Almost five months ago, COVID-19 brought an unceremonious end to the careers of collegiate athletes all across the country. Each one of these athletes has a gut-wrenching falls tale of heartbreak, but few can equal the despair Alana Gilmer endured after her senior season came crashing down in the middle of March.
Gilmer was an instrumental part of Marist Women’s Basketball’s 26-win season that included a share of the MAAC regular-season title. The former team captain swears that a MAAC Championship would have followed if ill fate had not intervened.
“Nobody was going to take that from us,” she boldly stated. “We knew it was ours. We were two games away from our goal but we were not able to reach it. It was one of the most emotional times of my life.”
Gilmer wondered if her basketball career was over. Being a woman of faith, she prayed on the matter and sought guidance from her teammates. “I knew that I could not walk the game after what happened,” she said. “After a lot of self-reflection, I knew that I had more to accomplish.”
The first step was choosing an agent. There was no shortage of bidders for Gilmer’s talents. She considered options at home and abroad, ultimately signing with Prodep Management, based in Spain.
Once Gilmer had official representation, offers came flowing in from Portugal, Iceland, and many other places in between. She listened patiently, waiting for the perfect situation, which eventually presented itself in the form of the Espoo Basket Team, situated in Espoo, Finland.
“They were looking for a player with exactly my kind of game,” Gilmer said. “A big guard who can score from all three areas and is not afraid to go one-on-one.”
Gilmer is a meticulous person and was not going to drop everything for a chance to play in Finland. She needed to do her research before accepting the offer.
Notwithstanding the language barrier, Espoo turned out to be a perfect fit. “Finland kind of had a similar feel to Marist, after I transferred from Virginia Tech,” she said. “Espoo is only about 10 minutes away from Helsinki, the capital, which has a strong American presence. I don’t even know when Finland last had a COVID case and there is only a fraction of the crime and violence we have to deal with back home.”
If Gilmer needed any reassurance, it came when she reached out to another player who recently signed a contract extension with Espoo. “Not too many players stay with a team for more than a year,” Gilmer explained. “It was amazing to hear about the community and atmosphere during the games. It sounds like a place where I want to be.”
Espoo’s season in the Korisliiga (Finland’s top professional league), begins in October. Gilmer will make the overseas trip in early September. She has made better use of her time in quarantine than many other people, as she is closing on a Master’s degree before she treks across the Atlantic Ocean.
Gilmer has also tried to sharpen her game and really wants to push herself by playing at a higher level. She wants to regain the feelings every basketball player has when they are on the court. “I just want to recapture that love and joy I had for the game at Marist,” Gilmer continued. “The last experience I had in competitive basketball was not a good one. I can’t end on a sour note.”
She feels that the years spent under Brian Giorgis and his coaching staff have laid the groundwork for a successful professional career. “Coach Giorgis pushed me on both sides of the court and taught me how to become a leader,” Gilmer said. “Whenever I thought I was doing something well, he would tell me I could do better. I want to keep working and keep improving.”
Additionally, Gilmer wants to use her platform as an athlete to help promote social change. She knows that the pressing issues in our society are too big for influential people to ignore.
“Athletes have a huge platform and we need to use it to talk about the injustices in our society,” she declared. “We need to generate discussion and promote education on these issues. I thought I was well-informed, but I am still learning many new and unsettling things as I continue to educate myself.”
While the future for Marist fall sports is nonexistent, and the outlook for winter athletics unsure at best, Alana Gilmer is a shining ray of hope for fans of the Red Foxes who want to see some action. Just keep in mind that Espoo, Finland is seven hours ahead of us here on the east coast. You will need to set those alarms pretty early if you want to see Gilmer play. But it will be worth it.
Edited by Sam DiGiovanni and Bridget Reilly