Like so many Americans playing pro volleyball in Europe, August Raskie had been waiting.
First, waiting to see if Italy’s Serie A1 volleyball league would officially cancel the remainder of the season in light of the coronavirus, which was spreading rapidly in Italy.
Then when that didn’t happen, even in the midst of a nation-wide lockdown, Raskie waited to hear from her club, Wealth Planet Perugia Volley, and her agent to find out if she could go home without breaking her contract.
But when the setter/opposite who played at Oregon from 2015 to 2018 finally got the go-ahead to book a flight back to the United States — despite the fact that the league remains “suspended,” not officially cancelled — Raskie faced another challenge she hadn’t anticipated:
With buses and trains shut down and strict travel bans in place all over Italy, she couldn’t take public transit to the airport in Rome, and no one from her club would drive her, believing it to be illegal since the trip would neither be to the grocery store nor for dire medical purposes.
“My club was also just in a panic about the situation, and they told me that it was against the law for me to drive to the airport or to have one of them drive me to the airport, which just caused a bunch of unnecessary stress,” said Raskie, who is from Colorado Springs. “Because as a U.S. citizen, if I’m leaving the country, all I would have to say is I’m a U.S. citizen, and I don’t know, it just got blown out of proportion. So basically I ended up taking a taxi all the way to Rome to get on my flight.”
She wasn’t the only American stuck spending close to 300 Euro (about $332 USD) for a taxi to the airport. Raskie said she heard similar stories from other American volleyball players making their way home. A Brazilian teammate at Perugia showed up at the train station, only to find it shut down. With too much luggage to fit into a taxi, the teammate drove her car all the way to Rome and left it at the airport.
The money for the taxi, Raskie said, was worth it to be able to be back at her mother’s house in California, where she will spend her 14-day quarantine after returning to the United States.
Raskie and I spoke for the first time on March 10, the day Italy announced its countrywide lockdown. At that time, her team still planned on practicing, and the league had been suspended just three days before. Raskie lamented the lack of good communication and the challenges posed by the language barrier. She admitted to wanting to go home, but wasn’t sure what her options were.
“We’re in a situation where this is not our home — and of course the U.S. is being impacted right now with it, so are we going to stay here and deal with it or are we going to try to go home?” Raskie pondered in that first phone call.
“I don’t think we can leave because our contract states that we have to be here,” she continued. “Then with no information coming in from our volleyball league if they’re going to cancel it or not, it just kind of makes you wonder, I’ve got to take care of myself first.
“Certainly an interesting situation to be in because you want to be a professional and you want to do your job the best you can, but there’s also something in the back of your head where you’re like ‘All right, I came here to do a job and if I’m not going to be able to do my job, I want to go home.’ ”
Just two days later, on Thursday, March 12, the situation shifted again — the day before, President Trump announced a ban on incoming travel from Europe to the United States, which would go into effect on midnight Friday — so Raskie was working frantically to try to get home.
“I think it’s insane that the rest of the world is cancelling leagues and Italy hasn’t yet,” she said via WhatsApp. “Things are not miraculously going to get better overnight and especially now with Trump’s travel ban, I would prefer to be in my own country.”
Now that Raskie made it back to the States, the waiting continues. She’ll complete her 14-day quarantine, and then likely have to stay at home for longer, depending on the span of California’s “stay at home” order issued by governor Gavin Newsom Thursday. Weeks or months down the road, if the Italian league season starts back up again, she, and the other international players who returned home, would have the option to rejoin their teams, or she can choose to break her contract.
“Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot of answers because the agents are still meeting, the club presidents are still meeting about if people break their contracts do they get how much percent of their contract. If they return, what does that look like,” Raskie said. “There are so many unanswered questions, and all anybody keeps telling me to do is wait.”
When asked about the dissatisfaction she had expressed toward the Italian league via WhatsApp a few days before, Raskie said she was mostly frustrated with the communication.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody but in my personal opinion I think there is frustration with not cancelling (the league), but I understand because it is a business at the end of the day,” Raskie said. “It’s a risk that we take as athletes going into a professional league in a different country.”
So like her fellow professional volleyball players from across the globe who are stuck in quarantine after arriving back home, Raskie will wait. It’s a feeling, a state of being understood by people all over the country and the world. Waiting is everyone’s game these days.
For more, in January, USA Volleyball’s Bill Kauffman put together this comprehensive list of American men and women playing around the world.