Markella Lanara: As we say in Greece “the daring one wins”
You were one of the athletes who chose to take a “gap year” chasing the dream of a very good university both academically and athletically. Do you feel justified by your decision?
The decision to take a “gap year” and reject the offers I had after graduating high school was probably the riskiest thing I have ever done in my life. As we say in Greece “the daring one wins”, and in my case my decision not only justified me, but exceeded all my expectations! This extra time was what gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams and secure a spot in a very prestigious university both academically and athletically. Moreover, this extra time gave me the opportunity to get a mental break from the exhausting process of the panhellenic exams and bring my body back into shape to how it was before my senior year of high school. Finally, having this extra time before I leave, allowed me to prepare myself better for the forthcoming change that was about to come such as cooking, washing clothes, and even more complex ones such as how to prepare myself to say goodbye to my family.
What were some of the concerns and expectations you had about college athletics in the US? What were some of the things you had to overcome in order to achieve your goals?
One of the biggest concerns I had was that I was not going to be able to meet the expectations of my coaches and my team. I was scared that I would not be good enough and that I would not be able to contribute to the team. On the other hand, I was anticipating getting to the U.S. and learning about their philosophy behind how they train and play volleyball. Obviously, in order to achieve my goal, I had to overcome the feeling of inferiority that possesses many female athletes. I realized that if I wanted to convince everyone else that I can do this, I have to convince myself first.
From the very beginning, not only have you managed to have an essential role in your team, but also set a goal to aim for an academic award. How difficult is it for a freshman student-athlete to tackle the challenging demands of both academics and sports at a very high level?
Nothing is difficult as long as you truly want it. My goals academically and athletically were clear from the moment I set foot here. From then on, it all comes down to how capable you are of planning and being organized to achieve these goals. It is difficult but not impossible. All you need is a plan and hard work. For me, the satisfaction I get when I get rewarded for my hard work and effort makes up for everything.
When did you start the process of searching for a university, are you happy with your decision and how did NOMOS contribute to you achieving your goals?
The truth is that I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether I wanted to chase a sports scholarship in America or not. That is why I began the recruiting process quite late: around halfway through my senior year in high school. Nevertheless, NOMOS not only provided me with options, but by the end of the year I had some very good offers, one of which I was seriously considering to accept and I even got the chance to go on an official visit to this university. However, as I mentioned earlier, I chose to give myself extra time and chase the opportunity of my dreams. I am so grateful for the NOMOS family not just for respecting my decision, but also for continuing to support me and believe in me until the very end. My continuous communication with Mr. Tasos Kaburakis and his constant and relentless support made me feel as if he was sharing my dream, that it was not just mine, but ours. And of course, this collective effort and mutual honesty and support was what brought the desired result in the end.
You are right in the center of events since you live in Washington. How is life in the most historic city of the United States?
It is as if I am living in a movie! Even now it is hard for me to completely grasp the fact that I go out for a walk and in 10 minutes I am standing outside the White House! It is just so incredible and exciting. At the same time, I am very lucky to have lived unique moments that I would not have had the opportunity to experience anywhere else- “only at GW moments” as my university says. The most recent example I have to share is from President Biden’s inauguration where there were national guards in every corner of the city for about 10 days. Of course, living here also gives me the rare opportunity to find internships within the Capitol, the Senate, and the infinite companies and NGOs that are based in Washington and meet remarkable people.
What advice would you give other athletes who are considering following a path similar to yours? What do you have to say to the parents and athletes that are considering to begin this journey?
I would advise the athletes to respect themselves and dedicate as much time as they need in order to make this decision. If you find it hard to decide on what you want to do with life or if you are scared because you have no clue about what the life of a student-athlete looks like, try to get in touch with other athletes, coaches, parents, and agents who have followed this path and can answer your questions and give you an idea on how things were for them. This is a decision that will affect your future which is why it is very important to reach after you have received and kept in mind all the guidelines and you agree with yourself. Once you make the decision to pursue a sports scholarship, it is very important to clarify exactly what you are looking for in a university- is it the sports? Is it the academics? Is it both? It is very important to know what you are looking for and let NOMOS know as soon as possible so that they get you the offers that suit you best. Do not expect NOMOS to do everything for you! Do your own research on universities, make a list of what you like and give it to NOMOS so that they focus on what you want. The last and most important piece of advice I have to give is to follow your instinct and have faith in the process. The only reason I took the risk of waiting an extra year was because I felt deep inside me that a better offer will appear. Trust your gut and always make decisions based on how you feel and what you want because in the end, this is your life we are talking about.
The only piece of advice I have for the parents is to support their children unconditionally. In order for your child to excel, they must feel that no matter if they are succeeding or failing, they will always be accepted and supported. And by support, I mean support their dreams, not yours. I know that it is incredibly hard for a parent to let go of their child at such a young age, but it is much worse to lose their kids' trust because they are preventing them from chasing their dreams.