As professional sports leagues across the world came to a halt due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, one of the last countries to shut down its athletic activities was Turkey. Nearly three weeks after the NBA postponed its season here in North America, the Turkish professional leagues were still playing competitive games. That includes the women’s indoor volleyball league, which was nearing the end of its regular season schedule in late March.
That’s where you’d find Long Beach native Sherridan Atkinson, who was in her second stint playing professionally in Turkey. After finishing her collegiate career at Purdue University, the 6-foot-5 Atkinson headed to the Turkish league in January 2019, signing with Galatasaray. After an injury-plagued stint in Korea that fall, she returned to Turkey at the start of 2020 to compete for Nilüfer Belediyespor.
During her time there, Atkinson has gotten to face the best of the best as she develops her skills on the court.
“My league is the best league in the world,” Atkinson explained. “It’s really cool that I get to play against Olympians the MVP’s of the world. The Kobe’s and LeBron’s of volleyball, I’m playing against every night. That definitely challenges you—it humbles you.”
Atkinson is a graduate of Millikan High School and had a two-year stint at Long Beach State before transferring to Purdue. That’s where her career hit new heights as she was named a unanimous All-Big Ten selection as well as an All-American following her junior season. Now in her third stop as a professional, things were starting to come together for Atkinson on the court.
“This year I got to hold my own more,” she said of her second season in the ultra-talented Turkish league. “But the competition is not a joke, the world watches our league. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty grateful. At least If I’m going to do this thing in Europe I want to be part of the best of the best. If I’m gonna be away from home it’s gotta be worth it.”
The end of her stay in Turkey became stressful, however, as the coronavirus spread across Europe. Even after leagues in the rest of the world shut down, play in Turkey continued.
“We had to put wealth over health. We didn’t get to decide enough was enough and that we really should stop,” explained Atkinson. “Sports in Turkey is a really big thing, it brings in a lot of money. We’re (viewed as) super heroes or something like that. We weren’t as concerned with (contracting) the virus, but the foreigners that lived in Turkey wanted to get home to see our families.”
Instead of postponing the season, the league instead chose to modify its procedures by limiting practice days and keeping fans from attending games. According to Atkinson, those were seen by the athletes as ineffective measures.
“We played the game with no fans, then we got two days off to quarantine, then we went back to practice,” she said. “But what they don’t understand, our players go home and interact with their families, so that really didn’t make much sense. Meanwhile, everyone on the team is just waiting for the league to cancel the season. Nobody is really practicing like they really cared because we knew the games were about to get canceled.”
During the entire process, Sheridan’s dad was eager to have her back home. Having just undergone spinal surgery, he not only would benefit from having her around the house, but he was also concerned about her well being during the outbreak. Sherridan’s mom, meanwhile, is a healthcare worker at Torrance Memorial Hospital, working with patients in need of assistance paying for medical procedures. Needless to say, it was a stressful time for all parties involved, and the uncertainty of being 7,000 miles from home with new travel restrictions arising each day made Atkinson eager to find a way back to America.
“When President Trump made the announcement that even if you’re American may not get home, the next morning I left,” Atkinson recalls. “I messaged my agent and told him this is not a smart situation to be in. I bought my own ticket and everything. As soon as the travel warning came out, the next morning I was gone. It was funny because all the foreigners in Turkey were in the airport at the same time. Everybody was like ‘Nope, we’re not doing it.’ The money is not worth your safety.”
Back at home, Atkinson has plenty of time to look ahead to her career both on and off the volleyball court. She plans to eventually pursue a career in real estate and also has aspirations in broadcast journalism, a subject she majored in at Long Beach State. But she also feels she has a few more good years left in her as a volleyball player.
“My body has changed so much since college,” Atkinson said. “I couldn’t walk, my knees were always inflamed, I couldn’t even practice all the time. But now learning how to work with my body and all the treatment we have in Europe, I could see myself playing longer.”
Then, in true Sherridan fashion, she added the following caveat for her continued playing career: “I can’t even lie to you, these contracts keep getting bigger and these knees keep feeling better, so you know, it is what it is.”