Northeastern High School grad Nate Ocasio is living on an island. He's playing volleyball for a living. And his expenses are paid for, with the exception of food and gas.
Ocasio earned a spot with the Puerto Rican team Nuevos Gigantes in July after a stellar career at Juniata College. It all seems like a dream and Ocasio seems content to follow wherever it leads.
Why wouldn't he?
Maybe someday he'll move on to play professionally in Europe. Maybe he'll stay in Puerto Rico, become fluent in Spanish and become rich and famous there. Maybe he'll gain enough notoriety to shed some light on Still's disease, an ailment that nearly killed him and his volleyball career in college.
For a 24 year old with plenty of options, the future is hard to predict. But the present seems perfect.
We caught up with Ocasio in this week's installment of Sports Q&A:
How did you end up in Puerto Rico?
I was looking to play professionally either here or in Europe. I really wanted to go
here because it's a really good league and my family is from here. I sent a tape and my volleyball resume to a lady named Vanessa and she contacted me. They ended up taking a look at me for a tryout and that's how I ended up down here.
How long have you been down there?
On Tuesday, it'll be about a month and a week. I got down here around July 22 or 23. I'm living in Isla Verde in a kind of tourist area. It's beautiful here. It's kind of like the San Juan area.
How many teams are in the league?
There are 10 teams in the league. I'm playing for a team in Catalina called Nuevos Gigantes. There are other teams in Ponce, San Juan, out west and all over.
How does your contract work?
As a rookie, you make a certain amount a year. You get paid monthly. You sign a contract that says what you're getting paid and what you have to do. The pay is not too good, but if you prove yourself, there's a lot of money to be made. I can't complain, I'm living on an island playing volleyball. And I don't pay for anything except food and gas.
Are you getting any playing time?
I'm actually starting right now at opposite. The league is really tough. The one guy I'm fighting for the position jumps like 40 inches. Everyone is good. Your position is not secure. It's not like in college.
How does the competi tion compare to college?
It's tough. My team would beat any college team in the country in any division. Everyone is good. On my team, we have two American national team players.
How many games do you play a week?
It's a lot. From Saturday-Saturday, we usually have four games a week. But now, I don't have a game until Friday. It varies. This is only a four-month season, not eight like it is in Europe. I might go to Europe in January to play there (between seasons).
How many people go to each game?
We live in a bigger city so there's more to do and we don't get as many fans. I've played in four games and at two of them we've had like 1,000 fans. This Friday our game is on TV.
What would you like people to know about Still's disease?
I don't think there's a big Still's foundation where anyone knows about it (the disease is similar to arthritis with side effects that range from fevers to joint pain to organ disease). I'd like to make people more aware of it. So many people don't know anything because they don't have good doctors. Hopefully, I can make people more aware of the disease and educate them.
What do you miss the most about America? The food?
No, the food down here is amazing. Really it's just family and friends. It's just like at home, everything you need, they have it here. It's very Americanized.
Have you done any thing cool in Puerto Rico?
I got to see where my dad grew up and got to see some family. That was a really cool experience to see what my dad saw growing up.
Do you feel like you're living a dream?
To play a sport you love and get paid to do it is very neat.
-- Reach Nate Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.