Joe Houde had just begun his career with USA Volleyball, and there was a dead man was in the road.
“Oh, yeah,” he said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Just not a good day.”
It was certainly one way to start his stint as USA Volleyball’s newest traveling physical trainer. His first trip with the U.S., to a NORCECA in Guatemala. First time to a third-world country. And, yeah, a dead guy.
“It was eye opening,” Houde said. “I got off the plane, and I had never been to a third-world country before, and I was like, ‘Alright!’”
It didn’t end there, of course, because this was a NORCECA and nobody knows when the NORCECA adventures will begin or end, only that they will happen, as inevitable as a sunrise. When Houde and the men’s team cabbed back to the airport, a ride the driver expected to take around a half an hour, the ride kept going, and going…and going. A little less than three hours later, the players sprinted through the airport, just making it in time. Houde didn’t.
Instead, the trainer was stuck in Guatemala for another day and a half. Then he’d fly to Florida, Dallas, and, finally, Orange County, California.
“That,” he said, “was my first trip with USA Volleyball.”
Some may view that as the worst possible start to a trainer’s career with USAV. Look at it from another perspective, however, and it may have been the best. For now Houde had the mindset that his next trip, to China, “was great!” and he said it with such enthusiasm that he genuinely meant it, making him potentially one of the first representatives from United States Volleyball to describe a trip to China as great.
“I just love to travel. It doesn’t matter where I go. It’s about enjoying it, being with these guys, helping them get to where they need to be,” Houde, a Boston native, with a full Bostonian accent, said. “I’m not going for vacation. I’m going to work. It’s either, ‘Ok, hopefully everybody loses so I can have a trip.’ Well, I don’t want that to happen. Let’s get on the podium so I have to work hard. It’s humbling.”
Houde was there, for the final event of the season, in Chetumal, Mexico, for the most successful event of the season. He helped keep Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb and Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb fresh enough to win a pair of medals, a gold and a bronze, respectively. It was the first time the American men had won a medal in a four- or five-star since Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena took silver in Doha in March.
That’s what he’s about, Houde. He doesn’t get any medals himself, but he wants nothing more than to see the men and women he’s there to support to come home with them. That’s how he got the job in the first place, anyway. When Sara Hughes was breaking into the professional scene, she recommended Houde, as they were both located in Orange County and he primarily worked on her for recovery.
His foot was firmly in the door. Not that he travels much. USA Volleyball’s budget only allows Houde to travel a few times per year. And so, in between trips where he navigates dead bodies in the road in Guatemala, he has his own practice, Paradigm Chirosport, and also works with the men’s field hockey team, which won its first medal at the PanAm Games in 24 years.
Houde, of course, takes no credit. This is the guy who told the players to run through the airport so they could make it and he’d be stuck in Guatemala for an extra day and a half.
“I’m a small one percent of their 99 percent,” he said. “It’s very humbling to work for these guys.”