Away from the volleyball court, the 32-year-old middle blocker has been involved in a very private battle – fighting for her life against breast cancer.
Just like the Dutch women won Grand Prix gold at Ningbo, China, Huurman, too, is winning her own fight, but she knows she can never lower her guard against an opponent which could strike back at any time.
Her story is one of courage and determination and provides hope and inspiration for women everywhere. It starts in Japan in February 2006, when she was playing for the Pioneer Red Wings in the V.League.
During a routine check of her breasts she felt something that suggested everything was not right, and immediately consulted a specialist.
“I felt something and I just did not trust it,” she says. “So I went to the doctor just to make sure it was nothing -- but it was bad, so it was a big shock of course.”
Despite the shattering news, Huurman did not panic and finished the season with her club in the best possible way, by winning the V.League championship.
“At that time we were two weeks before the finals with Pioneer but I felt okay so I wanted to finish. I knew it would be my last game for Pioneer because I would be going back to Holland to get cured, so it was a big motivation for me and the team to continue playing. We finished it with a beautiful championship.
“Actually I was always confident that I would get better, and everybody -- the people from Pioneer and with the national team -- really helped me to stay positive.”
On her return to the Netherlands in the spring of 2006, the treatment began, and it would be six arduous months before it ended in October.
“I had chemotherapy, an operation and radiotherapy, but because I was physically in good shape I could go through all the treatment pretty good. I finished in October with everything.”
The hardest part was the chemotherapy, and this is when the support of the volleyball world – and her own ambition – kept her going.
“The chemotherapy wasn’t that good,” she says, with understatement. “I was really sick from that but I just looked forward. You need the treatment to get better so I didn’t mind going through all that. The whole thing is difficult. I had to go in to the hospital every three weeks for just one day of chemotherapy and then I could go home, but of course you feel bad and you lose your hair. It is really tough.
“I always stayed positive that I would get better. I was like ‘they won’t get me down with this.’ At that time volleyball was such a big part of my life and I really wanted to continue playing. I was not ready to stop. I was motivated to come back and play in the Olympics.
“I got a lot of support, postcards and emails which was nice and really helped me through difficult times. When I was sick I always was part of the team, so everybody helped me. Nobody let me down and that was a big help.”
In November 2006, while her teammates were playing in the World Championships in Japan, she began on the long and lonely road to recovery, slowly building up her strength and fitness after the punishment her body had endured during the treatment. In May 2007 she rejoined the national team, and soon she was on the road to China for a series of friendly matches and to Russia for the Yeltsin Cup.
EVERYTHING IS GOOD
The Grand Prix brought her back to Japan, and ended with the gold medal in China – but that is a bonus considering what she has been through.
“From start to finish it was six months so it went pretty fast. Luckily everything is good. I am clean so that is the important thing.
“I must go back every four months for the next five years at least, but I feel good now and trust that everything is okay and I stay clean. I am just so happy I can be back on the court because I was a long way from that.”
Still only 32 years old, Huurman has plenty of sound advice for women of all ages.
Speaking from experience, she adds: “I am also young and they say you should check your breasts every month because one out of nine women will get breast cancer in the end. Those are the statistics.
“It is difficult because you don’t think it will happen to you. I don’t have a family history of cancer whatsoever so it was a big surprise.”
And her message?
“If you don’t trust something go to the doctor, and if you get there in time the technology today is so good there is a good chance to be cured.
“If something happens to you, you see a lot of other people who are in the same situation actually, but lately they can do so much good work to fight against breast cancer. I got there in time so that was my luck.
“It is a good end story.”
For Huurman, her dream of playing in 2008 Beijing Olympics lives on, burning as brightly as the determination she has shown away from the volleyball court in her own private fight for life.
photo Getty Images
Photo: Rémy Gros