Hello Martina, we are glad that you agreed to talk to us about your experience with the development program for women called Journey To Self.
I am a mother of two, a wife, and the founder of SportStudyUSA – an organization that helps young athletes get into a university in the USA and receive a sports scholarship. I am a cheerful person who enjoys learning new things and meeting new people.
The idea arose a long time ago due to the fact that I had played volleyball in America for four years and later also coached. Actually, my whole life revolved around sports and in America it revolved around both sports and schools. I got the idea after I returned to Slovakia, although at the time it didn't really feel like an idea at all. I thought about it from a legal point of view, for instance, whether I would be legally responsible for someone, and I got the impression that turning this idea into reality would be more of a worry than a joy. But then I met my former coach, who does something similar for one company, and the wheels started turning. We thought about how to make it happen and how to send our students to America, as there was still the COVID-19 pandemic back then. But I said to myself "pandemic or not, we are going to do it". And somehow we figured it out, made it happen, and I realized that I was totally in my element. I was back in the world of sports, in the world of people who knew me from my volleyball days, in the world of universities, administration and work with young people. So everything completely "clicked" and it's been like that ever since. We currently have 24 contracted sports in America, including volleyball, basketball, football, tennis and water polo, and more are still being added.
I worked in a family confectionery business – providing a kind of management. And I also advised a few people about volleyball in America, I helped them with their choice of schools and some also with getting a scholarship. At the same time, I took care of the children. I guess I was paying attention to everything but myself. And then came that period, caused by the age of around forty or something else, when your work and everyday life begin to get you down and eat away at you. I felt that I needed to change something. I searched and tried different things, but nothing felt right. It was during this period that several people came into my life to whom I owe for where I am today. One of these people is Evka and LeadIN, as well as my family. So, when the idea of SportStudyUSA came up, I knew that I was at home, I was being myself, and I was doing what really fulfilled me. I think the idea came at the right time. When I look back and think that I could have done this a long time ago, I know that I couldn't have because I was supposed to do it right now. And because I am doing it now, it became exactly what it was meant to be.
At that time, I was going through my “lost” period. Although I had felt that I had everything in my hands, I was searching for myself internally, I was searching for a path to myself. Well, and the program was exactly about that – about better understanding yourself, your inner self, your needs. And since I succeeded at it, or am still succeeding at it (because it is an ongoing process), I can better perceive the world around me, my loved ones, my work and even my private life.
I guess all of the moments did. Because the whole program was a journey, where in one moment you realize something about yourself, and in the next moment you observe the people who are there and learn to understand why they made the decision that they made, and which you would have made differently. I often typify the people in my life according to the talent profiles we learned about in the program. By that, I don’t mean that I put these people in a box based on their talent profile, but that I am able to perceive them better due to it. Each stage of the program had its own meaning and left some impression, although, one may not be aware of it immediately after completing the program. Some things you will realize in a month, some in a year, and some will hit you like "ah, this was in the program two years ago". So it is a journey of continual learning and drawing from it even after a long time.
I first perceive my students from the sports angle, since I used to coach - I view them with my coaching eye. And then I view them as individuals and see how each one is completely different. For example, I have an athlete who is of a different talent profile than me, and that's why the work with her is, I would say, more challenging than with other athletes. Precisely because of her talent profile - of what she needs and how she communicates back. So at my work, once I get to know my students better also due to the concept of talent profiles, I can better estimate what to expect and how our cooperation will develop - where it will be easy and where we need to point something out or make it a priority in order to make it to finish line.
Because it's a journey to self, literally. The program truly lives up to its name, at least for me it did. And once a person realizes that the path to oneself is the most important path, then all other paths become easier and simpler - suddenly they are no longer impossible or impassable, but there is a detour or a tunnel underneath them that you can take. I could also witness this in our group. There were women who were trying to improve their professional lives, others their personal ones. Each woman in the program dealt with something different, but I believe that once a person understands themselves, they will also understand what is happening at work, the corporation or, for example, the family in which they may see chaos and confusion. Once a person understands themselves and finds themselves, learns to love themselves, then all the pieces start falling into place.
At the time, I didn't realize what it was giving me. That was one of the things I realized with Evka in LeadIN. Everything takes its time to mature and this maturity came to me only at the age when I was able to realize what it truly gave me. And besides the fact that it gave me the opportunity to play sports, get an education, have a scholarship, see a part of the world and meet new people with whom I am still in contact today, it actually enabled me to do the work I do now. Because it is thanks to those people and contacts I made that many doors are open for me today and that I can now open them for my students as well. That's exactly what I'm trying to give to other young people - the opportunity to experience what I experienced and the opportunity to continue playing sports. At the same time, many young athletes don’t want to be anything else but professional athletes, and I understand that. But I also tell them that there will come a time when their body no longer has the energy, or God forbid they will get injured, and if they don't even have a diploma, then suddenly they are left with nothing. I want to give my students the sports experience and an education at the same time. I want to enable them to continue playing professionally and pay for their studies thanks to the sport they love. This brings me joy and satisfaction - to see that another young person is going to America and has this opportunity thanks to me. Because combining sports and studies is really possible in America only. Nowhere in the world does it work so symbiotically that a student doesn't have to miss training because of school and doesn't have to be late for school because of training. It is an experience that lasts a lifetime.
When I see it work out. That I can get those kids to America, enable them to continue playing sports, arrange their scholarships, and make the impossible possible, because for many people such a thing is unrealistic since they don't know how the system works. In Slovakia, athletes receive maybe 100-150 euros per month and play in all leagues. In America, we have a scholarship that covers their accommodation, food, tuition fees, health insurance, and for some even travel expenses, and suddenly they get a scholarship of 40,000 to 50,000 euros per year. This year, the average scholarship for our athletes is 39,000 euros which is an incredible achievement both for them and for us, and a motivation to keep going.
I don't know if I can name just one. For example, I am a member of the Sports Hall of Fame in America, my volleyball records there have not been broken to this day. I played and coached in the highest American division - D1. I represented Slovakia at the European Championships and the World Championships. Those are the achievements “on the wall”, but I don't know if I would list them as my biggest achievement. Rather, I would say that the achievement is being here and now, learning something new every day, being able to understand that even the bad is part of the journey. The idea to start SportStudy USA, to come up with a name and a logo for it, was also an achievement. It involves a million things, whether it's advertising or communication with schools, coaches and parents, and the achievement is that I can manage all of it and, at the same time, be a part of my children's time, support them, find time for myself. Achievement is enjoying what is here and now.
– 7 September 2023 –