Eric Duda has a vision of what he wants to be and where he wants to go in his athletic life. A world class athlete who grew up in Florida, Duda is so consumed by his desire to succeed that he moved halfway across the United States a year ago, settling in Edmond so that he could better train for a spot on the USA Men's Sit Volleyball team.
So far, that move has paid off for Duda, the assistant volleyball coach at the University of Central Oklahoma. He admits that being 25 and single made it a "little easier" to pick up and move halfway across the country, but it has still been a hectic year since he headed west in August 2005.
"I guess it was a bit of a risk, and it was quite a move geographically and economically," Duda said about the journey from Florida to central Oklahoma. "But I've got my entire focus in life on making this team and on the training that is necessary so I can be a starter in the Pan Am games and in the World Competitions. That goal, I don't think, would have ever been reached if I stayed in Florida."
The USA Men's Sit Volleyball team, a paralympic group of athletes, competes against the greatest paralympic squads in the world. The athletes come from as far away as Colorado, California and even Puerto Rico to visit the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) – one of the official training sites for Paralympic volleyball team members. They finished ninth in the most recent World competition.
Helping to train those athletes are head coaches, Bill Hamiter and Jay Dawes, of the 180 Center for Health and Performance in Edmond. Dawes has been working with state and local athletes of all ages since 1997, and eagerly took on the task of assisting with the Team USA training. During their intense training sessions, Dawes says most of the focus is on teaching the athletes how to carry out their individual training programs when they return home.
“Our time together is pretty limited, since they are only in Edmond once every 4-6 weeks,” Dawes said. “Because of that, we don’t actually do a lot of extremely heavy hands-on physical training while they’re here. Most of what we do is teaching. We go over each athlete's individual program and run them through the process, so they’ll be able to do their individual training at home, on a regular basis, with proper technique and the correct intensities."
“This is a tremendous chance for people in Oklahoma to get to see, not just Paralympic athletes, but incredible athletes from around the world,” Duda said. “We appreciate so much all the people who have worked so hard out in the open and behind the scenes to bring this training site to Edmond and to give us, as athletes, the chance to become the very best in the world.”
Duda said the coaching and training staff, including both Hamiter and Dawes, have been incredible to work with, and UCO has been a tremendous asset to the team's training efforts.
"Having the facilities open to us here at UCO and having those men and the other coaches and training staff gives us the chance to reach the level we need to compete on the international stage," Duda said. "Some of these other countries' teams have always had a lot more support and money poured into their programs, especially the European countries. But we're gaining ground and it's becoming a little easier for our guys because they are getting more support and it's not all having to come out of their own pockets."
Duda, who was not a starter on the U.S. team in the 2004 Athens games, has worked tirelessly to become a starter in the next World and Paralympics competitions.
“I think if people watched us train and compete, they would see that we really are just like Olympic athletes in most every way,” he said. “We dedicate our lives, train around the clock seven days a week, and set our ultimate goal on the next competition in that drive to be the very best in the world.”
For more information about the180 Center for Health and Performance call (405) 608-4584.