For me beach volleyball wasn’t my “first love”, as a kid I was definitely more serious and intense about indoor. I would play beach in the summertime but I really just thought of it as the “offseason” where I could increase my vertical and have the most fun playing and laughing with one of my best friends. In hindsight beach season was always there to remind me how much I just loved to play volleyball. A tiny piece of me always knew I would end up pursuing it more longterm because of the joy I have when I play it.
My dad started a beach volleyball club in Calgary at the Volleydome when I was 12 years old. At the time there were two indoor beach courts so we were able to play a bit during the winter time. My older brother Ben was only about 15 but he was already discovering that beach was pretty important to him. For some reason my dad named the club “Maximum beach”. My middle name is “Maxime” and my dad had named the club after me. I found this strange at the time but I felt a lot of pride to be so connected to beach and to my family.
Flash forward to the summer of 2004, I was now 14 years old and I got the opportunity to go to California to watch Ben train and play in some beach tournaments with a few of his buddies. They trained pretty hard that summer and that’s when Ben really decided that he would play beach forever as his future career. One of the other guys had a little sister too, Maddy, so her and I became “bff’s” and decided to play in a u14 tournament together while we were down there. I don’t remember much about how we did, but I remember that I laughed 90% of the time and I loved being able to listen to music, dance and get a killer tan while we played. I was freakishly competitive when I played indoor, so being there on the beach was a nice way to just take the pressure off, enjoy myself and really just live in the moment. Maddy and I and our families decided to go watch an AVP event in Hermosa beach that summer. As we walked around the venue there were huge posters of Kerri Walsh, Misty May, Karch Kiraly, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers hanging everywhere. The boys went to watch Phil and Todd while Maddy and I went to watch Misty and Kerri with our moms. They absolutely dominated and Maddy and I were immediately obsessed with them. She would try to be like Misty and I would try to be like Kerri from then on. After the match we waited in a line of screaming little girls.. Okay, we were two of the screaming girls.. We watched them wave to us as they ran by after winning the gold. A similar thing was happening as Ben and his friends watched Phil Dalhausser, but Ben isn’t much of a screamer.
I continued to play beach and visit California during the summers throughout high school. Sometimes indoor provincial team or indoor prospects camps would take priority, but I was in love with California and playing beach with my best friend, so we did our best to get down there to play in the youth events. When I was 16 years old Maddy and I and two other friends, Jack and Chelsea, went down to Hermosa beach with a coach for a month. We would warm up every morning by running from pier to pier which took about 30 minutes, or by doing what felt like a torturous amount of sprints followed by a core workout. Then we would practice twice a day. Every weekend there were tournaments so I think we got to play in 4 while we were down there. After the sun went down we would play board games, go boogie boarding, explore the shops and restaurants along the Hermosa Beach pier, or even go try to play volleyball in the dark (as if 4 hours of practice and a 30 minute beach workout a day wasn’t enough). For a 16 year old girl from Balzac, this California place was pretty freaking exciting. Again, now 3 years later, we got to go to an AVP event to watch. We were stoked to watch Kerri and Misty dominate, again, as if we were stuck in a time machine. After the game we went extreme fan girl and rushed the court to get our picture taken with them after the game. I stood next to Misty May, I still have the picture. (Maddy and I went once more together when we were 20 years old to watch Misty and Kerri play together the season before they went on to win their 3rd olympic gold medal).
The following summer I returned to California for a tournament with my partner Amber. We had an amazing experience, a million laughs and we even won the Jr. Olympic Qualifying event for the U18 division (while wearing swimsuits and long socks because the sand was too hot for our canadian feet to handle). That was the summer of 2008 which happened to be the same year as the summer olympics. Amber and I sat in a hotel room with her parents as we watched Kerri Walsh and Misty May win the gold medal for the second consecutive time. They had made history. In my memories those summers playing beach in California still have kind of an exclamation point next to them as being some of the best memories of my life.
When I went to University at OSU, indoor continued to take over on a whole new level. For my first year as a collegiate athlete all I did was: eat, practice, lift, eat, go to class, take 3 hour naps.. everyday, eat, do homework, sleep, repeat. This whole moving away from home and growing up thing was pretty daunting for me, but I liked the structure and schedule and friendships that being part of the team provided. During my first off-season instead of playing beach I just lifted heavier, ran more and practiced harder with my indoor team. Pretty quick I started to realize that I didn’t just enjoy beach, I needed it. I needed that time to just play, to just laugh, to just dance and enjoy the sunshine. So, on top of our scheduled team practices and strength and conditioning sessions I made myself some friends and we would play beach together on weekends (Mark, Max, Brian, Paul, Erik thankyou!) In a weird way playing MORE made me MORE excited about the game again. These guys were pretty nuts. They would want to play from 8am to 8pm or as long as the sun was shining. I noticed that I was almost envious of them because they were having SO MUCH FUN and they really didn’t care if they made mistakes. They cared less about who won and lost and more about the memories that were being made. It transported me back to my days in California with Maddy and Amber. The boys would also ask me questions about what it was like to play for OSU and how proud it must make me. I started to understand how much pride people could have in us and in the sport I sometimes took for granted. Up to this point I had been so serious, so intense just to keep my head above water trying to keep up with my incredibly athletic teammates. Playing beach was a good reminder that I needed to enjoy and also take pride in the process and the progress that I was making along the way. I used that Chintimini beach atmosphere to help me with indoor because out there I was able to try new things and laugh without fear of failure. Being confident, aggressive, goofy, passionate and free on the beach with my friends translated to being the same way in indoor for the next couple of seasons.
After my 4th and final season of indoor at OSU, I had this sense of satisfaction and I just kind of knew I was ready to be done playing. I felt that I had played at the highest level my 5’11 height would allow as an outside hitter. I took 3 months completely off of volleyball which would be the first time I had done that since I was 12 years old. I was applying for grad schools and academic advising positions all over Oregon and the States and planning my future with my boyfriend, Brendon, with the idea that playing serious volleyball was a chapter of my life that was now over. Brendon had other plans. One day he was on youtube and he started to watch some beach volleyball, Kerri Walsh and April Ross against Brazil I think. Immediately I got mad at him and told him he needed to turn it off. Instead, he turned it UP and I left the room. For the next few weeks Brendon kept testing me and playing beach matches on my computer every chance he got. I would continuously ask him to TURN IT OFF. He started to ask me why it bothered me to much to watch something that had been such a huge part of my life. I explained that watching just made me miss it, terribly. I needed that part of my life to be in the past so that I could focus on the future. I needed to be a grown up now and get a real job with my new degree. I knew how much time it had taken my brother Ben to get to where he was and I figured it was already way too late for me. Brendon somehow got me to agree to sit down and watch a game with him. When I finally did I realized that I just NEEDED to keep playing. If I didn’t pursue beach now I probably never would, and then every time I thought about volleyball or watched volleyball I would have that pit in my stomach wondering “what if”. I called my dad and my brother to make sure I wasn’t going completely insane trying to pursue an impossible feat. I knew that the two of them would be straight with me. They were both excited and believed in my potential. Having that unconditional support, advice, training & coaching from my dad, my brother and my boyfriend who have all been high level athletes has been a major gift along the way.
The summer after my senior season at OSU I got to watch my first FIVB world tour event in Long Beach, California. This time my older brother was playing in the event and I have never felt SO proud of anyone. I just thought about his story and how far he had come. Like, how many 16 year old kids know exactly what they want to do when they grow up and then actually put in the work to make that happen. I’m sure a lot of people thought.. what are the odds that a kid from such a small town in Alberta, Canada (where it snows for practically half the year) would actually become a world class beach volleyball player of all things. I just felt like I was getting a front row seat to a real life success story where my kid brother is now in the same professional tournament as Kerri freaking Walsh (and Ben’s own childhood hero, Phil freaking Dalhausser). Maybe I’m a little biased but.. HOW COOL IS MY BROTHER, he’s Ben freaking Saxton. Again I got to watch Kerri Walsh and her new amazing partner April Ross play, but this time they played against a couple of girls that were my age, 21 at the time. I found myself getting really jealous. It was the first time I thought to myself.. “Hey, if Ben could do this, and those young girls could do this, maybe someday I could actually do this”.
FLASH FORWARD TO 3 YEARS LATER..
Rachel and I have been competing together for just under a year now and it has been such a whirlwind. So far we have been to 9 international tournaments (1 Challenger, 6 Norcecas and 2 FIVB opens). Although every one of them has been amazing in it’s own way, this one was probably the most special for me. This weekend was the FIVB AVP tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio. So many AMAZING things happened all at once: 1. Rachel and I got a wild card into the main draw. 2. We had two teams in our pool that have already qualified for the Olympics in Rio (USA2 & China). 3. My mom and dad were able to come watch 4. It was my mom’s birthday while we were there! 5. Ben and I were in the same event for the first time. 6. Kerri Walsh & Phil Dalhausser were also in the event.
The first day we got there I kind of just walked around the venue in a state of euphoria having major flashbacks. The two beach volleyball players who most inspired me to start playing, Kerri and Ben, would both be playing. AND so would I, with another one of my best friends, Rachel. After one of Kerri’s matches I saw so many people (mostly little girls) lining up to get their pictures taken with her and April Ross. I almost started to cry wondering how I went from being a little girl in that line to here, wearing my very own jersey. I also looked around at all of the other female players and wondered if any of them ever “fan girled” Kerri before they started playing against her. Unfortunately Rachel and I didn’t actually get to play against her and April Ross, but we did get to play against 3 very high level teams. We lost all 3 of our pool play matches which landed us at 25th place. However, with each match the jitters melted away more and more and we started to do some great things as a team. I was amazed at how comfortable I felt by the end of the weekend. The more I continued to play and watch the more I realized that all of these women are, in a way, just like us. They are all human. They are all capable of great things. They are all pursuing their dreams. They also all make errors sometimes. They all get nervous & excited & mad. They are all so passionate about this game. They are all competitive and strong. And, they ALL must have their very own story which has led them there. Being there in such a professional atmosphere playing at that level opened my eyes to what we really play for. To be there among those athletes is somewhere I crave to be. It just made me SO thankful that I didn’t decide to give up 3 years ago or any of the times in between. Despite losing, as soon as we finished our last match I just wanted to do it all over again because I learned so much and I realized how long I’ve really been wanting this. It was a benchmark moment for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very competitive and I HATE losing, so this weekend certainly magnified my weaknesses and taught me what it really takes to be on tour. But it also magnified my obsession with getting better and getting back to another event like that. The amount of joy, gratitude and pride I felt was really irreplaceable. I feel so lucky to have been there and to have had that be my first FIVB main draw experience.
Beach volleyball wasn’t my first love, but it has always been a source of joy for me and I couldn’t be happier to represent Canada alongside my beach partner and my older brother. Thanks to every single person who has believed in me, encouraged me, supported me or been a part of my story up to this point. I have a LONG way to go, a lot of work to do, and a lot more memories to make. I wouldn’t have made this far without you ❤