do, and if something hurts, they’ll let you know,” she said. “But, it’s nothing that they need babying with. They don’t look for sympathy or anything of the sort. They come to compete and you have to love that about them.”
While Nieves has partnered with the Department of Defense Warrior Games to spread her love for the sport of sitting volleyball, she has also become an image of motivation to service members who have been hesitant to seek care for their wounds, injuries and illnesses.

“I understand the fear. Sometimes you don’t want to try something new just because of the wandering eyes, and what if people look at you differently, or what if people baby you,” said Nieves. “I hope that if they’re feeling that way that they just go out and try. What do you have to lose by trying? You’ll never know if you end up loving whatever it is.”

Nieves will spend most of her time preparing for the 2016 Paralympic Games where she, and the rest of the third-ranked Team USA, will compete for gold. Until then, Nieves is enjoying her time being around members of the military. And, although she claims she’s impartial as to which branch she hopes wins at the Department of Defense Warrior Games 2015, the Soldiers competing at the Army Trials have been outspoken about how critical it is for Nieves to learn one very important term: “Hooah.”