International Volleyball

The indomitable will of Kelsey Robinson Cook, USA Volleyball’s “fireball”

The indomitable will of Kelsey Robinson Cook, USA Volleyball's "fireball"

Kelsey Cook hits against Italy in 2022/Volleyball World photo

HERMOSA BEACH, California โ€” It sounds awful, to tell you the truth.

Eight hours a day in a gym in Beijing, China. A country youโ€™ve never been to, on a contract you signed because it was the lone offer you had. Only American on your team. Not a lick of English spoken. But hey, at least you know your favorite Chinese food is orange chicken! Not that it matters. Most hours of the day, waking and often otherwise, are spent in the sports hall. You eat there. Nap there. Work there.

Itโ€™s the type of environment that might break a 22-year-old coming off one of the best individual NCAA seasons in the country. But Kelsey Robinson Cook was not your typical 22-year-old. She isnโ€™t your typical anything.

She is, on the contrary, the type of athlete that loves this stuff. Long days in the gym? Rep after rep after rep?

โ€œThousands of reps,โ€ she says on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

She hasnโ€™t yet experienced the cushy life of the Italian League. Hasnโ€™t yet played for a coach in Puerto Rico whose only rule is to not come into the gym with sand on your feet. Hasnโ€™t been given the rundown of a proper contract negotiation, where you can ask for things, limit your hours, where you can โ€œreally,โ€ she says, โ€œmake it a beautiful experience.โ€

But her preference then is a raw beauty, the type you might see in a Rocky movie. Those long and grinding hours in the gym, making the micro improvements that only she can see and feel. Maybe her stat line will show it as an outside hitter on Beijing BAIC Motor. Maybe not. But she knows. Sheโ€™s always known.

Those reps will one day be the difference.

They always have been.

โ€œI just came from a very rigorous childhood as far as sports go,โ€ Robinson Cook said. โ€œI played at a club that was very militaristic and demanding in a lot of ways and for me it was always a choice. My parents never forced it upon me, I always wanted to be there. I have been a gym rat since I was a little kid. I was there from 3 to 11 and waking up at 5 to go to tournaments on the weekends. From the very beginning of my career professionally, I wasnโ€™t able to separate volleyball as my identity and thatโ€™s who I was. I think that passion and work ethic have carried me a long way.โ€

There have been a pair of paradoxical motifs throughout Robinson Cookโ€™s life: An indomitable will to win, and a vexing dose of…

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