As COVID-19 cases in Italy began to skyrocket, Stijn van Tilburg’s first season as a professional volleyball player took a turn for the worse.
After completing his college eligibility with the University of Hawaii in 2019, the Dutch national signed with Argos Volley, located in the Italian town of Sora. Just three games remained in his season before the government in Italy ordered a national quarantine on March 9.
Almost two weeks have passed since that date, and van Tilburg has been cooped up in his apartment. In that time, van Tilburg has not left his residence.
“It’s very tough, it’s very mentally challenging,” van Tilburg told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “Luckily I have a balcony I can sit on and it’s sunny every day so far. Trying to work out on the balcony or inside the house, run the stairs. I can’t even go to the grocery store or do anything yet. I can’t hike, I can’t play volleyball. It’s really mentally challenging to not be able to do the things that you love.”
As confirmed cases of coronavirus and deaths escalated around the world and in Italy, so did the urgency to act on it via quarantine and social distancing.
“At practice we’re all laughing anytime somebody sneezed. You’d see all the funny videos on the internet and that’s exactly how we were,” van Tilburg said. “Day by day, week by week it became more serious and more serious. The stories you see now in the news in the north (of Italy) today, 600 more people died. I think it’s estimated that over 200,000 people have the virus.
“It’s definitely something to be taken seriously and especially I see now in the USA people making fun of it, joking around. It’s a good coping mechanism but I feel like it also underestimates the situation for sure.”
Back in his college days, van Tilburg was an instant impact player from the day he stepped on campus in Manoa. The 6-foot-8 outside hitter/opposite was a four-year starter and three-time AVCA first team All-American. His college career ended with a loss to Long Beach State in the 2019 national championship game as the ‘Bows finished the season 28-3.
Volleyball aside, Hawaii truly resonated with van Tilburg, who can’t help but think of the islands and its beaches and hikes when he’s confined in his apartment.
“Today and yesterday sitting in the sun and the sun burns, I haven’t felt that in a while because it’s been winter here. The sun burns on your skin and I’m just thinking about driving in Hawaii, driving around Waikiki or seeing Diamond Head. Just having the sandy toes, I close my eyes and all those feelings come back and it gets you through certain things but also, man, I miss it so much. I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” he said. “I think about it almost every day. I text a lot of people that are still there almost every day. I was really close to booking a ticket this summer to go back and visit the boys and visit all my friends but for sure it comes with me everywhere I go.”
It is unknown at this time whether or not Hawaii will go on a mandated lockdown like Italy has, although as of Sunday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued a stay at home and work from home order from 4:30 p.m. on March 23 to April 30.
Based on his own experience, van Tilburg does have additional advice to offer.
“For sure listen to the authorities and if you feel a little sick, don’t visit any friends and stay at home,” he said. “Don’t visit any of your older family or relatives. Keep each other safe.
“From being locked up inside the house, definitely have a rhythm and a regimen. Try to get out of bed at a certain time, try to eat at a certain time, try to work out at a certain time and do things that you like that will get your mind off a certain thing.
“From a volleyball standpoint, and this goes back to the boys in Hawaii who had their season cut short, it should be that you should definitely play each game like it’s your last. I think the boys really did that the last game and I’m really proud of them.”