Mireya Luis, a triple Olympic champion and member of the Volleyball Hall of Fame shares the impressive story of the Cuban Volleyball team, ‘Las Morenas del Caribe’, that dominated the Volleyball world for a decade.
Mireya reveals what made the team special, how they developed their discipline, and why they loved the sport so much. As a captain of the team, she also outlines the necessary leadership qualities she needed to lead the team.
Furthermore, we talk about
- Why Cuba missed out on 2 Olympic Games
- Her darkest moment
- Her best moment
- Her advice to a younger Mireya Luis
- Her success habits
- Why she was chosen to be the captain of the legendary ‘Las Morenas del Caribe’
- Her famous jumping ability
- Her morning routine
- How to prepare for important moments
- How to overcome setbacks
- How she became a mum at the age of 18
- Her role model
- Her legendary coach, Eugenio George
- The best advice she has received
- Her book Between Heaven and Earth
- A typical training day in the life of a Volleyball player
- Her interview nomination
- Where can you find Mireya Luis
Christian: Today I am joined by Mireya Luis, triple Olympic champion 1992, 1996 and 2000; member of Volleyball Hall of Fame; two-time World Champion, captain of ‘Las Morenas del Caribe’, a story you should have heard, multiple awards for best player, best scorer, best spiker, which means attacker.
Now let’s bow down and welcome Mireya, welcome!
Mireya: Thank you, thank you very much!
[The original interview was in Spanish, the text below is the translation of the original interview.]
Christian: Mireya, where are you at the moment? In Cuba?
Mireya: Yes, we are in Cuba, we are at my house, in Havana.
Why Cuba missed out on 2 Olympic Games
Christian: As I said at the introduction, you’ve won three Olympic championships, but I also saw that Cuba couldn’t participate in the 1984 Olympic Games, which is logical, because of the 1984 Summer Olympics boycott, but why didn’t Cuba participate in the 1988 Olympic Games?
Mireya: Our country did not participate in the 1984 Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles, for political reasons, a situation that existed between Cuba and the United States.
In 1988, likewise, in solidarity with the socialist countries, we did not participate in Seoul. But these were two opportunities where our team had a chance to be among the medalists on the podium.
These were two opportunities where our team had a chance to be among the medalists on the podium.
Christian: in the end, that was better for the other countries, otherwise you would have won 5 gold medals.
Mireya: That’s right, I would have had five medals, I don’t know if al lof them would be gold, but Olympic medals.
Her darkest moment
Christian: Mireya, in your life as an athlete, what was the darkest moment?
Mireya: I think that athletes have many difficult moments, but for me, it was in the year 1991 when I had surgery on the left knee, due to an injury, which I think it was caused by the excessive jumping. Not because of excessive training, but much rather because of my ability to jump.
I had a knee injury, but not because of excessive training, but much rather because of my ability to jump.
I had to undergo surgery and couldn’t participate at a 100% in the World Championships held in China that year. After 6 weeks of being hospitalized, there was an opening or a break in my kneecap. And the team of surgeons at the Frank País Orthopedic Hospital here in Cuba, Dr. Álvarez Cambra and Hugo López applied a special technique, but for that technique to work, I had to keep complete rest.
I should have been resting for a 6 week period and then start my rehabilitation. I did rest completely for 6 weeks, but I rehabilitated in a very short time, I think it was just 4 weeks. Then I went to the World Championships in China, unfortunately, I couldn’t play and my team placed fourth. We knew we had the possibility of being in the top three, but we just didn’t make it.
I knew that my performance and contribution to the team at that time were very important, but I couldn’t be on the court, which was very difficult for me. I was happy to leave the hospital and make a quick recovery and to be at the World Championships, but not being able to support my team and to leave without a medal was difficult.
I knew that my performance and contribution to the team at that time were very important, but I couldn’t be on the court, which was very difficult for me.
Christian: And were you the team captain at that moment?
Mireya: Yes, at that time I was the captain of the team, but then there were some difficulties. After being separated, for those two and a half months from the team, when I arrived at the World Champs, I was told, that I wasn’t the captain and another colleague of mine, Regla Bell was the Captain. It was disappointing because I wasn’t notified that I wasn’t going to be captain for that World Championships.
Christian: How did you recover from that moment?
Mireya: When we returned from the World Championships to Havana, I hardly took any vacation because I wanted to regain my performance and my place as Captain of the team. So I quickly joined the training, I just followed what I always did, my disciplined approach to training, and my way of grouping and collaborating, let’s say kind of leadership.
To be honest, I didn’t do it purposely, I did it by intuition. It was a natural thing for me, things were really coming so natural to me. I followed that approach and I became the captain of the national team again.
Christian: Very cool.
Mireya: And in a very short time.
Her best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Mireya: It’s said, that the best moments are when you win, right? But I had many beautiful moments, however, the best moment was when we won the third Olympic gold medal. It was a real moment of celebration and glory. I think that many of my teammates have felt it too, that we have touched something very special. Really a magical moment, this third Olympic gold medal in Sydney [in 2000].
I think that many of my teammates have felt it too, that we have touched something very special. A real magical moment, this third Olympic gold medal in Sydney.
Christian: Yes, and I think what must have made it extra special, because in that Olympic final against Russia you were two sets down, right? So Russia was winning, and then what happened? What did you guys do?
Mireya: We had in mind, as always, to beat Russia, and we had already beaten them many times before. But the Russians were also prepared and that is something that sometimes people do not understand, and they say: “No, but you have always won, you always beat that same team” But that same team also works hard, tries new things, and prepares to win a medal.
They come with that same goal of winning and are well prepared. And it turned out that at the beginning of the match, it was actually the other way around, the Russian team was beating us in the first two sets. But our team effort and the team unity, we always had a feeling and a culture of victory. We have created that during so many years of training, and that gave us the ability to be able to come back, to recover and to be able to do what we had to do and to be able to beat the Russians in the next 3 sets.
We always had a feeling and a culture of victory, we have created that during so many years of training,
However, something interesting happened at that point, we no longer thought about the game, we just thought point by point, set by set and to claim the victory. And thanks to the experience of our team, we were able to do it.
I remember, when we were losing, our girls were crying on the bench and I went up to them; because I wasn’t playing the entire time, it was my last Olympics, I went in and out of the match; I went to the bench and told my teammates and I told them that the tears were not going to give any energy to our teammates who were on the court. The tears were not going to correct the problem, the tears were not going to give any points to our team. We had to show joy, claws, and character so that when they look at us, they will see a gold medal in each of our eyes.
I told them the tears were not going to give any points to our team. We had to show joy, claws, and charácter, so that when they look at us, they will see a gold medal in each of our eyes.
And when my teammates, the 6 that were playing asked for a time-out, I told my coach that I wanted to talk to them. I apologized to my coach, Eugenio, for interrupting, but he said: “Don’t apologize, you know what to do, you know the right instructions that they need right now.” That actually gave me a lot of strength and I kept doing it, every time I could, I directed them and advised them.
I had moments when I spoke with Regla Torres, another veteran player, I spoke with Yumilka Ruiz, who was actually the player, who came in for me, and she was very nervous. It was her debut as a regular player and then playing for an Olympic gold medal, made her very nervous. I told her to calm down, I told her she needed to be calm to score those points.
But it was a real team effort, everyone played a very important role, Marlenis Costa played the best volleyball of her life, Ana Ibis Fernández was fundamental to the team and of course Regla Bell, as a setter and then Regla Torres, only by looking at her, I knew the security she felt and I knew she could score all the points for Cuba. It was an extraordinary moment, an unforgettable moment for me. That moment is one of the moments I’ve been keeping in a very special place in my heart because it was a magical moment, we went from conversations to wordless actions, we knew what would happen next, only with that eye contact.
That moment I’ve been keeping in a very special place in my heart because it was a magical moment, we went from conversations to wordless actions, we knew what would happen next, only with that eye contact.
Christian: And how could you keep your mind clear in such an emotional moment? If everyone was crying on the bench, how did you do that?
Mireya: I think I was prepared for that, let’s say during that last year because I was already an older Volleyball player, I was on the national team since I was 15 years old, I was about to turn 33 years, and I already had the experience of how to manage on my own nerves, how to get the adrenaline, when I needed it, and how to keep a cold mind, when it was required.
I focused on what my teammates were doing, what the opponents were doing, how I saw the team’s atmosphere internally, the way they greeted each other after they made a point, how their faces were when we were down, how was their mood and that gave me the chance to know when to intervene or when to stay away. Those are the things that I use as parameters to measure how to approach the situation and handle the problem.
And then, we needed to understand, that we were really in trouble, and that is actually difficult because sometimes you’re in a difficult situation and people tell you “don’t worry, this is nothing” but it’s not like that. I believe you have to realize that you’re in a difficult situation.
We needed to understand, that we were really in trouble, and that is actually difficult because sometimes you’re in a difficult situation and people tell you “don’t worry, this is nothing” but it’s not like that. I believe you have to realize that you’re in a difficult situation.
That is where you then have to look at the weak points and the strong points, the weaknesses can serve as information or you have to act on the weaknesses. It’s not easy, and to be honest, I don’t think everyone can do that. I have been in many of these scenarios and I know it’s not easy, but it is possible.
Check out the highlights of that historic Olympic Volleyball final at the Sydney 2000 Olympics
Christian: And in the end, it worked out, right?
Mireya: And in the end, of course, it went well.
Her advice to a younger Mireya Luis
Christian: Imagine you can go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger you, to a young Mireya?
Mireya: If I could go back, I would tell a young Mireyita, that the first thing is to prepare. Without preparation, it’s not possible in sport to be able to do the things we did. My coach told us that the Olympic Games were not won there at the competition, it’s over 4 years, every day.
Without preparation, it’s not possible to be able to do the things we did. My coach told us that the Olympic Games were not won there at the competition, it’s over 4 years, every day.
For 4 years every day, and then, when you get to the Olympic Games you already have almost 50% of the result you’re going to have. You have to prepare, you have to train and you have to have discipline, a lot of discipline.
You have to prepare, you have to train and you have to have discipline, a lot of discipline.
You have to prepare physically, tactically, psychologically and you have to prepare yourself for any eventuality, preparation is fundamental, without preparation it’s not possible.
When you prepare well you know almost everything, what you need to do and what the competition demands from you.
Christian: Very cool, we need to take that to heart. You know, what you are talking about, you have walked the walk.
Her success habits
Christian: What are the habits that have made you a successful athlete or a successful person?
Mireya: What I told you earlier, first, love for the sport. If the activity that you do, you do it with love, you do it no matter what. It’s something magnificent, that’s the first thing you want to do, and you accept everything that comes with it. And everything you do eventually leads to success.
If you do it with love, you do it no matter what, and you accept everything that comes with it. And everything you do eventually leads to success.
All the dedication and sacrifice will pay off. I always say it’s a sweet sacrifice, because when you train in the morning, you have to get up in the early morning to make breakfast, prepare for training, maybe you are going to lift weights, or you are going to run on the track, then you are going to do 200 jumps in a warm-up, only in the warm-up 200 jumps! After that you are going to be on the court for three and a half hours, whilst your coach demanding the best from you. That is a sacrifice, but it is a sweet sacrifice because you love it.
You have to get up in the early morning to make breakfast, prepare for training, maybe you are going to lift weights, or you are going to run on the track, then you are going to do 200 jumps only in the warm-up. After that, you are going to be on the court for three and a half hours, whilst your coach demanding the best from you. That is a sacrifice, but it is a sweet sacrifice because you love it.
I loved to train, I loved to jump, I loved to finish off points and I liked to be successful in every technical skill I had to use in the game. And then that is what it takes, love and discipline.
Why she was chosen to be the captain of the legendary ‘Las Morenas del Caribe’
Christian: I have two more questions, about habits. You were the captain of ‘Las Morenas del Caribe’ [the Cuban women’s national volleyball team], what do you think were your special characteristics for which you were chosen to be the captain?
Mireya: I think they chose me because I liked to get the group together, meaning I liked being in a group, where no one of us felt any differences. I did everything possible that no one felt different from the other one, I learned to get to know each one of my teammates, their character, their good parts and their difficulties, and I was friend with almost everyone in the team.
I liked to get the group together, I did everything possible that no one felt different from the other one, I learned to get to know each one of my teammates, their character, their good parts, and their difficulties, and I was friend with almost everyone in the team.
And then I internalized, internalize in that sense, that I liked to get to know a little more about the human being behind the athlete. I knew the person well, I knew their families, I knew their problems.
And another thing, on the court I tried to make them feel how I felt, and that means, that what I wanted for myself, I wanted it for them too. I showed them that way, helping, wanting, if I did two points, I wanted the one to two or three points as well. That was it, we played to win, and I let them know, that the most important thing was to win. And in order to win, it is important to train well, it’s important to be together, and is important to build a strong unit. It is important to solve problems if they existed, and I think this way of being made me maybe a little different.
The most important thing was to win. And in order to win, it is important to train well, it’s important to be together, and is important to build a strong unit.
Christian: Really cool, I can see, they must have selected you for these leadership qualities.
Her famous jumping ability
Christian: And the second question about habits, you were very well known and famous for your jumping ability. Is it something you had yourself or did you train for that?
Mireya: Both, I always had a natural jumping ability, from a very young age. When I entered the primary sports school, in the city of Camaguey, where I’m from, they discovered that I was a good jumper. I didn’t know, but my coaches realized it quickly, that I was a natural jumper.
In fact, there’s a funny story about me. They did some tests with me to enter that school, I was very small and I went to do the tests along with all those girls and I saw that everyone was doing the test except me. Now looking back, I think, they probably didn’t see me as part of the group, but anyway, I went to the coach and told her: “Professor, I want to come in,” she said “Well, wait a moment” and because of my size, she looked at me a little doubtful and turned away.
Then I jumped and touched the ceiling when she looked at me and I said to her: “Look, teacher, I touched the ceiling.” and she said: “Are you sure?” I said: yes, and then she told me: “Jump again”, so I jumped and touched the ceiling, with both hands. She was surprised, right? Astonished, and told her husband, who was the other coach “Put this little girl first on the list”
So I was the first one on the list, but I had to prove myself, that I wanted it, even though I didn’t know that I had this jumping ability. All I wanted to do, was, just show that I wanted to get into that school. And when I was 12, I could already touch the basketball rim, I could hang on the basketball rim and at the age of 15, I joined the national team. At that time I started to jump and reaching 3.15 meters.
And with the preparatory training and specific jump training, I gradually improved my jumping ability over time and became the player I was, who was one of the best jumpers in the Women’s Volleyball in the world.
With the specific jump training, I gradually improved my jumping ability over time and became the player I was, who was one of the best jumpers in the Women’s Volleyball in the world.
Christian: It seems like you Cubans know how to jump, like you, Sotomayor and Petroso, right?
Mireya: Yes, we are a few, many people actually told me, that I should be doing a long jump or high jump, and I would have also been a champion. The other day I was watching the long jump and I think I could have been good there as well. I don’t know if I would have been good in the high jump, but in the long jump, I think I could have been good.
A must check-out, this incredible footage of Mireya Luis vertical jump ability
Her morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine? How do you prepare for the day?
Mireya: As an athlete, you get up at 7 in the morning, you make a breakfast, I was always a little late at breakfast, because I didn’t wake up hungry. Therefore I always had to make an effort to have breakfast, because it is important, to have breakfast. It is actually very important, and even more for an athlete who is going to have high physical loads.
So, breakfast, then after 45 minutes or an hour, you go to the court and prepare yourself, knee pads, shoes and all these sorts of things. Then it’s time for the coach to call the out the training plan for the day, my coach always had something to say, we always talked about, what we were going to train, or about some problems that happened.
We talked about a lot of things before the training started, then we started with a 5-minute run routine, after that stretching and the movement part began. That part of the movement could be composed of various exercises, like jump imitations of blocking or attacking. And at this time, it was already a kind of physical preparation, as I mentioned before, on many occasions only in the warm-up we had 150, 200 jumps, it was quite heavy.
The training went on and we ended up, perhaps with physical training which was going to the track for speed or endurance, then we finished training and we showered, Volleyball players actually loved to take a bath, to dress up and use perfume. We went to a restaurant for lunch and then we were going to rest, normally for 2 hours or two and a half hours minimum and then in the afternoon session, we were going to the court again and that same procedure was repeated.
However, the length of the training sesión could also be longer, it wasn’t dictated by time. When the coach was not satisfied or the exercises did not just work out the way he planned, he didn’t finish the training until that drill went well. I think this is something that made us special too, it was always necessary to finish it and we had to finish it well. And I believe that was part of the success of our team, the intention of doing things well, and making them perfect.
This is something that made us special too, it was always necessary to finish it well. I believe that was part of the success of our team, the intention of doing things well, and making them perfect.
Christian: Well, that’s something, that today people tend to forget, you have to finish well, right? Not finish, when you are at the end of the schedule.
Mireya: And to be honest, even with our Cuban teams on many occasions I speak with the athletes and the coaches and tell them that some things from the past should be taken up again because these things can help us in the present. Not as an absolute answer, I don’t think we have to copy everything we did back then, because I believe that generations are totally different and we have many different requirements.
But we are still men and women, we are still boys and girls and the trainers have to do the training and preparation. And nowadays, I know, there is technology, there is science, there are many things we didn’t have, however, there are methods, methods of working, that have not only lead our team to success but also lead many sports to success. And we don’t want to use what has worked in the past? We don’t want to study what made our champions from the past successful? Then the result is, that there are simply no results.
I know that nowadays, there is technology, there is science, there are many things we didn’t have. However, there are methods of working, that have not only lead our team to success but also lead many sports to success. And we don’t want to use what has worked in the past? We don’t want to study what made our champions from the past successful? Then the result is, that there are simply no results.
We just fill out papers, we just fill the minutes in training, we do a lot of complimentary things, but in essence, we don’t know how to take that momentum that allows us to develop discipline, and discipline themselves. Because discipline serves everything, when you do training and finish that training well, you learn to compete, you learn to listen to the tactical orientations, you learn to maintain a certain line of work and you learn to be strong, and not, as I say, not to faint.
You will always be standing, you are always with a strong mind, that allows you to prepare and compete at the highest level. Sometimes people want to go their own way, and I think everyone should do it and have the opportunity to do it, but you need to have the basis for doing it. But I think this is very difficult right now.
For example, in our team had that special feature of extra workouts, extra workouts on Saturday and Sunday. Specific workouts of, for example, only attack specifically and we practiced it over and over again. What that does, next to the training effect, because you are together for so much time, it creates a certain team dynamic and creates a solid team unit, not only on the court but also outside the court.
In our team had that special feature of extra workouts, extra workouts on Saturday and Sunday. What that does, next to the training effect, because you are together for so much time, it creates a certain team dynamic and creates a solid team unit.
Many times nowadays, I see that teams don’t spend time together, the athletes do not have relationships outside the sport. Because if people come together as we did, and we spend more time together with each other than with our families, that unites and gives a lot of strength. And in order to become an Olympic athlete or a World-Class athlete, this is important, very important.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare for an important moment? For example during the competition.
Mireya: I always do the same, I do not vary the routine. Something that was very important to me, the nutrition before competing, I tried to eat, but not to eat too much, so that you have an upset stomach. And I was fighting for my teammates to do it too, a good nutrition is fundamental.
I always do the same routine, I do not vary the routine.
And then before the game or the day before, I always talk a little about what is going to happen, like a little review, that was my routine before competing. And on the day of the competition, the warm-up is very important. You don’t want to do too much, but at the same time, you don’t want to do too little, you want to do enough to be ready and prepared.
Christian: And when you talk about the next day, what were you talking about?
Mireya: It always depended on the characteristics of the opposing team. For example, if we are going to play against Russia, like the Olympic final in Sydney 2000, on the previous night we were trying to talk about the blocks of the Russians, of the fastest Russian players, what we thought, would be the crucial moments, what if there was a tie, how to play that tiebreaker.
We also talked about the return, because the Russians served really well, and we were trying to talk about different details, and review each of the opposing players. I had a player who was very fast playing in zone 2 but was not so good at blocking. I was trying to think a little, how to see myself in front of that player in the game, and then we talked about all those possible situations, that could occur during the game, we wanted to be prepared for every single situation.
We talked about all those possible situations, that could occur during the game, we wanted to be prepared for every single situation.
Christian: That is really interesting, preparation is key. Let’s talk about a specific example if you were a set point down, or a match point down. How do you prepare for that?
Mireya: I relax, I had the characteristic of laughing on the court during difficult times. I had the characteristic of doing that. Why? Because it is a moment of high tension, the excess of tension can make you fail in a moment where you cannot afford to fail. So what better way would be there, than taking the tensión of and relax? I also tried to help my teammates to relax, by telling jokes.
The excess of tension can make you fail in a moment where you cannot afford to fail. So what better way would be there, than taking the tensión of and relax?
For example, at this final at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Yevgeniya Artamonova, the legendary Russian player, was serving really well. She was taking off and serving with 90 kilometers per hour at least. These serves were coming so strong at us, and we didn’t really know how to return them.
I was on the bench and they put me in to receive her serves, and I put myself in the normal receiving position, and Regla Bell looks at me and asks me “What do you do? Do you think you can receive this serve from there?” And I said “Let me lose this serve,” and I laughed, “but she’s going to get tired, because she already won 5 straight serves, and she must lose the sixth because she isn’t strong enough.”
And that is what happened, she lost the serve, we got the right to serve and we scored. That is one way of doing it. And then there were things that just occurred to me out of a sudden, things that I didn’t prepare before. For example, at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, we were playing against Brazil.
And Cuba and Brazil we always had a little bit of a fight, right? We are both a bit of the same character, you know, we are Latin Americans. And we started saying things to the Brazilians, to just get them out of their game, and to interrupt their concentration. The Brazilian’s protested to the referee, and the referee calls me and says: “Captain, please keep the game calm, you shouldn’t offend, you shouldn’t say things below the net. Please! Otherwise, I will penalize you.”
I told the referee “Okay, no problem.” and then when I went back to the girls on the court, I hugged all my mates and we went down, as if we were talking about some tactics, and told them “Listen girls, we must continue to say things to the Brazilians.” So, these were things that occurred to me suddenly, the point was to give the team confidence that we had to continue what we were doing, because it was a weapon, that worked at this moment in time and helped us to be able to beat Brazil.
When you know the person, you know what to say, what to do, how to react. And I knew my partners, I knew my team.
These things really came to suddenly, but I think where that really comes from is, that you have to know your team, and have to know the person. When you know the person, you know what to say, what to do, how to react. And I knew my partners, I knew my team.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Mireya: Very similar to what I just told you. Sport prepares you. Now in life, I can say that I’m a little bit older, but the first thing is to have the courage to face it. To have that courage, to be objective and use your reasoning ability. Then think about people.
Have the courage to face it, be objective and use your reasoning ability.
If you have a difficulty where do you have what, and with whom do you have it? Go where this person is and ask for something, say something, protest something. But you always have to prepare, and for me the simplest way to do that is serenity.
I think about what I’m going to say, how I’m going to say it and who I’m going to say it to, it’s like a study of the opposition. It’s like a match, you have to do a quick study of the opposition, what you are going to face, I think about the opposite, not a person, but the scene.
Have a cold mind and think. Sometimes we make mistakes for not thinking about things and we are going to say them, it happened to me as well. You hurry, you hurry to make a decision, to say something and then when you don’t think, you can say something you might regret. This is why staying calm is fundamental.
And if you do not know, ask, ask the person who you have next to you, the closest ones, or the person you trust, ask “What should I do? How should I do it?” Don’t be afraid to ask.
If you do not know, ask. Ask the person who you have next to you, the closest ones, or the person you trust.
Christian: And one more question, you mentioned the cold mind, the general perception of Cubans is, that they have ‘hot blood’, right? How do you manage hot blood and a cold mind?
Mireya: That is a good question, and makes me laugh. I think that hot blood and cold mind is a sign for intelligence, it means you are smart.
How she became a mum at a young age
Christian: I saw in an interview that you became pregnant unexpectedly at a very young age. I can believe it’s a difficult situation for a player who is at a high-level focusing on sport and becoming better and then become pregnant. What did you do?
Mireya: Firstly, I didn’t know I was pregnant. I went on a 4-month tour with the team and I felt weird, but I didn’t feel sick. I was very young, I was 18 years and it was my first relationship and I was ok. That’s why they said it was something abnormal because I was perfectly fine, I was playing, I was doing my physical preparation, I was doing everything, and then suddenly I had symptoms like my legs were swollen.
I told the doctor, Linada, who was the doctor at that time, and I told him that I had that leg problem and he said: “Well when we get to Cuba we will check and see.” and that was about five or six days before we got back to Cuba. Back in Cuba, we went to the doctor and there were already some suspicions.
We went to the gynecologist because I no longer had my normal menstruation period, it was very irregular. Then when we got to the hospital, in those days there wasn’t much development here, no ultrasound, so they made an x-ray and when the young doctor’s assistant came out and gave us the news, that I was pregnant and already at about 6 and a half months, we were all astonished, especially me.
I said, that it can’t be that long already and then the doctor said that the test must be wrong and that we need to do the test again. So we did it again, another x-ray and the result was the same.
My first concern was my coach, I said “He will kill me.” and I worried would happen? But in fact, my coach was the first person from whom I received a smile. He put his arm around me and asked, “Well, how are we going to name it?” He said jokingly, “Your name is very ugly, you have to give him another name.” I didn’t know what to answer, because it was something new, something novel. Even now looking back, I don’t know how to express it, I was very young, I was 18 years old and I didn’t understand anything, I really didn’t understand anything.
My coach was the first person from whom I received a smile.
After we got out of the hospital, the Sports Medicine doctors met and decided, along with the gynecologists, that I shouldn’t stop training suddenly. At that moment I was training until three days before, I lifted weights, I did my running, everything. So they decided that I should continue, and lower the load little by little until I would have the baby, which was two months, three months out.
We started inviting my parents, my mother and my older brothers came, and my smart mother, who had been a woman who had 9 children, out of which, I was the youngest, she told me: “It’s not a disease, it’s something very normal, and you will have your normal life.” We arranged the marriage, as I say, behind closed doors, and I married the father of my daughter after only 3 days the notice, and we were fine, we were happy.
In the mornings, a coach came, Ana Ibis Díaz, and took me to a training ground, where I did my squats, my runs, but I overdid it, because I didn’t feel I was pregnant. For example, if she told me, that we were going to do 50 squats and I was doing over 100. And then already in the 8th months I had my baby girl, I remember as it was yesterday, on August 12, 33 years ago.
The delivery was very fast, it was a natural birth. But then for my team, we had the World Championships in Czechoslovakia in September, I was already one of the main attackers of the national team. My team was demoralized, they got very sad, and they told me, that they’ve lost hope because I was the player who carried the weight of the team. That made me feel really bad, on one side, I was happy to be a mom, to have that girl, but on the other side, I had that big commitment for my team, which felt like a very heavy weight of responsibility.
My team was demoralized, they told me, that they’ve lost hope because I was the player who carried the weight of the team. That made me feel really bad, on one side, I was happy to be a mom, but on the other side, I had that responsibility for my team.
And every day they would come to see me, every day someone of the team passed by, and my mother was the first to realize. As I said my mom was a very clever person, so she told me one day “Look, Mireya, I already told you that giving birth is not a disease is a natural process. I’m here, I’m fine, I can stay with your girl and can take care of your girl. Go for your World Championships with your team, if you can’t play, it’s fine, but you give them the company they need.” And so I did and followed her advice.
After 9 days we went to a training camp in Germany 10 days to prepare before we then went to the World Championships in Czechoslovakia. Imagine that in that training camp, I didn’t have a kilogram of weight on my legs, I finished my pregnancy very thin and it really didn’t seem like I had given birth to a baby.
And then, more and more often, I was going down to the gym to watch my teammates were training. Actually the first four days I didn’t do anything, but on the fifth day I went to the gym, and when I got down there everyone was excited! On the sixth day, I went on court and picked up balls. On the seventh day, I warmed up with the team in the morning, and in the afternoon I did serves.
I could barely hit the ball, but I had so much willpower and I wanted it so much for my team to compete and compete well. I think that was what gave this extra strength. Sometimes you think you don’t have, but then you find that little bit extra.
I could barely hit the ball, but I had so much willpower and I wanted it so much for my team, I think that was, what gave me this extra strength.
The next day, I jumped already and started training. I didn’t have strength, I didn’t have a physical preparation that allowed me to finish off strong, but I was there on the court with the team, I played, I moved. And then we left for the World Championships. When we got to the World Champs, we started playing the first game, now I don’t remember against who it was, but then we played against Peru. At that time, Peru had a great team, a very good team.
We were losing, and my coach told me: “Come on, get in.”, I did a warm-up, went on court, played against Peru and we won. From there I started to play more often, and almost finished playing that World Championships. And we ended with a silver medal.
Christian: What year was that?
Christian: Because I think, in 1984 at the Olympic Games Peru won the silver medal, didn’t they?
Mireya: Yes, Peru had a great team, it was Cecilia Tait, Rosa, Natalia Malaga, Denise Fajardo, Gaby Pérez del Solar, they were Olympic players and it was a good team. We managed to win, and for me it was an immense satisfaction, having been able to give my contribution to my team.
Christian: Really cool.
Her role model
Christian: Who is your role model?
Mireya: My mother. She was my champion, my mother was a person who didn’t have a very high level of education, but a woman who had lived a lot, and who had gone through many difficult situations. She was a woman full of history, a woman with detail, a hero who raised 9 children.
Christian; Raising 9 children is amazing.
Mireya: 7 boys and 2 girls. And then she lived a lot, and had a wonderful experience. She was the one who always told me, what I should do when I had to retire and what I should do at all times.
Christian: And a hero of your sport, any volleyball hero?
Mireya: I admired the players of the year 1978, from the world champions of the year 1978. There was a player who I always loved for her characteristics, that was Mamita Pérez, she was small, but was an extraordinary player, also a jumper like me, but she was shorter than me. She managed to play for many years in the Cuban national team. But these players had certainly discipline, and an incredible love for sport. I admired them a lot.
I always wanted to have her number, I liked Mamita because of her spiritual strength, on the court, and because of her physical strength too. I wanted to be an attacker, like Mercedes Pomares, the left-hander of gold, who was the best attacker in the world.
These players had certainly discipline and an incredible love for the sport. They taught me the necessity of consistency, that desire to train, the importance of daily training, I admired them a lot.
I admired them all, that was my team, and I had the possibility of being with them in the national team when they were already at the end of their sports career, and I could learn from them. They taught me the necessity of consistency, that desire to train, the importance of daily training, all of that, I learned from them.
What made her legendary coach Eugenio George special
Christian: A question that especially interests me about your coach, the legendary Eugenio George. Managing more than 10 women is impressive, but leading them to success 3 times is even more impressive. Can you explain what was special about him?
Mireya: Eugenio, everything was special. Everything! He was special! Eugenio was everything, he was a psychologist, he was a father, he was a friend, he was a wise man, he knew what to do in every moment. We learned from him every day, we loved him like a father.
Eugenio was special, he knew what to do in every moment. We learned from him every day, we loved him like a father.
I tell you, he knew, just by looking us into our eyes, whether what we said was true, whether we had pain, if we didn’t feel like practicing, if we were in love, he knew everything. He was a unique human being, a wonderful classy man and a master of combining the hot blood with a cold mind.
Christian: Really cool, I guess you aren’t named, Best Women’s Volleyball Coach of the Twentieth Century by the International Volleyball Federation for nothing.
Was is also him who smiled at you and put his arm on your shoulder when you were pregnant?
Mireya: Yes, it was him. That moment for me was very important for me. It was very difficult for me, just the news of the pregnancy and the first thing I thought about was Eugenio’s reaction, and I was scared. But his reaction was wonderful, as I told you, he put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Let’s talk about the baby.”
He didn’t talk to me about commitments, he didn’t talk to me about difficulties, he didn’t talk to me about any of that, he told me about how nice it was to be a mother, and about all the nice things.
He was a unique person.
The best advice she has received
Christian: What is the best advice you have received?
Mireya: I’ve been given me a lot of good advice, but one that stands out is from my husband. He always tells me “Whatever you start, finish it, and finish it well.” That’s what we did in our training as well.
Whatever you start, finish it, and finish it well.
That’s the best advice.
Her book Between Heaven and Earth
Christian: It is very good advice. You wrote a book about your life and it’s called “Between heaven and earth” [Title: “Entre Cielo y Tierra” only available in the Spanish language], it’s about your sports career and as I have read, also about a little bit more, than your career?
Mireya: It’s my life. It’s my life, me as part of a family that was born to a migrant father, my mother a daughter of migrants, who decided to have a family and give her children the values to be able to succeed in life. That’s how the story begins and it ends in Mireya, in Mireya’s successes in volleyball.
Christian: I am convinced that the world can learn something from you.
Mireya: I hope so.
Christian: For sure.
A typical training day in the life of a Volleyball player
Christian: A typical training day, how was it? Can you give an example?
Mireya: The days were very different depending on the training period and competition. Let’s assume it would be before the World Championships. You wake up in the morning, I liked to get up at 7 in the morning, not too long before training, not too close, take a shower, get dressed, put on your training clothes, go to breakfast, then go to the court.
Usually, on the court, you say hi to your teammates, we always trained at the exact same time, the routine was a conversation with my coach, always, there we decided everything that will happen. Then there was a talk from the coach to the whole team, where he explained, what we were going to do and then we started the training.
Normally our workouts were very tough, we trained 6 and a half hours, but there were also times, where we trained up to 8 hours a day. An intense warm-up, sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes, sometimes almost an hour. We did in the warm-up already specific training for the activity that was going to be done that day. Then we trained 3 hours, three and a half hours and there were times when we only trained one thing, for example, technique.
That is something we had almost perfected, receiving, passing and attacking. On other occasions, we were training several different exercises, which could be the technical elements such as receiving and passing, receiving, passing and attacking, or defensive play. It could be games, like three against three, it could be serving, which was an element that we also trained a lot, and sometimes we ended up with physical preparation, sometimes not, and sometimes it ended with tactics.
Then we left and got ice on our knees, you know that volleyball players always suffer from high loads on the knees, so ice to refresh the joints or as a prophylactic thing. sometimes physiotherapy treatment for those who need it or massages, then shower, we dressed up as I told you, volleyball players were always very flirtatious, that’s why we liked to dress, not elegant dresses but different clothes than the training clothes.
I loved to use perfume and go to restaurants, we had lunch, and then we were going to rest, we always rested, always. We did this every day, except for 2 days where we had academic study, and that day, when we went to university, on Wednesday and Saturday morning, we trained only in the afternoon. The rest of the week was like I mentioned, training in the morning and afternoon.
Then before the afternoon training, I had a habit of having a snack, just a little bit, not too much, because I liked having my stomach in perfect condition for training. The afternoon training began with a warm-up of 35 minutes, 45 minutes before we continued with tactical, technical elements or game or physical training in the field.
We also did, what we called jump resistance, which was touching a higher point 100, 120 times. The point depended on the jumping ability that you had. I was in the group of the highest jumpers, we were: Magaly Carvajal, Mercedes Calderón, Reglita Torres and Regla Bell too, we were a group of jumping girls.
If you like Volleyball, vertical jumps, or just the expression of athletic feats, check out this video on Mireya Luis highlights
This jump resistance training you had to touch a certain point, for example, I jumped 335 – 340 centimeters and for me, that point was 325 or 330 centimeters. That was a training that I loved, as I liked to jump, I loved it. We also did resistance training and the attack, there we were doing, the net of the men to 243 centimeters, normally for women it’s 224 centimeters, and we made 100-120 shots.
We loved to play without failing, so out of 100 times, we failed only 2-3 shots. We always put goals for us, that was something very nice and I loved it too. I lived a lot through my training, enjoyed it very much and my teammates too. I was lucky to have a team that loved what we did. And what we hated, was to lose, we hated losing, we told ourselves, that we were winners.
We hated losing, we told ourselves, that we were winners.
Our coach always excited us a lot, when he talked to us about victory, about all the benefits that victory has, starting with personal satisfaction and everything that comes with being a champion. That was a concept that we had very clear for us, that we learned very well and we took it to every training.
That showed in our attitude towards training, we trained until we finished, as long as things were done well, and until we achieved the training goals. As my coach said, you have to meet the goals, and you have to do it well, almost perfect.
Our attitude towards training was, that we trained until we finished, as long as things were done well, and until we achieved the training goals.
We finished training in the evening, and sometimes we were left alone in the training center because everyone was already gone, the only ones left, were the volleyball players, often we stayed until very late. When we finished, we showered, we did the same routine, we dressed up, and some who had a house went to their house, the others went to their rooms there on Cerro Pelado, the High-Performance Center.
In the evening, everyone had their own routine, we studied, I read a lot, I liked to read, and then sleep early for the next day to start with the same routine.
That was a workday.
Her interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone for an interview? An interesting person to whom I can interview.
Mireya: Reglita Torres.
Christian: Regla Torres? I am interested talking to her, was she on 2 or 3 of the gold medal-winning team?
Where can you find Mireya Luis
Christian: Where can people find you?
Mireya: I am on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. At the moment I put out very few things, but I’m going to start putting more things out.
Mireya Luis social profiles
Christian: And your restaurant ‘The Three Medals’, where is it? Where is it located, in Camagüey?
Mireya: No, ‘The Three Medals’ no longer exist. But in Camagüey, there is a project by the city of Camagüey to make a restaurant that is going to be called ‘Mireya’. It’s going to be decorated with Mireya’s volleyball history, I think it will be ready at the end of next year.
Christian: Okay, one day I will come to eat there.
Mireya, thank you very much for your time. That was great!
Mireya: Thanks, Christian. Thanks to you and thanks to all the audience that will be watching this interview. It has been a pleasure to meet you and be part of your Olympic team.