In today’s society, sports are engraved in the backbone American culture. Aspiring athletes from all over the world come to the US for the opportunity to play sports at the highest levels of professional and collegiate competition. The sold-out stadiums, bright lights, fandom, and social status all prove that sports in the US offer athletes the opportunity to be put on a commercial platform that is not offered anywhere else on the planet, but at the great cost of having to leave your family and your native country. An athlete’s journey and determination began with the support of family, friends, and coaches that helped put you in the position to take your talents to the next level. These emotions are hurdles that many great athletes must overcome. For University of Virginia soccer star’s Joe Bell and Sergi Nus, these decisions needed to be made at the early age of 18. I am lucky enough to call them both dear friends.
Arriving On Grounds
After playing three years of semi-professional soccer in New Zealand, Joe decided that coming to America would give him the best opportunity to become a professional while also getting an exceptional education. It was the middle of January in Charlottesville, Virginia when he stepped foot on grounds for the first time as a Wahoo. “Obviously I was very excited on my first day, but it is probably more accurate to describe it as overwhelming,” said Joe. He explained that he had never seen universities the size of UVa or American schools in general, which made finally being amongst the students here a bit surreal.
Becoming a Wahoo
Joe was a highly regarded recruit when he made the decision to come play for UVa’s soccer program which caused a lot of chatter on grounds and within the college soccer atmosphere on whether Joe would be the player to help UVa win another national championship. He described his feelings as anxious and overwhelmed on his first day of class. He knew that UVa was a great academic university, but he did not quite comprehend what that meant until he arrived. “The atmosphere felt different. Everyone here is on a mission,” said Joe. Whether it was on the soccer pitch, a different athletic field or the classroom, he felt that everyone was at UVa with a purpose and goal just like him which he admired. When I asked him about his first day of practice with the new team, Joe described it as intimidating. Being the new guy is not always easy, especially when you’re coming into a new team and may potentially take someone else’s starting position. “Although the locker room environment was a bit hostile when I walked in for the first time, I showed my teammates on the field that day that I was there to win and was willing to help the team in anyway,” said Joe. He explained that after the first practice where he gave every ounce of energy to the betterment of the team, he began to gain respect from his teammates.
After a few weeks of getting settling into his new life in America, Joe became more and more comfortable training and living with his new teammates. Even though the college soccer league is in the fall, many teams like UVa play Spring “friendly” games against other universities. Joe referred to the Spring games as a chance to prove himself to the coaches in game action, and when Georgetown University’s men’s soccer team arrived at the stadium, he was in shock. “I had never seen soccer players of that size before,” exclaimed Joe. He described that first game as the most physical soccer game he had ever played in. While head coach George Gelnovatch amended him for playing well after their win, he joked around with him that “he needs to hit the weights!” Soccer is way more physical that Joe was used to and thought that some of the players from that game were “quite incredible athletes.” Nonetheless, this little joke made Joe’s transition into American culture smooth. “After we all joked about having to put on weight, I felt welcomed,” said Joe. The experiences Joe had are quite different than most college soccer players. From leaving his native country, family, friends, and coaches who prepared him for this transition in his life Joe appreciates the doors UVa soccer has opened for him. “Not just by the team, but the entire UVa community,” explained Joe.
Sergi’s Transition into UVa
Like Joe, Sergi Nus was another decorated recruit seeking the option to play soccer in America. Sergi left his life in Barcelona, Spain to arrive at UVa in the Fall of 2017 just one semester after Joe. He explained his first time stepping on grounds as exciting. Sergi grew up in the heart of Barcelona, a densely populated and commercialized city that had a raging passion for soccer which he brought with him on grounds. “My first day as a student-athlete at UVa that I will never forget. It was a combination of feelings,” said Sergi. He explained his excitement to play soccer on a new team, but that he also felt the pressure of being at such a well established university like Virginia.
Although Sergi felt the pressure of being at such a great academic school, he was really for what Klockner Stadium and Virginia men’s soccer had to offer. Sergi comes from a family of soccer players and coaches, including his older brother who is a coach for the world-renown Barcelona Football Club. He trained with and spent time around some of the worlds most decorated soccer players which he felt prepared him for this next chapter of his life. “Klockner is unique and a lot of important players have played in this historic stadium,” said Sergi. Sergi explained how he wants to stand amongst those players and be remebered here. Along with his first day as a student-athlete, Sergi explains how all his dreams started to come true when he walked up to Klockner stadium later that night for the first time. “It was a feeling like no other. I could not stop visualizing myself defending the UVa colors.”
The Demands of Today’s Young Athletes
The demands asked of young athletes in today’s sports world are high. I asked Joe and Sergi about everything that comes with being a student athlete here in America and they both gave quite similar responses. “Playing the game comes easy, but there are sacrifices you need to make by traveling thousands of miles away from your home. Everything you know changes,” said Sergi. “Joe finished our conversation by explaining that its not all winning games and signing posters. The 6:00 am wake ups for practice, then going to class and still getting your homework done at the end of the night and potentially having a mid-week game. Free time is hard to come by but thats what we signed up for.” As we’ve learned from two of Virginia’s most highly ranked athletes, sports culture demands a lot from it’s young prospects and it is not that easy a job to maintain. I am grateful that they both felt comfortable sharing their stories with me. Sacrifices and changes are two things Joe and Sergi had to deal with in pursuing their dreams. Both Joe and Sergi attributed much of their success to their families, previous coaches, and god which made traveling thousands of miles away from home that much harder, but “all of this is for them: my family, my believers, and god”, said Sergi. “And the hard work will pay off.”