Altus LT volleys for chance at Military World Cup

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Kathleen Polesnak
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
When 1st Lt. Virginia Aguilar isn't working on medical readiness and medical information systems for the 97th Medical Support Squadron here, she's usually playing sports.

This hobby quickly transitioned from the background of Lieutenant Aguilar's focus to the forefront when she made the All Air Force Women's Volleyball Team in March. She and her 11 other teammates competed for spots on the U.S. military team earlier this month that will compete at the Military World Championship Games in Brazil this summer.

"I love playing all sports. I played as many as I could in high school and college," Lieutenant Aguilar said. "(Volleyball) is one of my better sports. Since I played it in college, there were an extra four years for it to grow on me and develop an even greater passion for the game."

The 25-year old Hawaii native tried out for the Air Force women's team at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in late March in hopes of securing a spot on the team. Out of about 19 women invited to attend the try-outs, she was chosen to represent the Air Force to play at the All Armed Forces Championship hosted at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

Besides having the chance to play volleyball professionally while on active duty, the lieutenant said the diversity of the team is what makes the experience truly unique.

"It's a great opportunity because even coming in, there's no difference between great officer or enlisted players," she said. "We're all teammates coming together for this common experience. It's a great experience meeting people from all over the world."

The breadth of professional backgrounds, distances traveled and age spread helped create a memorable chapter in these women's Air Force careers, and so did interacting with other non-military athletes.

"There's not too many jobs where you practically have the opportunity to be a professional athlete for a month," Lieutenant Aguilar said. "While we were at Hill, we scrimmaged against some of the club and college teams in the area, and had the opportunity to speak to high school and college students."

To prepare for the All Armed Forces Championship, the team worked daily - practicing in the morning and scrimmaging in the evening. The biggest challenge during this time was staying injury-free since the games were condensed into such a short time frame, as compared to a high school- or college-level league where games are spread out across several months. In order to compete for a chance to play in Brazil, players had to be at their peak during every All Armed Forces game.

Part of what Lieutenant Aguilar brought to the team was flexibility, as she could switch positions and fill in where needed on the court. She was eager to play any position to help the team succeed and ultimately get picked up to go to Brazil.

But just two plays into her first game in North Carolina, her left knee buckled. The result was an "unhappy triad" in her knee - a torn anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus.

"I have played different sports year round my entire life and never had any real injury," she said. "It's been tough being sidelined knowing that I could have made a difference and not even having a chance to compete for a spot for Brazil. There's never a good time for injury but this was the year of the world games, which is only every four years."

Air Force took third in the overall tournament and three Air Force players were picked to go to Brazil.

"I was supposed to provide depth to the team because I had my starting position but I could move around and play almost anywhere depending on the situation, such as if someone was having an off day or nagging injuries, or if the other team took advantage of our size in a certain position," she said. "We were so close to winning all those games without me, and I believe I could have provided the extra push that we needed."

Despite her injury, the lieutenant is glad she had the opportunity and is looking forward to trying out for the team again next year.

"I know it will be a long recovery so I'm looking to get surgery and start the rehab as soon as possible so I will be ready in time for next year," she said. "I'd like to thank my commander and the people I work with in my shop for allowing me this opportunity - any time when people leave, it creates an extra burden on them so I'm definitely thankful for their support."