MIR’s 30 Years: 1980s Volleyball Diplomacy, and MIR’s Beginning (VIDEO)
When I’m not traveling the world as president and co-founder of MIR Corporation – which offers group tours and custom private journeys to 35 countries at the crossroads of Europe and Asia – I’m grateful to call Seattle home.
I thought differently. After all, in the 1970s a game of ping-pong between the U.S. and China helped thaw relations between our two nations, an event history books dubbed “ping-pong diplomacy.” Why not “volleyball diplomacy?” Sports have a way of melting political tensions, cultivating conversations, and forging friendships.
My father and I assisted with the logistics, such as setting up the courts and equipment for the event. As we worked, I easily made friends with the Soviet players on the court. I took this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with an open mind and open heart, and after the game invited the players out on the town. Four or five of the players and coaching staff joined me, and we had drinks and just talked. I asked so many questions of them, and they of me. I wasn’t afraid or nervous; these were my brethren volleyball players, and I looked up to them as Olympians with a great deal of admiration. This was the moment I had dreamed of since I was so very young.
At some point the assistant Soviet volleyball coach asked if I wanted to organize an amateur goodwill volleyball exchange to the U.S.S.R. I said, “Absolutely!” That decision became a pioneering milestone in my life, and in my career. I don’t remember if we shook hands on it, but we did seal the deal with a shot of vodka.
In 1987, our U.S. goodwill volleyball team played Soviet teams in city after city, from Moscow and Odessa to Volgograd and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). My highest reward was meeting so many Russians and being invited into their homes at a time when it wasn’t easy to do – even risky. Although Mikhail Gorbachev was in charge and restructuring (perestroika) and openness (glasnost) were unfolding, communism still ruled and it was still the U.S.S.R. Keep in mind that Tina Turner, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, and even Julio Iglesias were still banned from Soviet airwaves!
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The second part of the exchange was terrific; in 1988 we hosted Soviet volleyball players in the United States, touring New York, Tucson, Los Angeles, and ending in Seattle.
When friends back in Seattle learned of our successful goodwill volleyball tour to the Soviet Union, they wanted to visit the U.S.S.R. as well, asking us to arrange visas and travel itineraries for them. So we did: this was a major part of the serendipitous beginning of MIR Corporation. That led to a multitude of “citizen exchanges” between Soviets and Americans, including medical professionals, lawyers, agricultural experts, and of course athletes.
The fact that “MIR” means both “world” and “peace” in Russian has special significance to me. I can’t help but think “mir” is what you get when you throw travel into the mix of international relations and politics, in ways as simple as my team’s volleyball diplomacy, circa 1980s. Travel truly opens our hearts and minds.
More on “MIR’s 30 Years”
Learn more about “MIR’s 30 Years” in the stories below, all embedded with videos. They include MIR’s beginnings and the mindset and mission of MIR’s president and co-founder, Douglas Grimes; MIR’s utterly unique travel offerings at the crossroads of Europe and Asia; and Siberia, one of MIR’s favorites specialties.
- “Imagine Your Journey with MIR” (story); view video – MIR’s 30-year expertise in making dream trips come true.
- “198os Volleyball Diplomacy, and MIR’s Beginning” (story); view video – Volleyball is the game changer: a young Douglas Grimes dreams big, and his (MIR) world changes forever.
- “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (story); view video – Traveling back in time to MIR’s mid-1980s beginning, and a watershed decision.
MIR’s One-of-a-Kind Journeys
- “Handcrafted Journeys: Making MIR Movies” (story); view video – MIR’s memorable custom, private journeys are akin to making movies, including tracing family history “back in the old country.”
- “Epic Journeys: Ultimate Dream Trips” (story); view video – MIR’s adventurous overland expeditions include one Canadian couple’s extensive yearly travels, from driving along the Silk Road to motoring through China, Siberia, and the Balkans.
- “Beyond the Stars, Inside the Russian Space Program” (story); view video – MIR President Douglas Grimes’ favorite tour harkens back to the U.S.-Soviet space race, from exploring Star City’s once-classified cosmonaut training facility to witnessing the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.
- “Overland Expeditions: Roving the World in Land Rovers” (story); view Land Rovers video – Land-roving at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, MIR creates an ambitious itinerary for 54 participants and 18 vehicles, from Kazakhstan to Turkey.
Siberia, A MIR Specialty
- “Why I’m Sold on Siberia” (story); view video – Countless reasons why MIR President Douglas Grimes loves this vast, pristine place.
- “Siberia’s Beauty of Lake Baikal” (story); view video – MIR President Douglas Grimes’ lasting memories of this legendary lake in Siberia.
- “Overland Expeditions: Channeling Siberia and Beyond” (story); view video – One of MIR President Douglas Grimes’ early (ad)ventures into Siberia with one channeler, her five dozen followers, and their six sacred crystals.
- “Overland Expeditions: Driving Siberia and Beyond” (story); view video – MIR helps intrepid motorists re-create the 1908 automotive Great Race in their 1928 vintage car, down to gas station locations in Siberia and tricky border crossings.
- “Overland Expeditions: Running Through Russia and Beyond” (story); view video – MIR’s extraordinary logistics for 79 runners and support personnel, running 5,500 miles from Eastern Europe to China via Russia and Siberia, all to promote safer drinking water.
- “Overland Expeditions: Total Solar Eclipse in Siberia” (story); view video – MIR prepares three years in advance to bring more than 300 travelers – “sun chasers” – to the heart of Siberia for a rare total solar eclipse.
MIR, in a Nutshell
- “MIR in a Nutshell” (story) – Compact and concise, here’s everything you need to know about MIR on one page.
(Top photo credit: Steve Richmond – It’s a fierce battle in this 1980s U.S.-Soviet volleyball match.)
PUBLISHED: October 2, 2016