What drives me? Simply put: overcoming obstacles.
I love when people say that I can’t. The pure competition with myself to see what I can do is reason enough to keep going. I want to become the best possible version of myself, and achieve all my goals. Whenever I think about skipping a workout or not wanting to get out of bed, I think of how disappointed I’ll be if I didn’t do absolutely everything in my power to achieve my lofty goals.
Beginning my volleyball career in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was a challenge in itself. There was a narrow volleyball path paved in the great state of South Dakota. Most people stuck to basketball; volleyball was tossed to the side. I, too, planned to play basketball for as long as possible. Until I found volleyball. I became addicted. I could not get enough. I wanted to play every minute.
When I first started playing in junior high, my mom picked me up from school, took me directly to the gym to work out and practice, had dinner delivered by my mom, went back to practice, then finally went home late. That was my schedule on repeat. My coach, Mitch Lunning, saw potential in both me and the sport. His vision to create a volleyball club started in the basement of a church with one team.
To put in perspective how behind volleyball was in South Dakota, I was 14 playing on an 18s team. Playing up afforded me the experience to play with older and more advanced competition. I was the worst kid on the team, but I didn’t care. I wanted to compete and get better. I looked up to the older girls more than they’ll ever know.
What drove me? Being at the bottom – being young and competing with the best. I would focus on what each player did well and try to imitate that. In my eighth grade year, a junior college reached out with interest. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I wanted to commit right away, but my parents advised me to wait.
During my sophomore year, I went on a visit to Creighton University. It was only a two-hour drive from my hometown, and I had no idea this hidden gem was going to be my future. I went on the campus tour, and I again wanted to commit on the spot. I felt like I had to be there. This time I was old enough to make the decision, and I committed to Creighton. I’m so glad my parents had me wait.
In my first week in college, after years of waiting to play at my favorite school, I broke my foot. I was devastated, thinking my life was just over. Volleyball was my favorite “toy,” and it was taken away. I was out of commission, couldn’t practice, and adjusting to college academics and college athletics in one fell swoop. There were many times that I considered quitting. Thank goodness I had my best friends talk me out of it. I knew I had more to give.
When I recovered, they put me on the Right Side. I was so thankful to be back, but I was uncomfortable with that role. I was angry because I didn’t feel I performed well. Then, I reinjured my foot, my knee, and my wrist. I couldn’t believe it. But I kept trucking through the injuries and the discomfort at Right Side. Both situations helped form me into the player that I am today. As much as the challenges suck, embracing the suck pays off!
My team did well that year; some people that mattered took notice and invited me to the USA volleyball tryouts. I was surrounded by tremendous athletes and coaches; it was my idea of heaven. I set my eyes on the Olympics. That is what I wanted.
Two months later, I landed on someone’s foot at practice. I was out, AGAIN. Just writing this brings me back to a time filled with so much fear, anger, and emotions I want to shove in a box and never revisit. To be honest, I have no idea how I made it through my first year of college.
My body held up during my Sophomore year, but life is about adversity. My team wasn’t winning, so Coach decided we needed a change. I was taken out. I was devastated, but I made it my mission to find my way back on that court. I did whatever it took. Eventually, I got the chance to prove myself as an Outside Hitter. Thanks to purposeful practice and a healthy dose of adrenaline, I cracked the lineup as an Outside at Creighton University.
After something like that happens, you are grateful for each point. At the collegiate level, everyone is so talented. You can be replaced at any time. What a lesson! We made the Elite 8 that year, unreal results from our team, again reminding me not to quit when things are tough. The tough parts make the result that much sweeter.
Due to the Law of Averages, Junior and Senior years went without injuries. We hosted the NCAA tournament both years. I went to China with the top USA team and Europe with the Creighton team. Life could not have been better. I was on top of the world, seeing sights that I had only seen on TV and never imagined I’d see in real life. I was traveling the globe and playing the sport I loved. After getting a small taste of summer traveling and playing, I wanted to play professionally overseas.
When I told my family, my Uncle Tony said, “Taryn, when are you finally going to be done playing volleyball? Don’t you get sick of it?”
I had honestly never thought of it like that. Were there days that I absolutely did not want to go to a morning lift, school, and then a three-hour practice? Of course. But I didn’t think of it as a chore. I wanted to go get better. I wanted to be there and make the sacrifices. Did I miss out on events, parties, and family functions? Without a doubt. But everyone close to me knew that volleyball was what I wanted and would support me through all of it. I don’t regret anything.
Before starting my professional indoor career, I wanted to round out my education and use up all my NCAA eligibility. Which meant one short year of beach volleyball. That was 2019.
One “quick year” later, I am still in Louisiana. From 2019 to 2021, my goals flipped upside down. I met new people, found a new home, and had experiences that I never knew were possible.
But it hasn’t always been easy. Let me try and make you realize how hard it is to be dumped in a new state, submerged in a new sport, and immersed in a new culture all at once. I left practice angry with my lack of beach ability every day that winter semester.
I played on and off, but didn’t make our NCAA Champs team. I still went and cheered my girls on, screaming at the top of my lungs. One week later, I made my way to California, where I was invited to train with the Indoor National Team. The day Coach Karch Kiraly called me to invite me out to the gym, I had a total of zero words. I cried for a whole day with so much joy and happiness.
I was utterly drained from beach volleyball, and indoor volleyball emerged as my comfort. I was training with the best volleyball players, players I had watched in the Olympics. I couldn’t believe it was real life! I knew pro indoor volleyball was my next move after LSU. Beach was so challenging, I didn’t play, and I loved indoor.
Of course, we know that didn’t happen. And, of course, it didn’t happen without adversity. One month into indoor training, I went to attack in warmups and came down with a back injury. To this day, I have not played another game of indoor volleyball.
I went home to South Dakota. It was one of the lowest points of my life. I needed time to recover from mental and physical suffering and the pause of my dream, at least for another year.
I was not ok. I was broken again. I couldn’t deal with my dreams ending because my body would not work. I was so angry and went into a state of intense sadness. I had placed most of my worth in my identity as a volleyball player.
In all of my sadness came the realization – weeks later- that I hope every other volleyball player will realize sooner than I did. THIS IS A GAME. WE ARE LITERALLY PLAYING A GAME OF “DON’T LET THE BALL TOUCH THE GROUND.” LIFE IS SO MUCH MORE.
With that piece of knowledge, I picked myself up and refocused on what I wanted. How could I go back to LSU after being benched for the NCAA tournament? Could I handle the defeat of not playing again? I pushed all of that aside and decided that I would do absolutely everything in my power to show the coaches I should play.
We all know how 2020 changed the whole world. For me, the pause in life made all the difference… in a good way. The start of the year was incredible. We were ranked #1 in the country, but the season was over two days later. I went spiraling down into what seemed to be a bottomless hole of questioning everything.
Why did this have to happen? Do I go back to LSU for another year? Do I finally move on to professional indoor volleyball, which had been my dream for years? By May of 2020, I had made my decision. Beach volleyball, yet again. I could not get past the idea that I never got to play at Nationals on the sandy beach of Gulf Shores, Alabama.
I imagine that if I had been able to play the NCAA tourney in my first beach season, I would no longer be playing beach volleyball. I would have moved on. But I wanted another shot. I wanted to challenge myself to get as good as possible and help the team win a National Championship. I came back to Louisiana and started training, training hard. Probably the hardest I had ever worked. The entire world was shut down, so I could pour all my energy and efforts into improving. There were more mentally draining practices and leaving angry but starving for more growth!
That summer of 2020, I signed up for my first AVP membership and started playing. I haven’t stopped. There were so many tournaments in cool locations; I wanted to play in them and explore. Kristen and I had a successful first season playing together. Once 2021 and my final year of eligibility came up, I was ready for LSU beach volleyball for the third time!
It was my seventh season of NCAA sports. This was it, for real this time. There was no other time. I wanted to finish beach volleyball on a high note and then play professional indoor overseas. Boy, was I wrong again.
Needless to say, things have changed. Beach volleyball is now my profession. I could have stopped volleyball my seventh-grade year when there was no volleyball to be found. I could have stopped Freshman year at Creighton after being injured. I could have stopped caring after being pulled from the lineup Sophomore year of college. I could have moved on from the transition to beach after being benched the first time. The challenge to keep pushing with my support system made it all worth it! Everything happens for a reason.
What drives me? My failures.