After extensive training and competing in the 2011 Pan American Games, Gander’s Max Burt is back home enjoying the holiday season with friends and family.
Burt, a member of Volleyball Canada's full-time training centre squad, will be staying in Gander until the New Year, where he'll be doing some strength and conditioning work on his own.
Come January, he'll enlist the help of his former high school volleyball coach, Deon Goulding, and even a few high school volleyball players, to sharpen his skills.
"I just finished training for the last three months. Now, I'm home for a while, and I'm going to be doing some strength and conditioning," said Burt. "I'll probably start doing more in January, some one-on-one stuff with (Gander Collegiate Concordes' senior high boys' volleyball coach) Deon Goulding, and maybe a few of the kids who want to be involved with the 2013 Canada Games will be there, too."
To those in Burt's inner circle, it's nothing new to hear him want to get local volleyball players involved with training.
He was a guest speaker at an exhibition match at St. Paul's Intermediate two years ago, and continually emphasizes the importance of goal setting.
He's gone through the ups and downs of competing on the elite level, and he remembers the advice Goulding gave him when he was just an up-and-comer.
Now, Burt just wants to pass on the knowledge he gathered from his personal experience, and the advice he received from his former high school coach.
"I was lucky enough to have Deon push me in the right direction, so any chance I can give back to the youth, show them what they can accomplish and how to go about it, I'm going to do it," said Burt. "Whatever I can give back, I'm going to give back."
Today, Burt is no longer an up-and-comer. He's amongst the top middle blockers in Canada, and in October 2011, competed for Team Canada at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
Canada finished sixth of eight teams, and although Burt would have liked a better result, he will never forget one of the most exciting volleyball moments of his life.
"The five-setter we played against the U.S.A. We lost the third set 39-37, which is unheard of, and we were down 20-14 in the fourth set, came back to cut it down to 24-21, and climbed back to beat them 35-33, and won the match 18-16 in the fifth set," said Burt. "That was in the round robin, but we lost to them in the fifth-place match. I don't think I'll ever play in a match like that again. We're two pretty balanced teams. It was their full-time training centre squad against our full-time training centre squad."
Besides the action-packed, back-and-forth game against the U.S.A. in the round robin, Burt will also remember what it was like playing exhibition matches in Brazil prior to the Pan Am Games.
Volleyball in Brazil can be compared to hockey in Canada, and Burt said the noise in the gym was loud and raucous, and there was still more than an hour remaining before the match even begun.
"When we were in Brazil for exhibition matches, we would get to the gym an hour-and-a-half before the start, and it was already a packed house. There were people going around the gym starting chants and firing up the crowd. It was unbelievable," said Burt. "Even just walking in an hour-and-a-half before, it was the loudest gym I've ever been in. It was already crazy, like the Stanley Cup final...just insane."
With another Pan Am Games in the record books, Burt has an idea of what he has to continue working on to get better - his consistency and strength. Although he's already climbed many mountains, Burt knows he can't stop climbing now. There are other mountains to climbs, and more work to do.
"With a little more experience, I'll be right there with those guys. It's pretty surreal for me," said Burt. "That's how you have to approach things. It's not just sports, whatever you're doing in life, you always have to work harder to get more success."
Now that he's home, Burt said he's happily answered a lot of questions friends and family have asked him about his volleyball travels. From his trip to Brazil and Mexico for the Pan Am Games, to what's next on his busy schedule, Burt has time to share stories with those who want to listen.
He's grateful for the opportunities volleyball has given him, and he's working hard to create even more memories.
"It's my life," said Burt. "However, when I get to come home to Gander, I get to share stories with family and friends, and that's when I think, it's pretty amazing that I get to do what I do."