Role: Helen Putriment, set to graduate in December with a nursing degree from The Sage Colleges, wrapped up her volleyball eligibility last year at age 30. Her story: Her student-athlete path awaited her when she was 17, but she did not start college until 10 years later. Lessons learned: As a kid, she was too shy to even finish a tryout. Volleyball made her confident.
I didn’t play sports growing up – I worked. I grew up on a 400-acre thoroughbred racehorse farm in upstate New York. I’m the youngest of four: I’m 31, Louis is 32, Peter is 33 and Jeannie is 34. We worked together; we had to for our home and for our livelihood. My parents were not focused on sports. We did not work out; we worked hard for our farm.
I remember right when I started to play sports. I just wanted to play volleyball. I showed up for tryouts, and I don’t know what happened, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t really put myself out there. I left. I didn’t even try out.
Things just came together more for me in ninth grade on the JV team. I was good at allowing opportunities to happen. When I wanted to go after that volleyball, I would just sort of elevate. Even on defense, I made opportunities.
After high school, I was all set to play college volleyball at Springfield College. The coach thought I could be an All-American. But I had some growing up to do. I didn’t want to leave my family and my farm. I also met a guy, literally, the day I graduated high school. I fell in love. So, I changed my mind. I didn’t go to college.
Maybe I was afraid to go to college. Or maybe I was rebelling. I quit playing volleyball for 10 years. I moved to Albany, New York. I worked at a jazz club. I ran a bakery. I was always up for new projects. I went to massage therapy school, and I was building my massage practice, and I enjoyed it immensely. But I knew I wanted to become more educated, more well-read. I just wanted that for myself.
I was 27 years old when I decided to go back to school. I felt like college was something I never accomplished, and that experience was missing in my life. With my need to care for others and help them heal, I knew nursing was the right field for me.
There was something else: I didn’t know if my eligibility was still intact, but I wanted to play college volleyball. I wanted to see if I could have an opportunity to play, just seek out those dreams that I used to have.
I had to try. I needed to know. I was a little nervous. I was playing in an adult tournament at the Neff Athletic Center in Troy, New York, and I saw the sage head coach, sandy Augstein-Collins. I went up to her and explained my situation. She stuck around and watched me play.
She was excited that I sort of fell into her lap. We made a lot of things happen in four years together. We took a volleyball program that sandy was just beginning to develop, and within four years, we made it to the NCAA tournament.
When I went back to serve at the NCAA tournament, it was 20-21. We were seeded No. 8. We had to play the No. 1 seed. I’m back there, and I look at that volleyball I’m holding, and I’m like, “let’s earn this point right here.” That team, Williams College – talent-wise, height-wise – was remarkable. They never messed up anything – serve, dig, set – and I served three points to allow us to be 23-21. They came back from that. Their game was flawless; they did not make errors. Their block was always set. They would funnel your hit to their digger. It was great even being able to play against players like that.
There I was, a 30-year-old woman. When I was young, I would not speak about my own physical talents. Now, it’s much easier. I can admit I can jump very high or I have these athletic abilities.
When I was 17 years old and decided not to go to college, there was always something missing for me. When you’re young and you’re given these expectations and you don’t follow through with them, they stay with you. I wanted to allow myself the opportunity to fulfill them.
Volleyball has helped me overcome the unknown, helped me try new things, have new experiences.