SWLA couple shares Olympic experiences - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

SWLA couple shares Olympic experiences

Joyce and Brian Gamborg played with the world's most elite athletes in volleyball. (Source: KPLC) Joyce and Brian Gamborg played with the world's most elite athletes in volleyball. (Source: KPLC)

When the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro kick off Friday evening, a Southwest Louisiana couple will be watching it with a very unique perspective.

Brian and Joyce Gamborg have made it to the top in their sports and know what it is like to compete with the world's most elite athletes.

Many years have passed since the Gamborgs were spending six to seven hours every day training for the Olympics.

"Everybody enjoyed it," said Brian, "It's like many people in athletics, you can't get them to do anything else."

At 6'4 and 6'1, this couple stands out in the crowd simply because of their height, but boy if you could watch them hit a volleyball!

"I knew some day I wanted to go to the Olympics," said Joyce.  "I don't know if I knew that it would be in volleyball, but I knew one day I wanted to go."

Growing up, Joyce had her eyes on the ultimate stage.  Brian was a basketball player before falling in love with volleyball his senior year of high school, the sport that landed him on a university team, clinching national championships.

"I got a phone call shortly after the national championships asking me to try out for the men's Olympic team and that's when it sort of clicked that maybe we could move it up a step and even play internationally," said Brian.

Brian and Joyce met at their university, through volleyball, of course...and hit it off, literally!

"She was one of the best blockers I have ever seen in volleyball," said Brian.

Brian was on the Canadian men's team, ready to compete in Moscow in the 1980 Olympics, when the shaky political dynamics at the time led to a massive boycott of the games.  In 1978, he knew the next Olympic reality would not come until the 1984 games.

"As much as I enjoyed the sport, I just wasn't prepared to commit another six years to it, there were other things," he said.

He got accepted into medical school and helped coach the Canadian women's team.

"Having a little bit of medical background didn't hurt, so I could fill two roles on the team," said Brian.  "I could coach and be the physician, so they saved one airplane ticket if they took me along."

Joyce's Olympic-sized dreams became a reality at the 1984 games in Los Angeles, where she played with the world watching.  

"As an athlete, I've never felt pressure within the gym," she said.  "It's something that I love doing and I think when you get to a point in your life with your sport that you're confident in it, you're able to tune out everything."

The Canadians did not medal on the volleyball court, but Joyce says her experiences were truly golden.

"Just a wonderful experience, we met so many people," she said.  "I have relationships that I've made with athletes and coaches and players from those days that I've managed to keep until now and it's been 32 years."

So you might be wondering how these Canadian sports stars ended up in Southwest Louisiana.  Brian says it was a phone call out of the blue on a -40 degrees February day that made a job in the Bayou State sound very appealing.

"I paused for a second and I thought, 'What's the weather like down there?'  And they said, 'Oh, it's 72, the sun is out,' and I looked out the window and said, 'I've got to at least look at this!'"

The rest, you could say, is history.  The Gamborgs moved to Sulphur almost 20 years ago and are the parents of a son and daughter.  

Dr. Gamborg is now a family medicine physician at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, Joyce helps coach volleyball at Maplewood Middle School in Sulphur.  They say the lessons they learned chasing Olympic dreams still ring true today.

"It's about the spirit of the sport and bringing together people," said Joyce.  "I think in this day and age with all of the troubles we are having in the world, I think that there are some valuable lessons that we can take away."

Dr. Gamborg says the most common misconception people have about elite athletes is that they live a life of luxury.  He says that is only true for a tiny sliver of those in their sports and most deal with living in sub-par conditions while competing internationally.

He says his biggest lesson through his years of training and competing centers on possessions versus accomplishments.  

"What I think that we learned from it is accomplishments are far more important and that I suppose has become the focus of many of the things that we're involved in now," said Dr. Gamborg.  "People can always lose their possessions, but you can never take away their accomplishments."

When we asked the Gamborgs if they would be cheering for the U-S or Canada, they said they like to cheer for specific athletes based on their background stories.

Dr. Gamborg and Joyce will be two of several former athletes with Olympic ties offering perspective for KPLC throughout the summer games.  You can follow that feature on our Olympics page here.

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