What’s the biggest difference between sitting volleyball and playing volleyball for the Ooks? “Well, the standing,” Sarah Melenka laughed.
Sarah Melenka is a second year member of the women’s volleyball team at NAIT. She is also part of the Canadian sitting volleyball team.
In Grade 11, Melenka was diagnosed with compartment syndrome in her leg. Compartment syndrome is a rare condition commonly found in victims of car accidents or in soldiers who regularly carry heavy packs. “It is like sausage in its casing. The muscle is like the sausage and the surgery is like opening up the casing to allow the sausage to swell. It’s a weird analogy, I know, but it works,” Melenka said.
The outside hitter underwent 10 surgeries and lost 30-40 per cent of the muscle power in her leg.
While Melenka was forced into a recovery season her first year at NAIT, she sought out alternatives to volleyball.
“During my year off I was going crazy not playing volleyball,” she said.
After discovering that there was a sitting volleyball team in Edmonton, Melenka began practising with the team. She soon learned that she could qualify to be an official member of the team due to the muscle deficiencies in her leg.
“One thing led to another,” she said. “The Team Canada coach invited me out just to practise before I had even qualified but I was approved and I ended up making the team,” Melenka said.
“It was very sudden. One month I just needed something to do to have a break and the next month I was classified [ensured eligibility] and was on the team,” she said.
Team Canada has qualified for the world championships and will be competing in The Netherlands in July.
“Hopefully [the] end goal is [the] 2020 paralympics in Tokyo,” Melenka said.
With her nearly constant pain, Melenka has experienced limited playing time on the court this season. This has not stopped her from contributing to her team, though.
“I’m a motivator. I bring an extra spirit to the team. If they are down after losing a set, I can get them ready to roll again and reset. In practice, I’m an extra competitor. I help them practise against tricky shots and help make them better,” said Melenka.
Ooks coach Benj Heinrichs appreciates her contribution.
“Her steady focus, determination and positivity have been a great asset in practices,” Heinrichs said.
“In addition, she has done a great job for us when her number has been called to go in during matches.”
The outside hitter has been a part of media interviews ever since her recovery began.
“I love telling my story. It’s a positive story in the end. I went through a lot of struggles, I had a lot of mental struggles but to say I play for sitting Team Canada and a top college in Alberta is an honour. I went through a lot but I made it out,” said Melenka.
“Sometimes I do get tired of people asking about it [her surgery scar]. I just tell people I got bit by a shark,” she laughed.
Melenka is currently studying personal fitness at NAIT. Her ultimate goal is to pursue sports psychology. Combining her knowledge and personal experience of the mental and physical aspects of being an athlete, she hopes to aid others through their rehabilitation process.
She aims to share her story through public speaking and strives to learn how children with disabilities play sports and how she can help.
– Jory Proft
– Photo by Bryn Lipinski