The U.S. women’s volleyball team spent January clinching a Rio Olympic berth in Nebraska. Logan Tom, the program’s most recognizable name spanning the previous three Olympic cycles, spent the time moving to Indonesia.
Tom, 34, hasn’t been a part of the national team in three years and doesn’t expect to be called for a fifth consecutive Olympics in August.
But she’s not done playing.
Tom, the top scorer at the Beijing 2008 Games and the “glue” of the London 2012 team, started an abbreviated three-month season for an Indonesian club this month.
“I honestly didn’t know Indonesia had a league,” she said in a Skype interview about one week after arriving. “It was the first offer that piqued my curiosity, just because it’s a new place I haven’t been to.”
Tom was the youngest player on the Sydney 2000 Olympic women’s team, at age 19 following her freshman year at Stanford. She earned the nickname “Doogie,” after Doogie Howser, M.D.
She went on to earn Olympic silver medals in 2008 and 2012.
Tom “tore everything” in her left ankle on a bad landing training for her Brazil club team in February 2013. She decided to return to Stanford to finish her degree while considering if she wanted to continue in the sport.
While back in the U.S., Tom said she told USA Volleyball that she, once recovered from the injury, would be available for the national team that summer, should they need her.
She later received a phone call from Karch Kiraly, a two-time Olympic indoor champion. Kiraly served as an assistant coach for the London Olympic team and was elevated to head coach one month after the Games.
“I got a phone call saying, ‘Thank you for the time you put into USA Volleyball, but we won’t be needing your services anymore,'” she said.
Tom said she respected the decision but was caught off-guard by how the news was delivered.
“It was more how it was done than what was done,” she said. “I thought it was a good relationship [with Kiraly]. He was probably the coach I was most close to, 2012 and before. That wasn’t the best feeling.”
Kiraly declined to discuss why Tom is no longer part of the national team.
“One of the important and difficult parts of this job is that my staff and I, our USA team staff and I, have to make important roster and personnel decisions that can, to some outsiders, appear confusing, even up to enraging, and those decisions have to be made,” Kiraly said in a phone interview.
Tom said she and Kiraly haven’t spoken since.
It’s not always a painless exit when national team stalwarts bow out. Landon Donovan, Abby Wambach and Kobe Bryant‘s retirements from international play came under different circumstances, with perhaps Wambach the only one who exited smoothly.
And the fact is, the U.S. women’s national team pool has gotten younger under Kiraly.
The last three Olympic teams, not coached by Kiraly, all had at least three players in their 30s, including five in 2012.
Under Kiraly, the 2014 World Championship-winning roster included one player older than 29. The 2015 World Cup roster included no players older than 28. The 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament roster included one player older than 29. Tom is older than every player on those squads.
Tom, who had played club volleyball in Brazil, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Russia, Japan, China and Turkey, plus a domestic beach volleyball stint, decided in late 2013 to finish her degree at Stanford’s program in Florence, Italy.
One of her old club managers learned Tom was in Italy, called and asked if she would be interested in playing for a club in northern Italy in 2014. She signed a one-year contract and began a six-hour commute three days per week from school to club.
“It’s always been better for me to be over-busy than under-busy,” Tom said. “I wanted to try playing because I hadn’t played on my ankle in about a year. To see if I could play, if I still loved to play, or if it was something I still wanted to do.”
She still enjoyed it, and graduated, so Tom played another season in 2015 in Cannes, France, ending last May.
“If I don’t know what I truly want to do right now, I still have the option to go play [volleyball],” she reasoned.
She disconnected from the sport over the summer, save a football/volleyball camp with former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu in American Samoa. (Tom’s father, Melvyn Tom, of Hawaii, played nine NFL seasons in the 1960s and ’70s.)
Clubs called, but Tom deemed herself unavailable until the intriguing offer from Indonesia to play a shortened, three-month season. She signed in September to start playing in February 2016.
“Short season, three months, which is good for me,” she said. “I grew up playing Asian-style volleyball. It’s my favorite style to play, because it’s more defense and more technical.”
A club in Ankara, Turkey, then requested her services for the fall, so she tacked that on before flying to Jakarta. The 6-foot, 1-inch Tom is holding up well in Indonesia, playing with younger, shorter teammates. Most are Indonesian, except for veteran Brazilian Olympian Mari.
“I’m 34, getting old for any kind of professional athlete,” Tom said. “But I feel really good. It’s funny, when you get older, you learn what your body needs. Working out, keeping in shape, keeping my body healthy has become a lifestyle for me, much more than when I was younger.”
She’s been aided by Dr. Jason Han, a former taekwondo athlete who started HealthFit and is one of the members of the Juice Athlete Compound in Pasadena, Calif. Tom worked closely with Han before heading to Turkey.
“I had been static for about five months and needed somebody to get me going in about two weeks,” Tom said. “He kicked my ass. Every session, there were always about three or four times where I was like, oh my god, I can’t do this.”
Tom’s plan after the Indonesian season is to visit New Zealand. After? She hasn’t thought that far ahead.
“I just kind of go where life takes me,” Tom said.