Now 22, Gord Perrin has been on a steady rise to volleyball stardom since he first suited up for the Prince Charles Secondary School junior team.
At six feet seven inches, Perrin might still look up to his six-foot eleven-inch dad, Dave, but his leap tops out at 12 feet, something the senior Perrin never could aspire too.
“Those knees don’t jump any more,” Gord laughs.
“I tell him and Alicia that they have to surpass the level I reached in volleyball,” Dave grins, referring to Gord’s younger sister, who was just named to the Canadian national women’s volleyball squad. “But I think they’ve both done that now.”
Once a Selkirk College volleyball star, Dave spent most of his adult life tending to animals in and around the Creston Valley as a veterinarian. In his semi-retirement, he turned to writing, authoring five highly entertaining books about his working adventures, and another, Keep Sweet, about the life of a fundamentalist Mormon woman (co-author Debbie Palmer).
Perrin, in Creston for a brief visit following the end of a long volleyball season, credits the coaching of PCSS teacher Mike Nelson for his own success on the courts.
“If it hadn’t been for Mike Nelson I never would have made it to this level,” he says. “I wouldn’t exist in the volleyball world if he wasn’t coaching — he gets a lot of the credit.”
Perrin’s PCSS teams never lost a Kootenay zone tournament and they finished second and third in the provincials.
His jump to university level was paved with a full five-year scholarship, and made easier because he had previously met the coach, Glenn Hoag, who was a friend of Nelson. But it had its challenges.
“University players are much stronger and more athletic,” he says. “In high school you could make it with natural talent, but in university you are playing with and against men, not boys. It took me half a season before I began to excel.”
Excel? How about by being named the Canada West Universities Athletic Association’s rookie of the year in his first year with the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack? Or following that up with two years as a first team Canadian all-star?
“After my third year I got the opportunity to join the Olympic program, so I left school to take on volleyball as a career,” he says.
Perrin got an agent, then signed a two-year contract to play professionally with Arkas, a club in Turkey.
He faced even greater challenges when he started to play as a professional. The cultural and language differences were enormous.
“The first couple of months were tough,” he admits.
Perrin is one of two Canadians and, along with one American, they are the only English speaking players.
“The other 15 players can’t speak a whole sentence in English,” he laughs.
Two of those players aren’t Turkish, either. One is from Brazil and speaks Portuguese and the other is a Spanish speaker from Columbia. Fortunately, the team has a translator.
Being away from family was tough, but so was the competition.
“In university there are maybe two or three star players but at the elite level there are no average players.”
If culture and language are hurdles, the lifestyle isn’t too bad, Perrin admits.
“The team puts me up in a downtown apartment and a driver picks me up for practices and games and even the market,” he says.
Nearly all of his living expenses are covered by the team, allowing him to bank most of the money he earns from his playing contract. Pro volleyball is, after all, a big deal in Europe and many other countries.
“When we are in Poland, for example, we are treated like rock stars,” he smiles. “Everywhere we go we are recognized and people are asking for autographs, photographs and interviews.”
In Brazil, he says, teams are provided with police escorts to get to games.
Hard work and travel are the common denominator for pro athletes, though. Arkas plays in a league that includes cities in neighboring countries and teams often travel for two matches each week. The top two teams in each participating country then continue on after the regular league season ends, forming a champions league.
Earlier this spring, Perrin’s team, based in Izmir, the country’s third largest city, finished fourth in the European champions league, something no Turkish team had ever done.
The highlight of his athletic career came when Arkas was playing to get into the champion league’s final four. They were swept in straight games by a team in Russia, then returned home to play the rest of the series in Izmir. After falling behind 2-0 in games, Arkas suddenly found its game and, with a crowd of nearly 14,000 fans behind it, the home side rallied to win the series.
It was even sweeter because his brother, Marshall, had made the trip overseas to see him play.
Perrin says other highlights have included being on a Canadian national team that beat Brazil, the reigning world champions.
After playing in Turkey from last August through April, he returned to Canada and went straight to Ottawa to join the Canada national men’s A team, training and playing international games. The team didn’t qualify for the 2012 summer Olympics, but Perrin has his sites set on 2016, when Canada will have an easier qualifying path.
“We’ll definitely qualify for the 2016 games,” he says.
At 22, he’s one of the national team’s youngest members, playing with men who are as old as 36. In four years, with much more international experience under his belt, Perrin should be a leader in Canada’s push to the Olympics.
In the meantime, he will return to Izmir, playing at an elite level and continuing his university studies.
“I really love to play and want a long pro career,” he said. “Then, after 10 years or so, I’ll find something else to pursue, probably something that doesn’t involve sports.”
And he’ll continue to accept the good-natured ribbing from his proud father, who teases him about taking his game to the next level now that younger sister Alicia has also been a Canada West rookie of the year — “when she was a year younger than you,” Dave laughs.
“I don’t have a problem sharing the spotlight with her,” Gord grins.