COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 19, 2017) – Sitting volleyball player James Stuck stands out on the court.
It’s not just the sleeve of colorful tattoos running up his left arm or the way his mouth hangs open when he makes a key play. It’s also how he can set aside competition for a moment during practice or a match to congratulate or encourage a teammate.
“People want to be around him,” said U.S. Men’s Sitting Team Head Coach Greg Walker. “It has been cool to see him evolve. The younger players look to him and ask questions. James never thought his story would be written that way.”
Stuck’s commitment to his team and his sport led to him being named 2017 USAV Male Sitting Player of the Year. His teammate, Patrick Young, has been named the Male Sitting Most Improved Player.
Stuck, 33, doesn’t consider himself a team star, but he knows he can get any job done.
He was moved from setter to middle blocker before the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It paid off this year when he was named Best Blocker at the ParaVolley Pan America Championships as his team took the silver medal.
“I like to think of myself as a utility player,” he said. “I don’t believe I excel at any one position, but I’m pretty good wherever you put me on the court.”
Walker praised Stuck for his training at the new position.
“His training changed so he could be dominant (at middle blocker). He was a huge asset for us at the Pan Ams,” Walker said. “Just watching the video, he gave us so many opportunities because he is a great defender at the net and away from it.”
A lot of that training had to happen in the state of Washington, where Stuck lives with his wife, Kim, and their three sons, including baby Aiden, who just arrived about a week ago. About once a month, Stuck has to travel to Oklahoma for the team’s training camps at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Stuck said his biggest challenge this season was balancing his hectic schedule.
“My biggest challenge would be making sure I am able to balance volleyball, lifting and family,” he said. “Volleyball is the main thing I do. I have to make sure I balance volleyball and family life and not let one overpower the other. I love to spend time in the gym, but I’ve got to make sure I get in and get out.”
Stuck has had to take a break from coaching club volleyball to make more time for family. But that didn’t stop him from helping a few of his new teammates, like middle blocker Patrick Young.
“James and Rod (Roderick Green) and some of the other guys, being able to see what they are doing and take pointers has been great,” Young said. “The help from these guys has been amazing.”
At the end of 2016, Young thought his time with the Sitting National Team might be coming to an end. He had been on the A2 team for three years and didn’t see any progress.
But then Walker called him after the 2016 Paralympic Games.
“The first thing I saw with him was his size,” Walker said of Young, who is 6-4. “He was out of shape, but he had played volleyball and knew the game.”
Young took his chance and ran with it, making the squad for the 2017 ParaVolley Pan American Championships.
“Here I am, almost 48 years old,” said Young, an Air Force veteran who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. “Making the first roster is a pretty amazing feat.”
Young spent 2017 improving all aspects of his game.
“My speed has gotten quicker,” he said. “I’ve dropped a lot of weight. There is still a lot of improvement to be done. I’m going to keep training and pushing forward and see if I can improve that much more.”
To help further his improvement, Young is planning to move with his family from their home in Albuquerque, N.M., to become a resident athlete at Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Young credits making the Men’s Sitting Team with giving him a sense of purpose.
“I like being part of a unit again,” he said. “It feels like I belong again. That’s helped in more ways than they will ever know.”