Alexander Harthaller – Malibu, California

Alexander Harthaller
Malibu, California

The Adventure of a lifetime!

Let me tell you about a decision that changed my life – and how it can change yours.

Let’s back it up to wintertime 2012. I had just graduated high school and was serving my mandatory term in the Austrian Army. Knowing it would come to an end in spring, I was faced with the typical seemingly unsolvable decision of what to do with my life. I was 19 years old and had played volleyball for 12 years already, gradually making my way up to the professional league and junior national teams. On the other hand, I knew I wanted to get a degree and make sure I set myself up for success outside of the court as well. As most European athletes will know, it is very difficult to be a professional athlete and study. The coaches do not accept missing practices, let alone games for University classes or tests, and vice versa. So, the big question was what to give up; my passion over the last 12 years or the ability to get ahead in my professional career outside of sports, knowing I will not be able to play forever.

Luckily, this is where Sandra entered my life and showed me a way of making it all happen. After getting the idea from a friend, I wrote to Sandra, not knowing anything about the US system. Within the first conversation Sandra had sold me to the idea and I decided on the spot I will try to go to college in the US. I started the process not knowing what was coming at me. The paperwork involved was somewhat grueling at the time, but Sandra guided and helped me through it; not just letting me know which forms, tests etc. are needed but also holding me accountable along the way. Although I was late (about two years later than the average recruiting schedule) Sandra’s connections got me talking to multiple coaches and ultimately left me with several offers to decide. After narrowing it down to my favorite four schools, the coaches agreed to fly me out on an all expenses paid “Official Recruiting Visit”. I flew to the US for the first time and got to visit D1 schools in California, Utah, Indiana and even took a trip to Canada. I decided to commit to Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and before I knew it, the adventure started. Believe me when I say there is no better way of getting to know a new culture than being thrown into an athletic team at the University. You are immediately taken up and taken care of by what is now your American family. You are presented with a huge network of friends and supporters within the team and faculty at the University, which help the transition enormously. I absolutely loved my time there and made friends that will be in my life from here on out. From an athletic standpoint, the resources presented to a young athlete are beyond what I was used to even in professional leagues. An own strength and conditioning coach, a physical trainer available for us almost at all times, three coaches that are willing to talk and watch every practice (filmed and coded on data volley) to make you a better player.

Unfortunately, I tore my labrum my sophomore year, which put me on the sidelines for the majority of the season. While it was a difficult time not being able to play and being in rehab every day, it turned out to be another door opening experience. I got presented with the possibility to transfer to one of my dream schools. With the green light of our staff, I made the jump and transferred to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. The opportunity of getting to know another totally different part of the country and the different culture of California with the same immediate integration help by the collegiate athletic network in the school was too good to pass up on. I was able to play for 7-time Olympic Coach and Gold Medalist Marv Dunphy, World Championship Gold medal Coach David Hunt (Woman’s Volleyball National team) and had Sean Rooney, Gold Medalist from the Olympics in 2008 as our outside hitter coach. I was given all opportunities imaginable to succeed.

Besides the playing experience, my time in college also set me up for a career outside of sports. Studying full time and playing high level sports is a lot to ask for an 18-year-old. However, the collegiate system has created an effective way to hold students accountable by creating grade thresholds students must meet in order to be eligible to play. In my case, sports and the mindset of continuous improvement transferred over into the classroom and elevated my academic performance. In general, many athletes profit academically from the competitive environment stemming from athletics. Mentorship and tutors etc. are always available to help students to perform to the best of their abilities, and therefore get the most out of their education.

Looking back, I can say with certainty that I could not have made a better decision at the crossroads in the winter of 2012. The support system of coaches, professors, staff and friends pushed me to get the most out of the four years of my life, well beyond being All-American and Valedictorian. I will never forget the memories I made in my time in college; listening to 8,000 volleyball loving Hawaiians singing their native anthem with leis (floral wreaths) around the neck before our game in the oval of Hawaii, beating #2 UCLA at home for the first time in 4 years, the numerous times it took me until I fully caught my first wave on a surfboard, studying abroad in London, playing in an outdoor gym in Puerto Rico or having Pelicans circling over our Graduation ceremony looking over the pacific ocean are just a few of them.

Leaving Pepperdine, I had every opportunity I could wish for to shape my future life in the direction I desired, from professional sports to reputable business careers. I am so grateful for everything college provided for me, the people I was able to bring into my life and the experiences I was able to gather. It will stay with me forever.

If you find yourself in a similar situation I was in, my advice is to go for it – trust Sandra to put you in the best possible spot and let her change your life like she has changed mine.

– “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” –

Wayne Gretzky
-Michael Scott
-Alex Harthaller