Amanda Dowdy is one of the first AVP athletes I met when I moved to Southern California six years ago. She and my roommate Jess Mendoza were (and still are) great friends, so I met her in the first few weeks upon arrival. It was the night of the inaugural College Football Championship game; the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Oregon Ducks.
But I hardly remember the game. What I remember is Amanda’s homemade venison chili and the Instagram memes we laughed at.. It was an easy and fun night, the kind you’d have with old friends.
Amanda’s like that – easy to talk to, laughs and smiles often, and embodies Southern Hospitality like it ain’t nothing. Like so many other Reach the Beach athletes, her story includes twists of fate and unlikely turns that landed her right in the heart of beach volleyball.
My name Amanda Dowdy Lawson, and I just finished my sixth year as an AVP Pro. I am originally from the small town of Lexington, TX. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? Don’t worry, not many people have. It’s a town of about 1100 residents. Yes, you read that right. There are more people at AVP Hermosa Beach than there are in my hometown. If you look on a map, you will notice that Lexington is nowhere near the beach and is surrounded mostly by farmland, but close to Austin. I spent my childhood on a ranch where my nearest neighbor was more than a mile away. I was raised around cattle, horses, chickens, cats, and dogs. Name the farm animal, and chances are we raised it. I am the youngest of four children, which I loved because I always had someone to play games with and compete against. At the Dowdy Ranch, there were nonstop competitions in our yard. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.
Growing up, I immersed myself in every sport I could find. I excelled in basketball, volleyball, and high jump throughout my high school years. I went on to play indoor volleyball at Texas Tech University. After a successful four years of collegiate volleyball, I went on to play indoor professionally in Germany and Puerto Rico. What an experience that was!
I always tell people who ask about my indoor career that the overseas life is either for you or it’s not. Personally, I loved the experience but quickly found that it was not a life I wanted to live. Being oceans away from my family for most of the year was really tough. The language barrier and lack of other American teammates didn’t help either. I’m grateful for my time overseas. I matured a lot, and it proved a catalyst in my pursuit of beach volleyball. Let me explain…
My journey to beach volleyball started back in 2005 on my 15th birthday. The first time I saw beach volleyball was when my older brother took me to watch the AVP Austin Open. It was love at first sight. I remember watching Kerri and Misty on center court with wide eyes and dropped jaw. I was in awe of their talent and physicality. The seed was planted that day.
Somewhere deep in my heart, I knew that I would find my way to the beach. Fast forward eight years to 2013 – I officially hung up my kneepads and moved back to Austin. It was then that the door to beach volleyball started to slowly open. I met passionate beach athletes at local Texas tournaments and started playing just to stay in shape. Then I caught the bug. I was hooked. I loved every minute of it. It challenged me, and I enjoyed meeting new people and competing in my home state. What sweetened the deal was that if I chose to play professionally, I could fulfill my dream here in the States.
Later that same year, I remember sitting with my cousin, who is practically my sister, on her bed in South Austin. We were roommates at the time and both trying to figure out our next step in life. Our entire lives had coincided up until that point; we were always in the same life stage. That day, she told me that she was moving to Nashville. After the initial shock dissolved, I said right back, “Well, looks like I’m moving to California!” There was no way I was getting left behind in the pursuit of dreams.
But that’s when the reality started to set in. I was nervous, scared, and excited all at the same time. I knew I had to take this step if I really wanted to pursue beach volleyball at the professional level, but I had no idea how it would all work out. So, in May 2014, I took a leap of faith, packed my bags, and purchased a one-way ticket to LA.
I was lucky enough to succeed early on in my career, being named the AVP Newcomer of the Year in 2014. The mentors and veteran partner I had my first year really helped me achieve that honor. I remember jokingly saying that I was learning at turbo speed that year. I would leave some practices feeling so defeated and questioning everything I was doing. Some days I left in tears; it was hard. But it was all shaping me into a more complete professional. I gained experience on the court that I craved. I was a hard-working sponge, and daily improvement was my main motivation. I am so grateful for that challenging rookie season. It gave me a great perspective on what it means to be a professional in this sport.
Life on the AVP Tour since that first year has been quite the adventure. Every year holds something new. I have experienced different teammates, coaches, and travels. One thing I learned early on is there will always be adversity. Just when you think you have seen it all, you get introduced to something new. Ask any AVP athlete, and I guarantee that they have at least 10 different stories to tell that are all equally unique, hilarious, and amazing.
I remember life coming full circle for me in 2017 when Austin was re-added to the AVP Tour schedule. It was the first time since 2005 that the AVP would be back in my home state. That was the very same stop that sparked my beach volleyball dream. Now, thirteen years later, I was living out that dream in real-time. It got even better when my teammate and I fought our way to a 3rd place finish with all the locals and Dowdy’s Rowdies cheering us on. I was home. It’s still one of my most cherished memories on tour.
In the beginning, my sole reason for moving to California was beach volleyball. But as I reflect, I realize that it has given me so much more than just beach volleyball. Southern California is where I learned who I am and what I want out of life. It is where I met some of my closest friends, where I met my husband, and where I experienced some of my greatest moments and greatest defeats. SoCal is where I discovered that I have what it takes to compete on the AVP Tour. It will forever be a special place for me.