Alaina (Bergsma) Gilbert

“A big year” is an understatement. During her senior year in 2012, Alaina Bergsma (now Alaina Gilbert) took the Oregon volleyball team to the NCAA Finals, earned the National Player of the Year award, was crowned Miss Oregon 2012, and graduated from the UO with a business degree. After graduation, she played seven years of overseas professional volleyball for various teams and Team USA, including time in Asia, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. Now, Alaina lives in Los Angeles and works as director of sales for Liquid I.V., a company whose non-GMO electrolyte drink mix helps athletes and individuals stay hydrated. With a level of confidence that is both impressive and inspiring, Alaina continues to succeed and be a role model for others looking to achieve what seems impossible – but never really is.

Can you tell us about your current job?

I am the Director of Sales at Liquid I.V. I joined the company when it was a startup and now we are a Unilever brand. After graduating from Oregon, I played professional volleyball overseas for seven years as well as for Team USA. From there, I took an internship at a brand that I already knew and was using – Liquid I.V.

I had struggled with calf cramps and tried a lot of solutions and Liquid I.V. worked for me, so I kept drinking it. I asked for an internship, moved to LA for the summer during the off season but was planning to go back and play again. But I came, loved the brand, loved the team, and fell in love in LA to my now husband. So I stayed in LA, went from an intern and started working my way up in marketing. When COVID hit, I switched to sales and now I’m the Director of Sales overseeing all of the drug channel.

What was that transition like, going from collegiate athletics to becoming a professional athlete?

There are definitely different levels, going from being at the top of the game. We lost in the finals my senior year at UO, but I was named National Player of the Year in 2012. I went from that to then being a rookie at the professional level. Teams had an age range of 18 to 41 and with that a range of talent levels and expectations, so I saw a lot of growth there.

I think that was a big difference. Plus, going to a country that you don’t speak the language and you can’t actually communicate with your teammates in the same language definitely takes you out of your comfort zone.

But I absolutely loved it, being able to see the world while doing something that I loved. When you walk onto the volleyball court and start playing with other people, you don’t need language. You know the skill and you can communicate that way, which is special and unique.

Why do you believe sports to be valuable for young women? What has sports, or volleyball specifically, provided to you throughout your life?

There is so much value in sports for young girls and women. A big piece is the leadership opportunities you’re granted. Someone is going to be a leader on the team, regardless of which age group it is, and sports allow girls to develop those skills.

You learn about goal setting and working really hard to achieve those goals, but you also learn how to cope with failure. No one’s perfect and no game is going to be perfect. Learning how to manage that failure and your emotions helps you mature with not only winning, but losing.

It also builds your confidence. I’m 6’3. In sports, it was always such a positive being so tall, and I’m such an outlier being the height I am. Sports helped give me confidence because when you’re in a setting where your height is a good thing, it makes you believe it is… Especially during new years of growing and adolescence, where being different isn’t always viewed as a good thing, sports can definitely help build confidence.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment is the transition I made from sports to a successful career. Many professional athletes struggle with making that transition because it isn’t easy. It was very different to go from getting paid to workout to now sitting at a computer. But making that transition and not only having a successful collegiate and professional athletics career, but now having a professional workforce career, is the thing I’m most proud of.

For me, the transition was about finding something I’m really passionate about. I’m with a company whose product I’m actually passionate about, one I used and loved before going to work there.

That aspect made the transition so much easier. I played volleyball for 20+ years and then switched into this new business role while still having that same kind of passion. Plus, I was also able to use the things I learned in sport in a workforce setting, which was very meaningful to me. I don’t think I would have had the same success if I hadn’t played sports.

What’s the most meaningful advice or support that you’ve received in your lifetime?

My parents are my biggest support. They consistently drove me to practice to and missed a total of two or so games around the country during my senior year at Oregon. They also followed me around the world to watch me play professionally. I’m very blessed to have a good support system from my family.

The most meaningful advice came from Jim Moore, the Oregon volleyball coach at the time. The advice he gave was, “Why not you?” When I got to Oregon, I was an “okay” freshman college volleyball player. I had transferred in and had surgery, so my first spring I couldn’t even play with the team. And he would tell me, “Why not you? Why not us? Why not? Why can’t we lead the pack? Why not us?”

My sophomore season, we didn’t make the NCAA tournament. My junior season, we lost in the first round. And he just kept saying, “Why not us? Why not you? Why does it have to be someone else?” My senior year, we went to the NCAA Finals, which was such a big jump. This belief not only in myself, but in my teammates, has also helped the transition to my professional job.

Sometimes I think athletes have this imposter syndrome where they don’t feel like they belong because they think, “Oh wow, these other people have been doing this for 10 years. And some of them for 30 years. Where do I fit in? I’ve been an athlete.”

But why not you? You have skills that you’ve learned in sports. Maybe you didn’t get an internship because you were busy training for your sport during college, but that doesn’t mean you are less in the workplace. It actually gives you a whole different skillset that your team needs.

I was Miss Oregon in 2012 and I laugh at that because that seems like a long time ago. I don’t know why I had the confidence to go and do that. I just thought, why not? Getting rid of that imposter syndrome has been so transformative for me.

I believe I’m the only National Player of the Year that was not a Fab 50 recruit or a Top 100 recruit coming out of high school. I think that’s a big accomplishment embodying “Why not?” And I think athletes in general need to have the confidence that they do have important roles to fill.

That “Why not?” message is similar to our “Go Do Anything” slogan. What do those words mean to you?

It’s about the confidence to take risks and just go do it! I’m in sales now, and we’re told “no” a lot. That doesn’t mean the next person you talk to isn’t going to say yes.

I’ve had people ask me, how did you do all of these things? And I just thought I would try! That’s what the “Go Do Anything” message is for me. I love it because I think it’s so impactful. That message is getting translated more often to women, but I think we still have a ways to go with it.

Anything is possible and there still are a lot of different industries where women still aren’t as prevalent in. I think the generations before us helped make room and space for us, and we’re going to keep doing just that. You see the difference today from 50 years ago in women’s sports, with more participation from women in youth sports, high school sports, and college sports.

I’m excited because I think there’s going to be even more space in women’s professional sports in the U.S. in the next 50 years easily, if not sooner.

How did (and still does) Title IX affect both your athletic and professional careers?

Title IX opened sports at the collegiate level. It made the decision to go to college easier because I could continue doing what I was so passionate about. I like school, but I definitely wanted to keep playing volleyball. Title IX encouraged me to continue my education, which opened doors to both professional sports and to my career. The lessons I learned in college, in a high-level environment of sport, definitely transitioned to the workplace. I know that my voice matters, that I can be a leader, and that I’m set up for success in different ways.

Believing that inside yourself sometimes is hard. We get shy and think, maybe I don’t belong here, maybe it’s not okay. But just know that there is space for us, and we really can go out there and make anything happen.

What do you want for women everywhere?

I want women to have the confidence to find their voice and to not be shy! Go tell people your opinions. It can be very respectful and said in the right way, but don’t be afraid to speak your mind, because our opinions matter and they’re valuable to society.

I’m thankful to be at a company that has many women in leadership. When one of our female leaders specifically speaks, everyone stops and listens because it’s so insightful and meaningful. We as women are able to have that voice. So what I want to see women do is, to find their voice and have the confidence to use it!