Bangkok, Thailand, November 15, 2020 — Volleyball has come to a stop almost in all corners of the globe since the pandemic started, and being away from the sport has been challenging for fans and athletes including Malaysian youngster Tasha Mae.
Shortly after her stints at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games and the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour 1-star event in Langkawi, lockdowns imposed worldwide forced Tasha to step away from the sand courts.
“I had to face the boredom of just staying at home and not even having a chance to train or travel around to compete. I missed my teammates and my beach volleyball friends a lot, and it is pretty hard to stay at home, because I have no one to play volleyball with.”
Just last week, Tasha had learned Malaysia is extending its lockdown for another month. The 18-year-old admitted the news was devastating, but she said there is no other option but to take the opportunity to improve herself at home and find other ways to get herself pumped.
After months of lockdown and facing the mental challenges of the pandemic, Tasha has discovered two new friends – the walls of her home and social media.
“One of the good things that came out of this pandemic was that the world became even smaller and united through social media, and I made even more new friends globally through Instagram, because everyone was facing the same challenges and social media is a good way to stay connected.
“My best companion is the wall. I would even feel very envious of my friends from other countries who were able to train and compete. There is practically no court time at all, and now the only types of training I can do are home workouts, body strength and light weight training. I know that this is seriously going to affect my fitness and skill level, but I have to make the best of the situation.”
Admittedly, the long time away from her teammates and the sport she loves has taken a toll on her emotional well-being, and Tasha knows the pandemic is affecting athletes worldwide on an unimaginable scale.
“I cannot imagine the top-level athletes who are working so hard for the Olympics, how tough it must have been for them to cope and adjust. But of course, they are very strong mentally, so I am sure that they readjusted quickly and designed a new routine. As athletes, we are used to going out, training and competing.
“So when that part of our lives is cut off, it feels like a huge chunk is missing and sometimes I even feel like I have lost my identity. That being said, it is easy to feel empty and depressed. So it is very important that we are doing the right things to keep ourselves mentally stable and happy.”
True enough, Tasha has chosen the path to reconnect and entertain people on social media. During her time away from the beach volleyball courts, she focused on her blog where she talks about the struggles athletes face mentally and to ultimately stress the importance of protecting their emotional well-being.
On the other hand, being part of the social media generation, she has also found a way to spread some smile to her followers through her TikTok videos. Her inspiration? American beach volleyball player and TikTok star Melissa Powell.
“Honestly, I have never seen myself as a ‘TikTok girl’ because I didn’t like posting videos of myself. But I was inspired by Melissa Powell, an amazing beach volleyball player from the USA. She makes and posts hilarious Tiktok videos of herself portraying the triumphs and struggles of a volleyball or beach volleyball player. I always find her videos very relatable and I always get tickled by them.
“That spurred me to think of some ideas of my own and share them to the world because I wanted to share that joy throughout the volleyball community, and hopefully people could relate to them. It definitely made missing volleyball and competing easier to cope with because it helped me stay connected to the global volleyball community.”
From the different kinds of celebration on court, to some hilarious moments in the middle of the match, Tasha’s TikTok videos have definitely put a smile on her followers’ faces while giving them a glimpse of the life of a beach volleyball player.
“I just try to brainstorm the sort of challenges I face as a beach volleyball player and think of ways which I can portray that into my short videos.”
While behind the hilarious videos and insightful write-ups are moments of loneliness and longing for her time on court, the rising beach volleyball star said one of the best ways to cope up with the pandemic’s emotional toll is to find things that make them happy.
“There are many times when I felt empty, lonely and bored. It is not easy, but what I did was read many books, watched a lot of educational videos online to make sure that I’m still learning new things every day. I would advise people to take this time to do their hobbies that they really enjoy but never found the time to do them.”
Despite the lack of beach volleyball events to join and strict lockdowns, Tasha is grateful to the Malaysia Volleyball Association for doing everything it can to support its players and to provide assurance that everything will be back to normal.
“Our federation has done a good job in keeping us updated on the latest news and events, and we always keep in touch. Things are very uncertain now and we don’t even know if we will be able to compete by next year. But I believe that our federation will do their best to ensure that we will participate in tournaments once we are able to.”
Right now, Tasha’s dreams are put on hold. Despite having no clarity on what awaits in the future, the 18-year-old does not take her focus away from her goals once the world is back in place.
“I was supposed to go to the United States to further my studies this year, but due to the pandemic I have no choice but to defer my plans. At this point, I don’t even know what competitions will be held, but if everything returns to normal, I am definitely looking forward to competing in the 2021 SEA Games.
“I’m excited and scared at the same time. Excited, because I get to represent my country again in such a prestigious event; scared because I know that our preparation will be inadequate. I do not like the feeling of going into competition knowing that we did not do our best to prepare, because that will not only let ourselves down, but also our team, association and everyone supporting us. That being said, we will just have to make the most of our circumstances and the best we can.”
If there is one thing that truly struck Tasha in the long time they have been in lockdown, it is the tenacity athletes have shown despite all the struggles they have faced, and the overwhelming support of the people around her.
“To my fellow athletes, I really respect your hustle and determination to keep yourself in shape mentally and physically. I know it is not easy, but you are doing the best you can, and we just have to support each other and know that this will pass. One day, we will all look back and think, how amazing it is that we got through this and came out even stronger than before. And if any crisis would happen again in the future, we will be much better prepared for it and it will only be a small challenge to us.
“To all my supporters, thank you very much for being there for me. You were the ones who kept me going. Even when I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, you continued giving me support and I’m happy that I can inspire you and maybe even put a smile on your face. These are tough times, but I know that we are going to get through this together and become an even better version of ourselves.”
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