As a junior in college at Loyola University, Thomas Jaeschke was doing something most college student athletes could only dream of.
He was becoming a professional volleyball player.
While attending Loyola University, the Wheaton, Illinois-native was also an athlete for the U.S. national team, and his talent was not going unnoticed.
After competing in a match between the U.S. and Poland, Jaeschke was offered a position as an outside hitter on the leading team in Poland’s professional league, Asseco Resovia.
Jaeschke ended up leaving his university during his junior year in December 2015 to spend eight months playing for the team in Poland.
“The first two weeks were pretty tough mentally for me,” Jaeschke said. “I was a 22-year-old kid living across the world by myself in a poor country. The whole thing was pretty tough.You miss your family, you don’t speak the language.”
In spite of the difficulty acclimating to the culture in Poland and living across the world, Jaeschke made the most out of it. His team ended up taking silver in the Poland league.
“Volleyball is a huge sport in Poland,” Jaeschke said. “We’re like celebrities here.”
An afternoon shopping at the grocery store in Poland can easily draw attention to the volleyball players.
Jaeschke has been asked for autographs as well as pictures by fans.
“It’s funny,” Jaeschke said. “You don’t get used to it.”
While he enjoys the Polish atmosphere, Jaeschke wishes volleyball could be more popular in the United States.
Since there isn’t a professional league in America, most athletes head overseas in order to make a living.
Right after the Olympics, most volleyball athletes will begin their normal season with an international team. However, Jaeschke’s contract allows him to stay in the states longer before traveling to Poland in late December.
After spending eight months in Poland, Jaeschke has picked up a few Polish words but is still learning.
“When we have time outs in the hole I can pick [it] up,” he said. “When they’re talking in the locker room I have no idea what they’re saying.”
Polish men aren’t the only teammates Jaeschke plays with. Athletes from Bulgaria, Ukraine and others play alongside him on the court.
“I just love competing with my teammates,” Jaeschke said. “It’s fun to go on the court and work together.”
Jaeschke tried out for the volleyball team freshman year of high school and ended up falling in love with the sport.
After all the hard work in just a short amount of time, he made his debut for the U.S team in 2015.
“I didn’t expect it but I also didn’t not expect it,” Jaeschke said.
Preparing for the Rio Games involves a lot of training for Jaeschke and his teammates.
“We’re just training really hard,” Jaeschke said. “We have this next week and half, right now it’s just training and taking care of our bodies and minds.”
Jaeschke said he is most excited for the opening ceremonies as he takes on his first Olympic Games.
“Every summer we do a family vacation on my mom’s side so this year we’re doing it in Rio,” Jaeschke said.
Twenty family members will also be joining him on his trip to Rio.
“My family is super proud of me and I’m pretty proud of myself and all the hard work I put in,” Jaeschke said.