Whenever I watch the sun set, I always try to take a moment to reflect on the day. To think back about what it brought, to appreciate the opportunities it presented to me, and to look forward to what tomorrow may bring. Being a professional beach volleyball player for the past decade, I’ve seen plenty of sunsets from plenty of beaches, but in my head, they always unfold in the same pattern; reflection, appreciation, and excitement. So it’s no surprise to me that as the sun sets on my time as an athlete, I keep finding myself circling back to all the things I got to do, how lucky I was to do them, and how excited I am for this sport that has meant so much to me.
Like anyone else who has played our wonderful game, I would have loved to keep going forever. But in the immortal words of Zapp Brannigan, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised.” My body just can’t do the things it used to, which says to me that it is a good time to hang up those boardshorts and go do something different. But before I start that new chapter, I’d like to take a second and look back on my time as an AVP athlete…
Reflection: I was a 24 year-old ex-baseball player who was seriously depressed about the direction of his life. I felt like I had more to give as an athlete; that I wasn’t ready to settle into a “real” job. I ended up coming into the sport of beach volleyball by chance; I was living on my best friend’s couch in South Carolina and there just so happened to be a beach court by the Tiki Hut. Stevie and I would go hit the ball around after work and on weekends. All of the sudden, I had that spark of excitement again. Who cares if I was terrible and losing to local high school girls? This game was fun and challenging and physical and dynamic; all of the things that I was missing from my days in baseball. I spent a year finishing my degree and living at home and working the door of a local bar for spending money, but all the while it was beach volleyball that gave me that spark of excitement any time I thought about the game. I made the only rational choice I could: I packed up my Jeep and drove across the country to Southern California because that’s where the best volleyball players live. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a job lined up or a place to live squared away or that I was nowhere close to being good enough to compete with professionals; beach volleyball gave me the chance to scratch an itch that I wasn’t going to be able to scratch anywhere else. It would give me the chance to push my physical limits and learn all the lessons inherent in sports and competition. (Humility, perseverance, acceptance, pride)
Because of that one decision, I’ve been able to: represent Team USA in tournaments in +20 countries on five continents, spend a decade living at the beach in California, and meet the love of my life. (She denies it to this day, but me telling her that I was a professional beach volleyball player was what got me that first date)
Appreciation: when I think back about my time in beach volleyball, the same line keeps echoing in my head. “I got to play with giants.” (I’m well aware that I was usually the biggest guy on the court; this is one of those metaphor things) I got a chance to compete with and against the best of the best. I battled Phil and Jake and Rosie on Sundays. I got the chance to learn from Rogey and Hyden. (Both as teammates and as guys across the net who taught me a thing or two) I got to watch Tri and Taylor and Trevor go from dumb kids who didn’t quite get the game to world-class players who can battle with anyone in the world on any given weekend. Hell, I even got Johnny Mayer to pump his fist once or twice. (A Mayer fist pump was the hype equivalent of a full-on Casey pop-and-lock) The opportunity to measure myself (again, metaphorically) against these greats weekend after weekend is something that fills me with gratitude.
Excitement: I’m excited to never lift legs again. (Never seemed to do me any good anyway)
Excitement, for real though: one thing I always hoped to do was leave the game in better shape than I found it. Most of that will obviously be out of my control; all you can do is help wherever you can and keep your fingers crossed that the right group of people come together with a vision of how to make it work. The volleyball community was very lucky when we got Donald Sun and the rest of the AVP squad. I’ve always had an interest in business and markets (my new job will be as a Team Financial Advisor for Morgan Stanley) so as a player, I had a front-row seat for the challenges these guys were facing while trying to bring the AVP out of bankruptcy. (They were taking shots from ALL sides; even sides you’d never imagine. Find me offline if you ever want to talk about it in detail) For us to have a (pre-COVID) tour of eight fantastic events in major cities all over the country is nothing short of miraculous. We have a huge crop of great young players, diehard fans who support the tour and its players, and the best referees in the world. (Even though I probably didn’t think so at the time; I’d still say that ball was in) And as I go full circle and return to solely being an AVP fan, I can’t wait to see what the next decade has in store.
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this ride with me. I’m nothing but grateful to all of you, and walking off into the sunset excited about the possibilities of tomorrow.