Live To Inspire: Laurie Corbelli
September 18, 2012
During her junior year at Texas Lutheran University, Laurie Corbelli packed up her entire life and left Seguin. She traveled to California and began training for the Summer Olympics with the women’s junior national volleyball team. Although it was difficult to leave behind her coach, teammates, family and university, Corbelli knew if she declined the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she’d forever regret it. Now the most successful head volleyball coach at Texas A&M University, the Olympic silver medalist continues to use her experience as an athlete to not only coach her players, but to challenge them as individuals.
It was 1977 when the 20-year-old middle blocker first arrived in Huntington Beach, Calif. After missing a season the year before because of a broken foot, Corbelli was determined to start playing again. From 6 to 11 p.m. every day, the team trained at any open gym they could find. After a short time on the West Coast, Corbelli and her teammates were the first team ever invited to train in Colorado Springs at a former U.S. Army base—now the U.S. Olympic Training Center. After three years of training eight hours a day, Corbelli and her team knew they were ready. However, on Jan. 4, 1980, the team was told the U.S. might boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow because of the Soviet Union’s refusal to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
“We didn’t let the news phase us,” Corbelli said. “All the other U.S. teams stopped training and we kept going. We picketed with other athletes asking people to please not boycott the games and we even went on ‘Good Morning America.’ We wanted to show people how hard we had worked and how much we wanted to compete.”
It wasn’t until an afternoon in late April of 1980 when Corbelli knew her dream of Olympic gold would not come true that summer.
“My teammates and I were actually traveling to San Antonio for a match when we got off the plane and I saw the faces of my family,” Corbelli said. “I knew it had been officially announced while we were on the flight that the U.S. would not be playing in Moscow. It was devastating to think we had worked so hard and were not going to compete. We had a match that evening and it was very hard to hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ play.”
After the disappointment of the 1980 Olympics, Corbelli took the summer off and debated whether or not to begin training for the 1984 games. The 23-year-old decided after all the traveling and hard work she put into the past three years, she wanted to go for it one more time and committed to the ’84 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“I knew we weren’t going to boycott our own games,” she joked. “We would also be able to have family there since it was in our own country. So I went back at it again. I trained eight hours a day and by the time the games were upon us, I knew we were ready.”
The No. 3 ranked U.S. Women’s Volleyball Team defeated the No. 1 ranked China Women’s Volleyball Team in a first round match. The two teams met again four days later in a battle for the gold medal. That match, and the subsequent loss, is something Corbelli still carries with her. Receiving her silver medal was bittersweet and full of mixed emotions as she and the rest of her team stood up in front of the world.
“I cried tears of joy but also tears of regret,” Corbelli said. “Losing that match was heartbreaking. But, I had my medal and I was just so proud and happy. I remember standing up there and thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I didn’t have my degree and there was a scariness that I was going to be leaving my teammates who had become my family for the past eight years. After all the celebrating was over, we realized we didn’t know how we would get jobs or support ourselves without college degrees. A lot of people doubted us and we sat out to prove them wrong.”
She enrolled at San Jose State in California to complete her kinesiology degree. While there, Corbelli was offered the head coaching position at the University of San Francisco where she also finished her degree. After several seasons at USF and Santa Clara University, Corbelli became the head coach at Texas A&M University in College Station and both she and her husband, John, have coached there since 1993. Now, as the winningest coach in A&M volleyball history and coach of three-time Olympian and silver medalist Stacy Sykora, Corbelli still uses her two decades of experience to lead, encourage and challenge athletes.
“I tell them following your dreams shouldn’t be easy,” Corbelli said. “You must take risks and expect failure because that’s how you learn not just as an athlete, but as a person. My most important role is a motivator. The X’s and O’s are the easy part. The challenge is convincing players they can go out and be great. Susan Duke was my wonderful coach at TLU and she was our No. 1 fan. You have to be your player’s No. 1 fan and vice versa. Everything I did and continue to do is an incredible emotional investment. It can wear on you. But in the end, it’s worth every minute.”
Editor’s note: Laurie Corbelli comes from a long line of TLU alumni and friends. Her grandfather, Raymond Flachmeier, Sr. graduated in 1924, her father Raymond Flachmeier, Jr. graduated in 1954 and her three sisters Lin F. Cerles, Lee F. Davis and Leslie Love graduated in 1976,1978 and 1981.
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