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Proud to be a Bearcat

by David O'Brian
Assistant Sports Information Director
Binghamton University

Synopsis: Sara DeClemente-Hammoud graduated from Binghamton in 2002 after a prolific career on the volleyball team but has remained a vital part of the university since then.

A decade ago, Sara DeClemente-Hammoud was keeping busy at Binghamton University. She was balancing her academics and athletics as a student-athlete on the volleyball team. In addition, she was also was interning on campus and working side jobs.

Today, little has changed for DeClemente-Hammoud in terms of staying busy at Binghamton University. She is now married and is working full time in the Human Resources Office. Her volleyball career ended when she graduated in 2002 but she is now training for her seventh marathon in the past 17 months.

Behind DeClemente-Hammoud's busy life has been a passion for Binghamton University that dates back 12 years ago.

Success on the Court

DeClemente-Hammoud was a three-sport athlete at Corning West High School (located in Painted Post, N.Y.), from where she graduated in 1998. At the time, her number one sport was softball and she came to Binghamton because she wanted to continue her volleyball career.

“I came to Binghamton because it was close to home and because I could play both sports," she said. "Softball was my main sport. I was a pitcher, but at the same time, I did not want to let go of playing volleyball.”

After her freshman year, however, DeClemente-Hammoud had back surgery, which ended her softball career. As her sophomore year started, she focused solely on volleyball.

Back in 1999, Binghamton was still a Division II program and was two years away from moving up to the Division I level. There were a lot of unknowns facing the program. Perhaps the biggest unknown facing the volleyball program, however, was the arrival of new coach Glenn Kiriyama. From 1995-98, he was the top assistant coach at Division I Eastern Illinois. The players did not know what to expect but Kiriyama made an impression upon them right away.

“He was soft spoken but extremely knowledgeable," DeClemente-Hammoud said. "He knew everything about every single one of us when he came in. Still, since scholarships were annual, you never know what you are getting into when you get a new coach. It was definitely a scary situation.”

For DeClemente-Hammoud, however, being coached by Kiriyama was a natural fit. She was the starting setter on a squad that captured the 1999 and 2000 ECAC Division II titles. She finished her career with a then program-record 4,360 assists.

Perhaps the biggest memory of DeClemente-Hammoud's career, however, came off the court. On April 18, 2001, Binghamton was admitted into the America East Conference. She was at the university's press conference and was asked to be in a group photo afterwards. While DeClemente-Hammoud would graduate a year before the Bearcats started up in the America East Conference, she still cherished being a part of such a milestone event.

“I remember everything about that day," she said. "I remember being in the picture with the (mascot). It was exciting in that we were there to help the program even though we could not be there afterwards.”

DeClemente-Hammoud concluded her career in 2001, the program's first year at the Division I level. By that point, she has a special appreciation for Kiriyama, who remains the program's head coach and has since led Binghamton to two of the last five America East volleyball titles.

“I never understood how he could be so mellow during a match," she said. "When I watch him now, I still think it is amazing how he can stay so calm and keep it all together. He taught me so much about keeping your cool, knowing when to let things go and (determining) what is important and what is not.”

Kiriyama, meanwhile, is just as complimentary about the leader DeClemente-Hammoud was during her playing career.

"Sara was a great player to have on the court," he said. " She was able to push through adversity and perform consistently at a high level. Sara was the steady
calm influence on the court and, as our setter, orchestrated our offense and
kept everyone on the same page."

"She Was Bright and Ambitious"

While Kiriyama was the biggest influence on the volleyball court for DeClemente-Hammoud during her collegiate career, she found another mentor in Sylvia Hall, the university's long-time Human Resources (HR) Director. Starting in her freshman year, DeClemente-Hammoud started interning in HR and has since moved into a full-time position.

“Silvia was my mentor from day one," she said. "She is the reason that I decided to get into HR. She is a very loyal and compassionate person who was able to reason issues and listen to people when she needed to.”

As an intern in HR, DeClemente-Hammoud stood out as much as she did on the volleyball court. It didn't take long for her to make an impression on Hall.

"I was immediately impressed with her hard-working approach to her internship and with her level of maturity," Hall said. "Sara was the kind of intern who arrived early and stayed late and always gave more than was expected. She was bright and ambitious and goal oriented."

Being a setter on the volleyball team required a strong sense of communication with others. The same was true of working in HR. Both positions strongly fit DeClemente-Hammoud's personality.

“I love dealing with people on a daily basis," she said. "I enjoy the one-on-one interaction. It is very challenging.”

"Sara has a strong will and once she sets her mind on something she takes it
to another level," Kiriyama said. "She easily makes friends which suits her well with her job with human resources

Seven years after graduating from Binghamton, DeClemente-Hammoud is now the Manager of Classified Services in the HR Department at the university. Hall has since retired but marvels over the path DeClemente's career has taken.

"The Sara I now know is barely recognizable from the college student I met several years ago," she said. "She has grown in maturity, ability and competency and is clearly on her way to the top of her profession. Her focus on service is one of her biggest attributes - she is very willing to give more than she gets and that attitude will take her far."

While DeClemente-Hammoud's personality has enabled for a smooth transition into the HR field, she still credits Kiriyama for teaching her how to remain calm in tough situations.

“In my daily job, where staying calm and keeping your cool is important, there is a lot I learned from (Coach Kiriyama)," she said. "He has had a big impact on the type of person I have become."

A New Challenge

Even though her HR career has flourished, DeClemente-Hammoud initially found it hard adjusting to life without college athletics. The daily challenge of competition was a void she had trouble filling.

“I tried to keep up playing in volleyball, softball and basketball (recreation) leagues but I missed being in college athletics," she said. "I am a very competitive person so it was very tough during the years after college. Everything for me was about winning and being in (recreation) leagues was a lot different than it was at Binghamton.”

In 2007, however, DeClemente-Hammoud started running with Joanne Navarro, Binghamton University's Associate Vice President for Administrative Services. Shortly afterwards, she decided that she wanted to compete in her first marathon.

“I have always enjoyed running, but after my back surgery, I couldn’t do it two days in a row without dealing with terrible pain," she said. "Finally in October 2007, I had a total disc replacement which allowed me to start running again."

"We both participated in the YMCA Corporate Challenge about three years ago," Navarro said. "We had 20-30 people from Binghamton University who were participating. Sara and I both signed up to do the 5K and we wound up running together. It was the first time that we spoke to each other more on a personal basis. We talked for the three miles and afterwards decided that we wanted to train together."

DeClemente-Hammoud and Navarro each decided to run in a pair of marathons six weeks apart in the fall of 2008. In October, the duo raced near DeClemente's hometown in Corning. The following month, they raced in Philadelphia. Finally, DeClemente-Hammoud had found a challenge that would fill the athletic void she felt since graduation.

“I was very excited before my first marathon but also petrified as to how I was going to get through those last six miles," she said. "The last six miles are awful. But when you finish running, you forget how painful it was. There is no feeling like it.”

In 2009, DeClemente-Hammoud raced in four more marathons. After starting the year off with a January race in Disney World (Orlando), she competed twice during the summer before ending with the New York City Marathon in November. By the end of the year, it was clear that DeClemente-Hammoud was progressing as a runner.

"Sara has become a much smarter runner because she knows what to anticipate at the end of a race," Navarro said. "She knows how to pace herself and has gotten better with each marathon."

In addition to Navarro, DeClemente-Hammoud has had the support of her husband Dan Hammoud. A 2003 graduate of Binghamton who is now a pharmacuetical representative, Hammoud comes to all of DeClemente-Hammoud's races. Getting him to run, however, is a different story.

“Dan thinks I’m nuts," she said. "He thinks I am absolutely crazy. On the weekends, by the time I am getting done with my 3-4 hour run, he is just starting his day. He has no desire to run but comes to every marathon and knows what spots to be at. When I raced in Philadelphia, he jokingly told me that he walked about half a marathon just to get in the best spots.”

A Bearcat for Life

It has been nine years since DeClemente-Hammoud was at the press conference announcing Binghamton's admission into the America East. Since then, the athletic program has won 17 conference championships and had four All-Americans. The Events Center was built in 2004 and the Bearcats Sports Complex followed three years later. For DeClemente-Hammoud, the success of the athletic department brings out a great deal of pride.

“The athletic department has grown a lot," she said. "It’s amazing to see all the teams doing so well. It’s great to know that we were building up to that point when I was here."

When the volleyball team won its most recent conference title this past November, it was tremendous news for DeClemente-Hammoud and all of her old teammates who played under Kiriyama. A two-time America East Coach of the Year, Kiriyama has inspired many of his former players to stay connected with how the Bearcats are doing.

"A lot of my old teammates talked on Facebook afterwards about how great the championship was for Glenn," she said. "It’s great that he build the program up the way he has. He knows what everybody is doing because everyone wants to keep in touch with him. He is a great man and a great coach.”

Finding a career she enjoys has been enjoyable for DeClemente-Hammoud. To be working at her alma mater, however, has made it even more rewarding.

“It means a lot to me to be working at my alma mater," she said. " I loved it when I was here as a student. I am very passionate about Binghamton University. The education is phenomenal. The community is great around here-both on and off campus."

No matter what level the athletic program was at a decade ago, being a student-athlete helped DeClemente-Hammoud grow both on and off the court.

"It took a lot of discipline," she said. "I didn’t have the life of a normal college student. I look back at it now and it definitely helped me grow immensely. I don’t think I would have been as successful after college if I hadn't been a student-athlete at Binghamton."
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