As the tallest in her class all through grade school, Kaitlyn’s parents knew that introducing her to a sport that would utilize her height would be valuable to her sports journey. Since the first grade, she was an intense, competitive swimmer and had always put swimming first before any other sport, which included soccer, baseball and basketball. However, in third grade Kaitlyn’s friend Sara introduced her to volleyball, and by middle school Kaitlyn realized that volleyball had her heart. Although she was on track to become a very successful swimmer, Kaitlyn made the big decision to quit swimming in 7th grade and attend tryouts for New WAVE Volleyball Club.
On the first day of tryouts, the athletes lined up by positions. Kaitlyn froze. She had no idea what the different positions were since she played every position at her previous junior program. When the coach asked for her position she weakly replied, “Kaitlyn Thick, 2023, bumper” and saw the confused, but also somewhat amused, look on the coach’s face. Kaitlyn was placed with the middles that day and played that position for the first year of club volleyball. Eventually when she reached 14, she switched to outside hitter.
“Coach Deidre had seen my potential as a strong, go-to attacker whose height could lead to a player with a strong ceiling for growth. And that position switch turned my volleyball career upside down,” shares Thick.
Volleyball has shown Kaitlyn so many sides to herself, specifically with leadership. She has always been the player to lead by example but more recently she’s realized her role as a motivator, especially on her high school team.
“When I step onto the court no matter what position, my goal is to not only do the best I can do but to also make my teammates feel at their best. I’ve learned that my role on the team is to bring some calm and comfortability to the atmosphere. When I feel us second guessing and doubting, I am able to put a smile on my teammates’ faces and bring out their fun and hype side that makes them feel more comfortable and capable,” says Thick.
That desire to help and serve others led Kaitlyn to found the Wellness House Youth Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of people and families suffering from cancer. Her parents were involved in it for years and when Kaitlyn got to high school she decided she wanted to take a step further in her involvement with the organization after her brother’s best friend passed from cancer a few years before. As a high school student, Kaitlyn was not eligible to serve on the Board, so she created the Youth Council to help students at her high school and others nearby get involved in the organization as well.
As council members, Kaitlyn and the 9 other members volunteer to work community events and plan other events for kids and teens that could increase their high school involvement and expand their circle.
“We are working on tutoring kids whose families have been impacted by cancer and getting dog therapy sessions set up! I feel more connected to the community through an illness we are all, in a multitude of ways, affected by. Healing, connecting, and just being with one another is what helps bring us all together at the House: a sort of family,” adds Thick.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaitlyn and her two friends wanted to help others in need. They realized that sustainability in medical supplies is essential in navigating a pandemic and helping the community stay environmentally friendly and safe. She Co-Founded another nonprofit called Sustainable Health to fulfill this mission through organized events including:
- the Telehealth Project where they collected used electronics from around the community and donated them to a sustainably recycling center.
- over 200 PPE kits sent to Afghanistan following the crisis with masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and other sustainable medical supplies to those impacted by the pandemic.
- the creation of Earth Day curriculum that was sent to teachers abroad in five countries and teach elementary and middle school kids about sustainability and their role in keeping the Earth safe in honor of Earth Day.
- the collection of masks throughout the community to send to a sustainable recycling center to dispose of the masks in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the animals and wildlife in the greater community. Mask straps are proven to cause harm to animals when they aren’t disposed of correctly.
“We have a few more projects in mind moving forward. As chief of finance, I help manage our budget, reach out to businesses for grants, and organize fundraisers to create a stable money supply within the organization. I have found that I can be more involved in my community than I ever thought I could’ve had the chance to and our community is really our oyster. Before, I was more of an onlooker on the community and its issues, yet I feel that I have a stronger voice, presence, and more of an ability to contribute to those around me,” says Thick.
The pandemic helped Kaitlyn realize that in volleyball there are SO many challenges mentally and emotionally; sometimes even more than physically. Recently, she has focused on investing in getting as mentally tough as possible because of the power it gives you over your thoughts and your mentality.
“Whenever I feel anxious on the court or have doubts, I think of the reason why I started playing in the first place. I remind myself that this is my home and that the court is a place that has seen me grow up. I remind myself that I can only control what is controllable like the ball, my energy, and my communication. I also have found that smiling and reinforcing positive body language and facial expression has really helped me come back after a mistake or trick my body into not continually feeling the negative emotions that lead to multiple mistakes in a row. But most of all, when I have doubts I remind myself that there is a reason I am here and a reason why I have gotten as far as I have. And no thoughts could ever take that away from me.”
After her senior season at Adversity VBC, Kaitlyn will continue her playing career at Tulane University in New Orleans. She connected so well with the coaching staff, who she feels hold everyone around them to a high standard and understand the mental side of the game and its importance. Kaitlyn was originally looking at Ivy League schools because she was searching for high academic programs, but once she stepped foot on campus and learned about the academics, as well as athletic side, she knew it was the perfect fit for her.
“Playing volleyball competitively definitely brings me the most joy and always has throughout every stage in my life. No matter what age I was or what was going on in my life, volleyball has always been there for me. And I think it’s even surprising that each day I realize more and more how much volleyball has impacted my life and shaped who I am today.”
New WAVE Volleyball Club and Adversity VBC are members of the Junior Volleyball Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the junior volleyball experience for players, coaches, clubs and fans.
To learn more about the JVA AthLeader Award powered by Fivestar click HERE. For related reading for junior volleyball athletes, click HERE.