Maka’a beach – west side of Oahu, known to be one of the deepest sand beaches in the world. I would never have imagined that I’d find myself here in January 2019, tripping over my feet, trying to get my sand legs during my first pre-season beach volleyball practice. If you were to tell my high-school self how my collegiate career would unfold, I never would have believed you.
In the time span of two years, I went from playing indoor volleyball for the Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina to moving halfway across the world, transferring to the University of Hawaii to compete in a sport I’d never played before. Why did I make this mid-collegiate athletics career switch? Concussions. I sustained four serious head impacts within a year. I was faced with deciding whether to give up indoor volleyball for good or find a safer alternative, like beach volleyball, that would allow me to continue athletics and complete the remainder of my NCAA eligibility.
Beach volleyball is far safer than indoor for a variety of reasons. To start, there are four fewer people to run into on the court, and the element of sand slows the game down substantially. Moreover, beach volleyball is tactically played differently than indoor; instead of trying to overpower the opponent, players try to place the ball in the open area of the court. Often, that looks like an off-speed hit. Lastly, the ball itself is a bit softer and larger than an indoor volleyball. This is not to say that receiving a concussion on the beach is impossible, but the probability is far slimmer for the above reasons.
When trying to return to the indoor court, I felt an unshakable fear. I knew the sport I once loved would never be the same again. Around this time, in the spring of 2018, I began practicing beach volleyball with the club team at Carolina, and the fear that plagued me was gone. At beach practices, I felt a newfound sense of freedom and joy on the court; I knew making the switch would be my opportunity to finish out my college athletics career without compromising my safety or mental health.
I started taking this possibility more seriously and asked a local, well-known beach coach in the area, Tristy Bittikofer, to formally train me on the sand. I emailed some beach programs on the West Coast to express my interest in playing beach volleyball. Rather than dipping my toes in the water, I jumped in the deep end, transferring to the University of Hawaii and moving to Oahu that summer.
I was scared of the unknown but saw God opening doors in undeniable ways that pointed me to this decision. My trust in God enabled me to take a blind leap of faith, knowing that He is for me, His plans are to give me hope and a future, and that He causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes (Psalm 118:6, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28). A devastating injury and my life’s most challenging season became the catalyst that launched me on the journey of a lifetime.
God has been so faithful, and seeing His sovereignty play out in my life has increased my faith all the more. The journey has not been easy by any means (even after healing from my concussions). I truly feel like I’ve been able to live out James 1:2, which says,” Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” I’ve seen an obvious heart change and fruit that’s been produced in my life as a result.
God redeemed my toxic relationship with sports by taking it away for a period and then graciously bringing it back into my life. I used to base my identity off of my sport and use it to fuel my pride. But now God uses beach volleyball as a tool to draw me closer to Him and to make me more into the image of His Son. I call beach volleyball practice a sanctification incubator. In just two hours, you’ll encounter a range of fluctuating emotions and clearly see the pride, jealousy, selfishness, anger, and fear often hidden in your heart. I invite God into the mess that is my heart and ask Him to help me in my weakness. God has done exceedingly and abundantly in my life, and I can’t help but praise His name!
This journey has led me to places I could never have imagined. I finished my undergraduate career at the University of Hawaii. Then I began a Master’s program at the University of Southern California while completing the remainder of my NCAA eligibility for the Trojans. This past year was my first year on the AVP and FIVB tours. I’ve been so blessed by all the amazing people I’ve met and the places I’ve traveled to. I look back on this journey of finding this sport and feel nothing but gratitude for the highs, the lows, and everything in between. Though it’s already been quite the journey, I can’t help but feel like it’s only the beginning.