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BY GIUSEPPE VINCI

In partnership with The Owl Post

 
 

As a child, I had three dreams.

Not one, not four.

Three.

Sharp, clear, complicated.

 

I wanted to go to the Olympic games because sport was my greatest passion.

Then, I wanted to get good enough at playing the piano to perform in front of at least a thousand people, because music was my "other" greatest passion.

And finally, I wanted to start a family because there is nothing more beautiful than having a family.

 

My mom was born into a Sicilian family of ancient origins and even more ancient mindsets and so, when her first husband showed symptoms of schizophrenia, she was left alone.

"See? You drove him crazy,” her grandparents told her.

 

So, my mother found herself in Milan, the great metropolis where everyone used to seek their fortune, with no one at her side and with two children to take care of.

Two, which would soon become three, like my dreams, because I was about to arrive, the result of a new love, that then quickly faded.

We lived in the Gratosoglio council houses, in the suburbs, where one of the favorite pastimes of the children was to go downstairs, to the basement and play "catch the rat."

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Social services were always crouched outside our door.

Not because my mother wasn't loving or caring, but because she often needed help with practical, material things, and then I also started spending time with what I now call my second family.

In particular, I liked Gianni very much.

He was like a father to me. Even more, when I turned eight, I asked him to be my godfather at my baptism, which I had organized completely independently in the local parish.

After the ceremony, I invited everyone to the bar at the end of the street to celebrate at my expense, and it was always Gianni, secretly, who handed over to me 10 thousand lire, so I could pretend I was an adult.

Plus, there was sport and therefore, despite everything, I was happy.

 

My love for the sport came early, very early, almost as fast as puberty.

I have been one of those children who develop before everyone else.

The classic things: a hint of a mustache, strong muscles, speed.

Even if I wasn't the prototype of the likely future athlete, as a child I was twice as fast as the others. And perhaps this is also why doing sport offered me great satisfaction.

 

At first, the individual ones, from youth games to regional championships, from cross-country running to long jump, in which I boasted a record, 5.95, that I would never touch up again.

After that, team sports arrived, too, and a whole world opened up to me. Because seeing so many athletes moving in unison like a perfect mechanism, reminded me of the beauty of a symphony.

A harmonious collective expressing an opinion.

With their hands, with their feet, with their head.

However, it wasn't that harmonic when, in 1997, in my seventh grade, during a five-a-side football match, the central player of the opposing team made a deadly entrance on my right ankle.

I used to be a goalkeeper because the goalkeeper sees the whole field, he is like an orchestra director, and this really fascinated me.

For the occasion, however, I had been deployed among the men of movement. I would never do either thing again in the future.

After having suffered that hit, in the heat of the moment, I didn't notice anything. But the next day, as I was getting out of bed, I got shaken by excruciating pain.

First rush to the ER and first bandage.

Two weeks later the pain did not seem to diminish at all, and so I had to arm myself with crutches and good will.

The pain came and went, without warning, making me feel fully healed one day and simply garbage the next.

 

Almost six months later, after the umpteenth relapse, Gianni picked me up and brought me to the hospital. We ran all the possible and imaginable tests, to conclude with an MRI in an expensive private facility in the center.

I still remember the invoice, it said 700 thousand lire plus 250 thousand for the doctor's visit.

It was barely less than a million, which must have been a lot to us.

When the doctor took the images and placed them in front of the neon light to examine them, he left them there for two seconds at the most.

In the ankle area, only a large black tangle broke the glistening white of the tibia and the tip of the foot in two.

They immediately hospitalized me, and operated on me soon, because it was hard to predict what they would actually find in my foot once they opened it.

It was osteosarcoma, a cyst that had become infected due to the sprain and was, little by little, eating all the bones it found.

When it reached a piece of bone marrow, the stabbing pains arrived.

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A few days after the surgery, the doctor called me back to his office.

"I want to talk to him alone," he confided to my mother.

When I walked through the door, he looked me straight in the eyes and, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, he said I was old enough to understand that if I wanted to still be able to walk at sixty years old, it wasn't a good idea to play sports.

Never again.

 

We did not ask anyone for a second opinion.

 

In the meantime, we had moved from the city to a small town, Casteggio, and in a small town, the support of others can be found more and more easily, especially when difficulties arise.

It's all more personal, and small, and understanding.

Of all the sports, the one I loved most was definitely volleyball and I started to go and watch the training of the local club.

I picked up the balloons.

Then I started throwing the balloons.

Then I started filling out the reports and putting up the net.

They made me feel like one of the team.

To remain attached to my greatest project, I have done anything: I took my coaching license, completed the referee course shortly after that, and started sitting on the bench as a manager before anyone else.

 

It was the early 2000s and my mother as if to show me that even without the joys of the field, I could do something important, gifted me a laptop, which at the time was a semi-mysterious object.

It had cost her enormous sacrifices for more than a few months, and I took it everywhere, filling excel sheets with statistics and data.

 

So, as the seasons went by, I began focusing more and more on that aspect of the game, which is as weird as it is fascinating.

Those who collected those statistics at the time pretty much did a scribe's job, but it also hid great potential.

Creativity is the last stage of knowledge.

If you don't have everything in view, you will never be able to imagine its infinite developments.

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With humility, I went to work.

Until I became good.

I understood that, in sports, if you are not improving, you are getting worse. Because others are most certainly improving.

And I realized I really liked trying to figure out how to improve the feedback circle between the athlete and the coach.

I wanted to create a new language, common to all.

 

Technology continued to progress, my competence too, and so did my career, taking me, year after year, from local courts to the top national league, Serie A, first with Pavia and then with Milan.

Except for a gap year I mostly spent playing the piano (which allowed me to fulfill my second dream as a child), my whole life revolved around volleyball and the matches statistical analysis.

A job that demanded more and more, and more and more gave me back. Until I reached the gates of the senior national team, with which I had the great honor of participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

 

I was 22 years old.

 

22 years could be a lot or not enough, it depends.

It is impossible to give an answer that suits everyone.

In my 22 years, there had already been a lot, a great lot, and the only thing I could think about as our national team qualified for Tokyo was that I still had one dream to fulfill: to start a family.

And having a family with sports is complicated.

At any level.

 

That's why, after the Olympics, I picked up my things and went to BYU, which offered me a scholarship in exchange for my support for the university's volleyball programs.

I chose Brigham Young University for two reasons: the religious perspective of the school and the wild landscapes of Utah, which I remembered thanks to Forrest Gump.

I left Italy, and the Serie A and the national team. Because studying full-time would have allowed me to lay solid foundations for my future and start my own family as soon as possible.

 

According to many, that's where my career began.

Everyone would talk about it from that day forward, but for me what happened after my arrival at BYU is just a consequence.

 

We have transformed the way statistics are applied in sports.

We started a company.

We consulted dozens of national teams and universities of the highest level.

And then sold it all to a big multinational corporation.

But that's not the story.

The story is the one that was before, that of a child with three dreams, who never gives up, even in the face of the evidence, and who digs, with his bare hands, his place in the world he loves the most.

 

Thanks to my work.

Thanks to my family (even the extended one), the one I had, and the one I built.

And thanks to sport, even today the thing that allows me to pay the bills.

Today, as yesterday.

Today, as many years ago, as always. Even if it seems to me that an eternity has passed since the time of "catching the rat."