Zoi Faki: "My team taught me what it is to fight for your dreams and not stop, until you achieve them"
What inspired you to come to America to play volleyball? Why in the US?
America has been my dream since I was very young. I thought it was very interesting to be able to play the sport you love and study at the same time, but without determining the continuation of your life from the panhellenic exams, as in Greece.
What were some of your concerns and expectations about college sports in the US? What criteria determined the choice of university?
My main concern was that I had to be apart of my family from a young age, for 4-5 years, a fact which you are never ready to face easily, no matter how much you want it, in order to make your dreams come true. Another concern I had was the rapid understanding of the foreign language and the adjustment in a highly competitive system.
My expectation from college volleyball in the USA was to learn the characteristics that “builds” the real athlete. The admirable organisation and professionalism that distinguish the college teams contributed the most in the achievement of the above. With my decision to come to Pitt I knew I would experience something completely different from what I knew and I was used to.
The first years were quite difficult, as I had to learn many things, such as what it is to play in a fast system and improve yourself every day in every volleyball skill, eliminating at once playing habits and behaviors of the past and strengthening strong elements of my character. It is a team looking for complete players and when I came here I wasn’t, so it took me time to reach the level that my team was looking for. My criterias of choosing my team was that it is one of the best teams in America with a high level of organization and operation and with coaches whose volleyball knowledge and personality would help get the qualifications to become a complete player.
When did you start the university searching process? Are you happy with your choice? Do you have stories you can share with us that marked you from this experience, something you will remember for the rest of your life?
I started the university searching process when I was 16 years old, but this process for me became easy, when Pitt University asked me, because I knew at first, perhaps intuitively and without further thinking, that I wanted to go to this college. I am very happy with my choice, because after 5 years in this team, I see a completely changed Zoi. I came a different person and I will come back another person. This team taught me what it is to fight for your dreams and not stop, no matter how difficult things are, until you achieve them. Moments I will never forget are the 3 ACC Championships we won in a row, reaching No 1 and 2 in America. These successes confirmed the very hard and sometimes painful work of my team, but they left us with a unique and wonderful feeling. Additionally, the friendships I have made all these years with my teammates are moments and friendships that will last forever.
What advice would you give to athletes who are thinking of following a similar path to yours? What do you have to say to parents and athletes who are thinking of starting this journey?
A piece of advice I have to give them is that they should want it a lot because their life will change completely. I remember before I left for America, I thought that everything would be so easy. It finally turned out that you need strong will, discipline, perseverance, patience and a strong stomach. But the results will justify them. After all, our ancient ancestors also said it "nothing ventured, nothing gained". So my advice is that they will need to be prepared for something that they have never experienced before and even if there still are moments when they will want to run out from this, to know that the experiences they will gain are unique and they will be a solid foundation for their lives.
You are one of the athletes who suffered a serious injury that required surgery and a special rehabilitation. Are you happy with the treatment you received? How easy was it to get back on the court afterwards? Did your team support you? Coaches, teammates, management?
In my infelicity to suffer this injury I was so lucky because I had surgery with one of the best cruciate surgeons and all the rehabilitation costs were covered by my team. I am so happy with the treatment I received and especially from the physical therapist and the doctor of my team. We worked very hard so I can turn back in the court, so I am very grateful to them.
My team supported me as much as they could. I got injured at the beginning of the year when the championship started, so they had to focus on winning games and I was focused on going back on the court healthy. My return to the court wasn’t easy. I had to learn to land my jumps differently, something that took me a long time to do. Also my recovery took a lot of time doing intensive weight training. But my injury made me realize how important it is to take care of your body when you are doing championships and it is a lesson that I learned the hard way but made me a better athlete.
Something I will never forget is my coach all these months of recovery and rehab, he put me on a chair and he taught me passing. Even in this difficult period of my life, he helped to improve my skills and be able to claim my OH position in the court, something that opened other aspects to me in the sport.
Your conference in which you play had a competitive activity in the Fall and you made great appearances. What are the team’s goals for the future?
My coach never sets big goals. Our goal is to go into every game and play hard and the results will come. Every new game is different, we always concentrate on the game that we have now and we play like it’s a final.
This year you are going through your last year of studies; what are your future plans, both professional and in sports?
At this moment I received my degree and I am doing my master’s. I want to continue my career in Europe.