Rhody abroad — Volleyball player makes her mark in Africa

Blanley traveled with Michigan State University’s Athletes in Action mission trip to Cape Town, South Africa. PHOTO CREDIT: @rhodyvball on Twitter

Second-year libero Hannah Blaney represented the University of Rhode Island volleyball team last week with a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa.

Blaney accompanied the Michigan State University’s Athletes in Action (AIA) mission trip to the capital city to help spread the word of God through engaging activities and workshops. 

The program, Athletes in Action, is an organization for Christian athletes who embody the belief of moral values throughout their daily lives. Members are considered total athletes, defined by “athletes who are spiritually whole, athletic, and of sound mental health,” according to Blaney. 

Blaney traveled with her twin sister Julia after a member from MSU’s program dropped out at the last minute. Julia is also a libero at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan and the trip served as a once in a lifetime opportunity for the twins. 

“Growing up, you know, we shared everything together,” Blaney said. “You form a special bond with the people you go with, and for her to experience that at the same as me only further strengthens our bond.” 

On the very first day, the athletes traveled to Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, SA to help the community form their own AIA program across seas. According to Blaney, with a program blooming in South Africa, the potential for more mission trips in the future increases. 

Despite the glamor of traveling to Africa, the athletes were not on vacation. A daily schedule began at 6 a.m. and lasted until midnight. Although each day was different, the athletes traveled to various locations to help spread awareness to the word of God through interactive workshops for all ages. 

On the last day of the trip, the athletes held a kids camp down in the areas of high poverty to help further promote their mission. 

First on the to-do list: feed everyone. 

A massive buffet with all the food groups was lined outside the church for the visiting families. This provided the children with the energy they would need to participate in the activities.

“On the last day, we held the kids camp,” Blaney said. “It was definitely my favorite day interacting with all the kids. You get this feeling of gratefulness when you’re surrounded by those who are less fortunate. To see their faces light up when they experience the word of God and are having fun, is something you cannot forget.” 

Although only a week long, Blaney expressed it was an experience that she encourages others to participate in. She is currently working with the administration to start our own Athletes in Action organization here at URI with the goal to complete another mission trip before she graduates. 

Throughout the entire trip, Blaney noted the opportunity was bigger than the glitz and the glam of traveling for spring break. The experience provided valuable life lessons that she will carry with her for the rest of her life.

“Overall, there were so many takeaways from the trip,” Blaney said. “I learned that life is not always about the situation or circumstance you may find yourself in, it’s the perspective you have that paints the real picture.”

Head Coach Angel Agu noted there was no better person than Blaney to be on that trip, as she embodies a contagious positive light whether on or off the court. 

“Hannah is truthfully the most optimistic, energizing, and cheerful person that I have ever met,” Agu said. “She just radiates this positive energy that is contagious, and you can see that in everything she does. The trip is just one prime example.”

With an opportunity like this, Blaney noted the importance of being grateful for everything you have, as there is always someone out there that has less.

“I think the trip had an incredible impact on me not only as an individual but as an athlete as well,” Blaney said. “I now know when I go back on that court that I have to constantly give 100%. God has given me the opportunity to be here when others don’t have the same luxury, so I have to put in all my effort so it’s worth it.”

With a few meetings scheduled for the upcoming weeks, Blaney looks to continue this tradition for years to come, as hundreds of athletes could receive the opportunity to experience the same.