Michelle Schiffler: From topdog to underdog

Michelle Schiffler, a seasoned sitting volleyball athlete representing Germany, finds herself on a journey like no other.

“The experience here in Dali has been unexpectedly really good,” Schiffler said.

“Here in Dali, you could see more of nature. I also think this is one of the most highly organised events from World ParaVolley and I really enjoy how friendly everybody has been.”

Yet, amidst the thrill of the 2024 WPV Paralympics Qualifier competition, her thoughts often drift to her family.

She is married to Germany men’s sitting volleyball player Alex Schiffler, who will be seeing action at the Paris 2024 Paralympics after clinching  the spot last year at the World Cup in Cairo, Egypt.

“It’s a shame my husband’s not here but it’s also good that he’s already qualified so he can stay home and take care of the kids,” she mused.

Michelle and Alex Schiffler at the 2022 WPV Sitting Volleyball World Championships in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

For the former representative of the United States who won Paralympic gold and silver medals, the road to Paris holds a significance far beyond the pursuit of medals.

“This has been a totally different type of animal,” she confessed.

“We are the underdog. I went from being in a topdog team to now an underdog team.”

Her aspirations are humble yet profound – to qualify and represent Germany in the Paralympics once more.

“That would just be another dream come true. A medal may be far away but just making it there, and just experiencing the Paralympics in once, twice, three times in a lifetime possible, she said.

Drawing inspiration from the achievements of the German men’s team, Schiffler see a lot of motivation.

“To have the German men’s team achieve so much, maybe around six Paralympics editions is a motivation for us,” she explained. “To have your male counterpart present, would make you have your cheering squad available.”

Schiffler acknowledges the challenges ahead.

“We really have to dig deep because all the teams we have so much respect for and we have to lash out the claws and claw our way up into the top,” she remarked.

Talking about her husband, Alex, she shared how she rekindled her love for the sport and finding her purpose.

“Coffee gives me all this energy,” she chuckled. “But honestly, after meeting Alex (her husband), it just reenergised my passion to play.”

And as a mother, she endeavors to expose her children to the diverse spectrum of disabilities, nurturing open-mindedness and understanding from a young age.

“Now we have kids, we always try to bring them along, or at least one of them to our training camp to expose them to different types of disabilities and different types of people. I want to raise them as open-minded people.”

As she continues to carve her path from underdog to a German Paralympian, her infectious enthusiasm and love for the sport inspire us all to reach for the stars, no matter the obstacles that lie ahead.

“Just being here is so much fun. I like the environment, the energy, the atmosphere, and meeting new people. It’s the overall vibe,” she reflected.