Lausanne, Switzerland, March 20, 2019 – Pleumjit Thinkaow and Wilavan Apinyapong took some time out to talk to fivb.com about their humble beginnings, leading Thailand in reaching its Olympic dream and creating a legacy in their country.
Pleumjit and Wilavan are arguably the most seasoned players in the Thai women’s national team with playing careers spanning over two decades – from the youth national team to the senior team where they have inspired each other and have built their great friendship.
“I started playing volleyball when I was 14 years old,” Pleumjit said. “It was my father who inspired me to play because he liked volleyball.”
“I was eight or nine years old when I first started playing,” Wilavan added. “I just tried playing it by myself then my parents saw me and taught me how to play the basic skills. I joined my high school team in the same school where my mom and dad worked as teachers.
“When I first joined the national team, I almost gave up and I just wanted to go back to school and study but it was Pleumjit who convinced me to stay because I like playing with her. After that I never wanted to leave the national team because playing there has given me so much – experience, friends and a good life.”
Their friendship was not the only thing that has evolved over the years but also their role as leaders of the team. Pleumjit and Wilavan are now the ties that bind Thailand’s volleyball sisterhood.
“We have a big age gap in our team. We have old and young players, so we have to guide the young players and hope that they can help make the team better each year.”
“I would say that I’m a follower and a leader,” Pleumjit said. “Wilavan and I help each other to lead the younger players in the national team.”
The Thai duo helped the team achieve a fourth-place finish at the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix in 2012 – their best finish at world level. They played key roles in two gold medal triumphs at the Asian Championships in 2009 and 2013, and the silver medal finish at the Asian Games in 2018.
They have become role models for the future generation of Thai volleyball athletes and they have built a lasting legacy for the sport in their country. Even though they have become volleyball superstars in Thailand, Pleumjit and Wilavan have kept their feet firmly on the ground.
“I played volleyball for fun when I was young,” Wilavan said. “It never crossed my mind that playing for the national team would make me popular and have so many fans. We never let fame get inside our heads and we always acted like normal people. When people approach us, we talk to them like equals and always thank them for the support. It’s also because of this that more fans have come to like us.
“We know we have a huge following, but we take pride only in the contribution we have made for volleyball in Thailand. Volleyball was not popular in our country before, but our team made it popular here with our victories. This will be part of our legacy.”
“I feel so happy and grateful to the fans for always supporting us and showing us that we are part of a big family. I’ve always stayed the same.” Pleumjit said.
The sense of being in a family creates self-assurance and builds confidence towards each member of the group, and the two Thai players trust the capabilities of their teammates.
Pleumjit and Wilavan are looking forward to the VNL and are hoping they can be a cohesive unit when they compete this season.
“We hope that Thailand will perform well at the VNL this year,” Wilavan said. “Since the VNL is played over a longer period, we need to sustain our level and be in great condition to be able to play this tournament. The schedule is very hectic but it also teaches our young players to cope with the travel schedule through balance in rest and play and in diet and nutrition.”
“We start training after the Thai Super League,” Pleumjit added. “We need our fans to be behind us all the way by cheering for us wherever we are.”
“It has become easier for our fans in Thailand and all over the world to follow our team,” said Wilavan on the different platforms to watch their VNL matches. “Fans can watch the matches live on TV, and live stream through desktop and mobile apps. These platforms have given many choices for the fans to follow us.”
The VNL is one of many tasks that Thailand has to complete this season and the Thai tandem is hungry to gain qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“We want to be in the Olympics,” Wilavan said. “It’s the only tournament we have never been to. We are getting older and it will get even more difficult for the two of us to wait for the next edition, so we want to qualify this time to Tokyo 2020.”
Wilavan and Pleumjit have already transcended barriers thanks to their love for the sport. Their eyes are set on success and they are as ready as ever to take the next step in their careers.
“You have to start everything with love,” Wilavan said. “If you love playing volleyball then you give everything to be successful.”
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