7 Things You Didn’t Know About Jess Gaffney

I come from a huge, crazy family and thrive under chaos.

My mom is one of nine siblings. Each of those had multiple kids of their own. So I have almost 30 first cousins and another round of second cousins growing by the day. The best part is that we are all very close. There are a few of us in every age group, so we grew up in cohorts. My cousins are my built-in friends forever. Since I was a baby, we’ve met every year for the 4th of July in a tiny cabin on Hood Canal in Washington. I have just as many childhood memories and experiences with all of my cousins as I do with my two sisters. Family is my number one value. I hope to continue making traditions for everyone to gather and make memories for generations to come.

After college, I spent three weeks in Peru volunteering for a non-profit called MEDLIFE (Medicine Education and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere).

I studied Public Health at UC Berkeley and felt a strong conviction to explore global health and delve into the barriers to health that so many people in the world face. I took a semester-long course preparing me for this trip. We learned medical terminology in Spanish. We studied the community we’d be with in Lima to gain a deeper respect and demonstrate cultural humility. We learned that poverty is systemic; the zip code you were born in determines your health and opportunities more than anything else you can control. While in Peru, we met with the community leaders to learn and execute what they really needed. Often, Westerners come to help those “less fortunate” without talking to locals, which can cause many issues if not done mindfully. This aligned with Medlife’s goal of sustainable change to break the cycle of poverty through not just aid and resources, but also education and development. That was a huge dose of perspective. Medlife includes and empowers the community so the change we are trying to make can be sustained after we leave. We ran pop-up medical clinics acting as medical assistants for dental work, doctor, and Obgyn visits. Our team provided a mobile pharmacy, led educational health clinics, and built staircases necessary for safety in the mountainous area. I witnessed the worst poverty you could imagine and horrific injustices inflicted by the government. I have been so inspired to use my undeserved privilege for good ever since. This trip truly changed my life; I think about the lessons I learned there every single day.

I love to cook.

Well mostly eat, but I think that’s why cooking is more enjoyable for me. My mom’s family grew up in the restaurant industry. They are all fantastic cooks, and I started helping out in the kitchen at a very young age. I love trying new recipes and creating my own. Most of all – I enjoy hosting and cooking for others. It brings me great joy, and I am a self proclaimed foodie. During Covid, I cooked and sent photos of my food to family and friends that I couldn’t see in person. I ended up making an Instagram page called @foodieinquarantine to post all of the new fun things I was cooking. That page has since been retired, but I still cook nice meals every chance I get!

Soccer and basketball were my first loves.

I played soccer for ten years and basketball for eight. Since early middle school, I played on a traveling club team for soccer; Mia Hamm was my first role model. I had a huge growth spurt going into high school (5’6 in 8th grade to 5’11 freshman year) and decided to give volleyball a shot. They threw me on JV my freshman year simply because of my height– I could not even serve overhand and make it over the net at age fifteen. It was a rough start, and I did not enjoy the intro I had to this sport I am now obsessed with. Good news: I was stubborn. I stayed after practice every day with one of my coaches, just working on approach footwork and fundamentals, determined to improve. The next year things started clicking, and I knew this was what I wanted to do in college and beyond. It was all very exciting learning something new and challenging myself to adopt unknown skills. Indoor volleyball was my groove until I discovered beach volleyball as a junior in high school through a USA tryout. I became obsessed shortly after that, commuting from Temecula to Hermosa Beach any chance I could get to train. I still feel that energy inside of me as a player today– hungry as ever to learn and grow and see just where that apex of potential is for me as an athlete.

I was starting Libero my senior year of college.

Yep, I wasn’t expecting that either! I was an Outside Hitter and Middle Blocker while at USF. I suffered injuries to my shoulder and ankle and could not jump or hit as physically as I once had. When I transferred to UC Berkeley, my coach told me I needed to find another way to help the team. In my junior year, I became a defensive specialist. By my final season, I was the starting Libero. I’m 6’1. I felt major imposter syndrome, but I just put my head down and focused on the most important part of my new job – serve receive. I now realize it was a blessing in disguise because I used those two years rehabbing my shoulder and healing my ankle without the impact of hitting. I am now fully healthy for professional beach volleyball. It also didn’t hurt my beach game, focusing strictly on passing and ball control for two straight years!

2020 gave me new hobbies that will last the rest of my life – surfing and skiing!

Photo by @portosurfer on Instagram


Every off-weekend, you can find my boyfriend Chase and me either on the waves or in the mountains. We each have our own separate talents, passions, and goals, but equally enjoy the challenge of learning something new. Chase learned surfing for the first time. while I learned to ski and got better at surfing. I love the fact that both sports surround you in nature and are a constant search for flow and self improvement. It’s a nice outlet from being competitive 100% of the time. Surfing and skiing are two things I will continue to do long after I retire from professional volleyball. I love being active and outside, so I couldn’t ask for more fulfilling hobbies.

I am currently studying for nursing school and plan on working in the medical field after volleyball.

I have wanted to be in the medical field since very early in grade school. Science and the body were always easily my favorite subjects. I love learning and challenging myself intellectually, and I yearn to have a career geared toward helping others. Don’t get me wrong – I am obsessed with playing and plan to do so at the highest level for as long as possible. However, I have never been satisfied with only being an athlete. In college, I studied Public Health and took all of the pre-med courses just to leave my options open for medical or graduate school after I pursue my dream of beach volleyball. I long to combine being an athlete with my other passion for medicine. I want to impact others’ lives; getting my nursing degree can help me achieve that. Plus, who knows? Being a full time nurse requires working three days a week, so I may not ever have to let volleyball go!

Category: Athlete Stories, Fun

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