This week’s Player Journey features Cami Richan and how volleyball led her to a dream career as a pilot! Cami is from Highland, Utah and attended Lone Peak High School where she was a 2 time State Champion. She went on to play OH and RS for the Air Force Academy (class of 2014) where she made the top ten list for career kills, broke the program record for the number of aces in a single match, and learned to fly fighter jets!
BOS: Did you play a lot of volleyball growing up? At what point did you realize that you wanted to play volleyball in college?
CR: From the earliest age I wanted to play volleyball. All of my Dad’s sisters played college volleyball and it was a family sport. When I was growing up, it was very different than it is now, because they did not offer clinics or leagues for young kids. I was not able to find a club team to start playing until I was 12 years old. Up until that point I played a lot of soccer and basketball, but jumped on the first volleyball team I could find.
Nowadays they offer leagues for much younger kids and I envy that. As soon as I started playing I was absolutely hooked. I remember being at my first club tryouts when I was 12 and promising myself that I would do whatever I could to play Division 1 volleyball. I loved the sport and that is all I would think/talk about.
BOS: You played for Lone Peak High School, which is a very competitive high school team in Utah–how did that prepare you for playing in college?
CR: Looking back on my volleyball career, although my dream was to play in college, high school ball holds my greatest memories of the sport. Most likely because, as you stated, I had a very competitive high school team that I was lucky to be a part of just by chance my parents moved into the right area when I was really little.
The main shift from high school to college volleyball was the change in mindset. In high school, I was used to winning almost every single game and very rarely faced adversity in performance on that team. For college, it was very hard at first because we were a re-building program in the mountain west conference. When I was a freshman, the seniors on the team had never won a conference match. Ever. By the time I was a senior in college, we were almost 50% wins. Therefore, there was A LOT of losing to get used to. However, I never got used to it. I still hate losing. But the winning mindset I had in high school carried through and I was able to start as a freshman and use that mindset to start winning matches for our program, which I am very proud of.
BOS: What did you do to get recruited to AFA?
CR: I can thank a couple of my high school teammates for my interest in the Air Force Academy. I grew up a BYU fan being from Utah, and back in those days BYU used to be in Air Force’s conference. So I knew there was a school called Air Force that existed, but I did not understand what it was or how to go there. Some girls on my team in high school started getting recruited by Air Force Academy, however, this school is very well-known for being a premier academic institution and they unfortunately did not have the grades to get in (WORK HARD IN SCHOOL KIDS).
Because they could not get into the school, my high school coach reached out to me, and encouraged me to send them film. She knew that academics were important to me in addition to wanting to play Division 1 ball. I took her advice and sent them some film, and started working with the assistant coach to set up an official visit in the spring of my senior year. It was unique timing, because the volleyball staff had just been let go and fired and during my official visit they were looking for new staff. Because of this, the old coach was not very motivated to recruit for obvious reasons. Regardless, she told me that she liked my film and would offer me a spot on the team and I decided to take the offer.
BOS: Did you consider any other schools?
CR: As far as other schools go, I was very focused on getting a good education first and foremost. I had lots of offers from smaller community colleges and Division 2 programs, but decided I would rather attend BYU and get a good education than play ball at a smaller school that may not give me the academic experience I was looking for. Because of this, when I started talking to Air Force, I was very very excited because this institution is very well-known for being of high academic caliber, as well as I could play Division 1. To me it seemed like a no-brainer. Many people could not understand my decision because I would “have to” serve in the military after I graduated. I just looked at is as a guaranteed very good paying job immediately after graduation and so the military commitment was never an issue for me.
BOS: That’s a great point! Has anyone in your family served in the military?
CR: I honestly never even thought about serving in the military until I started getting recruited by Air Force. The military was a very foreign concept to me and my family. I have zero military history in my family for the most part, and even in my extended family which is very large, there are no members who serve. Because of this, naturally my mom was against it for a while (not understanding that you can still be a member of the military and not have to be on the front lines ha ha). The whole concept took a while for my family to get used to, but my dad was always very supportive because he also understood how great and prestigious the school was to attend.
BOS: Most people (myself included) have no idea what it’s like to attend AFA. Was the transition difficult as a freshman?
CR: I could talk about this subject forever, because it is a very interesting experience. Yes, it is a military school. There are outrageous rules and regulations to abide by, and you do not get anything like a normal college experience. The summer of freshman year you are required to attend a 6 week long Basic training (like a boot camp) where you learn everything about the military. You get your uniforms, learn ranks, how to salute, march, crawl through mud, etc while people are screaming at you.
BOS: That honestly… sounds kind of awful.
CR: To me, this was the hardest thing about the transition. Not only was I leaving home for the first time after graduating high school, but it was not quite a warm welcome to my new home. Throughout freshman year you have almost no privileges and have very strange rules (can’t wear your backpack, have to run to class, can’t even OWN civilian clothes, can’t leave the campus, to name a few but there’s a lot more where that came from). Every additional year at the school you start getting more and more privileges. You can have a car starting junior year, and can leave campus whenever you want senior year.
Despite the difficulties of attending a military school, I would not change my experience for anything. The academics were absolutely amazing (although very difficult) and I had some amazing experiences that no one else gets to do attending a normal college. For example, after freshman year I attended a course over the summer where it is the only program in the world where your first jump out of an airplane is by yourself. I was able to take 5 solo free-fall jumps in that program. I also was able to go to the country of Qatar for a month on the Air Force’s dime. They also paid for me to go to Haiti for a humanitarian experience. All of these amazing things I was doing that my friends from back home could only dream about.
The cool thing about the AFA is that not only is your schooling free, but they pay you to go. You get a monthly allowance since you are considered part of the military. The scholarship to AFA is worth over $500,000 because of all this. It’s a very unique and amazing experience but it was a very tough 4 years overall.
BOS: What was it like to balance your responsibilities as a student, athlete, and cadet? (Is cadet even the right term?)
CR: Yes cadet is the right term! Being on an athletic team at the school was actually a huge perk compared to the NARP’s who did not play any sports (Non-athletic regular person). AFA doesn’t always give you a weekend off, sometimes you have inspections on the weekends and military training. Being on a team, I travelled a lot in the fall and was able to skip a lot of the mandatory military things that are not fun at all to do. The daily grind was very tough sometimes. Unlike regular universities, classes were mandatory and you could get a sort of detention if you missed class. We also took about 24 credits per semester. It was so busy and difficult! A typical day for me would be:
- 0600 Mandatory breakfast formation
- 0700-1200 Class
- 1200-1300 Lunch
- 1300-1400 Military lessons
- 1430-1800 Volleyball practice/lifting
- 1830-1900 Dinner
- 1900-2300 Homework
Every athlete would have class in the mornings to accommodate practice in the afternoons. The tight schedule required a lot of planning and scheduling when you were going to do homework and how long you were going to take on each class. It was also difficult to coordinate with group projects if your group could not meet in the evenings.
It was very hard doing this for 4 years straight. It was tough having to deal with this type of grind. I pulled many many all-nighters to get everything I needed accomplished. But I knew what I signed up for and I was doing everything in my power to graduate and like I said, it was all worth it and I would definitely do it again for what I have in my life now.
BOS: What advice would you give athletes who are considering AFA?
CR: Make sure you know what you are getting into and talk to people who have gone through it! There have been instances where coaches sugarcoat what the School is like and their athletes don’t make it through and end up quitting early on. Talk to the players about the lifestyle and the difficulty of the school, not the coaches. They just want you to attend, the players will keep it real.
BOS: What qualities do you feel have helped you to be successful as an athlete and as an airman?
CR: Being able to take feedback I think is the quality that has helped me in volleyball and in life. Going from being coached my whole life made it be a lot easier when I was learning how to fly planes. I viewed it as a sport and was able to apply feedback in my flying to make me a better pilot.
BOS: What is your current rank and job in the AF?
CR: I am currently a Captain in the Air Force. Right now I am an instructor pilot. I currently teach brand new Air Force pilots how to fly for the first time in the T-6 Texan II. This fall I am moving to Louisiana to learn how to fly the B-52 bomber aircraft.
BOS: What is one of the coolest things you’ve ever done as a part of the AF?
CR: One perk of playing on a military school team is the fact that we took Air Force jets to all of our away matches! It was super awesome to be able to hop directly on the plane on the runway with no security, and just take off in a military jet to our games. That was a blast. Our coaches also set up amazing tournaments against Army and Navy academies at the pentagon. We were able to play in the pentagon where tons of military generals watched us play. That was also a very unique and fun experience.
Learning how to fly high-performance aircraft and have that be my JOB is the coolest thing. I get to fly upside down, go really fast, and teach people how to do it. Can’t get any better than that.
BOS: What does your sports career mean to you now?
CR: I always talk about my sports career to my students and relate sports to flying since it also required a great deal of hand-eye coordination. I get to play volleyball in intramural quite a bit. Also, 2 years ago I had the unique opportunity to play volleyball for the All-Air Force national team. They picked a team who were in the military to represent the Air Force and to play Army and Navy for a month long program. That was a blast. I hope to do that again soon.
–A huge thanks to Cami for sharing her adventures with us! If you’ve got a story to tell and a desire to help other athletes to breakout, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up at the bottom of the page to get weekly BreakOut Sports updates directly in your inbox.