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8 Things You Didn’t Know About Kyle Friend

First of all, getting asked to write about myself for the AVP has me still floating on Cloud 9. The same AVP I grew up watching and wishing that one day I would compete at that level. Look how far we have come! Life is trippy, and I love it.

My goal before writing this article was to be as vulnerable as possible. While at the same time providing some insight into what makes me…well, me. 

I hope you enjoy.

I love all sports, but tennis was my first passion.

When I say all sports, I mean all sports. I could play or watch them any day of the week. When I’m not playing volleyball, you can usually catch me in the mountains snowboarding, on the course playing golf, shooting hoops, or playing tennis with some friends. 

As a wee youngster, standing only at 5 feet 9 inches, I started playing tennis. I played for five years before high school. I went to lessons three times a week for years. The footwork, the movement of the game, the arm swing – it all has an astonishing similarity to volleyball. My mom, Gayle, played tennis in college, so she is to thank for introducing me to this amazing sport. Also, a big shoutout to my growth spurt that I had at age 14. Wouldn’t be here without ya. 

During Covid, I picked up tennis again. I played more tennis in the last year with friends than I have in 10 years. And what’s even crazier: my muscle memory is still there! But now, I am 20 years older, and I actually have some muscles. Not a lot, but some. And they perform the same movements with much more strength and control! Mind-blowing. Our bodies are unbelievable.

I spent five years living in Europe playing professional indoor volleyball.

Before my first season in Germany in 2011, I had never been to Europe. My first trip there was a volleyball tryout, and that was almost my last European experience. I was very close to never playing pro at all. 

Picture this: it is the last night of a two-week pro volleyball tryout, and I’m drunk in my hotel room just outside of Venice. I’m flying back to Florida in the morning because I didn’t land a contract. My agent calls me at 10 pm, and lo and behold, he got me a tryout for a club in Hildesheim, Germany. The very next morning, instead of flying home, I am at the Venice train station trying to buy a ticket to some town I can’t even pronounce. Good times.

 My first season was Northern Germany, followed by two years in Sweden and then two more years in Northern Switzerland. Of course, I traveled to many different countries during those years, exploring every chance I could. Any free weekend, I would try to see other cities with teammates. 

Switzerland was my favorite team and also my favorite place to live. I lived in Näfels, a small farming village situated in the middle of the Swiss about 45 minutes south of Zurich in the canton of Glarus. Mornings saw balcony breakfasts with cowbells ringing in the background, the smell of manure just tickling your nostrils. Oddly, the scent pairs quite nicely with avocado toast and a latte. On our road trips, my teammates would say that once you could smell the cows, we were close to home.

The highlight of my time in Switzerland was winning the Swiss Cup and being named MVP of the match in my last season. I ironically started on the bench for that finals and came in after the first set to make the difference. The lesson here kids: always be ready to play because you could be in the game the very next point and wind up winning MVP.

I went back to school to get my MBA after playing pro.

Yes, five years after taking my last test at Long Beach State, I decided to go back to take more tests and pursue my Master’s. I had an opportunity to be a graduate assistant for the Men’s Volleyball team at Concordia Irvine. Their head coach, Shawn Patchell, was one of my coaches when I was on the USA Youth National Team. He reached out and thought it’d be a good fit. 

When I started school, I wasn’t sure what my post-grad path would be, whether coaching at a collegiate level or pursuing a career in business. I had always enjoyed working with youth. Coaching club teams in the past was rewarding. At Concordia, helping college kids tackle various challenges was also something I thoroughly enjoyed. Mainly because I had just gone through it not too long ago.  It was like having a bunch of little brothers running around and looking to me for guidance. I wanted to give it all to them. I cherish those years with the Eagles; I learned more from those athletes than they know. 

My MBA program lasted two years. My mental fortitude was tested daily, with schoolwork harder than any I’d done in undergrad. Luckily, at the end of my program, I met a gentleman in my class who asked me to join his non-profit “Empowered Youth.” This started the next chapter of my life.  

For six months, I went into middle schools and various Boys and Girls Clubs teaching kids about health, nutrition, mindfulness, and how to take care of their bodies. We were teaching a “new age” health class, the skills and information most of my generation didn’t learn as kids but prove life-changing. It was such fulfilling and rewarding work. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t provide a steady income for living in southern California. 

That’s why when a former boss asked me to help him with his start-up, I jumped.

I am part owner of a start-up Cannabis Company. 

This is that start-up! I started three years ago, now I’m a part-owner. 

Thankful to have “mastered” business, I was asked to assist with the books and administrative duties for Kismet Organic. I started out so green but relished learning all the ins and outs of running a company. I am currently in charge of licensing, Inventory Management, MFG operations, and payrolls. I wear multiple hats, but that just means more opportunities to learn and grow.

Honestly, I never saw myself working for this kind of company, but I am so glad I do. I believe the industry is in its infancy and has massive potential. I have the freedom to keep pursuing my volleyball dreams, travel to different parts of the world competing, and, let’s not forget, sample some products here and there. For quality control purposes, of course. Not a bad gig at all.

I love to cook.

When I was a kid, my mom would make the most delicious meals. She grew up all over the world and learned a little bit from each country. Surprisingly, I did not have much interest in helping her in the kitchen when I was growing up. I was there for mandatory clean-up duties and optional but rarely missed cake bowl and spoon lickings with my sister. 

I never really cooked until my first year of professional volleyball. I cooked a few times in college, but it was pasta or putting steak on the grill. Simple things.

Professional volleyball was the first job in my life where my body’s health directly correlated to the money I was receiving. This concept switched something in my brain. Food became fuel, and cooking became an everyday health routine. 

Currently, cooking is my time to recharge the batteries. The whole process is cathartic. If I have some time to prepare a nice meal, that means things are exactly where they are supposed to be in the day. If you follow me on Instagram (@kylefriend10) you will see me posting “Kooking with Kyle” every once in a while. Cooking with a “K,” because… you get it.

A dream long-term project of mine is to host a cooking mini-series where I have athletes come to hang out while I cook them a meal. We’d talk about different topics, share stories, all while I walk them through what I’m preparing. So if you like sports and good food, keep your eyes open for Kooking with Kyle, coming to a screen near you. You’re welcome.

I live with April Ross.

Have you heard of her? No? Maybe? Only a two-time Olympic Medalist, Best Server in the World multiple times, Offensive Player of the Year, 39-time AVP Champ…the list is too long to continue.  I’ve been roommates with April for three years now. I know, so crazy, and such a small world. Welcome to the volleyball community.

I first met April in the summer of 2016, just after the Olympics had ended. I was going to play 4s with a few friends at their apartment in Newport Beach. There was a beach court inside the apartment complex where many USA Indoor National Team members were renting rooms during their summer training blocks. It always made for some high-quality 4s. April had a mutual friend and showed up to play one day. I was a bit star-struck, But I limited myself to only one photo with her in it, even though I wanted ten. I promptly shared that pic on my Instagram story, obviously.

That was five years ago. After countless dinners, chats, and game nights later – I have created a long-lasting friendship with April. Plus – training with Alix and April is an incredible perk. Any time I can be around such high-level athletes, there is always something to learn. 

I will never forget one day at training, I was playing defense against April, and she was chopping me up. After one cut shot that I got majorly burned on, I asked April what she saw. She said, “I saw you loading in your right leg, so I knew you were going to go left.” Loading in my right leg? My mind was blown. This made me extremely motivated to know that there is a whole other level of vision that I get to explore. 

April is a rockstar and also one of my best friends. I am thankful for the relationship we have. Love you, Roomie.

I struggle with the sight of blood, especially my own. 

I’m not talking about a paper cut or bloody nose. I’m talking about that open gash in your knee from when you were skateboarding way too fast down a steep hill and couldn’t stop when I told you it was a bad idea from the start. That actually didn’t happen, but if it did, I would be that person who would caution you before making such an irrational decision – shoutout to the many friends’ lives I’ve saved. You can thank me later.

One of my memorable incidents with blood was when I got my wisdom teeth taken out…for the second time. The first two were removed by a friend’s dad, who was a dentist. After seeing my X-rays, he insisted that he could pull them out without having to put me under to save my family a couple bucks. An hour in, he had just removed my second molar, and my shirt was drenched in sweat because I could hear and feel everything. He decided that next time, it would be best to extract the teeth while I was under. I agreed.

A couple of weeks later, after my mouth had healed, I had my other two removed. Before I went to bed that night, I needed to remove the gauze they put in my mouth. When I pulled it out, it was merlot red and dense from all the saliva and blood. Immediately, I felt the blood drain from my face and felt the curtain start to close. The combination of seeing the bloody gauze and the intense pain turned my face white, and the lights in my head went out. Night, night Kyle. Luckily, I fainted onto my sister, who gingerly guided my soulless body to the ground. 

No injuries were sustained, but it was a friendly reminder that I can never be a doctor.

I am gay. 

It actually feels nice to write that. It’s not something I write frequently. Rather excited to be at a place in my life when sharing that information is not stressful. 

I was 25 when I came out to my family in the summer of 2014. I am currently 32. I had been in the process of coming out for probably three years prior to that summer. Every year, breaking down a few more walls, deleting more stories I created in my head. Slowly learning to accept myself and to finally have honest communication with that inner voice. Trying to understand why this is happening to me while maintaining a front that everything is A-ok. 

A turning point for me was when I decided that my happiness was more important than anything else. Seems like such a simple concept: Do what makes you happy. But of course, easier said than done.

A roadblock to that feeling was telling my family after 24 years that I’m gay. That was probably a year of preparation to cross that bridge.  Choosing happiness meant I could lose close relationships. Choosing happiness meant the chance of getting ridiculed. Choosing happiness meant turning my whole life upside down. 

I was fortunate to have had friends who showed nothing but love and compassion for me. My family was a bit surprised in the beginning. They had a preconceived notion of what my future would look like, and I completely dismantled that entire vision. Change is hard. Change of this magnitude can be extremely hard. 

I have never been happier and more comfortable with who I am today. I would have never written something like this five years ago, and what that tells me is I am growing and learning more about who I am and who I want to be every year. That is kind of the exciting part about it all for me. Learning something completely new about yourself at the age of 24 and diving in headfirst. 

Secrets are painful to hold on to. They lurk inside your stomach and eat you from the inside out until you just can’t take it anymore. If my story can provide one less day of pain for someone struggling with who they are, then sign me up. And if you need a listening ear, I’m here. 

Always, your Friend.