TAKE 5 with USA Volleyball's Christa Harmotto


Play Positive TAKE 5 Sports Setbacks

Christa Harmotto USA VolleyballEvery athlete experiences a setback during his or her career. That is just a part of sports.

But with every setback, there's also a chance to comeback.

Liberty Mutual Insurance sat down with USA Volleyball's Christa Harmotto to get her thoughts on making a strong comeback from her setback.

Christa Harmotto

Christa made her Olympic debut in the 2012 London games, but has been a member of Team USA Volleyball since 2009. She made an immediate impact when she joined the team in 2009, and has grown into a consistent starter and contributor. Her efforts helped put Team USA on the podium to earn a silver medal in London.


1. Can you describe the most challenging injury you have ever endured in your athletic career?

It was Senior Night of my Freshman Year at Penn State University, two weeks prior to the start of the NCAA Playoffs. I jumped off one foot for a front slide and landed with my right leg locked straight. My knee then gave way and my leg hyper-extended, tearing my ACL. I crumbled to the floor and people say you could hear a pin drop inside Rec Hall.

2. Can you describe your reaction to, thoughts and feelings about this injury – both initially, and in the hours and days that followed?

Initially, I had no concept of the extent of the injury. I felt sharp pain for the first few minutes, but once I was escorted to the training room, the pain began to subside. At that point I was examined by the Athletic Trainer and he suspected my ACL, but did not give the formal diagnosis and said to wait for the orthopedic surgeon and an MRI to the following day. Those first 24 hours were interesting. I had a feeling it was serious, but still held on to the hope that a doctor would have better news the following day. That "better" news never came, and my dreams of  competing with the team the rest of the season and into the playoffs were gone for that year. 

3. What was the hardest thing to accept about this injury?

The most difficult thing to accept was that I could not physically help my teammates compete for a National Title.

4. Were you able to turn your injury “setback” into a “comeback” – and if so, how?

With every injury there is a "setback" but also the opportunity for a "comeback" and a chance to be challenged, learn and grow as an athlete. That is the approach I take with an injury. You can't change the fact that you were injured, so learning other ways to be involved in the team, building strength in other areas physically, and time managing your rehab, school, and practice all help complete you as a player. I learned to be more diligent, patient, and focused during my ACL rehabilitation, which added another layer to who I was as an athlete and fueled my desire to comeback and play at a higher level. I made a full recover in August of 2006, just in time to begin my Sophomore season.

5. What advice would you give a young athlete dealing with an injury?

Injuries are part of sport. Often times we can feel guilty -- as if it were your fault. As long as you are preparing yourself physically to the best of your ability, you are doing everything in your control to prevent them. It is important to push past the disappointment and figure out the tools you need to make your comeback.

  1. Listen to the medical staff. They are the experts. Remember, they went to school for this. If they give you guidelines, follow them.
  2. Rest. A tough word for some athletes, including me, to fully grasp. Your body is working hard to repair itself, so allow it to do its job.
  3. Be patient. You will be given an estimated timeline of return, but they aren't the same for everyone. You may need more time to heal, and that is OK. Remember, as hard as it is to take a step back, it will minimize the risk of issues later.
  4. Do your exercises. They may be tedious and boring, but they are important to retrain your body to support the injured area.

6. Can you describe the most challenging “mental setback” or “mistake” you have ever endured in your athletic career?

Regional Finals in 2006, against my dear USA Teammate Courtney Thompson and her Washington Huskies. We (Penn State) were on a path to reach the Final Four with a shot of winning a National Title, until Court and the Huskies outright, outplayed us. It was one of the few times during the season I felt overpowered and outplayed. We were the powerhouse all year in the Big Ten, but they came at us and we broke.

7. Can you describe your reaction to, thoughts and feelings about this setback or mistake – both initially, and in the hours and days that followed?

I'll never forget the locker room after the game. I felt like I didn't prepare as well as I could have or help the team prepare for the competition we would face in the playoffs. Our team was full of potential and we weren't maximizing our gifts. In the hours and days that followed, that feeling of "I could have prepared better" kept haunting me.

8. What was the hardest thing to accept about this setback or mistake?

I didn't know when the next opportunity to compete on that stage would be.

9. Can you describe the thought process and action plan you used to come back from this setback or mistake?

As January of 2007 rolled around, I made a commitment to fully maximize my potential as a player and help my teammates to do the same. As a team, we committed to maximizing our time in the spring season and all made the commitment to stay through the summer of 2007. 8 AM pool workouts, weight training 4 times a week, cardio workouts, and organizing our own serve and pass were all part of the road to maximizing our potential. We learned how to push ourselves and each other and therefore expanding our threshold for whatever would stand in our way.

10. Were you able to turn your “mental setback” into a “comeback” – and if so, how?

By maximizing our potential both mentally and physically in the spring and summer of 2007, we set the tone for the season and climbed our way to the top by winning a National Title.

11. What advice would you give a young athlete struggling to “bounce back” from mental setbacks or mistakes in their early career?

With every mental setback there is a chance to learn and an opportunity to step out and figure out what tools you need to bounce back. Mistakes and setbacks are part of the game and part of the learning process. If we didn't have them, we would never grow and continue to push our threshold as an individual and as a team.

Come back next month for another exclusive TAKE 5 Interview.

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