We caught up with Chelsea Poppens, who was recently playing professional basketball in Puerto Rico. Poppens rode out hurricanes Irma and Maria and recently made it back to Florida, where she is finishing up her online MBA program with the University of Florida. We talked about Puerto Rico and the hurricanes and got a rundown of what she has been up to since she signed her first overseas contract in 2013 with the Melbourne Boomers.
How did you end up in Puerto Rico?
My agent last year got me set up with a Puerto Rican team, but I was only there for 48 hours before I tore my ACL. They liked me enough as a person and as a player that they said, ‘When you get healthy, we would love to have you back.’ So I ended up going back there this year because of the short season since I’m currently doing my MBA program. I have finals in December and I have to be around for that. So I went back and I was just as unlucky. The season hadn’t even started, because Irma came five days after being there and then after a week or so we were able to have two games and then Maria hit and the season was obviously cancelled.
How did you make the decision to stay in Puerto Rico for both Irma and Maria?
For Irma, people wanted me to leave, but everyone on the island was very casual about it because we weren’t supposed to get hit directly. They were like, “Yeah, you can just stay in your homes. You don’t need to go to a shelter. The houses in our area are built for hurricanes and made out of cement.” We were kind of nervous and didn’t really understand why everyone was super casual about it. But for Maria, I definitely considering leaving, but my teammates wasn’t, so I didn’t want to leave her there alone to go through it all. I could have gotten out the day before it hit, but it was better for a lot of aspects to stay there with her.
How was it riding out hurricane Maria?
We stocked up on water, batteries, candles, and made sure we had food. During the hurricane, we lit candles, read a lot of books, played some music and just rode it out. Irma was only four hours of the winds and everything, but Maria was 20 hours. It was a very long day. It went from 4 a.m. Wednesday morning to late in the evening. It was rain and wind forever.
What was the aftermath like? We all saw the news reports, but what was it like being there?
I’ve been down there this entire past month. Five days into it, Irma hit and that took out the power for a little less than a week. There was a little bit of destruction, but nothing compared to what Maria did. So two weeks after Irma, Maria hit and pretty much wiped out everything. Power and cell service were out. We still had water, thankfully, but a lot of people around us didn’t have water. There was some flooding that went down after a few days. We stayed in our house for a few days after because we couldn’t leave and then we went out and ventured and it was chaos everywhere. People trying to stock up on water after seeing how bad it is, just trying to get situated because they know the power is going to be out for the next few months and they don’t know when they are going to get water back. They don’t know when or where their next paycheck is going to come from. They have families to take care of. It was mass chaos.
Now that you’re back in Florida, what are your plans for the future?
This week is my get-my-life-situated week, because I’ve been cut off from the world for a month. I need to play catch up on my schoolwork. I’ve also been talking to journalists and reporters from back home. Hallie Christofferson is helping design a T-shirt that I can put up on my blog for people to purchase in order to help people affected by the hurricane in Puerto Rico. I’m just trying to help people back there while being here. I’m still figuring out if I’m going over to Europe to play. My agent is still searching for teams, but I do have my finals in December that I’ll have to work around or work with them in order to accomplish playing again.
T-Shirt purchase links:
The last time we talked for a Cyclone Sidebar was 2013 during your season with the Boomers. Do you want to give a quick rundown of what you’ve been up to since?
I tore my ACL with the Boomers at the end of their season. I rehabbed in Ames all summer and then I went to Poland and had to come back early at the end of December because I had micro-fracture surgery on my knee (the same knee). And then I rehabbed again and then I went to Switzerland, had a healthy season and we won the championship. Then I enjoyed the summer and I went to Puerto Rico and tore my ACL again. I rehabbed that this past year while working and doing my MBA. I was working in medical imaging equipment sales for the past year.
After so many season-ending injuries, you still keep rehabbing and continuing to play basketball. What is it that keeps you going?
I just play it by ear honestly nowadays. My plans never work out as planned, obviously. I enjoy playing basketball and as long as my body actually feels good, I’ll try to keep doing it and get into what makes me happy. To get paid to do something you love is a rare thing. I enjoy it, and I enjoy the people I meet playing along the way. I know I have lots of options, especially with my MBA and other job opportunities. I’ll just keep playing it by ear, whatever feels right.
I saw you were in the Ivory Coast recently. What were you doing there?
“I went to the Ivory Coast with Athletes in Action, which is a Cru affiliated organization. It was basketball and church. We ran clinics, held youth clinics, coaching clinics, and played some games against the national team there. We provided some humanitarian aid to some of the people in the Abidjan area. We got to experience and interact with people there firsthand. It was nice, because I know how to speak French, so I was able to actually communicate with some of the people there.
How did you get Involved with Athletes in Action?
“One of my friends had done it with volleyball and I’ve always wanted to go on a mission trip. It’s always been on my bucket list. This was the first time I didn’t have basketball interfering with it. It was a good way to test my knee after rehabbing all this time. It just worked out perfectly. They reached out to me after I barely started the application and it just went from there. I said, ‘Okay, why not?’ Honestly, everything went so smoothly with the fundraising to support me going. I enjoy it and being on that, I would definitely try to help Puerto Rico and try to help them rebuild and go on some kind of mission trip there if possible.
Since leaving Ames, Iowa, Poppens has traveled and played in Australia, Poland, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, Puerto Rico and China. Below are a few additional photos of her travels.