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Meet An Athlete

Nicky Nieves is a Paralympic gold medalist. She’s ready to go for the gold again in Tokyo. COURTESY OF NBC OLYMPICS/USOPC

The Paralympic Games will take place in Tokyo, Japan. They are for the world’s best athletes who have a disability. Nicky Nieves plays sitting volleyball. She’s on the United States women’s team . She’s a gold medalist. TFK’s Karena Phan spoke with Nieves about volleyball.

How long have you been playing sitting volleyball?

Since 2011. At that time, I was in college. I was playing standing volleyball. I played for Queens College, in New York.

Then what happened?

The Paralympic team reached out to my athletic director. They said, “Hey, we see you have an athlete who doesn’t have a hand. We want to know if she’d be interested in playing sitting volleyball.” At first, I was hesitant. But I loved it so much. I stuck with it.

Members of the U.S. Women’s Sitting National Team play a demonstration match. It was in Missouri in 2017.

JOHN SLEEZER—the KANSAS CITY STAR/TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE/GETTY IMAGES

What’s your favorite thing about sitting volleyball?

I have found my community. I can talk with people who understand what I’m going through. It feels like I have another family.

What was it like training during the pandemic?

Before a big match, we usually live at our training site. It’s really useful for me. I get advice from my coaches. I’m around my teammates. That all changed when the pandemic happened. I was home for a long time. It was difficult.

How is training going now?

We got off to a slow start. We had been away from each other for so long. But now we’re back on the grind for Tokyo.

MAKING THE BLOCK Nieves says strategy is a big difference between sitting and standing volleyball. She’s seen here in 2019.

HARRY HOW—GETTY IMAGES

You have a nonprofit group. It’s called Limitless People Inc. What inspired you to start it?

I graduated from high school in 2007. My mom paid for me to play volleyball. It helped me. Now it’s expensive. So I thought, “What would somebody else become if they had the opportunity that I had?” Limitless People gives adults and children a chance to play volleyball. It gives them a chance to play in a tournament and practice, too.

What do you want people to know about Paralympic sports?

Just because it’s a Paralympic sport doesn’t mean it’s easier. I wish that, when people looked at Para sports, they would admire individuals for their skill and hard work. I wish they would be inspired. These athletes are giving it all they’ve got!

ILYA PITALEV—SPUTNIK/AP

Watch the Tokyo Paralympics with all the Team U.S.A. athletes starting August 24 on NBC.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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