Retiring from volleyball is such a loaded decision.
Most of us have been playing this game our whole lives, groomed from a young age to keep a ball off the ground. We gave up weekends in high school and a typical college experience, instead opting for 6 am workouts and two-a-days and tournaments. Volleyball paid for most of our college education and convinced us to move across the country to make a career of it. It’s been our life for so long, an identifier and fickle frenemy.
Amanda Dowdy Lawson is no exception. Played growing up and excelled at Texas Tech University. Competed professionally indoor overseas in Germany and Puerto Rico. Moved to California to play pro beach for over half a decade. Excelled on the AVP Tour, earning four 3rd places and safely sitting in the Main Draw for almost her entire career. Earned multiple medals for Team USA on the FIVB Tour. She even met her husband, Brad Lawson, on the AVP Tour. Volleyball has been a central component in every step of Amanda’s journey. So her retirement from the sport came with much mental gymnastics, counsel, and prayer.
She started thinking about retirement in late 2019 after a nagging knee injury morphed into a potential life-altering surgery. “Hearing that if I kept playing, I’d be on track for an eventual full knee replacement was devastating. But my husband and I were already looking at houses in Texas. We wanted to have a home and to settle somewhere. I didn’t know what a move would mean for volleyball, but I knew my heart was leading me back to Texas, back to my family. So I had the whole thing planned out – 2020 would be my last season.”
While the Lawsons navigated that reality plus house hunting in another state and a dooming knee injury, the pandemic put the proverbial nail in the California coffin. They moved to Texas in March 2020. And once they moved, Amanda’s suspicion was confirmed.
She absolutely adored being back in Texas with her husband and family and a new home. “I got to see life outside of my sport for the first time ever. I got to take a break and rest my knee. I got to be in my hometown and see my family all the time. I started building my life with my husband. And I realized – this is what my heart’s really been wanting and really been missing. The pandemic slowly but surely started to shift my perspective of what I wanted in this chapter of my life.”
Amanda’s strong relationship with God also brought her vital clarity throughout her decision-making. “God was showing me that it’s okay to step away from volleyball. Ultimately, that decision alone was a huge fear of mine.”
While Amanda planned for 2020 to be her last season, the pandemic threw a wrench in that linear thinking. Was an abbreviated three-tournament series enough? She wrestled with wanting to stick it out for another season to finish the way she’d imagined. Especially after the Champions Cup Series didn’t go the way she planned.
“It was tough for me to be out there,” she says of the three-week stint in California. “I was by myself in the middle of a pandemic. It was also hard on my knee to maintain three weeks of training every day and then competing on the weekends. I was missing home. Eventually, I realized: I want my people, I want my support system.
“The whole experience was just not how I envisioned. You know, every athlete has that fantasy of their perfect retirement. It was actually the complete opposite of that fantasy vision. It’s not how I wanted to go out, so I really struggled with that for a long time.”
Amanda went home after the three Qualifier losses in Long Beach and reconvened life with her husband. It didn’t take long before she decided she was ready to hang up her hat on a six-year professional beach career. “After that series, I just had to let go and let God. I felt like he was telling me to move on. And then I let that sit for a couple of months, and after that, I was like, ‘Okay, now I know I’m ready.’ I gave myself time to process not only my entire career but especially the end of my career and quickly realized that my success as a professional volleyball player does not hang on my experience at the Champions Cup Series. I have a lot to be proud of in my career and yes, while I wish I could’ve gone out on top, I am happy and satisfied with all that I have accomplished in my eight years as a pro. I made my mark on the sport and am grateful for the journey it took me on.”
It took her some time to be ready to announce it to the world. “I’ve really been struggling with making my retirement public. But everything eventually just made sense, finally came full circle. I felt like God was just like, ‘Hey, you’re in my way. I’m ready to work in your life, but I need you to close this chapter.’ I get emotional just thinking about it and knowing it is time to make my retirement known. If it wasn’t for AVP, I would have never had the opportunity to be a professional beach volleyball player. So I knew I wanted to coordinate with them to make my public announcement.”
Amanda reached out and asked me to tell her story. She doesn’t take this lightly. Though she’s ready, it doesn’t feel easy. “It’s really hard to move on from this dream and let it die in a sense. When I started this sport, I thought I wanted something totally different. And then, as I was competing each year, I think my heart was pulling me to where I am today. So in a lot of ways, God has answered my prayers and that’s a really cool feeling.”
So what does life after volleyball look like? Short answer – very normal. Amanda is working in a business development role at her family’s plumbing company. She’s loving the challenge and all the new skills required. She and Brad are building a new home just north of Austin. And in the next few years, they’ll try adding to their family.
Amanda will still stay involved in volleyball through clinics – coaching young players and sharing her experience as a pro. “It’s always been a dream of mine to give back in that way.” She’s also partnered with a local company called ROI Physical Therapy and Sports Performance who has helped her physical recovery tremendously. “I do feel like someday I’ll be able to play recreationally or go play for fun with Brad. Maybe someday I’ll get into coaching. But right now I know I need a break from volleyball. I want to explore other areas of my life before committing back to volleyball again. Volleyball is who I am and what I have done for so long that I am excited to get to know myself away from the sport.”
Amanda and I had our phone conversation on a sleepy Saturday morning. It was casual and candid, and we both got goosebumps (and I’m pretty sure both teared up). Because Amanda was one of the first people I met when I moved here, her retirement hits differently. I viscerally felt the strain between the life she knew and loved and the life ahead, one she craves but is unfamiliar with.
Her retirement is also coming at a time when a lot of AVP players are moving on. COVID-19 was challenging for everyone to navigate, and I’d never say pro beach volleyballers had it the hardest. But there was something that shifted in many athletes – identity, goals, purpose, perspective. Some people were more fired up about the game, doubling down on their workouts and training. Others like Amanda and Ryan Doherty and myself took the opportunity to grow outside of the game, exploring different lines of work and new passions.
At one point in our conversation, Amanda said it was hard to let her dream die. That comment didn’t sit right with me. Though I knew what she was saying, I disagreed with the sentiment.
Amanda lived out her dream. It didn’t die – it timed out. She lived the life. She was a pro indoor and beach volleyball player for eight years. That’s the dream, and now the dream has changed. When I told her this toward the end of our conversation, she sighed, her relaxation palpable through the speakerphone. “Thank you,” she said. “That is a perfect reframe.
“I did get to live out this dream, and it was amazing. I loved every second of it. It was a grind, but it was so much fun. I learned a ton about myself. And it’s how I met my husband. Going back to how God answered my prayers – now I’m transitioning into what I always dreamed about: my marriage, hopefully being a mom someday, being near family. Volleyball has enriched my life so much; I’ve met so many amazing people, formed relationships, and got to travel the world. My hope is that I can continue to use that platform in some way, and I am excited to see how it will all unfold. But I agree with you – I definitely feel like I got to live out my dream.”