Donald SUXHO


Published on June 8th,2022

To enter the Palace of Sports, there was a long queue. It seemed as if the whole city was gathered near its doors.

The chaos that had been created around,begin to strain not only me but also my mom and brother who accompanied me that day.

The fog that spread like plumes of smoke over the crowds of people began to disturb me. I do not know if it was fear or stiffness. I started to wonder what we are looking for in that place.
After a long nightmare we entered the Palace of Sports.

The match had started and, after a few moments, ʺSkenderbeuʺ coach, who was holding a cigarette in his hand, asked for his first break and gathered the players around him. It looked like they were making plans to trap the rival squad.

The cigarette man was not just the coach of Skenderbeu. He was my father, Petraq Suxho, one of the best volleyball players in the history of Albanian sport.

I was a little boy and on voleyball court I saw only my father, not the coach, nor the former volleyball player. His portrait immediately calmed me down, taking away the fear that had accompanied me until the moment I was sitting on the podium among thousands of fans. At that moment I regained the security that only my father knows how to give me. Although a child, I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm. The atmosphere created outside and the match were just fantastic. In a few moments I wanted to be there on the voleyball court too. That day remains as a special picture in my mind.

No one imagined that the five years old boy on the podium one day would triumph in the volleyball world. Even in dreams I had not imagined. I did not know and no one knows how and where we will be in a few years! My childhood was full of beautiful memories, full of dreams, despite the difficult conditions which Albania faced in the years of communism.

The coal fields located near my house dusted half of my body every day, but that was no reason to leave the game. We were divided into groups of four and we played football with friends. But soon the confrontation went two against two, since not everyone was so crazy to follw the game at that pace.

It was getting dark, but I did not want to go home, as it was my turn to wash. In addition to football, we had fun with the ʺpetëzaʺ game . We started the game with the momentum of a new day, even though the night had fallen over the city. We did not recognize fatigue. The black coal field was the ideal place where our desires came to life. But my crazy desire to play, which knew neither day nor night, was abandoned by the last friend who accompanied me. I was left alone and headed home. 

Brother and father had arrived before me. They were in line to wash. There was no shower, but an aluminum pot heated over the kerosene stove.
The future Olympic champion was waiting to bathe through glasses of water. We do not know the future, but it is molded within us. Yes, the future champion was waiting in line to take a shower, after the Albanian champion, Petraq Suxho.
Eh ...

While my darling mommy, took care of everything. After warming the water and washing our clothes, she had to prepare dinner. The clothes took two days to get dry, so we could put them on again. But Mommywas never tired. Her image of a concequer always accompanies me on my path. It is part of my strength, my pride and my perseverance to move forward.

Uncles, neighbors, other acquaintances always kept their door open for each otherˊs children. We rarely went to our homes after school or exercise program, because many of us had parents at work and who usuallyreturnedlate. Under these conditions, a piece of bread coated with butter and sugar tasted really good. I don’t know, maybe it can be the wonderful taste of nostalgia that often takes me back in time.

Anyway, at that time dreams never sent me to the top of Olympus. I was not even sent to the tops of European and world volleyball or to the tops of cups and championships with many clubs. I never thought that one day I would be the most important player for the US at the Olympics. Or that I would be announced twice as the player of the year in the US.

Surprisingly, volleyball knocked late on my door. It may seem strange, but I started playing volleyball too late. I say strange because my father, who was a champion with outstanding contributions to national volleyball, did not seek to impose his desire on me and my brother. We were free to pursue our passions. So at first I registered in football, playing with the juniorsfootball club, based in Korca.
To become an sportsman you have to avoid the many pleasures that life gives you. I was taller and that gave me the first impetus to jump higher than others.

But we never know the possibilities if we do not try and above all if we do not dare and believe in our potentials. Time and life has taught me to seek within myself what I know better.
Let’s say that in the beginning, a towering bodyand my inner desire were enogh to threw me into the arms of the family sport, volleyball,when i was 12 years old.
So I started to try my hands,becoming part of the team of volleyball pioneers with coach Gjergj Borova.
The first weeks were very difficult. When I saw on the voleyball court the extraordinary players of the first team, such as Kapedani, Qirici, Jani Melka, Damo who were trained by my father, I was anxious. It was absolutely an amazing crew.

Between anxiety and turmoil drilling was nightmare. I came home exhausted so I have no more time to go to the coal fields. I was so tired that as soon as I got into bed, I was out like a light.
From the start, my mission was to jump higher. I did not think on injuries because I had to catch the level of first team players. High-intensity exercise was new normal. Sacrifice and fatigue were extreme. Borova was always smiling and motivated, but he was a very demanding coach.

"You have to fly, jump higher and dominate the net," was the request of my father, who always trained me after daily training sessions, exercises which lasted two added hours.
After Borova, my father was my coach at Skenderbeu also in the youth team of the national team. I trained hard, to the limits of physical exhaustion.
Gradually I learned that for the game of volleyball are essential too,elements such as intelligence, concentration and courage.

Three years after I started playing volleyball, at the age of 15 I was affiliated by an adult team. The first match was activated in the capital against Tirana for the semifinals of the Albanian Cup.

I was confused and anxious. Pressure was present everywhere. There was a lot of swearing. Qirici and Melka told me that I should focus only on the ball. I did not have to think anything about what was coming from outside the voleyball court. In that match my outburst as player happened. High jumps my dad was looking for relieved my anxiety and leaded meto light.

At that time in Albania, in every sports palace was played with the presence of thousands of fans. But their extraordinary presence in the palace often produced moments of panic. Such was the competition in Durrës against ʺTeutaʺ for the 94-95 season, when people entered the game field irritated. Pressure from all sides caused the players to leave the game from time to time. Moments of panic that no one wants to experience.

I quickly climbed the career ladder and one of them was the youth national team where I played for several years.
Once we traveled for three days to Turkey. We arrived exhausted from the long road we traversed by bus but thanks to the quality in our organization skills we managed to won Balkan runners-up for young people.
In a short time I improved the jump a lot professionally, touching some successful peaks. The beginning and experience were magical. But we never know what the future holds, we just have the duty to be prepared for everything. We should not think occasionally that we have reached the peak of success.

My family was persecuted during the communist era. My grandmother had managed to go to the US. She returned to Korça in 1995 and insisted to join her to America. At first it seemed impossible to us and I felt somewhat strange. How could this happen, I wondered. Yes, that could happen, I just had to trust my grandmother. Her requests to the US Embassy for our visa requirement were approved. So between momentum and uncertainty we boarded the plane to Italy and then to Boston in the US.

When I remember it was really a significant challenge. It was January of 1996.
Suddenly I was far away from Skënderbeu and the youth national team. Now I had to start everything from the scratch.
After all who I was in the greatness of the United States of America?
Practically nobody.
My days already had a name;Endeavor.
I often found within myself a force that pushed me forward, I do not know where it came from but I felt it. I had abandoned volleyball, but volleyball had not abandoned me.

Constant efforts, the work, college and studies created the opportunity for me to stand out. In the land of opportunity, merit is valued, and for that I was lucky. I was in the land where meritocracy lead in every step you take, and you get what belongs to you.
This is the US, the land where I made a fresh start and jump higher from the bottom to the top.

While I was trying to move with the flow of life, the coal fields has a special place in my soul.
The indication of my father, of my uncles, followed me everywhere to do the impossible and not to give up. I had to fly. To jump higher, now not only over the net, but also in life.
But nothing was easy. It took so much endeavour and courage to achieve what I wanted, my passion, volleyball.
The first months passed between work and efforts to pursue in parallel college and passion. My qualities immediately draw the attention of American volleyball experts and impress them. Opportunities was growing and I slowly began to look to the future. I started to look inside myself, and gradually to believe in the possibilities when I was playing and drilling with the University of California.

But again in my dreams I did not see the Olympuspeak. No, I did not look at myself with the olympic medal, yet ...
But a golden opportunity was displayed. After three years in American volleyball, my engagement in volleyball shifted to Poland, in Europe. I had to wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning to travel to my first destination and thus become the first American player to play in Poland. A place where volleyball has an important role in people’s lives. It was Olsztyn's first professional contract. I worked hard in training, 7 days per week. I had no internet to communicate with anyone and so I was isolated. Workout and only workout for six months, no fun at all.

Every success achieved on the voleyball court strengthened in my mind that courage leads to success. A definition that has been valuable to me then throughout my life. Poland was the first door to success in volleyball, a success that was followed by many others in Europe but not only.

My journey was traversed throughchampionships, cups, super cups, different awards as the best player in Europe, the Balkans. I won individual titles in the Champions League. I am rated as one of the best setters in the world. For this I have often been knowledgeableas a player of tournaments, championships with different teams. Twice I have been evaluated as US Player of the Year. In my career I count with dozens of European teams, including those where I was not given the role of the main player.
Albanian-American, from the coal field, to the attention of the Olympic team.
I played in Turkey with Erdemir, when the coach of the American Olympic team asked me to be part of his team.
What? Me with the American Olympic team?
The dream I had never seen had already suddenly become a reality in front of my eyes.

Astonishing feeling! In Athens, me among the extraordinary American names parading wonderful flag of US. I still do not know how to describe the emotions that gripped me at that time. But but deep inside I have always knownthat the coal field of my hometown was the promoter of my destiny.

I had fulfilled my dad's wish to fly very high. The eagle engraved on my body eased my momentum, Yes, I was at the peak of Olympus. In three Olympics I became the only Albanian-American who had realized more than the dream itself. After the first match at the Athens Olympics, I went back to the room. I do not know why the memories took me far, to my hometown, where I wove dreams and desires.
I went back in time.
I remembered Korça and the first days of volleyball drilling. I was reminded of my friends who smoked cigarettes, did parallels, played football, while I stayed up all the time exercising, looking for the ʺflightʺ my dad wanted. Nostalgia had overwhelmed me, but I also realized something. You can be talented, but hard working is a habit you can develop, which will bring you much further in life. I close my career with the ʺStudentʺ team, exactly in the place where I had my first relatedness to the sport.
Voleyball never stopped surprising me; there I found my better half. My wife Eleni was a volleyball player who played for the Ukraine national team. You know something? We never played against each other.
We are parents of two boys, Leo and Marcus. They are interested in sports, but I followed in my fatherˊs footsteps. Just like he left me free to choose and I have chosen the same with my wife. Let them follow their dream, even though I dream of seeing the surname Suxho again on the national team. The surname Suxho was kept at the level by the eldest son who became part of the team where I started the journey.

"You have to fly as high as you can to dominate any net."
ʺDad, I managed to fly and touch the peak of Olympusʺ!

Without the support of my mom Vera Suxho, brother Rando Suxho, who played volleyball and dad Petraq Suxho, I would not be where I am today. Thanks to my family and the passion that nurtured me I achieved everything. I will always be grateful for that.

In a hundred lifetimes, I would choose the dream lived as above.
My story is a call to know myself. Endevaor, work, passion, victory! 

Believe in miracles and God will make a way!

I am proud to have been born in Albania and lucky to have grown up in America!
Thank you!



Donald SUXHO

(former-voleyball player)

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