Returning for another Happy Hour chat, Mariana Aquino, professional volleyball player is back! Thanks to Graham's wife, who went to UCLA with Mariana, we are blessed to have her on again to chat about her background playing volleyball and her time here in the states as well as Brazil. This week she's inspiring us on and off the court as she talks about injuries, the playoffs, and even a little bit about her music career. This is a woman, and a read you won't want to miss. Scroll below to get to know the incredible Mariana Aquino!
G: Thanks for coming on Mari, we're so glad to have you back. The last time we had you on for an hour-long episode, we talked all about your career. How you got into volleyball, getting into UCLA from Brazil, and how you got into the pro world. How would you wrap that up in short so our viewers who missed you last time can get an understanding of your background?
M: Great thank you Graham for that intro. You know I started playing volleyball from a young age, about 9 or 10. Then I played in Brazil up until I was 18 and then I got the opportunity here to go to the US, there's an agency here that brings Brazilian athletes to the US so we can study with a full ride and play volleyball. I always wanted to play at a high level at a school with a great academic program so that all fill into place. I went to the US in 2010, had a great experience at UCLA. We got to win the Championship in 2011 and I was actually the first Brazilian athlete to win a National Championship in history so I got to bring that home which was great. That was one of the highlights of my career to this day for sure. Then I stayed in the US for 5 years where I did international relations political science as a major. But I really wanted to play pro so instead of going back to Brazil where we have a pro league in indoor volleyball I went straight to Europe. I played in Turkey, France, and Romania. Then I went back to Brazil in 2018 to play in my hometown and I'm here until today and can finally play again after a knee injury and a pandemic. So it has been a good time now since being back on the court.
G: That's such a great way to introduce who you are and where you've been. What a timeline, especially with your injury and COVID! Do you have a plan of when you get to resume playing?
M: So we came back on the court about a month ago. That's when the Brazilian authorities allowed us to ply indoor. Teams outside like beach volleyball players were allowed outside about a month before we were and it's been great. Everybody is really anxious to be playing again especially me. For me, it was like a pandemic before it even started because I was going through a recovery process. For the girls in interesting to hear how they're getting back on the court. You have to be really careful with practicing every day and getting back into shape so you don't get injured again. The authorities are letting us play so the real season will begin at the beginning of November, I think our first game is November 9th. Then we have a game next week which is called the super 8, it's a way to finish the last season because we went to the playoffs and then the pandemic came and we didn't get to play. So the first ranked teams will be playing against each other next week in Rio. What's interesting with the pandemic is they're calling it to the bubble where everyone is in the same place, where the national teams play, and then we get tested before we go and then there we play again, if we lose then were out and we go home but if not then we keep playing. It's a four-day championship.
G: That's an interesting way to start a season. You're playing the playoffs then playing another season to roll off into another playoff. Very interesting! How's the team looking?
M: Great! I'm so impressed by how we're playing right now. It's only been a month of training and we're playing to instinct. I mean we have a long way to go it's a long season and a lot of things can happen in between this. Obviously, with COVID, players can get it so we have to be ready t possibly postpone games or deal with that. But for now, I feel like we're in good shape and prepared, we've really wanted to do this for so long! In my opinion, I've been away for a year and 6 months so I cant wait to play my first game, and the girls too. We've been practicing really hard, twice a day every day fr the game next week. And then we will think about the first game once this one is finished.
G: Well that's awesome, take it one day at a time I guess. So I'm going to assume your knee is feeling awesome at this point then?
M: Yeah I'm super happy. I feel like every day is a win for me, I feel so grateful for everything that is happening. 2 months ago I wasn't even playing, I'm here on the court with the girls doing everything they're doing. I get emotional talking about it because I couldn't even walk for so long and now I'm playing and doing everything they're doing. Obviously, it's tough playing after a big injury like that, you feel like you're 2 seconds behind them, and you can't do more.
G: I totally get that. So off of that, it makes me think of the emotional aspect of sports. Talent-wise and skill-wise how did you handle the emotional aspect of your injury?
M: Doctors and physio's ask me if I'm scared to get back out there but I don't think fear is what stops me from doing things. I feel like lack of preparation stops me from doing things. When I practice, the more I practice the more I can do it. Obviously coming back from that injury after a year and 6 months I'm not going to be 100%. I need to be patient enough to get back to where I was before but that's going to take time and practice and fear is not going to stop me from doing this. I'm ready, my body is ready and I need to go for it. So I don't believe fear is stopping me from being back. People talk to me about working my mind and I'm working on it but it comes with my physical preparation, the more I practice the more I'm ready.
G: Totally! Your body might not be fully caught up but there is the advantage that you've been doing this for as long as you have and at the level you have and there's that primal instinct that knows all that stuff and it's waiting to be activated.
M: Exactly! Obviously, I thought before that fear was going to be a big part of it because I was afraid of the unknown. I didn't know what to expect, I've been through so much with this recovery. For months I couldn't imagine myself playing volleyball again. It came without a lot of practice, gym, physio, taking care of myself, and eating healthy. It takes time you have to be really patient then you don't get annoyed every day. I'm not allowing it to bring me down. Every day I'm proud of what I accomplish and that's enough for each day for recovery. Obviously, I'm surprised how great I am right now, only after a month of training but it makes me excited to see what more I can do.
G: Yeah I've seen this in a lot of athletes at a high level. If you've played long enough you're going to deal with a major injury. Some people don't but most do. The mental side of it can be really tough, just coping with the time period that you can't work is hard.
M: For me, I tried to remain occupied throughout the recovery process because the more clear your mind is from work and stuff, the more your mind is off the injury. I try to be present and I did grad school so that helped and I went to marketing school and took advantage of that while I wasn't playing. Then I got connected back to music because that's something that makes me feel really great so I might as well do that as a therapy. That's the time I had that everything happens for reason and this year I reconnected with myself. I stopped and got to know myself better and what I liked and didn't and now I'm a better athlete for it. I'm more prepared for the challenges to come. I'm not saying that every day is a happy day but you come from that thing that happened to you, you come out stronger and that's even greater for the next challenges to come.
G: Absolutely I love that! When I got hurt, one of the things I did was start playing music too. You might remember that I'm a guitar player
M: I do, you're great!
G: Thank you! So that was going to be one of my questions. What are you doing with your singing?
M: I obviously am not at a professional level at all. I did a lot of in house music playing with my cousin and friends and every time I would go to an event with my friends' Id sing and that wasn't something I did before. Believe it or not, at this point in my life I'm a little shy. So that's something I'm trying to work on because I had to sing so much as a kid that I say now that I'm not doing that again. Just joking, but last year I got the opportunity to sing for a tv show, where I got to tell my story in sports and music and how they're related and how I got to do both for such a long time. That was cool because I was singing inside a volleyball court It was the greatest interview I ever got, I got to put my two favorite things together and talk about them. That was great for me so that was special. I don't think that if I didn't get hurt I would have allowed that to happen.
G: That's awesome, send me that video! When you finally make it back to San Diego we'll have to coordinate a song together.
M: Yes absolutely and we'll have to go to those open mics too and just get out there. Just have fun in California, that's the perfect place to do that.
G: There's a couple down here we can definitely go to!
M: For sure! You sing country too right?
G: I do a lot of country, yes, my friends always say I sound more like I have a John Mayer voice.
M: Oh we can do that duet between John Mayer and Katy Perry, I love that song!
G: Perfect, that'll be fun! But back to volleyball briefly, your season starts November 8/9th, how long of a duration is your season?
M: Well if everything goes as planned it'll go till the first week in March and then its playoffs till April. It's pretty short, something playoffs go until May and we started really late too. Usually, we start practicing in June, July, August, depending. Then you go until May and you have two months in-between seasons. So up until March and then April for playoffs but you never know what's going to happen. You know with the pandemic and stuff, games can get delayed. I'm talking about it based on what I'm seeing in Europe. So we'll see.
G: Yeah well fingers crossed everything goes as planned. Hopefully, there won't be too many pauses. So everyone who is tuning in, be sure to follow Mari so you can stay up to date on where she's singing, playing volleyball, all great things to know. Is there anything else you want to plug before we head off here?
M: No I think that's all, I just wanted to say thank you for having this time to talk about the important stuff. I feel like it helps a lot of people coming back from injuries, how sports are right now with pandemic so if there's anything else you guys want to know please message me, I'd be happy to help and shed a light on all of this.
G: Absolutely, it's so great to have athletes like you on here Mari. It's people like you that really inspire others. We'll be rooting for you over here and good luck this season!
Thanks for tuning in for another read with Graham and this week's Happy Hour guest, Mariana Aquino. In case you missed it, here's the link to her debut on the big screen singing on a volleyball court. & be sure to follow her on Instagram too.