Tokyo Olympics

Suburban Volleyball Star Returning for 2nd Olympic Games After Serious Injury

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Wheaton's own Thomas Jaeschke is heading for his second straight Olympics, but this time, things are very different.

A lot changed for Jaeschke in the years since he competed on the men's volleyball team for Team USA in the Rio Games, where he was the youngest player on the team.

"It's a little different this time," Jaeschke told NBC Chicago. "This quad was pretty slow, I had some injuries, and it was pretty choppy obviously with COVID too. And then last quad, I kind of came out of college, turned professional, everything kind of happened bang, bang, bang. So year, it was kind of two stark contrasts."

In 2018, Jaeschke tore his ACL during a game.

"I had injured it and then I think 10 days later I had surgery and after surgery my quad had completely disappeared and it was like, you know, whatever it was - 24 years of work- and you know, my legs were pretty strong as a volleyball player and my quad had completely disappeared," he said.

The injury left him questioning how he would ever play volleyball again.

The injury took more than a year to recover from, he said. He also had shoulder surgery all within less than two years of suffering that injury.

"That stuff was tough on my body and my mental," he said.

But fast forward to 2021 and Jaeschke is in fact playing volleyball again, and he's doing it in the Tokyo Olympics.

"I'm just happy to be here, honestly," he said as he noted that he is "just waiting to get on that flight."

Going from youngest newcomer to Olympic veteran has brought Jaeschke new perspective.

"It's a lot different this time around," he said. "You know, we're talking to the young guys about the Games, whereas last quad we had a bunch of new guys that were new to the Olympics and we had a lot to learn. So it's different this time going into it with the added perspective and, you know, that knowledge of just having gone through it once already."

His biggest advice to the younger players?

"It's pretty draining, especially when you're there - a lot of emotional energy goes into the Games, you know? Obviously physical energy for the matches, but I think the emotional energy drainage is something that people don't really understand," he said. "And so that's the biggest thing, you know? I think what I've told them is just be a little bit more selfish for the team, you know, not for yourself, but for the team. Like if you need to shut your phone off and just decompress, do that."

But while the coronavirus pandemic has already changed plenty about the Games, not just for Jaeschke, there's one element he feels could be a unexpected "blessing in disguise."

No fans.

The change will mark a big shift from the 17 people he had by his side in Rio.

"I had a big group [in Rio] and it was, you know, after the games I'll kind of run over to them, you know, in the stadium, just give them a hug and say hi, which was great obviously, you know," he said. "Like in those moments, it's great, but beyond that I didn't really see them that much and they were doing like, you know, all the touristy stuff in Rio... I think it's a little bit of a blessing in disguise I mean, for me, just because I don't have to put that energy away from the team."

But when it comes to his grandpa and his parents - his biggest supporters - not having them present is "a bummer."

"I know they're watching, I know they're supporting me and I know if they could be there they would," he said. "It's unfortunate that they can't, but again, I'm there to play volleyball."

And not just play but, he hopes, take home a medal.

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