FIVB Cincinnati Open. Worlds Colliding

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 ❤

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Guatemala Norceca 2016

This was our first event of the 2016 season and we finished 4th place. Reflecting on this tournament is hard because my head is trying to tell me to be proud of myself for how far Rachel and I have come in a year & to keep focussed on our long term goals. Yet, my heart gets so wrapped up in the ups and downs of wins and losses and I ultimately just feel pissed about losing our last 2 matches and being so close to getting a medal. It’s crazy to think back to one year ago. Rachel and I had JUST officially met and become beach partners. We were practicing outside together in BC in +7 degree celsius weather and we were pumped. Looking back we were clearly those indoor players who relied mostly on our physicality and needed a lot of work to do on our craft. To top it off we were completely shy and awkward around eachother. However, we both have always had a mutual respect for the way the other plays. I remember the first day we practiced together just thinking how I had never been around such a gifted athlete and I better play well enough not to lose that. I also remember being so happy to have found someone that just loved volleyball and would do pretty much anything with me to try to get better at it everyday. We didn’t play our first tournament together until June and our first International challenger event started on June 19th in Monaco. For me nothing will ever compare to stepping onto the court to represent Canada for that first time. In that moment the reality of it all hit me. I was really a “pro athlete”. I couldn’t stop looking around and thinking how amazing it was to be there, in freaking Monaco. To play volleyball. With a Canada “jersey” on. I was so stunned and I took in the moment SO much that I literally couldn’t even MOVE. Thanks to my nerves we were down 4-0 and had called a timeout before I could even process that I had to snap out of it. This wasn’t a dream anymore, it was actually reality. Not even at OSU in front of thousands of fans had I ever been quite that anxious. Nor had I ever felt that tremendous amount of responsibility to make sure that this opportunity wasn’t just going to be a one time thing. I will ALWAYS remember and be thankful for Rachel for being so patient, cool and calm for me in that moment. We ended up winning that first match and continuing to claw our way through pool play. We finished 4th at that tournament and I remember feeling so so proud of us.

Flash forward to 2016. It’s only March 14th and we have already been practicing for over a month and just had the opportunity to go to Guatemala City. Finishing 4th at this first tournament kind of helps me put things into perspective.

A lot of things haven’t changed.

1. I still think Rachel is the most athletic human being, probably even more so now than that first day I witnessed her jump and saw her 8 pack for the first time.

2. I still feel incredibly honored and an immense amount of responsibility every time I represent Canada. I was a kid once looking up to all these professionals. A lot of older athletes had a huge impact on me without ever knowing it. If even ONE kid is looking at me with those same googly eyes then I never want to do or say anything to let them down. I want them to see someone so passionate about what she is doing. I want them to find their own passion to pursue with so much joy in their hearts and to know that it is valid.

3. I still find every country we visit amazing in it’s own special way. Getting to Guatemala was the most turbulent filled flight I have ever endured and I seriously considered using the barf bag. When we landed I was to thankful to be on solid ground. Guatemala was much more artistic than I expected, there were so many statues and murals everywhere we drove. The walls surrounding the airport were filled a bunch of graffiti, but to me it looked really cool and so purposeful. Outside of our hotel there was a giant copper/metallic bull in the median which I took note of in case I got lost. On our drive to the courts I always waited for us to climb this big hill (in first gear with the engine revving) because once we got closer to the top there was this view of so many trees and different colored deserted buildings tucked away in the peeks of the high hills. The tournament venue courts had black sand which I have never seen or played on before. There were big stands where bus loads of school  kids dressed in white t-shirts would come to watch and cheer for the Guatemalan teams. Just across the street from where we played they completely shut down 5 blocks on the weekend for a giant slip and slide which looked AMAZING and so many locals were having a blast. Our hotel made me feel like I belonged in a Shakespearian play because of the architecture. We ate our meals in a ballroom where there was a stone structure with vines circulating it. On our floor there was a patio with a bunch of chairs, tables and mini gazebos with greenery hanging from them and a great view of the street below. The building literally made me feel underdressed like I should have packed the ballgown that I don’t even own in my suitcase.

Uhh.. I kind of just went on a complete tangent. BUT besides the similarities, there are also some things that are a lot different from our first practices and first event of last year:

1. Shy and awkward around eachother pretty much go out the window when you travel around the world and are continuously put into pressured situations with someone. Rachel and I have been excited, nervous, ecstatic, happy, sad, scared, exhausted, starving, hangry, delirious, pretty much every emotion imaginable around eachother. In my mind it is insane that Rachel and I were practically strangers a year ago and now I know I have a friend for life in her because of the memories we have shared and things we have conquered.

2. I don’t really get so nervous anymore. It was only our 5th international tournament, but this time I just finally really felt comfortable being a beach player and being a pro. Like I was finally right where I should be rather than actively trying to navigate my way from one game to the next.

3. Getting 4th at a Norceca event no longer makes me feel super proud and excited. We still improved and finished higher than we did at both Norcecas we attended last year. We still matched our highest international finish from Monaco, but now our expectations have changed. A year ago I was satisfied with 4th because I felt like we realistically finished pretty close to where we belonged. Now, even though today I’m still replaying so many of the mistakes I made, I know in a way it’s a good sign that I’m frustrated with 4th. I’m frustrated because I know we are capable of winning now. It’ll definitely be tough to do, we will both have to be ON, but I wouldn’t have had the confidence in myself as a beach player a year ago to think I could have won (let alone writing it down). The idea isn’t daunting anymore. It’s actually the most motivated and inspired I have felt in a really long time.

So, my head is able to put things into perspective. I know that as the days pass and we keep practicing and training the sting will hurt less and I will probably learn more because of it. I know that I am still obsessed with pretty much everything about this sport, the way it challenges me, the joy it brings me, the places I get to go and the people I get to meet. I know that there is no other “job” I’d rather pursue. BUT my heart, today, just needs a day to feel pissed/disappointed/frustrated about not getting to stand on the podium because I missed too many serves, blocks, sets, digs, shots. A piece of my heart will always remember our tournament in Guatemala as being a lost opportunity. Good news is, I know exactly what I’ll be working on in practice for the next few weeks and I absolutely can’t wait for the next time we get to compete again.

I write these blogs as a way to remember my growth process and the amazing tournaments I get to go to. If anyone is reading this then thank you for being a part of my crazy volleyball life. Thank you for taking an interest, I really appreciate every single person who has encouraged me to play and to write, you keep me going. ❤

Off Season Reflection

My first international beach season is officially COMPLETE as of about a week ago, and with that I have had some time to reflect on it all. WARNING: this isn’t a “feel good” blog, it’s a place for me to be really honest about my own process so that I can look back and remember it as it really was. This summer Rachel and I played in 13 tournaments, 9 within Canada and 4 internationally:

  • AVA (Calgary): 1st
  • Norceca Trials (Toronto): 2nd
  • OVA (Toronto): 3rd
  • FIVB Challenger Monte Carlo FX Pro: 4th
  • OVA (Toronto): 5th
  • Clearly Contacts Open (Vancouver): 2nd
  • Centre Of Gravity (Kelowna): 3rd
  • BC Provincials (Vancouver): 5th
  • Ontario Provincials (Toronto): 1st
  • Canadian Nationals (Toronto): 4th
  • FIVB Norceca Cuba: 5th
  • FIVB Norceca Florida: 5th
  • FIVB Puerto Vallarta Mexico: Qualifier

We had some really good finishes that we were really proud of, and some not so good results that we were really disappointed in. Oddly, though, I am thankful for the losses almost more than I am for the wins because my emotions after losses force me to reflect, learn, and grow. When I lose a match, my whole body literally pulses with rage and I can’t be near people for at least ten minutes. Then, about five hours later sadness hits HARD. The next day I am always itching to get back to work on improving everything I failed to do. I know that sounds super dramatic, but it is the reality of my learning process. Everyone deals with things differently, but every time I win a match I have extreme happiness and when I lose a match I have extreme anger, and that reminds me of how much I truly care about and LOVE the game. I know that without some of the gut wrenchingly painful losses that Rachel and I had to go through this year, we may not have been forced to reflect and adapt both individually and together and we certainly would not have had some of our best tournaments and happiest moments of the summer.

Having grown up playing and focusing  primarily on indoor, I am still trying to transition and take in all of the important differences between the two games. A big difference is that rather than having 18 girls around all the time, there are only two of us. This summer Rachel and I dipped our toes into the professional beach volleyball lifestyle and what it really takes. I know from the outside it looks like just a bunch of fun, wonderful, perfect, exotic trips, trust me – I thought that too when Ben used to tell me about all his trips and tournaments. I was like “your life is too EASY”, but this summer I learned a lot about the challenges too. Rachel and I navigated our way through practices with several different coaches and sponsors in different places (which we are extremely grateful for!!), traveling, flight costs, tournament entry fees, workout plans, healthy meal plans, wins, losses, and literally being together almost 24/7 (even sleeping in the same room). For the most part it was really fun, and it was refreshing to just have to coordinate with one other person – especially one that is so similarly driven and also so patient, kind, understanding, fun, competitive and talented. I had some good matches, and some matches where I literally felt like Rachel was carrying us on her shoulders while I was drowning. On the court there were times where she helped me through heat exhaustion, back pain, and nerves. There is a lot to be said about sticking with a person when the pressure is on and they are struggling, those moments define teams. I learned that in beach volleyball you really can’t have weaknesses, because if you do they will be exploited. You have to be tough enough to handle having your weaknesses be exposed, and resilient enough to overcome them and turn them into strengths. There is no time to be selfish, and there is no time to take a break for a few points. You have to be aware of yourself and you have to be aware of your partner and make sure you are doing everything possible to help the team succeed.  In indoor they can hide you on serve receive, your setter can keep the ball away from you, or you can get subbed off. On the beach, there is no where to hide, no coaches, just you and your partner. It is completely humbling to have to endure and learn from the struggles together. On the other hand, when things are going well it is the most gratifying experience I have ever felt. Rachel and I are really similar in that we are both really hard on ourselves. Often times when one of us plays well we forget to take a moment to be proud of ourselves and we are quick to point out where we can improve. I think this helps us to want to be better, but it’s a good thing we have each other to remind each other that we are doing just fine. I know that when she gets a good dig, when she jumps 43890249032 feet to hit a ball straight down, or when she has an all around amazing match I admire her abilities and am so proud of her. She also really helps me to see my own accomplishments and allows me to feel a sense of pride and confidence in myself, and a belief that together we can really do this.

Being a beach volleyball player is difficult not only on the court, but off the court as well. It involves a lot of traveling and expenses and little time to be settled in one place. I think some people are born for that, they have this dream and passion for traveling the world or they have “gypsy souls”. I am not that kind of person. Don’t get me wrong, seeing France, Monaco, Cuba, Florida, and Mexico are all experiences I am extremely grateful for. They created new friendships and memories, and I really got to see so many different cultures and the way that volleyball can bring so many people together. BUT, I am the ultimate homebody and I function best with routine. I enjoy NOTHING more than spending time with my family, close friends, my dog and my wonderful guy, Brendon. My ideal day is simple. Wake up, go for a run with Brendon & my pup, workout, do lots of eating, play volleyball, coach volleyball, and spend quality time with “my people”. Having spent most of the summer away from everyone in a city where I only really had one friend (Rachel), it was definitely a tough adjustment. At 24 years old I learned that I STILL get homesick, not for a place, but for people. This loneliness led me to a few flubbery cry fests, so there were days that I know I wasn’t the most fun to be around, but again, I am thankful for Rachel. She saw a side of me that most people don’t and this summer she became one of my “people”.

Despite all of the things that are difficult about beach, after just one season it is already one of the most gratifying things I have ever done. Not only have I had the opportunity to travel and represent Canada in several different and beautiful countries, but I have fallen in love with volleyball all over again. Not indoor, but now beach. I can’t describe how special it is to be able to start again, to go to practice and workouts every single day and learn so many new things about yourself and about the game you love. It is so exciting and fulfilling to work towards a goal and see progress. After spending a FULL summer seeing the different levels of beach volleyball and what it takes to be at the highest level, I am hooked and more motivated than ever. I know there is sacrifice ahead, I know I am probably going to feel pain after some more tough losses, AND I know that there is a LOT of hard work and improving to do; but I also know that it will be worth it. I know that all of the highest level athletes on the world tour are making their own kinds of sacrifices, and I want to be one of them someday. Having the opportunity to chase a dream, no matter how daunting, is always going to be worth it.

As much as I am going to miss competing for these next few months, I am thankful for the offseason and the time it gives me to reflect, recharge, spend some quality time with “my people”, and continue to work hard and grow towards the 2016 season.

Monte Carlo FxPro Challenger Tournament

In the world of professional beach volleyball there are all kinds of different levels of tournaments. Some require trials within your own country, some require you to have a specific number of points to enter, some require qualifiers the day before the tournament in order to actually be IN the real tournament. Rachel and I are a BRAND new team having just started competing together in May, so we wanted to make sure that if we were going to spend the money to fly to Europe it would be for an event that would guarantee us at least 3 matches of pool play. Luckily there are some tournaments designed for newer teams called “Challengers” where you can apply through your country’s federation and you are guaranteed several games against teams from all over the world.  Rachel and I applied to the Monte Carlo FxPro Challenger tournament the day of the deadline, pretty much expecting that we might get denied. BUT one of the teams that originally got in dropped out last minute and BAM, 3 weeks before the event we were frantically filling out all the required paperwork and booking our flights to France. This would be Rachel’s second international competition (having competed in Russia 2 summer’s ago) and it was my first.

Tuesday July 14th- The day of the flight

I woke up with jitters and couldn’t believe how quickly 3 weeks had come and gone, and that we were ACTUALLY about to fly to Nice, France (the closest airport to Monaco). Rachel and I wore matching red Canada sweatshirts to the airport and when I think about the few hours in the airport before take-off it just makes me smile. We were like two little kids floating on a cloud ready for a great adventure, not really taking into account that the adventure was still 2 long flights away. Our flight left around 3pm Toronto time and we wouldn’t arrive in Nice until 11am (2am Toronto time), eleven hours later. We planned to sleep for the first leg of the trip from Toronto to Amsterdam, we even bought those little airport pillows that go around your neck (which turned out to have more use supporting my back than my neck). I was excited to learn that all international flights have free meals, so I forced myself to stay awake just long enough to devour my plate. We landed in Amsterdam where we stood in a long line to go through customs. For some reason as we stood in line I started to panic thinking that for some reason they might not let me into Europe or that I would be pulled into questioning. Rachel went first, then when I walked up to the security guard, he literally stamped my passport and said “Have a great trip” no questions asked and that was it, as usual I was worried for absolutely NO reason. Once we got through, Rachel and I walked around the Amsterdam airport in complete awe. Something about it just looked so European. I can’t even explain it, but this airport was just amazing, there were tall glass walls and white wooden columns. I don’t know much about architecture but this airport was definitely doing something that was aesthetically pleasing to the average citizen. I felt like we were in a really fancy mall with so many shops and cafes – it definitely didn’t feel or look like any airport I had ever seen before. Our second flight was much shorter and I don’t remember a single thing about it. Rachel and I arrived in France and I was so exhausted. We practically navigated our way through the airport, to our bags and onto our bus to our Air B and B apartment half conscious. We had booked the apartment in advance and it was located in Nice on one of the busy strips called Avenue Jean Medecin which was about a ten minute walk from the beach. The apartment was absolutely adorable, two little bathrooms, two beds and a balcony. Our hostess was amazing and gave us a map of many of the famous tourist attractions that were nearby. Rachel and I had planned to avoid sleeping until that night, but once we settled in it was inevitable that we both needed a nap if we wanted to survive the rest of the day. Thankfully we forced ourselves to wake up after about an hour and decided we would check out the beach and try to have a short practice. Walking down the strip towards the water was incredible, I had seen movies with actors and actresses walking the streets in France, but the pastel colored buildings were even more beautiful and breathtaking in person. Once we walked closer and closer to the beach we realized that we had a bit of a problem – it wasn’t really a beach at all. There were several (topless) people laying on towels on top of an abundance of large rocks about the size of frisbees. No practice for us, we would have to wait until we arrived in Monaco, but I was glad we got a chance to see Avenue Jean Medecin and some of the fountains, statues and churches along the way. We managed to stay awake for the rest of the afternoon occupying ourselves in several ways including: taking in the sights, finding a nice little cafe to eat at, spending 30 minutes trying to figure out how to unlock our apartment door, figuring out how to use the shower (after turning it on and getting drenched while still completely clothed), walking up 5 flights of stairs due to Rachel’s fear of small elevators, sitting on our adorable balcony planning our tourist activities; and creating a boobie trap for anyone who would try to break into our room while we were sleeping. Overall it was an amazing day, but my memory of the order in which we did things is a little bit foggy because of how long it all was and how much newness my brain was trying to process.

Wednesday July 15th – JET LAG and tourist activities

Jet lag is REAL. Before that morning it was just a phrase I had heard with no meaning associated with it. But on July 15th at 4am I was suddenly jolted out of sleep and was WIDE awake with a pounding headache and a feeling of grumpiness that took over my entire soul. Good thing Nice is so amazingly beautiful that no matter how tired I was I couldn’t help but just want to get out there and see it. Rachel and I went to our little cafe and got some chocolate croissants and lates for an early breakfast. I got to practice my French a little bit which was nice but also embarrassing and overwhelming because I hadn’t really practiced since middle school. Anyways, France has the STRONGEST coffee and I definitely couldn’t handle or enjoy it’s intensity, but Rachel was in a new kind of heaven. We walked down Avenue Jean Medecin again, then went to the Cours Saleya which was a street with all kinds of markets, painters and fresh flowers everywhere. We also saw the Chapelle de La Misericorde which was a breathtaking church known for it’s incredible architecture. The best part of the day was walking up the staircase to top of the Colline Du Chateau which led us to a view of all of Nice. I could have stood up there for hours just staring at the teal blue water, and all of the colorful buildings surrounded by trees that went on for miles up into the hills. All of a sudden as we were enjoying the view, there was one of the loudest noises we had ever heard, it sounded like a gunshot. Rachel and I looked at each other and went into panic mode thinking that we were in a war zone and under attack, I still remember the look on her face and I’m sure the look on mine was a mirror image. There was an older man standing behind us grinning from ear to ear who calmly said “c’est midi”, which I knew meant “it’s noon”. I started to ask him in French “ca se fait tous les jours?” which means “does that happen everyday?” He went on to explain that everyday at noon a firecracker goes off right around the corner from where we were standing. I realized that Rachel had no idea what we were saying and a part of her was still on the lookout for an assassin HAHA. We had a great long chat with the friendly old man before continuing on to see a tower and a beautiful park before getting slightly lost. When we found our way back to the Cours Saleya we decided to stop and have lunch at a cute little sandwhich/salad place and get some fresh fruit from the market. We then walked back to the apartment for a much needed nap and a relaxing afternoon on our little balcony. Later on we tried to find an old cathedral, but unfortunately it was under construction, so we dressed up and went for a dinner date at a french restaurant instead. After waking up at 4am we were both feeling the jet lag in full force and it was an early night to sleep for both of us.

Thursday July 16th – The trek to Monte Carlo

Nice was amazing, and beautiful, and I am so thankful that we had two days there, but by now Rachel and I were feeling really anxious to get playing. Finally it was time to head to Monte Carlo, Monaco. In order to get there we rolled our bags to the train station and navigated our way to the right platform. On the train we met the cutest old ladies from England who had met each other years earlier while traveling and had been going on trips together nearly every year since. Once our train got to the city of Monte Carlo, we had to maneuver our way to our bus which, as explained to us by a local, was: “down an elevator, through the glass doors, down a pathway, down a staircase, past the church, to the right, cross the street and its bus #4 on the lefthand side of the street”. Rachel and I and the two older ladies made the trek together. One look at Rachel’s biceps and they knew they could count on us to help carry their bags down the hills and the stairwells, while they did most of the navigating. I was still feeling really restless from all the travel and jet lag at this point, so those ladies and their accents really helped me to lighten up a bit and learn to take in the moment and enjoy a small piece of their adventure with them. As we were driving through Monte Carlo in bus number 4 to get to our hotel I started to notice how fancy all the other passengers were dressed – the women were wearing gowns and expensive jewelry and the men were wearing white dress shirts and pants. I don’t know anything about cars, but every single car looked extremely expensive and shiny and I was beginning to realize just how wealthy of a place Monaco really was. We arrived at the hotel. THE HOTEL – umm what. First of all we could see pools and a private beach from the entrance lobby, the cars parked in front were ferraris,  all of the elevators were coated with cow hide, mirrors and blue strobe lights, and.. it was just WOW. Our room was wonderful and the tv said “Hello Camille” on the screen. Upon check in we also got the tournament program and tournament schedule, the draw was weirdly set up, there would be 2 pools of 4, the top seeds in each pool were pre determined, but the other 3 teams in each pool would be drawn from a hat. We flipped through to see the top seeds and there we were, it read: 1. Canada 2. Brasil. Our first international event, EVER and we were ranked 1st.. ahead of a Brazilian team who had already finished 4th together at an Open earlier this summer.. OKAY we will take it!  We were eager to get to the courts to practice but first thing was first: we NEEDED to get food and the tournament program we had received gave us the impression that we would only be provided breakfasts. At this point in the day I was EXHAUSTED and STARVING and Rachel and I were aimlessly walking the streets of Monaco trying to find a grocery store. Up to this point I had been okay with brushing up on my french, but in that moment when Rachel told me to ask someone where the grocery store was I lost it. I was so tired of talking to strangers and looking like an idiot improperly conjugating verbs so I  had a small tantrum and said “FINE but when we go on our next trip you have ask everyone everything”. Super sassy. We finally made it to the grocery store and Rachel was asking me “what do you think about getting chicken, what about this salad, what about these granola bars” and all that was going through my head was ANYTHING, I WILL EAT ANYTHING! Once I got food in me I was happy as could be and Rachel and I laughed about how walking a mile to the grocery store became such a stressful fiasco in a different country. After lunch we finally made our way down to the court to have a practice before meeting all the other teams and figuring out the rest of the draw. There was one court in the middle of a grand slam, the sand was so soft, fine and white. The tournament organizers were so friendly and accommodating. Something about playing volleyball felt so comforting, it is crazy that a place that had felt so foreign could feel so at home all at once. The sand had been imported in just for the tournament. It was nice to get a chance to get used to jumping in sand that was a little bit deeper than what we were used to in Canada. After practice we got a chance to meet the other teams, get our uniforms and have the rest of the draw picked from a hat before our eyes. Our jerseys were bright orange and our pool was: Canada, Israel, France and Romania. The other pool was: Brazil, Paraguay, Norway and Netherlands. At the technical meeting we also found out that we got free food from this AMAZING restaurant right beside the court that was overlooking the ocean. Thankfully there would be no more grumpy Camille treks to the grocery store. At dinner we sat with the team from Norway and it was cool to hear about their previous beach experiences and getting to know them. I felt like a sponge trying to soak up everything I could about this international beach scene. We then headed up to bed in preparation for a full day of playing on Friday.

Friday July 17th – Pool Play

We went into pool play knowing that we would need to finish top two in our pool in order to advance to the top 4 on Sunday. As we headed to the stadium I felt a wave of emotions. I was so proud to be wearing a jersey with a Canadian flag on it. There is something so humbling about having the opportunity to represent a country that you love so much. I also felt excited to be playing in such an exotic location against the highest level of beach players I had encountered up to this point. I think my most prominent emotion, though, was nervous. Something came over me when we started to warm up and I just felt like a deer in headlights. It was like I was in slow motion watching myself from above just completely in shock and in awe of the situation that I was in. Was I really in Monaco? Was I really playing professionally? Was I really representing Canada? I stayed in this state of shock for the first 4 points of the match and I don’t think I even moved my feet from where I was standing. Thankfully Rachel is a saint and she snapped me right out of it and we were able to compete our way to a 2-0 victory over a talented team from Israel. The atmosphere and layout in Monaco had a very interesting feel to it, particularly the VIP fan section just behind the benches that was occupied with extremely well dressed men and women who were sipping on wine and quietly clapping. There was an elegance about these fans that made me feel like we were all simply there as a form of entertainment for them, I had never really felt that way about competing before. Our next match was against the home team, France. This match was a great battle against two very good players. We were neck and neck with them throughout both sets, but unfortunately their experience prevailed and in the end we lost 0-2. Our last match of pool play was against Romania and we knew it was do or die. I still remember this match as one of our best to date. It was like Rachel and I were so in synch, always one step ahead of the game. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but things just seemed to be in slow motion for us and we were so locked into the moment. We ended up winning 2-0 and headed straight into the ocean to enjoy our victory and in knowing that we had solidified our spot in the top 4.

Saturday July 18th – The Prince and Princess of Monaco 

Saturday was a “day off” and playoffs would resume on Sunday, but there was a catch. There would be 8 out of the 16 players that would be randomly selected to play in a 3 on 3 charity tournament. Each of the eight teams would consist of: one beach volleyball player, one professional athlete of a different sport, one of the Prince’s guards and one “coach” who was a young kid battling cancer. We would play quick sets to 15 points, and later on in the afternoon the Prince and Princess of Monaco would arrive to watch the final sets. I got randomly selected to compete in the event and my team included: a full of life 17 year old boy named Florian who was battling cancer, an 18 year old professional boxer named Adeline May, and one of the Princes guards named Sabine. Throughout the day I was trying to make sure to get as much water and shade as possible in order to recover for playoffs the following day, but looking back I am so grateful I got to experience meeting and getting to know all three of my team members for such a great cause. We played on and off all afternoon and finally around 7pm the Prince made his entrance and shortly after the Princess followed. I think I envisioned some kind of fairytale moment where time would slow down and everyone would bow and curtsy, but when the Princess walked in the cheerleaders continued to dance rather provocatively to the song “big booty” by J.Lo and Iggy Azalea which I found histerical. Playing in front of the Prince and Princess was kind of cool, they brought so much excitement and chatter to everyone and I was especially happy for all of the amazing kids who got to enjoy a motorcycle ride around the city with the Prince’s guards. After the event all of the players then got a chance to shake hands with the Prince and Princess and take pictures with them. It was a really cool day that I am sure will be once in a lifetime experience for me. After the day of sunshine I was eager to have a great big meal and head to bed early.

Sunday July 19th – Playoffs

Because we finished second in our pool on Friday, we would cross over with the first place finisher from the other pool which was Brasil. Their team consisted of a very talented and experienced back row player from the FIVB tour, and a young new uprising blocker who if I had to guess was around 6’4. Rachel and I knew we had our work cut out for us, but we were really excited for the challenge. I felt so much intensity, focus and passion during this match. It was such a bittersweet game because Rachel and I both felt that we had played a great match but we fell just short losing 21-19 in both sets. Brasil is the beach volleyball force of the world right now, and it felt good to challenge ourselves in that way and know that we had fought with everything we had and stayed so present and in the moment. Even though we lost something about that match made me fall more in love with the intensity of the game. I felt encouraged to want to compete against teams that would continue to challenge me to learn and grow to reach new heights. Our last match of the tournament was for bronze against Paraguay. This match was midday and in the peak heat of the day reaching upwards of 35 degrees with absolutely no wind. We won the first set but these were the hottest conditions I had ever experienced and I could feel my body temperature rising as the match went on. During every timeout I was pouring ice cold water over my head, on the back of my neck and over my entire body. Afterwards I was laughing because often times there are cameras taking pictures of you during timeouts and I can only imagine how I must have looked in those moments. The second set went into extra points and we ended up losing and by the third set I was drifting into dizziness. We ended up losing in 3 and as we watched the medal ceremony just short of a podium spot I was filled with disappointment. I tried to remember this feeling and take note of all the things I would need to improve on in order to ensure myself a spot up there with all the victors in the future. We got gift bags from the volleyball federation of Monaco with little momentos and Brasil (the champions over France) sprayed us all with a freshly popped bottle of champagne as they celebrated their victory. There were young fans everywhere asking us all for autographs and our uniform tops. Rachel gave hers away to a cute little boy with a cast on, but I couldn’t help but want to keep mine as a reminder of my first experience in Europe as a pro. For our last night in Monaco Rachel and I got all dressed up and had a nice dinner by the beaches. The waiters that had been serving us throughout the whole tournament hardly recognized us now that we weren’t covered in sand or wearing our sarongs as headgear to keep cool. We then went back to the hotel to sit by the pools and enjoy one last beautiful sunset in this exotic make believe majestic country. Our “night out” didn’t last too long as we were both practically falling asleep at our table by 10pm.

France and Monaco were really good to us. I knew then and I know even more now how absolutely spoiled we were to have our first tournament in such a beautiful and wealthy place where the citizens were so accommodating and interested in the sport we play. Going there helped me to understand what it was like to travel across the world to represent your country to play beach volleyball. It was a trip I will never forget and that I will use as a reference point to build off of and learn from. I felt a lot of love in my heart for the game as I was competing and being challenged so much mentally and physically. I gained so much perspective and respect for the athletes that put in so many hours of work and the investment to chase this dream week in and week out by traveling around the globe. This tournament gave me just a glimpse of what it would take for me to get to that stage in my new career, but it is always nice to have a passion worth working towards. If you made it this far into this blog entry THANKYOU for reading and for your interest and support. I hope this is only the beginning of many more beach adventures to come!

My Beginning

There are two reasons why I decided to start a blog:
  1. As a professional beach volleyball hopeful training in a city where I don’t know many people, I have a lot of down time on my hands and I need a new hobby to keep me sane.
  2. The more I think about it, the more I realize how fortunate I am. My current life is my five year old self’s dream actually coming true. How many people really get to live out their dreams? These next few years of competing internationally and representing Canada on exotic beaches around the world are moments that could be fleeting, and I want to have some way to be able to share and really remember my own experiences.

So here we go from the beginning..

I think volleyball really is and always will be a part of my identity. It is almost therapeutic once in a while for me to take myself back to my roots and remember how I really fell in love with the game, because that is ultimately what keeps me playing. My mom and dad both played for the Canadian indoor national teams. They had a mutual love for the game of volleyball and an even stronger love for each other which led them to create a big family of 4 kids and a volleyball facility in Calgary, Alberta called “The Volleydome” ( www.volleydome.net ). My siblings: Milou (30), Ben (26), Dustin (22) and I (24) ultimately grew up in “the dome” and it became our giant playground, and our second home. There is a slogan painted on the hardwood floor when you walk into the building that reads “There’s No Place Like Dome”, and for me that could not be more true.

As a really young girl I spent most of my time either watching volleyball or begging to play volleyball. First I watched my sister Milou play. I envied her for being older than me and making so many new friends playing the game we loved. I, and some of the other younger sisters and brothers, would go to EVERY SINGLE TOURNAMENT screaming our little faces off for every point and stealing the ball to play pepper during timeouts. My new name was “Milou’s little sister” and I was so proud of it. Looking back I realize how good of a big sister Milou was (and still is). I was nothing short of obnoxious and I followed her and her friends everywhere they went. She was my hero and I wanted to steal her whole volleyball life. The more I watched her play the more I learned about the game. I learned about how the girls rotated and switched positions, I learned what each of the skills was supposed to look like, and I learned how people interacted with each other on the court. I remember thinking how calm my sister was when she played. She always had her emotions under control and her teammates trusted her to make the right decisions under pressure. She embodied a quiet kind of leadership that was never attention seeking, yet still had everyone following. She was the epitome of a good teammate and I tried to etch her calm, smart and encouraging nature into my mind. Although my sister was calm, some of her teammates and opponents were not. I also saw a lot of examples of what NOT to do and there were two cardinal volleyball rules that I created for myself: 1. There is NO crying in volleyball and 2. Don’t yell at your teammates.

Three years later Ben got to start playing on his first club volleyball team and I was furious. “No fair” he was only two and a half years older than me, couldn’t we both play? No, I was still “too little” at age eight. Like Milou, Ben was already one of the most skilled players on his team, he had a quiet confidence and a loud presence on the court. Everything he did looked so SMOOTH and calculated, like he was born to play. He had a hidden talent in his even keel demeanor and he used it to calm down everyone around him in his own quiet way. He helped me discover something very important: there is a difference between being lazy and being patient. He made things LOOK easy because he used his mind to anticipate the game ahead of time and he put in the mental and physical work to trust his abilities under pressure. Ben’s coach used to let me jump into the boy’s practices sometimes during their hitting warm up, where I would try to dig all of the “giant” twelve year old boys. I think my parents enjoyed seeing how ridiculously happy and satisfied I was just to have balls shanking off my arms, so they decided to let me join some volleyball camps during the summers and “city league” during the fall. I was finally playing REAL volleyball just like my parents and my big brother and sister. I was an eight year old among twelve year olds, and for the most part I loved it; but even then I put a lot of pressure on myself to strive for greatness. I had already seen volleyball at the highest levels through my mom and dad, and I had watched both my older siblings become standouts in their age categories. I idolized them all and I wanted to be just like them, which meant I had a LOT of work to do. I was already devoted to volleyball without ever having been put in anything remotely close to a game like scenario. So, as I started camp I had this false expectation that because I had watched so much and played so much pepper with my friends my body would already know how to do everything. I remember the day at camp where I was first learning to do an approach and hit the ball over a net. I had worked really hard on getting the footwork down and I was so excited to try it with a ball. The coach (long time family friend Paul Sunstrum) tossed up the ball, I did my footwork, swung my arm as hard as I could, then BAM.. I hit the ball.. with my face.. right into the bottom of the net. I was so humiliated that I started to cry. I broke my own first cardinal rule of volleyball (NO crying) on one of my first real days. I disrupted the ENTIRE camp saying “I will never be good like my mom and dad, I hate volleyball”. (This is why eight year olds don’t get to play with twelve year olds). In that moment I finally realized why all those girls my sister played with had cried so much when they lost games. It was so frustrating to fail at something I cared so much about. I hated that feeling and I didn’t want to be one of those cry babies, but HOW did Milou stay so calm? and HOW did Ben always stay so confident? My intense desire and standard to be good also gave me a quality I had never seen in my siblings – a temper that drove every fiber in my body to want to work harder. I “hated” volleyball SO much that immediately after camp I asked my dad to toss me balls. I was infuriated and I refused to be humiliated at camp again the next day in front of all those “big kids”. My dad tossed me ball after ball after ball and after what felt like 100 attempts, I finally got one “good one” that felt something like what I had seen Ben and Milou do. After 99 reps of pure rage and concentration, it only took ONE good one for me to smile that big goofy smile and decide that I had fallen madly back in love with volleyball all over again. And so, at age eight my addiction began. I was no longer living vicariously through my family members. I finally had my very own LOVE hate relationship with volleyball (heavily weighted towards love).

Now, at age 24 I am trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am reaching the goals that I  had once only dreamt of. I was hard on myself then and I am hard on myself now, but when I am in one of my fits of rage I try to remember something. If someone would have told that little girl that someday she would end up playing beach volleyball professionally, her eyes would have lit up and she would have said “that’s my dream come true”. It has been a lot of hours, a lot of hard work and a slow steady process since then, so sometimes my adult self is unable to really sit down and see the improvement. My five year old self knew that to play the sport you love around the world for your country really is a dream come true. Now I know that I am competing at my best when I play for that little girl, and for other kids that have the same love in their hearts for this game.