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U of T's Elodie Li Yuk Lo at the Olympics

Alumna digs in with beach volleyball

Beach volleyball at the Olympics begins July 28 and alumna Elodie Li Yuk Lo will be there (photo courtesy of Elodie Li Yuk Lo)

As a former Varsity Blues captain and assistant coach, Elodie Li Yuk Lo has found much success in volleyball. The U of T alumna and two-time OUA second team all-star recently secured a berth to represent Mauritius in beach volleyball at the 2012 London Olympic Games – the first-ever appearance for the small island nation.

Now living in France and preparing for the Games, Li Yuk Lo spoke with writer Gavin Au-Yeung about her experiences by phone.

Congratulation on qualifying for London. How did that feel?
My partner (Natacha Rigobert) and I were playing in a qualifying tournament in Rwanda. It came down to a thrilling golden set (sudden death, tie-breaker match to 15 points). The winner would ultimately qualify for London.

When we won the match my initial reaction was to jump on my partner and celebrate for joy. Everyone was excited, but at the same time it was such a surreal feeling – we made it… to the Olympics. Even now, the idea of participating in the Games still hasn’t really sunk in. But I just need to keep reminding myself that we’re getting ready for the Olympics. 

Tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing to prepare for the Olympics.
Everyday I start my morning with a good hearty breakfast packed with vitamins, proteins and energy for the day. It's usually oatmeal packed with fruits, nuts and the like. Nutrition is very important.

I also have a set of daily exercises which aim to prevent injuries. I work on
maintaining my knees, abdominals, shoulders and focus on lots of stabilizing and stretching.

On a weekly basis we practice about four to five times. Furthermore, we are in the weight room three times a week. This may change depending on the particular training phase we are in, whether it's pre-competition or post-competition.

How do you prepare yourself before a match?
I warm up and stretch an hour before the game and try to get into the correct mindset.

Visualization always helps me prepare for matches. I try to anticipate situations we may encounter and visualize techniques I would use.

And of course I always pray.

Will your preparation routine change when you get to London?
I want to keep my routine the same when approaching the Olympics. As big as an event as this is, I’m going to treat it like any tournament. It helps with nerves to approach the situation like that – I wouldn’t prepare any other way.

How do the Olympics compare to other international competitions?
For most athletes the Olympics mark the pinnacle of their career. And going to the Games has been a dream of mine forever. But I didn’t start training for it until four years ago when I teamed up with Natacha.

And as I said before, I’m going to compete as if it was any other tournament.

The only difference is that we have never played in front of a huge crowd like this.

But still, being able to participate in the Games is definitely the biggest accomplishment out of everything I’ve done… so far.

What are some highlights you’ll be looking forward to during the Games?
I would love to see a basketball game, or maybe even an indoor volleyball game. And I think the 100 meter race would be really fun to watch as well.

And obviously I want to watch the events that the other Mauritian athletes will be participating in and to cheer them on.

How have your five years spent at the U of T helped shape you into the athlete you are today?
The university has played a huge role in terms of my athletic development. The program is amazing and I received a lot of support.

U of T is special because it really encompasses the term student-athlete. It’s a program which focuses on the well-being of the athletes through the support of a whole team of coaches, doctors, sports psychologist, physiotherapist, people to help with the school work, and the athletic director. Even within the U of T community, such as professors, other groups (Athletes-in-Action) and classmates were supportive.

I had an amazing experience at the U of T.

When did you realize volleyball was the sport you wanted to compete in? 
I had a lot of exposure to different sports in high school, and because the sports we played differed every semester I wouldn’t stick with one specific sport. However, I started taking volleyball seriously in grade 10 as it was a sport I found lots of success in.

Fast forward to my fourth year at the U of T. I was speaking with my coach, Kristine Drackich, in her office when she mentioned there was a chance to play in Mauritius and qualify for Africa. South Africa was the only team in Africa that played beach volleyball.

I met Natacha in 2008, and that’s when I started playing internationally. From the very beginning, since we formed our team, our goal has always been to reach to the Olympics.

Can you describe the beach volleyball scene in Mauritius?
As much as there are beaches in Mauritius, the sport is not as popular as it could be. And this has a lot to do with the island’s funding and infrastructure. People love to play on the beach and there’s a lot of potential for the game to expand. But without the proper foundation in place, the game can’t really be enjoyed.

However, the game has grown with the success our team has been having. By winning the All-African Game last year, Mauritius was able to draw support and host the men’s finals. The whole tournament and scene was very well put together.

People are starting to talk more about beach volleyball, and the sport is definitely gaining more interest. We’re not only playing in London for ourselves: we want to expand the sport in Mauritius – hopefully we can even promote the sport throughout Africa.

What’s in store for you after the Games?
Prior to my training, I was a high school teacher at Heydon Park Secondary School for a year and a half: biology and phys ed are my teachables.

The plan is to go back to teaching but you never know where life takes you. At the very least, I hope my journey to reach my Olympic dream will inspire my past and future students to reach for the sky and follow their dreams.

There have been a lot of sacrifices and challenges, but definitely no regrets.


July 24, 2012