“To be true to one’s self is the ultimate test in life. To have the courage and sensitivity to follow your hidden dreams and stand tall against the odds that are bound to fall in your path. Life is too short and precious to be dealt with in any other fashion. This thought I hold dear to my heart, and I always try to be true to myself and others that I encounter along the way.” ~ Flo Hyman
Volleyball community, let’s get this straight…
If the word “Flo” is mentioned amongst junior players, the players will likely tell the coach, “The Club Can’t Handle Me Right Now“. The players are not talking about the volleyball club they play for (although some might believe it). They are reciting a little Flo Rida, Grammy Award winning rapper:
You may have heard the song on the van or bus trip to a match.
When the word “Flo” in the volleyball world is mentioned, our first thought should not be the “flow” of the game. “Our team has a really good flow right now. The rhythm of the team is gelling. We are passing well, setting nectar, and banging balls. We are really flowing.” No.
In tennis, if the name “Billie Jean” is mentioned,the first person you most likely think about is the great Billie Jean King. I don’t think Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean is the first synapse of the mind. Mention the word “Tiger” and I’m sure a slew of thoughts run through your mind, but golf is the epicenter.
Flo deserves the recognition with the game of volleyball as “The Babe”, Arnold Palmer, and Billie Jean King to their respective sports. Flo Rida nor any volleyball club could handle Flo Hyman, right now or ever…
Flo is Flora Hyman. “It is impossible to quantify the impact Flo Hyman had on the sport of volleyball with just words. She was the most famous volleyball player of the time, not just here in the United States, but also worldwide.” states the Volleyball Hall of Fame. In 1985, she was named one of the All Time Great Volleyball Players. Arie Sellinger, USA Volleyball National Team coach called her “The Goddess of Volleyball“. Long before the likes of volleyball legends Karch Kiraly and Misty May made volleyball a popular spectator sport, no star loomed larger over the game than Flo Hyman. A towering 6’5” presence on the US National Team, she was named All World and selected as the Most Valuable Player in countless international tournaments, as well as being named to numerous All-Star Teams. For more than a decade she reached these accolades before her untimely death, when she collapsed during a match in 1986 at the tender age of 31. Her passing as iconic as NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt’s crash into a wall.
“Pushing yourself over the barrier is a habit.” Flo was quoted in a 1985 New York Times Article, and barriers she conquered, such as spiking a volleyball over 110 mph. A specialty of Flo’s was the “Flying Cluthman”, a fast, hard-impacting spike that was recorded at over 110 mph. Known for her powerful hitting and endless determination, Flo was most notably recognized for her selfless attitude, her presence, and contagious energy. “Flo was more than a great athlete who pioneered in her sport and achieved so many firsts… She left us as she would have wanted us to remember her, fighting hard for the success that only commitment would realize and encouraging her teammates to seek and attain those lofty goals with her. She was and will continue to be an example that we all should emulate as we pass through life no matter what path we choose to walk. We will never see her like again. No one will ever lead U.S. Volleyball to so many proud and satisfying moments in the world arena. We are all much better because she was with us for a while but we are left so empty and unfulfilled because she left too soon.” USVBA
In 1987, the Women’s Sports Foundation honored Flo by creating the Flo Hyman Memorial Award presented to the female sportsperson, irrespective of nationality or sport contested, adjudged to have capture the dignity, spirit, and commitment to excellence. Great athletes like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Martina Nvratalova, and ironically, Billie Jean King, have been graced with the Flo Hyman Award.
Volleyball World – it’s time to recognize the impact Flo Hyman played and use the word “Flo” with the respect it deserves. Our sport and our youth need to recognize the impact and history of the game, to help it grow. Enlightening each other of Flo’s presence is a good start.
Sports of The Times; Remembering Flo Hyman
The New York Times
By George Vecsey
Published: February 5, 1988
THERE is only one thing wrong about the Flo Hyman Award: it came to be named for the Old Lady of volleyball much too soon.
She was one of the most charismatic athletes this country ever produced, rail thin and tall, with a smile that energized an arena.
But she died from Marfan syndrome during a match at the age of 31, two years ago, and her name was memorialized on an award – and her memory has helped extend the lives of other people, including her brother.
The Flo Hyman Award, given by Major League Volleyball to the female athlete who ”embodies the spirit and dignity” of the late volleyball star, was presented to Jackie Joyner-Kersee yesterday in Washington during National Women in Sports Day, organized by the Women’s Sports Foundation. Last year the first Flo Hyman award went to Martina Navratilova.
Yesterday, famous athletes like Billie Jean King, Pam Shriver, Zina Garrison, Carol Mann and Joyner-Kersee visited the capital to lobby for women’s sports, while women held awareness programs in many states. Senator Bob Packwood, Republican of Oregon, announced the award to Joyner-Kersee in the morning and President Reagan presented it to her during a ceremony at the White House.
”Flo was a leader on and off the court, trying to help the future generations,” Joyner-Kersee said in an interview. ”I only met her once, when my high school team went to watch the national team. She asked me if I wanted to play volleyball.”
Joyner-Kersee stuck with basketball and track and field, and is doing fine. Her world-record performances in the long jump and the heptathlon are the best lobby women’s sports could ever have, just as Flo Hyman’s exuberance and maturity gave women’s volleyball a big-time appearance.
HYMAN was 6 feet 5 inches tall and originally self-conscious about her height. But her family and friends convinced her that her height was a blessing.
Nobody knew that her angular frame contained signs of Marfan syndrome, a condition just beginning to be recognized in thousands of Americans – often taller people with long arms, long fingers, oddly shaped chest bones.
Marfan is an inherited disorder of connective tissue that affects bones and ligaments, eyes, the heart and blood system, and the lungs. Flo Hyman became America’s best-known volleyball player with a faulty aorta, but she did not know it.
”We never heard of it,” said Suzanne Jett, her sister and the oldest of eight children – ”seven, now,” Jett added softly.
The family lived in Inglewood, not far from the California beach towns of Redondo, Manhattan and Hermosa, where mostly sun-baked blond people frolicked on sandy volleyball courts in the 60’s. Basketball was for blacks. Volleyball, even with Wilt Chamberlain as its champion, was mostly for whites.
”Florie was six feet tall in elementary school,” Jett recalled, using the nickname that only family members could use. ”She was such a big, young, powerful girl. I took her to the beach with me, and we used to play in the two-man tournaments. She joined a youth team that went to Russia. After that, volleyball was her sport, not basketball.”
Attracted to volleyball, with its teamwork and its finesse, its power and its grace, Hyman was an all-American at the University of Houston, and then joined a national team that was eventually sequestered in southern California. Arie Selinger, the hard-driving Polish-Israeli-American coach, had to persuade her she really did want to bash her bony frame into the hard floor, over and over again, to retrieve a wayward volleyball.
”I’ve had a lot of fights with the floor,” she said with a whooping laugh.
The Americans were primed to make a run for the gold medal in 1980, but the Carter Administration’s boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow postponed or wrecked dreams for hundreds of athletes. Most of the women stayed together for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, but in the gold-medal match, it was Ping Lang and her Chinese teammates who won the gold, not Flo Hyman and her teammates, who had waited so long.
”The family was up in the stands, crying,” Suzanne Jett recalled. ”But Florie came by and waved. You could see her smile. She was happy. She had reached her goal. She had played for a gold medal. I thought to myself, ‘If she is happy, why am I crying?’ ”
Selinger was forced out after the Summer Games and Hyman went to play in Japan, looking to coach over there.
”Florie had a lot of doors opening for her,” her oldest sister said. ”Broadcasting. Acting. Coaching. But she would come home and lobby for more money for women’s sports. She felt this country doesn’t give women’s sports as much as other countries do. She tried to make things better. But she also nursed her relationship with the Japanese.
”She got friendly with American baseball players and their wives, she got to know the owner of an American nightclub, she loved the Japanese,” said Suzanne Jett, who edits television commercials in Los Angeles. ”I visited her and we went out dancing. I was supposed to go over again.”
ON Jan. 24, 1986, during a normal rest on the bench, Flo Hyman fell over dead. Her sister came over to claim her body. The family eventually learned from a pathologist in California that Hyman had died of something called Marfan syndrome. The family has learned more about the ailment from the National Marfan Foundation, run by Priscilla Ciccariello in Port Washington, L.I.
”My brother and I went to a Marfan symposium run by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore,” Jett said. ”People kept saying, ‘Are you sure you don’t have it?’ because I’m tall and thin, like Florie, and have unusually long arms. I took the test and did not have the internal manifestations, but my brother, Michael, had open-heart surgery two weeks later. He’s all right now. He just had his first child. It’s something to watch in the baby.”
Giving an annual award to star athletes like Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one way of remembering Flo Hyman. The awareness of a menacing condition is another legacy of an American champion who could reassure her own family after the loss of a gold medal.
“I had to learn to be honest with myself. I had to recognize my pain threshold. When I hit the floor, I have to realize it’s not as if I broke a bone. Pushing yourself over the barrier is a habit. I know I can do it and try something else crazy. If you want to win the war, you’ve got to pay the price.” ~ Flo Hyman