Volleyballers Christina Roubanis Hinds and JoAnna Papageorgiou vie for 2012 Olympics

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Born of Greek fathers and part-Italian mothers but raised on US soil, Christina Roubanis Hinds and JoAnna Papageorgiou share a common passion for sport, culture, life, and are filled with the blood of champions! It’s only appropriate that these Greek Americans partner up for the journey to 2012 Olympic qualification and gold in Beach Volleyball, representing Greece and the Olympian roots on Christina’s side and the Spartans on JoAnna’s.

By Joanna Xipa

The two met in Greece in 2007 in answer to JoAnna’s prayers to find a Greek partner with the same determination to fulfill their Olympic dreams. They have now relocated to Los Angeles, California, the birthplace of beach volleyball, to train and play among the world’s best. They were honored with the title of Greek Beach Volleyball National team and solidified this spot when winning gold for Greece in the Continental Cup Olympic Qualifying tournament last September, 2010, in Rhodes, putting the Papageorgiou-Roubanis team one step closer in the 2-year process of Olympic qualification!

Having the full backing of the Greek Volleyball Federation, however, does not include financial support, due to the severe economic crisis in their paternal homeland. Thus, to the admiration of their Greek Federation, they have funded their own journey through hard work and raising funds in the US. Their recently held fundraising event was in honor of Greek Independence Day this year, on March 25th, at the Bel Air Bay Club in the Pacific Palisades, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The night was an absolute delight in sunset cocktails, fine dining, live music, Greek folk dancing, one-of-a-kind auction items and much more! The journey to the Olympics needs much more funding, though, as the necessary tournaments require constant travel and accommodations across the globe for several months out of the year. After a delightful interview with NEO, you too will have your hearts set on realizing these girls’ dreams! Time to be inspired by our Hellenic pride & joy, and step up to the plate in support of our good old American values, by getting to know our good Greek girls next-door. So let’s catch the wave and shout: Go Greek Girls!

(Although presently under construction, their website is: www.gogreekgirls.com. One can also email them directly at: gogreekgirls@gmail.com. Your generous support will be appreciated if you kindly make your checks payable to: PR Olympic Fund, P.O. Box 1287, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254)

What is on the present & upcoming itinerary of tournaments worldwide?

JoAnna: We are currently in Myslowice, Poland, for the FIVB World Tour Olympic qualifying season. We will compete in several locations this summer, including Canada, Thailand, Greece, Finland, the Netherlands, the US, and more. Our main focus is qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London, and there are 3 ways of doing so. One is through the FIVB World Tour, where one can view the calendar online. Two teams per country are allowed to qualify and the top 15 teams in the world make it into the Olympics. Brazil and the US have more than 2 teams in the top in the world, but only their top two will make it. The other way is through the Continental Cup Tournaments. One team per Continent will qualify for the Olympics (creating 5 more Olympic berths). We won the first phase of the Continental Cup (alongside our other Greek national team) in Rhodes in September of 2010 and have advanced to the next phase, the date of which is not yet released. The third way is in a tournament in July 2012, right before the Olympics. The top two teams in that tournament will get in to the Olympics.

Christina: We will be playing in as many tournaments as possible throughout the US and the World. Our schedule is highly dependent on many factors, including results, ranking, and what the Greek Federation asks of us in terms of appearances in Greece for media and Greek tournaments. We will keep people posted through our social media - Facebook, website, twitter, email.

What personal experiences in your families shaped you into pursuing a professional volleyball career?

JoAnna: I was born and raised in Rock Island, Illinois, which is one of the Quad Cities (along with Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois.). I grew up with my two sisters, Greek father, and part-Italian mother in a beautiful Greek community in our medium-sized town. I did not understand the impact that our Greek community had on my family and our upbringing until I got older and remember my father explaining it to me at church one day: "This is the man that helped me start my business; this is the woman that watched you kids while your mother and I worked to keep the family going; this is the man that helped me with this; this is the woman that helped me with that." I realized that this was one huge and amazing big Greek family in which everyone helps each other out and I gained so much respect and appreciation for that.

For my kickstart in collegiate volleyball (coming from my smaller town with no strong tradition in the sport), I went to a junior college for experience and an athletic boost to get me into a Division 1 college. I had an amazing coach and experience at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with the phenomenal 1997 JC Coach of the Year, Doug VanOort, where we got 5th in the nation. I then transferred for a full ride scholarship at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where we were I was a Senior Captain, earned many academic and athletic awards, and we were Division Champs my final year there.

After my collegiate career ended, I went oversees to play professional indoor volleyball. It is amazing to me how my heart drove me to play, play, play volleyball any chance I had growing up in my small community. Because the high school level volleyball was not strong at the high schools I attended, it was very limiting in volleyball success, and I craved more. So, wherever I saw volleyball or volleyball opportunities, I jumped on them.... What kick-started it all was an example of this: I was attending the summer volleyball camps for other high schools, by special invitation of the coaches of other schools who were gently wishing to persuade me to attend their high school without recruiting me. After one of those days of camp, I was driving in my car with a fellow camp member from that school, and in passing a local bar, I saw a volleyball bouncing around in a man-made sand court fenced in behind the bar. I instantly pulled over knowing that I was meant to be playing volleyball there, and asked my passenger if she wanted to go and join them. She hesitated, but I was convincing, and we joined them.

That was the beginning of my volleyball career in coed and men's leagues in my community. And through playing in tournaments and leagues in the Mid-West, an agent found out about me and recruited me to join their European Tour with Bring It Promotions. This was a two-week tour where a selection of American players got together to play in tournaments all over Europe against professional and national teams in front of coaches. I got recruited on my first trip out there and that sparked my 6-year professional indoor volleyball career

Christina: The crazy thing is that I didn’t grow up Greek... being Greek is a discovery I made four years ago when I moved to Greece to play volleyball. Now I am growing up Greek. It happens every time I step on the court as Christina Roubanis under the blue & white flag or whenever I am in contact with another Hellene. The strong sense of community support makes me realize the importance of being Greek and drives me to give back to Greece by representing them in the Olympics and bringing home a medal!

I grew up in Los Angeles, California, moving around between Beverly Hills and Malibu. I lived with my mother, Nandu Hinds (who is Italian and Irish), and my older brother, Alexander. I was always a very active child. With a brother 15 months older than I, I always felt I had to participate in every activity he did and be able to keep up with him so that he would let me play. I think this is where I got my competitiveness. I was a complete tomboy growing up and played every sport I could make time for. My childhood dream was always to go to the Olympics ...although I thought I was going to go for gymnastics! At nine years old, they wanted to train me for the Olympics and then they kicked me out once they saw the height of my mother... I was going to be too tall! I was crushed and set out to find my sport. At age 14, I happened to be at a friend’s house on a day she was going for volleyball tryouts and I tagged along so I wouldn’t be left alone. She lent me Roxy shorts and some converse shoes and this is how I was introduced to my new favorite sport. Little did I know how far I would take it, or rather how far it would take me!

I played volleyball four years at Marymount High School and led my team to a Regional and State Championship where I was awarded "Most Valuable Player". Then I joined a competitive club team, Sports Shack, to play all year round. This is when I gave up my other sports to fully focus on volleyball. I won a National Championship with the team at age 16. After my Freshman year, I transferred to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California also on a full athletic scholarship and I believe this decision was a pivotal point in my life. It took me back to the beach. Over the next 3 years, I was awarded "Best all time Dig Leader" and also broke the records at Pepperdine for Digs in a game and Digs in a season. I became a defensive force. I graduated from Pepperdine with a BA in Psychology and an introduction to beach volleyball - my new passion. I started off as a rookie going down to the beach with a couple of balls and seeing who would play with me. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew that I needed to play beach volleyball!

At this point in my life, after graduation, was the first time I was free from a full athletic commitment giving me freedom to make choices on my own. I was offered a position to play on a professional team in Greece, Iraklis Kiffisias (ironically the same one JoAnna had played for). I jumped at this opportunity! For me, it was not only a job, it was a chance for me to get to know my Greek roots, spend time with my father and family in Athens, and really discover myself. I had no idea how Greek I was until I moved to Greece. My father, Theodore Roubanis, is a well-known actor, musician, and socialite in Athens. He had two uncles that are Olympians as well; George Roubanis is the most infamous. My younger cousin, son of my loving Aunt Vanda, is one of the top swimmers in the country and will be competing in the Olympics shortly as well. This is where I come from - I finally fit in! Spending a year in Greece was the most transcendental time in my life. I learned much more about myself than I thought possible. Just spending time with my father made me understand myself better. We are both free-spirited, passionate, see life in the same adventurous way, and even laugh alike! This baffled me, how I could be so much like my father when I didn't even grow up with him. It was this journey through volleyball that allowed me to finally identify with my Greek roots and understand where my passion comes from!

JoAnna was with me throughout this journey and she can testify how intense it was, and still is. I am growing into my Greek self. I can't explain it well enough, but when people ask me if it is strange for me to play for Greece when I grew up in the Unite States, I reply: “How could I NOT be more proud to play for Greece - I am proud of growing up in America but it is my strong Greek blood that runs through my veins that will take me on this Olympic journey!”


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