AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — For almost two decades, Riley Salmon competed in men’s volleyball matches all across the globe including three different Olympic games, taking home the gold medal in 2008 in Beijing.
Salmon’s journey to an Olympic gold medal in men’s volleyball in 2008 all started in Amarillo when he was born here back in 1976.
But Salmon says that’s the extent of his memories about the Yellow City.
“Not much at all, just kind of what my mom tells me. I think I stayed 18 months there, something like two years then we moved to Borger where my sister was born, ” said Salmon.
From Borger, Salmon’s family moved to the small town of Kenefick, Texas before they landed in League City. That’s where his love of volleyball started.
It all began with Salmon being asked to be a fill-in at a friend’s volleyball practice.
“I was like no, I’m not doing that. I don’t want to play. They’re like, just fill in until this guy gets here. I said ok, so I jumped in and I was left front. I took two steps, jumped up and hit it and no kidding I was sprung from that moment. From that day on, I played every single day for five years straight,” said Salmon.
Salmon shined on the court so much that he was offered to play collegiately at Pierce College in California.
“I played two years at Pierce then I went from there and I immediately started playing pro ball,” said Salmon.
Then at the age of 21, Salmon made it on to a team in Europe and in his second year he was picked up by the U.S. National Team, competing in his first Olympics in 2004 in Greece.
“The first one in 2004 was surreal. I felt like I was in a dream for the first two weeks that I was there. The second one in 2008 was much more business-like. The same group had been together for eight years. We knew we had a really good chance to win a medal,” said Salmon.
That they did, defeating Brazil in four sets to bring home the gold.
It was a moment that Salmon says he’ll never forget.
“It was a massive moment in my life. It changed the way that I did a lot of things. 1 or 2 percent of the population gets to do what I did. It’s been an amazing experience and the coolest thing now is that I’m coaching and I get to share that experience and these youngers really love hearing about it. It’s a pretty neat thing that God does, putting you in the right spot to talk to other people,” said Salmon.
Salmon made the 2012 men’s Olympic team in London as an alternate, making it three Olympic teams that he competed on.
Salmon says that the gold medal is not his biggest accomplishment.
“Without a doubt, the gold medal was easy compared to recovery. It’s a day to day battle,” said Salmon.
Salmon reached the top of the mountain in men’s volleyball, competing in three different Olympic games and taking home the gold in 2008 in Beijing.
Following the 2012 games in London with multiple injuries catching up with him, Salmon made the decision to stop playing professionally.
“I had a torn meniscus. I also had a torn up shoulder and some back injuries and all this is pretty common for the amount of time that I played volleyball,” said Salmon.
To treat those injuries, Salmon was prescribed opiates and took them as prescribed.
But after his retirement, Salmon says it got out of control.
“I just kind of went into a cycle of where I couldn’t get out of a depression. A lot of that had to do with playing volleyball and then having that removed from me. I just spiraled out of control. It got to a point where I was homeless. I have been to several rehabs. I was facing two to ten years imprisonment for some charges that I had picked up. DUI, I had attempted suicide twice. It was a really bad, dark time,” said Salmon.
Salmon knew he needed to change his ways. That’s when he says he found God and credits that for his recovery.
“He directed me and told me that I had a purpose. It was an extremely dark period in my life but at the same time today when I wake up, I know that kids and adults struggle with this stuff. So any type of hope that I can bring to them and I could talk to them and say hey I’ve been there. It gets better,” said Salmon.
Which inspired Salmon to share his story with others going through the same thing he did.
“I really feel that’s why God has me here. Obviously I can coach volleyball and I’m pretty good at that but I think my bigger purpose is to kind of share my experience of strength and hope with people because I was at the top of the mountain, fell all the way down. It’s been a journey man but I really feel like it’s just getting started. This is like the second part of my life,” said Salmon.
Salmon has now gone from player to coach.
Salmon spent four years as the Head Men’s Volleyball Coach at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota before just recently accepting the same position at Concordia University in Irvine, California.