Nothing Like This: Queensborough Star Athlete Reflects on Hurricane Maria’s Destruction of Her Island Home

Published: January 19, 2018

In December, Queensborough student Paola Beniquez flew home to Puerto Rico for the first time since Hurricane Maria smashed into the island. As the plane began its final descent, she saw the wreckage left in the storms’ wake, and began to weep along with the other passengers.

“We are no strangers to hurricanes. There have been times when we lost water for several days, the schools were closed, and once I even had to sleep in my car. But nothing like this.”

Paola, a Liberal Arts major at Queensborough, came to the U.S. in August of 2017 to study art. She loves painting, watercolor and acrylic and, while home on the island, took comfort in seeing the many painted Puerto Rican flags inspiring resilience.

Although many other sights were less comforting, they did not dampen the joy felt when Paola was finally reunited with her close-knit family.

Born and raised in San Juan, Paola always wanted to be a volleyball player, just like her older sister. Though considered too young to join the “club”, she was allowed to practice with the players and soon became the youngest member of the team.

At age 13, Paola received an All-Star award at the AAU National championship in Orlando, Florida. The team made it to the gold finals and placed second. Paola received a Most Valued Player award in middle school, and in her senior year of High School received an All-Star award for the school’s home tournament.

Her passion and talent for the sport grew, and by the time she began playing on the women’s volleyball team in her freshman year at Queensborough she was a force to be reckoned with.

Her list of collegiate awards include National Junior College Athletic Association All American (NJCAA) and NJCAA Nationals—All Tournament Team.

2016 was the third year in a row the Women’s Volleyball Team won the CUNYAC title. The team also won the regional title again this year and represented Region XV at the Nationals. Queensborough was the #1 seed for both tournaments. Paola won CUNYAC athlete of the week for five out of six weeks, the CUNYAC Tournament Most Valued Player award, Region XV Player of the Year, and Player of the Year honors.

“Paola has won every award imaginable on our level. Winning Player of the Year is an especially remarkable honor, since she is among only three freshman in the country to be recognized as an athlete of this caliber,” said Head Coach Jason Demas, who noted that the team’s accomplishments include being ranked eighth in the country, named back-to-back Region XV & District F Champions, and a three-time CUNYAC Championship team.

“Coach has so many great qualities; he is a good listener, knows how to make us laugh and, at the same time, keeps us focused on the prize. He has had such a wonderful impact on my life.”

As for the spring semester, Paola will be busy putting together her portfolio with the goal of transferring to Pratt in the fall to study interior design. And though the volleyball season is over, Paola will practice her game so that she can continue playing wherever she might be.

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