It was a sunny Friday afternoon in July of 2020, and I had just lost the Game to Get In for the AVP Champions Cup Series — for the third weekend in a row.
The past three weeks had been a rollercoaster of emotions. First: elation when I learned that my partner Kelley Reeves and I were on the shortlist of teams in the Qualifier. Then: incredible disappointment when I didn’t perform well enough to actually qualify to compete in these precious pandemic-delayed events.
I found myself at a real low point – questioning my ability to perform under pressure, to ever play at the next level; questioning every single volleyball-related decision I had ever made. How did I think I could do this? Why was I doing this?
To make matters worse, I had a person in my sphere of influence suggesting that I take a “hard look” at what I was doing and why I was doing it. Essentially, they told me to quit playing beach volleyball and move on to the next phase of life.
For context, I am originally from Rochester, NY. I had considerably more experience with snow than sand. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would grow up to be a professional beach volleyball athlete.
There wasn’t a paved path or any organic momentum that brought me here. I didn’t pick up a volleyball until I was 15 years old, and I didn’t step onto the beach court to compete until my sophomore year of college. After falling in love with the sport in 2015, I took on a lot of risk to pursue it, leaving a full indoor scholarship to walk on to the beach team at USC, 2,500 miles away from my family and friends.
After my first collegiate beach volleyball season, being a professional beach volleyball player became all I could dream about. Turning my love of the sport into a career? Sign me up. After graduation, I quickly learned that it is not always as glamorous as it first appeared.
I found myself physically and mentally exhausted after long days of practice and lifting, followed by evenings of running between multiple jobs, which I needed just to pay the rent. I had spent several years living thousands of miles away from my family. I was increasingly missing more and more major life events – new jobs, weddings, funerals, and everything in between.
Given the fight it took to get myself here and the continued daily sacrifices I had to make to make this work, I was vulnerable and confused when someone asked me if I thought I really had a future in this career.
It was then that I decided to figure out why I still choose to dedicate my life to this unpredictable, heart-wrenching, put-it-all-on-the-line-and-sometimes-you-still-come-up-short game. The sacrifices required to make this career work are unique and real. I needed to figure out exactly why I chose to make them again and again. It took me weeks of late nights spent reflecting.
Eventually, I found my Why.
Beach volleyball is the one sport that allows me to authentically be myself. It celebrates my favorite qualities by constantly testing both my mind and body and providing me with a competitive outlet unlike anything else. I feel most like myself when I step onto the volleyball court because it is the perfect combination of physical, mental, and spiritual stimulation.
To start with the obvious – physically, I look like a volleyball player. People walk up to me all the time and ask how tall I am or what sport I play. I am 6’3″, definitely one of the taller players on Tour (shoutout to my mom and dad for passing on those tall genes). It’s natural to assume that I like playing volleyball because my stature gives me an advantage.
While my height might have initially attracted me to the sport, there’s a more meaningful reason why I continue to push myself to play at the peak of my physical ability. Simply put: being blessed with a healthy body to do it.
Growing up, I watched as my grandfather, aunt, and uncle all suffered from myotonic dystrophy – an inherited disorder in which a person’s muscles progressively grow weaker and waste away. Over time, as I grew older and stronger, simple tasks like standing up and walking around became harder and harder for them. Never once would they complain about their situation, but watching my loved ones live with this disorder made me realize just how incredibly blessed I am to have a capable, healthy body.
I will never take my ability to run and jump with ease for granted. It brings me so much joy to exercise my muscles, get my heart rate up, and make it through a challenging practice simply because my body can handle it. I feel beyond grateful for the instrument that is my body. I want to continue to celebrate it in every way that I can. Pushing it to the limit of its physical ability through beach volleyball seems the perfect way to do just that.
Besides just the physical aspect of the sport, I’m drawn to beach volleyball because of the unique mental requirements of the game. Anyone who knows me knows that I love puzzles. I studied accounting in college solely because preparing financial statements or doing taxes felt like one giant puzzle. I have a very analytical mind, and beach volleyball allows me to tap into that.
The coolest part? The answers to the puzzles I’ve encountered in beach volleyball are constantly changing. It is a constant work in progress to get ahead of an opponent by adjusting a game plan mid-match. It is an endless growth process to remain engaged with your partner and make sure you are communicating clearly. It takes persistent determination to stay mentally tough through about a million different situations you might experience in competition.
The icing on the cake is that beach volleyball is a two-person sport with no subs and nowhere to hide if you’re not playing well. Because of this, it is up to you alone to take responsibility for how you perform. You need to be mentally tough enough to handle whatever this sport might throw at you.
My growth as a volleyball player has become more than just practicing the physical aspect of the game. I find mental training just as important as physical training; I absolutely love it. Equally strengthening my mind and body makes me feel complete. No wonder I am drawn to this unique sport in which you must use both to succeed.
So that covers the mind and body, but what about my spirit? I truly believe my spirit was built to compete. That might sound corny, but it is true! Ever since I was little, I have made everything into a competition – card games at recess, backyard badminton with my sisters to see who had dishes that night, betting my dad a dollar that I could jump and touch the doorframe of every store in the mall. You name it, and I could turn it into some sort of competition. It got a little out of hand at points, and I remember years when my sisters refused to play any sort of games with me.
I like to think I have reined it in a little now (my sisters have agreed to play with me again), but there is still nothing that will get me more fired up than some good, old-fashioned competition. Having the ability to compete every day at practice or in a match is good for my soul. It’s not necessarily about the wins and the losses. It’s more about the feeling of rising to a challenge and putting myself to the test, proving to myself that I can and will fight with everything I have. This is the feeling I live for, the feeling I’m constantly chasing with beach volleyball.
So here I am, still competing, still loving every second of this process through all the wins and even through all the losses. Fully understanding my Why of pursuing this career sport got me back on track and training again at the end of 2020. It is what allowed me to push through Country Quota loss after Country Quota loss to eventually win a couple of medals on the FIVB in 2021.
My Why is what sends me out to the beach for practice every day, to eagerly prepare for our first full season post-COVID in 2022. It has kept me in Hermosa Beach, over 2,500 miles away from the four people who mean more to me than anyone else in the world. And it is what drove me to write this article and attempt to articulate just how much this sport really means to me.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be on the path that I’m on and have found what is the perfect career for me. I know my Why now, the purpose behind what I do. Win, lose, or draw – I will do whatever I need to do to be here, purely because of the passion I feel in my mind, body, and soul when I’m playing my game.