Switzerland’s inspirational Zumkehr follows her heroes’ footsteps

Lausanne, Switzerland, November 8, 2016 - She still can’t quite believe it but it’s there in black and white. ‘The 2016 FIVB Most Inspirational Player - Nadine Zumkehr, Switzerland’.

By being honored by her fellow professionals, who voted in their hundreds for one of the most-coveted end-of-season awards, Nadine is following in the footsteps of her own heroes.

The retiring Swiss Olympian and star on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour is humbled, honored and privileged to receive the FIVB accolade.

Brazilian superstar Shelda Bede was named the FIVB’s Most Inspirational Player five seasons in a row between 2005 and 2009. In 2012, USA’s Misty May-Treanor shared the prize with teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings following the duo’s record-breaking third successive Olympic gold, achieved at the Games in London.

“For me it was very special to win this award from the FIVB in my very last season,” Nadine told the Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series from her home in Switzerland. “I didn’t expect it at all – I didn’t even think about it until our boss from the federation sent me the link. I was very happy.”

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In the background it’s quiet. There’s no sound of bouncing beach volleyballs in earshot. Zumkehr is at home and enjoying the peace and quiet. She might have retired from the game after earning silver with Joana Heidrich at the Swatch FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto in September, but she still can’t believe the illustrious company she has joined on the FIVB’s Most Inspirational Player list.

“It’s a very big compliment that the other players were voting,” continues the 31-year-old. “It’s really, really nice. The names on the list are the biggest names in the sport in my opinion. Misty was my idol – not only as a player, but as a person. I listened to her speech when she was entered into the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame and I just thought ‘what an amazing person’. It’s quite weird to see my name on that list now.

“What makes it special for me is that my fellow professionals voted. Particularly as this award is more about teamwork and trying to get the best out of my team. Usually I don’t think about awards for myself but for me it’s special to get this one. It’s something more personal: expressing myself on the court and that’s important to me. To represent me, my team, my partner and my country in a good light. It’s a good image of the values I show.

“One of my biggest goals in my career was to create values. Winning Most Inspirational feels like good recognition for this.”

Now that Nadine has decided to put down the Mikasa for good, her goal is to now inspire a different set of people – she’ll be swapping the swaying arms on center court for the sanctuary of a classroom full of children.

“I studied to become a primary school teacher when I was younger and that was my aim when I ended my professional career – to become a teacher,” said Zumkehr, who won four FIVB international gold medals during her 10-year career. “I’ll do some supply teacher work next term. I still need to find a full-time job but I will do some replacement work, so I can test myself again. It’s been a few years since I was last in the classroom but it’s a job I love to do because it will make me feel happy. Right now I have a lot of different options. I don’t have any concrete plans but put it this way, I’m not afraid of having nothing to do.”

The star of 126 FIVB international tournaments now hopes to translate her beach volleyball experience to the wide-eyed schoolchildren. Being inspirational is certainly going to help…

“My beach volleyball career has taught me a lot,” says Nadine. “It’s a big part of me and helped me to be the person I am. For sure it might influence my teaching style but I don’t think I’m the type of person to talk about what I was and how successful I’ve been.

“The lessons I’ve learned in sport will have a big influence, though. One of those important lessons is dealing with defeat – to accept that the opponent was better. When I was a kid I was a really bad loser. People say that’s hard to imagine now as they say I’m a good loser. Of course I want to win but it’s coming to terms with a defeat and how you react to it that’s important. It’s helped me through many situations.

“I aim to give that back to the children to inspire them – I see the award as a sign that I’m on the right track. It’s nice to feel that I’ve inspired people but that will be different in school. I think I have the skills to do it and I hope the children will like how I approach it.”

Nadine certainly saved the best ‘til last. The 2016 season was the most successful of her career – four medals, including silver in Toronto and at the Swatch FIVB A1 Major Series event in Klagenfurt, Austria, a fifth-place finish in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and more prize money than ever before (Zumkher and Heidrich split US$161,150 for the 2016 FIVB World Tour).

So, any second thoughts on calling time at the top?

“No, I don’t regret it,” she laughed. “I hear that question a lot now. True, it’s been one of my best seasons and I think I have finally been able to show my best beach volleyball having struggled over the past few years. I had shoulder surgery and had problems competing at the top level so I’ve been very happy to come back and show my best.

“It’s been really good and there are a lot of things I will miss, but putting all of that aside I am looking forward to spending time with family and friends and surrounding myself with them because I did not have enough time to do that in the past few years.”

It’s been a long road since her first international experience. A 37-minute qualification defeat at eight in the morning at the FIVB Shanghai Grand Slam in May of 2006 is strangely still something Nadine recalls with some fondness.

“It was a big lesson learned and I thought of this moment a lot when I was enjoying the good days,” she said.

These memories, together with the ‘good days’ – including that quarterfinal finish in Rio in the summer just passed, are confined to her memories of the sport that has given her so much – but not for long.
She will pass on her knowledge to the next generation and, who knows, maybe the next Nadine Zumkehr might be staring back at her from the classroom with Olympic dreams of their own.


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