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Frio! IPFW's Puerto Rican players struggling with weather

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Volleydons fighting to stay hot on and off court

Monday, February 3, 2014 - 3:32 pm

As much as Fort Wayne natives struggle with the record-breaking cold, we feel like we're living in the Sun Belt compared to the IPFW men's volleyball players from Puerto Rico. They'd like to crawl into a fireplace, but they know their teeth would still chatter.

"In Puerto Rico, they tell you it's going to be really cold, and I'm expecting 60, maybe 50; I can deal with it,'' star player Eddie Rivera said. "Then I get here and the first couple of months, it's wonderful. Then it starts getting cold. I figure there's no way it can get worse than 30 degrees, right?''

Like everyone else, Rivera deals with the cold by putting on layers of clothing. He puts on so many, he looks like the little brother from "A Christmas Story'" who can't move. It takes him longer to undress before practice than it does to stretch. As for actually warming up? Never happens.

"Every time I send pictures home of snow, they send back pictures of the beach,'' middle hitter Ramon Burgos said. "You have no idea how tough that can be when you're sitting in negative-degree weather and they are sitting there in board shorts just taking in the sun. It's tough, but the volleyball is worth it.''

Sure it is. IPFW's four Puerto Rican players live together and have their thermostat set at 75 degrees to give them a hint of home. The hardest part is getting out of a nice, warm bed in the morning to run like crazy to get inside a building for class.

The No. 14-ranked Volleydons are preparing to play rival Ball State at 7 p.m. Friday in Gates Sports Center. They are also trying to ignore that temperatures in San Juan this week were between 86 and 88 degrees with 60 percent humidity and lows around 70 degrees.

"At home right now it's way different,'' said setter Omar Rivera, who is no relation to Eddie. "I'm taking advice from the coaches and the others who have lived through this before.''

But advice is only so good when it comes to living through the "frio,'' which is Spanish for cold.

The players see it as another challenge, another life experience they can tell their children about someday. It's good that they are attempting to keep a good attitude about it, but you'll never see them wearing shorts outside to prove how tough they are. Well, maybe shorts under four pairs of sweatpants.

It's usually April when the players come for a recruiting visit, so the temperatures are bearable. Everyone warns them, but these players have no concept how bad winter weather here can get.

"It's an adjustment for everything, not just the weather,'' IPFW coach Arnie Ball said. "The problem is they come here in August and it's wonderful, and they think this is heaven. They love that the humidity is not so high. Then reality sets in and December rolls around and they go home for Christmas break and wonder if they want to come back.''

What's amazing is that some former Puerto Rican Volleydons have chosen to stay in the area after graduation. Of course, their wives gave them no choice.

Does the cold make the players regret coming to Fort Wayne?

"I think that, when it comes to the weather, but when it comes to volleyball I love it here,'' Omar Rivera said. "I came to the right place and made the right decision because I love it here.''

Maybe most surprisingly, the cold doesn't prevent them from recruiting other Puerto Ricans to come to Fort Wayne.

"It's not as bad as when others are suffering with you,'' Eddie Rivera said with a laugh.