This article was written by John Frierson for Georgiadogs.com. To view the original article, click here.
Kathleen Gates isn’t a volleyball player anymore. Having spent most of her life setting up her teammates, putting her playing days behind her is something that the former Georgia standout has had to adjust to over the past year-plus since she retired from playing professionally in France.
While she isn’t playing any longer, the game is still part of her life — it’s why she moved to Europe in 2013 and now, instead of competing and chasing her athletic dreams, she helps others do that as Development Manager at Athletes Abroad Management, a Sweden-based firm that helps international athletes find collegiate opportunities and helps aspiring volleyball professionals find teams. She does that while also teaching English at a medical school.
Gates, a Bulldog from 2008-11, ranks fourth all-time in program history with 4,684 career assists, seventh in assists per set (1007), and is tied for 10th in career sets played with 465. After graduating in 2012, Gates flew to Italy to play professionally, and a year later she moved to France, playing for various clubs until 2020.
In 2017, she joined a club in Chamalières, France, next to the university town of Clermont-Ferrand, about 100 miles west of Lyon, and found her team and her town. Along with enjoying great success on the court, Gates truly fell in love with her adopted community. When she wasn’t in season, Gates worked numerous jobs, from tour guide to teaching English.
During a Quick Chat, Gates talked about her career, moving to Europe with two suitcases, life after volleyball, and more. Here’s some of what she had to say:
Frierson: You’ve been back to Athens (in August) for the first time in a long time, so what stands out as the biggest change since you were in school?
Gates: I think just seeing the number of buildings that had changed and expanded or weren’t there before. Going over to the (Tate) student center, going and seeing how big the new football facility is, and the new business school facility, too. Those were all incredible. It’s all gotten a lot bigger since I graduate back in 2012.
Frierson: Did downtown Athens feel at all the same?
Gates: They were doing all that construction and they took away some of the trees downtown, and I liked the new pedestrian area (at College Square). Athens is a growing and changing town and I might as well embrace it [laughs]. You can’t get too nostalgic [laughs].
It was cool to see how much it’s evolved and to see all of the opportunities that student-athletes now have. I thought we had awesome support when I was an athlete, but to see how that’s constantly growing and developing is really cool.
Frierson: What has the transition from pro volleyball player to former pro volleyball player been like?
Gates: I decided to retire around this time (August) last year. I started playing professionally in 2013, so I played seven years pro in France. For two summers, in the summer of 2018 and 2019, in the (offseason) I was a tour guide in Paris, doing bike tours. I think through that experience and just being kind of like, OK, I’m going to be 30 this year, and maybe this should be my last season. … I was planning on transitioning from volleyball into tourism, but then 2020 happened [laughs]. That completely changed all of my plans.
Even when I was playing pro, I was coaching for one of the younger teams. I was talking to one of the moms at a tournament and one of their teachers had gotten sick and taken medical leave, and she was an English teacher at the medical school. So I stepped in, and since I’ve always taught one or two classes, even when I was playing, and now I’m teaching full-time at the medical school.
I’m also working with an agent for professional volleyball players, just kind of filling in all of the gaps that I experienced as an athlete, because we don’t have the support system (in France) like we do in the United States. We have 25 athletes, they’re all women, and I’m really just helping them navigate before, during and after their careers. I’m just trying to give back and share my experience with them and help them navigate their careers.
It’s been really fun, really busy — I feel like I’m way busier now than I was when I was still an athlete.
Frierson: What is it like living over there, particularly when you’re living in smaller towns and not in Paris or one of the other major cities?
Gates: What’s funny is that when I moved there (Clermont-Ferrand), I was like, “Why am I hearing Southern accents everywhere?” Normally when I would hear English, it would be Australian or British, but this was like, “Why am I hearing ‘y’all?'”
I realized that there are a lot of ex-pats from Greenville, S.C., because that’s the North American headquarters for Michelin. I feel like Clermont is like a mixture between Athens and Asheville (N.C.), because you have probably 40,000 students there but you’re also in the mountains. I was born in Asheville, and so it was like, this is where I’m from!
I’ve been there four years now and I plan on staying there for the time being, but I’m also open to staying in Europe for the foreseeable future.
Frierson: When you wrapped up your Georgia career, did you think any of this would happen?
Gates: I would say, absolutely not [laughs]. Even in high school, I was one of those students that, I loved volleyball and it’s always helped me do a lot of really cool things, but when I was looking at universities or colleges, I was walking around with a binder full of the entrance requirements for P.A. (physicians assistant) school. I would talk to some of the professors whose students would go to P.A. school about the workload and the balance with being a student-athlete, so I’d been thinking about P.A. school and going into healthcare. …
I thought I’d have my Georgia career and then go to P.A. school. I thought that was the path. But then after spending a month in Croatia (during a Maymester abroad), having a wonderful experience, playing in Europe was in the back of my mind. …
After I graduated in December of 2012, I flew over to Milan (Italy) with two suitcases, with the idea that I would try out. My idea was, I’ll either get a contract and stay and play, or if I don’t do it then I’ll stay and travel for a bit and then go to P.A. school in the fall.
I flew into Milan, we had a light practice that evening, and then the next day I got into a little Fiat and drove down to Rome to sign my first contract. … I really enjoyed playing and living in Europe, and I’m really glad it all worked out.
(This Q&A was lightly edited for length and clarity.)