Throughout the last several years, Jill Williams has experienced many life-changing events. In 2016 she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma—a form of bone cancer most commonly found in children and young adults. The former TLU volleyball player withdrew from school to receive several rounds of chemotherapy before having a rotationplasty.
Nearly two and a half years after her surgery, Williams’ competitive spirit landed her a spot on the USA National Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team. Now, four years later and still cancer free, she has added gold medalist to her list of achievements after triumphing with her World ParaVolley teammates at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.
While that competition was her second time nationally rostering, the Parapan Games were her first time experiencing an event where all parasports were represented.
“I got to encounter every sport and all types of athletes,” Williams said. “From swimming to track and soccer and basketball, everyone was there. Being immersed in adaptive sport like that is unbelievable and the camaraderie and acceptance that comes with it is amazing. We all have had our own trials; you can see what these people go through and what their disability is. It’s so accepting.”
According to teamusa.org, Paralympic volleyball follows the same rules as its non-disabled counterpart with a few modifications to accommodate various disabilities, including a lowered net height of 3.5 feet high and a smaller court size of 10 x 6 meters.
“Your arms are your new legs and you use them to move,” Williams said. “The rules are mostly the same except you can block a serve, our setter plays middle back versus right back, and one butt cheek has to be on the floor at all times when you’re touching the ball.”
Williams also said being in Lima with people from all of the Americas and listening to the Peruvian people sing their national anthem brought tears to her eyes. The moment became even more surreal when the she and her teammates received their gold medals.
“Being on the top podium while your flag is being raised and your national anthem is playing is indescribable,” she said. “I get chills every time I hear it, but this was different. My adrenaline was so high and I was so proud.”
Another important aspect of the Parapan games was that Williams’ parents were able to travel with her. While there, they visited places like Cuzco, Machu Pichu, Rainbow Mountain, and Sacred Valley.
With her sights still set on the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, Williams says her daily focus is still the same as it always was: Be the best you can be. She continues to train at the University of Central Oklahoma for three hours every day, Monday through Friday, and sees a personal trainer three times each week. Her number one goal is to secure a spot on the roster for Team USA.
“I won’t find out until May or June 2020,” she said. “Right now I’m just training every day and becoming the best I can be. It’s a full-time job for sure. This entire experience has taught me that I have way more drive than I ever imagined and I can do anything I want to do. I feel like as athletes—especially in higher levels—we tend to put a limit on ourselves. In the adaptive world, I’ve seen so many sports I could try.”
On top of her training, Williams is also completing an internship with MD Anderson Houston for Zimmer Biomet—an orthopedic sales company.
“I’ll graduate in May from the University of Central Oklahoma with a Marketing degree and an emphasis in Professional Sales,” she said. “Although I never got to finish my Athletic Training degree at TLU because I had to withdraw, I knew I always wanted to work in a medical atmosphere. Even before everything happened to me that was what I wanted to do.”
During a previous trip to MD Anderson, Williams met an eight-year-old girl who had just received a rotationplasty. The girl’s parents were so thankful for her interaction with their daughter who was just two days post-amputation.
“I just want to remind young athletes or children going through cancer that it’s a moment that has a beautiful story after,” she said. “You will be able to do things again and there is an end in sight. Every time I meet a new patient, I get that same fulfillment and I share my journey and how far I’ve come. I want to be there to support them the way TLU has always supported me. Never give up. The world is endless when it comes to adaptive sports. There’s always a spot for you.”