Like hundreds of other U.S. volleyball players, middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu of the U.S. Women’s National Team is overseas right now. She is playing this season with Eczacıbaşı VitrA, a professional club in Turkey.
While it is always difficult to leave family and friends, leaving the United States this year was a little easier as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Turkey has been relatively small. The country of 82 million people has seen 295,000 cases as of mid-September and only 7,186 deaths.
“You won’t leave the house without seeing someone in a mask” Ogbogu said. “Probably because there are hefty fines for not wearing a mask. Also, people in Turkey understand the social responsibility for wearing a mask in public.
“From a volleyball perspective, our team is hands on with making sure we are safe. We are tested every week and a half. Everyone outside of the players wears a mask. We’re playing without fans right now.”
Being out of the United States has not kept Ogbogu, 25, from participating in the fight for social justice that has intensified this summer. Before she left, she participated in rallies and spoke with clubs and athletes about the importance of social justice. While in Turkey, she is also participating as a member of USA Volleyball’s Staff DEI Team, which promotes diversity, equity and inclusion as essential aspects of the organizational mission.
“I had a meeting with (USA Volleyball CEO) Jamie Davis about what USAV is planning to do to help diversity and inclusion in the sport,” Ogbogu said. “He offered the idea of my being on the committee. It’s been cool to listen to these conversations.”
Ogbogu knows that she was fortunate that her family could afford club volleyball and would like to see more young people of color have the opportunity.
Ogbogu’s father, Henry, and mother, Victoria, moved to the United States from Nigeria. The family lived in New York, where Chiaka was born, and then moved to Dallas where Henry works as an emergency room doctor and Victoria is an interior designer.
Ogbogu grew quickly in grade school and pursued sports in middle school.
“I tried out for the volleyball team in seventh grade. I barely made the C team,” Ogbogu remembered. “I was tall, so the coaches forced me to try out for a club team. I didn’t think I was good enough.”
She played for club powerhouse Texas Advantage Volleyball from 2008-13, winning the 18 Open championship in 2013. During that time, she also led Coppell High School to back-to-back Texas 5A state championships in 2011 and 2012. She was named the Gatorade Texas High School Player of the Year in 2012.
Ogbogu played collegiately at Texas. In 2015, the middle blocker helped the Longhorns to the NCAA championship match. She is Texas’ all-time blocks leader.
Ogbogu got in the U.S. Women’s National Team gym in 2018 when she played on the gold medal Pan American Cup team. She played a bigger role in 2019, competing on the FIVB Volleyball Nations League team that won gold, the FIVB World Cup team that won silver and the NORCECA Championship team that took silver.
“For me, it was a very surreal experience,” Ogbogu said of playing with the Women’s National Team. “I feel like every step along the way I was asking, ‘How did I get here?’ I was reminiscent of my first year at college when I was wide-eyed about every single moment.”
She is hoping her future with the team includes at least one Olympic Games as part of a “long and healthy career.”
She also plans to keep working for diversity in the world of volleyball and serving as a role model for young people in the sport. She’s beginning to realize how many Black youth look up to her as a Black athlete.
“The impact of representation is life-changing,” she said. “Right now, I’m pursuing volleyball for as long as I can to put myself out there so that young Black volleyball players can see themselves represented more in this sport.”