My Argument for Exercise.

I really wish I could convince more people how awesome working out is once you get into a grove and it becomes imbedded in your routine. I cannot believe how many people I know absolutely hate working out and how few actually workout regularly. I find this tragic. Working out is the best!! Is it hard? Yes! But that’s what makes it great! Getting through a tough workout will not only increase your physical strength, it increases your mental strength as well! The more tough things over which you prevail, the more confidence you will have in the face of difficult situations, that you can get through them triumphantly. That to me makes up a large part of mental toughness. It’s not as though the mental strength you develop working out only pertains to working out, NO, it will transfer to other parts of your life as well. 

Another aspect of that mental toughness and confidence comes from actually getting stronger. Developing physical strength is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself, especially for women. Strength training is so important to support your joints and keep you from injury the older you get. If you can swing it, a personal trainer would be clutch, I can’t overstate how important it is to learn how to do lifts correctly. Plus, the stronger you are the less vulnerable you are and will feel, and, as a result, the less fear you have to carry around with you. I believe this translates into confidence and even assertiveness in all areas of life.

There are a ridiculous amount of health benefits you can gain from working out too! I know you know this, but if you really UNDERSTOOD this, you’d never miss a workout again. If you go at the right pace and have sound, safe instruction it can make your body feel so much better! Sore back? Achy knees? Stiff neck? All of these can be minimized by strengthening the correct, supporting muscles and, if there’s no structural damage, aches and pains can be completely cured. I really believe it is a small price to pay to physically feel better, which is scientifically proven to elevate your mental state on top of feeling better physically. If you’re in physical pain it is easier to feel gloomy and unmotivated, it can affect every aspect of your life, which is why I think properly taking care of your body (and as a result, mind) is one of the MOST important things to make time for in life. We all know it also produces serotonin, dopamine, and and causes your body to release endorphins which are all happy hormones.

Working out is obviously DIRECTLY correlated to good health, it is one of the easiest ways to boost your immune system and keep yourself healthy. Sweating detoxifies the body and increases your heart rate, flushing fresh oxygenated blood through your organs and limbs. It also regulates the hormones in your body and brain, which is HUGE. If you hate going to the doctor or paying for doctor’s bills or taking prescription meds, get outside (put sunscreen on first and wear a hat and glasses) and go for a mile run, or start with a mile brisk walk and increase from there.  Do body weight lunges, squats, sit ups, push-ups, tricep dips, bent over flys (with a full water bottle) afterwards, follow a do-it-at-home youtube workout video.  If you do this consistently and especially if you start while you’re still healthy, it’s a great way improve and/or strengthen your health. Obviously, there are many medical conditions that cannot be improved simply by working out and I am not suggesting otherwise, only promoting the idea that general health can be improved and immune systems strengthened by regular exercise.

If you can afford it, get a gym membership and utilize the classes, they’re usually super fun and a great way to get into the rhythm of consistently working out. Spin and yoga are two of my favorite ways to get a good workout in. My personal opinion is if you do nothing else and can consistently take yoga, do Bikram yoga. I believe it’s the best thing you can do for yourself physically and mentally. If you can find a friend to bring, make it a social thing, if not, it’s likely you will meet people in these classes, don’t be afraid to say hi and work your way into the community that usually develops around these disciplines. 

An hour a day is all you would need to follow an ideal program and really take care of everything to protect and strengthen your body. But if you don’t have an hour a day you can get A LOT done for yourself in a half an hour a few times a week. Think about how much time you spend watching TV or playing video games or staring at your phone. Consciously decide to dip into that time and use it for taking care of yourself! It’s really really really hard to convince yourself to do this sometimes. One tactic I’ve used before is to simply make the decision. Don’t give yourself the option to debate the decision, simply decide- I’m going on a run, then walk to your closet and put on your running shoes. It’s mindless. Get in your car and drive to the gym, don’t think about it, just decide and act. 

Another huge benefit of working out in my experience is that it makes you want to eat healthier! If I’m going to put in the effort to workout I’m not going to sabotage myself by eating crappy at the same time. Eating well in addition to working out makes you feel SOOOO good. Cutting sugar and simple carbs, and at least down on alcohol gets rid of so much brain fog and will give you increased, purer energy throughout the day and better sleep at night. 

I love how accomplished I feel when I get through a tough workout, and I am even prouder of myself when I’ve managed to eat clean all day as well. It’s a vicious cycle 😉 Working out makes you want to eat healthier, and eating healthier makes you feel better so you’re more likely to workout, plus you should feel better about yourself because you are setting loose a bunch of feel good chemicals in your brain and body which will encourage you to keep it up. The more you do it the easier and more rewarding it becomes, it’s spirals up. 

BUT, we all know, it is REALLY hard to start and stick with it. Create a plan, get really detailed with your schedule, down to the time and length of your showers and meal breaks, find that space ahead of time where you can get the workouts in and just make the decision to go and do it. You don’t have to PR (set a personal record) everyday, you just have to get through it. I believe in you! I used to hate working out and now I’m a convert for life, you can become one too! 

We Should All Be Feminists.

In honor of International Women’s Day I wanted to write my hope for women and girls today and in the future. I’ve learned so many lessons over the years that have made a really big difference for me; and I really just want to share what I believe based on my own experiences, take it or leave it. 

My biggest wish is simply for girls to grow up strong, and confident, and know they are capable of anything they set their minds to, and can follow whichever path sets their soul on fire AND have equal opportunity in the world throughout that journey! I hope that they will understand you don’t have to get married, you don’t have to have kids, there are alternative and just as satisfying life paths out there. It does not make you less of a woman or human to not want these things, or to choose something else besides marriage and kids. It also does not make you less strong or intelligent or driven if you do decide to get married and have kids, or get married and not have kids, or have kids and not get married. Just make sure YOU define your life.

If I could offer one piece of advice to young women growing up now it would be to start building a platform that will enable you to CREATE YOUR OWN INDEPENDENCE. You can do this by studying hard in school, keeping it a main focus in your life. Study instead of socialize, become obsessed with politics, and economics, and math and forget about boys or girls (for now). Work hard to keep your grades up for the best opportunity to get into a good college which would typically be the next step towards independence. Don’t forget to apply for every scholarship out there first though, and thoroughly weigh the benefit versus the risk before accepting financial aid, there are always other options.

Get into sports, it teaches you how to fight, fight for your team, for victory, for yourself. You learn how to overcome tough situations and develop perseverance, physical and mental strength in the process. Follow your passions, no matter how weird, the weirder they are the more unique you become and the more unique the skills you possess the more valuable you can be to the world. Start a business, start a club, organize a rally, run for school president, yeah it’s scary, but it’ll also be invaluable experience and exhilarating. 

Through pursuing these things you may encounter setbacks, but these challenges will only give you the invaluable opportunity to practice another skill I highly recommend for girls to master- positive self talk and reframing. If you get a poor grade on a test or play sub-par in a match, you may want to beat yourself up, which is a good sign, it means you have high standards for yourself. However, if you can recognize the ways in which your self talk is having a negative affect and work to change your phrasing, using verbiage that inspires hope and belief that you can and will improve and it’s all just a part of the process, and do that over and over and over again, it will pay huge dividends, I promise. 

Reframing is a skill I learned in high school that has been absolutely crucial to my career and life in general; it is so ingrained in my thinking at this point that I don’t even have to try. Reframing, in short, is the art of taking a situation that could easily be viewed as negative and changing your perspective so that you can see the positive in it. Maybe you didn’t make the varsity team when you had your heart SET on it. You can either be bitter and grumpy and act like you’re too good to be on JV, OR you can take the opportunity to be a leader, to take on the pressure of carrying your team sometimes and lifting the level of your teammates. You can be a positive force on JV and be determined to have the most successful season possible, which will probably get you the attention of the varsity coach and provide valuable opportunities in the future. OR you could mope around all season and count on making the varsity next season, which if that’s your attitude, who knows if it will even happen then? 

How you view situations, the “frame” in which you see things, can completely transform what you thought was negative into truly positive experiences.  And always remember lots of blessings are sent in disguise!! 

The more you encounter challenges and setbacks and refuse to give in, by reframing and talking yourself through it, by building yourself up, the more you will see how strong you are, how capable you are of anything. You will see how valuable you are to the endeavors to which you commit yourself, you won’t need anyone else to make you feel valuable, you will KNOW. That will in turn create confidence, the most blissful of all feelings- authentic confidence, when you become “unfuckwithable” (my favorite word). The key is to never give up on your dreams or yourself! Work, work, work, and feel the hurt when it doesn’t work out, then get up and go after it again, you will learn and grow and improve and one day you WILL accomplish your dreams.   

If you practice these things and stay focused on the areas that matter most, you will instill a deep sense of love for and security in yourself.  My hope in creating this is that girls will not want to look for validation of self worth in relationships or from coaches or teachers or even parents, that they will be self-motivated and feel empowered to pursue their careers, if that is what they truly want, and not feel pressured by society to follow a more traditional or “acceptable” path. The world needs more unapologetically driven and high powered women, we need more voices campaigning on our behalf at the highest boardroom tables and in the highest levels of government, not just here in the U.S., but around the world. 

Yes there are many women who have broken those glass ceilings and made it easier for those who followed and who will now follow them, and to them we should all be very thankful.  However, the inequality is still there, and I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault, but I do know that if girls and women set their minds to reaching the highest levels of their arena they can get there.  It takes a lot of sacrifice and belief in yourself which is why my advice for young women centers on creating a platform for independence and an authentic confidence in oneself, but the work is so worth it, will serve this world for the better, and should be a priority for all in our society. We should all be feminists.

It’s the Remix to Nutrition (not really.)

A lot of you asked me to talk about diet in my next blog, so voila! However, I must emphasize that I am not an expert on nutrition and what I talk about here is simply what I do and have tried in the past, I’m not suggesting you do any of the same stuff I do.  Everyone is different and has different nutritional needs.

That’s a good segue to my first point- calories! The amount of calories each person needs per day can be vastly different and, for me, it’s really important to monitor the amount of calories I’m getting, to make sure it’s not too many or too few. (A GREAT tool I use to help me keep track is the app ‘My Fitness Pal’). My goal from a physical standpoint is to be reasonably lean and as strong as possible. Sometimes when you lift a lot and workout a lot you want to eat more than you actually need, and don’t get me wrong, you do need a lot to take full advantage of the hard work you’re putting in, but it needs to be from the right sources. You can’t go crush a fatty burger and fries, or pig out on Mexican food just because you worked hard all day, first and foremost because doing that consistently is terrible for your general health and secondly, you’re just sabotaging possible gains.

This morning Alix and I went and did RMR testing, which I don’t fully comprehend, but I do know that it told me how many calories I burn a day at rest, not working out, just what I would burn if I sat on the couch and watched TV all day (which I NEVER do, btw). And I’m extremely happy to report that it hasn’t gone down since college! It actually went up a little bit; slowing metabolism, my ass. With this information I can more accurately determine the best amount of calories to consume per day. Obviously, if I have a beach practice and lifting session in a day I need a good amount more calories than on one one of my days off. And if I’m trying to lean out, and I can’t emphasize this enough, IT’S ALL ABOUT DISCIPLINE! No one wants to hear that, but I don’t believe there’s a safe or healthy way to lose fat quickly. I’ve tried it- intermediate fasting, juice cleanses, raw food diet, and it either left me feeling weak and unexplosive on the court, with no brain power, or so cranky and energy depleted I ended up losing it and binging shortly thereafter and defeating the purpose in the first place. It has to be done slowly and consistently over time.

I firmly believe the only diet worth adhering to is one consisting of whole natural foods that don’t come in plastic (where possible) and are mostly grown from the ground or from animals that eat that stuff that grows in the ground. When I’m really on a healthy eating bender, like I am now, a day typically looks something like this:

Breakfast

-1 or 2 slices of sourdough toast

-1/2 an avocado

-3 egg whites

-Trader Joe’s Dragon Sauce

Lunch

-1/2 c. brown rice

-1/2 c. black beans

-1/2 avocado

-Raw spinach, onion, cilantro, hot salsa

-6 oz. carnitas

OR

– Large salad with mixed greens and spinach

– All the veggies you want

– 4 to 6 oz of protein

– 2 oz. medium calorie dressing, I like balsamic vinaigrette.

Snack

Lifting day:

-Gatorade protein bar & shake

Non-lifting day:

-Greek yogurt, berries & honey

Dinner

-4 to 6 oz. of protein (salmon, chicken, beef, ground turkey)

-1/2 c. Carbs (sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, pasta)

-Unlimited veggies

If I feel like I need dessert, my go-to is a 70%(at least) dark chocolate bar with almonds and sea salt, yum!

Another big thing I focus on is the timing of my meals.  I want to make sure I’m eating the right things at the right time so my body has enough time to digest and process the nutrients before I need to use them. It’s important to get your protein within thirty minutes of completing your lift/workout. You also want to have some carbs post workout to help with full adaptation and recovery of your muscles.

Right now I’m not drinking any alcohol either, it’s hands down the worst thing you can put in your body when you are trying to lean out, or honestly, when you are trying to live your healthiest life. Instead I drink sparkling water with lime, I also drink lots of coffee and tea, a ton of regular water, and I’ll mix gatorade with my water at practice.

As a side note: I don’t use any supplements. USADA (United States Anti-Doping Association) scares the living daylights out of us when it comes to taking supplements and accidental cross contamination of banned substances to which you will be held fully accountable even if you were only honestly trying to make sure your iron and vitamin D stores aren’t depleted for your general health. (ok rant over.) But I do believe supplementation is important for a truly healthy diet.

Nutrition is one of my least favorite things to talk about because I find it so boring, I find it boring because it’s so simple. I believe most of you know the answers, it’s just about being disciplined long term to reap the benefits of eating purposefully and healthily.  Don’t do anything extreme; don’t cut out carbs, don’t try to exist in a state of ketosis, don’t refuse yourself your favorite foods, it’s ok to splurge every now and again to maintain your sanity. My biggest piece of advice would be to pay attention to your body, it will give you most of the information you need. How are your energy levels? How is your skin? How is your mental clarity? And what is happening to your body composition? You can feel and see and make the proper adjustments. You can also always hire a nutrition coach, which I am not, so again, please don’t take any of this as professional advice, it is my opinion based on MY experience in MY body. Happy fueling!

Defeat (or at least manage) Fatigue.

They say write what you need to read so I will be focusing on recovery in this blog, it’s literally ALL I’ve been thinking about for the past week. Alix and I just finished our first five-day practice week going full speed, plus it was our peak lifting week (where we lift the heaviest weight with more reps and are expected to lift it faster than during any other week of our program). USA Volleyball recently hired a new strength and conditioning coach for the beach program and he’s awesome, but I haven’t been this fatigued and sore in a long long time. And I’m really really excited about it! At the same time it means I have to step up my recovery game.

Physical and mental recovery is so important because it’s a compounding factor. If you don’t have a plan for it and don’t have a routine you can count on everyday you’re going to end up one day down the road feeling like crap, or worse, broken, and it’s going to take you longer to get out of that place than it took to get into it. Some practices are daily, some are depending on how I’m feeling, and some are once in a while because I know that if I don’t use them I’ll burn out. The most important thing about recovery, though, is that you have to make time for it, the time it takes does not magically appear everyday, so it’s usually a sacrifice, but a sacrifice well worth it. 

Take for example, this past Friday night, I was beyond fatigued, physically and mentally, and even emotionally. I had invites to go out, I had tasks I needed to check off my to-do list, I had books I wanted to read, but I couldn’t muster energy for any of it. I recognized how I was feeling (easy to do at that point) and just shut it all down, I literally laid in bed and stared at my phone for three hours then fell asleep. That was all I could do at that point, sacrifice those other things in the name of recovery because it was necessary after letting it get that far.  Then I got to thinking- what could I have done better throughout the week to ensure I didn’t end up feeling like this at the end of it?

I realized I need to create a daily check list of recovery methods. Even if I don’t feel fatigued that day it would be smart to get ahead of the curve (when I actually have the energy) because, like I said, fatigue is compounding. I know generally what I should be doing on the daily to feel most optimal, but I’ve found from experience, unless it’s written down on paper and there is some form of accountability, it’s pretty easy to skip a few steps. Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far:

Physical recovery: (which actually starts before any physical activity)

Minimum Daily

  • Make sure I’m properly fueled- eat balanced portioned meals before, after, and in between workouts.
  • Roll out and warm up well
  • Warm down afterwards- a couple of minutes spinning on the bike and a good stretch.
  • Drink lots of water, always have a gatorade with me and electrolytes if I expect to be sweating a lot. 
  • Replenish muscles with a Gatorade protein bar or shake after workout.
  • Go to bed before 11, or with enough time to get 8 hours of sleep, whichever is earlier.

If Time Allows

  • Normatec- it’s those spacesuit looking pants that fill up with air starting from your feet going up to your hips that essentially push out lactic acid from your muscles.
  • Epsom salt bath- everyone is different, but I’m beyond sold on these for recovery and detoxification. If I have an ache or pain or I’m just sore, nothing is as effective for me as an epsom salt bath.
  • Savasana- or a form of it, for 10-15 minutes. You can lay with your legs up the wall, or with your spine lengthwise on a long roller letting all your limbs flail out to the sides, or just lay flat while completely relaxed.

Weekly

  • Bikram Yoga- nothing makes me feel better than this form of yoga.
  • Physical Therapy with Tony Poland (the BEST massage therapist EVER)

Monthly

Mental Recovery: (now this starts to get personal, there are some general practices good for everyone, but you’ll need to find what works for you in a lot of instances)

Minimum Daily

  • Coffee, as much of it as you want. (This one might be personal ;))
  • “Me time” to do something just for myself, whether it be write, read, put a face mask on, or take a nap (on a really good day)
  • Meditate for 6 minutes minimum (can be combined with ‘me time’)

If Time Allows

  • Watch a favorite movie or binge a little on Netflix
  • Bikram Yoga
  • Grab dinner with a friend

Yearly

  • Go on a non-volley vacation and don’t work out.

There’s definitely an emotional component to fatigue as well. If something is going on emotionally, it’s key to address it for full recovery, along with the mental and physical aspects. How each person deals with this part of fatigue is very personal so I won’t pretend to know how anyone else should go about it, but I wanted to share some of my own practices for defeating emotional fatigue.

Emotional Recovery

Daily

  • Take a moment to check in with yourself to see what you’re feeling and why, and how it’s manifesting in your life.
  • If you know why you are feeling a negative emotion or are just run down and you can do something about it, do one thing to help yourself move in the positive direction.
  • Be gentle with yourself and accept that sometimes you’re going to be hangry, apologize.
  • In moments of emotional discrepancy, check in with your grounding values, are you acting in line with them? You can feel however you feel and still treat people well.
  • “Me time” applies here as well, big time.

Weekly

  • Hang out with someone you can be completely honest with and share what might be going on that has you on edge, anxious, or sad, etc, if anything. If nothing, listen to them vent.
  • Bikram Yoga
  • Journal- explore the feeling surrounding what’s going on in your life, sometimes solutions appear just from this and more often than not just the clarity you gain is enough to help deal with emotional overload.

If Severe

  • Call a professional.

I encourage you to try out some of these methods for yourself and see if practicing them regularly has a positive effect on you like I know it does for me! Let me know if you have any suggestions for recovery in these areas in the comments, I would enjoy learning some new ones, thanks!

My Why.

photo 3Have you ever really thought about your ‘why’? What drives you in life? What is the motivation behind your dreams? What keeps you striving through thick and thin? I’ve always generally known my why, but I hadn’t thoroughly thought through it until writing this blog post and it kind of surprised me how extensive and powerful it is. I recommend everyone reading this take a few minutes to really think about it because that’s what you’ll need to refer to when things get hard and you wonder, why am I doing this? 

As soon as I started brainstorming about my ‘why’ I immediately realized my life mentality was  conceived when my mom passed away my sophomore year at USC. That period of my life was when it really hit home how short life can be and that if you want to make the most of it you better get started. 

I had a rough time dealing with the loss of my mom, I continued to play volleyball through the grief, I partied hard, and my grades suffered. The next couple of months were capped off with a severely sprained ankle and an early exit in the NCAA playoffs, extreme exhaustion, and sitting in front of the computer in study hall receiving my semester grades that almost disqualified me from competing in volleyball the following semester. As I sat there I reflected on the previous few months and thought two things- one, how disappointed my mom would be in me, and two, what the heck was I doing with my life? I was blowing it. 

The next moment is still so clear in my mind, I resolved right then, in the middle of study hall, to make the most of my life and live up to my potential, in a way that my mom would be proud of and that would maximize my time here on Earth. Mostly those things were compatible, sometimes not so much, but as long as I was living in accordance of one of those two rules, I could live with myself. I started to bring my grades up by committing to attend class regularly (duh.) and sit in the front. I set a schedule for myself where I was going to bed between 10 and 11pm and getting up at 7am everyday. I started making my own food, and staying in more often than not on weekends. I finished my career at USC with two National Championships and a 4.0 gpa my senior year.

The mindset I developed at USC after losing my mom has persisted throughout my life and, I like to think, has continued to grow steadily. I have had multitudinous amazing life experiences because of my commitment to live fully. Most of the time it’s a decision and often times it’s in the face of risk or embarrassment or possible failure, and occasionally it involves the rejection of societal norms, but I have found the stories you get to live out are so much more worthwhile than if you take the safe route. I’ve definitely gone off path here and there, but my guiding principles bring me back sooner or later, and sometimes they are painful to follow through on, but in the end I feel I am better for it. 

So here I am, in my fourteenth season playing professional beach volleyball and my seventeenth if you include professional indoor volleyball, so it’s a good thing my ‘why’ has been solidified. There are many reasons why I continue to play, but number one will always have to do with my mom and the impact her loss had on me.

My other whys:

My premier goal in life growing up was to travel. I just wanted to see the world, and I really really didn’t think I was ever going to be able to. It is a BIG reason I enjoy how much beach volleyball requires us to travel, even in it’s hardest moments I am grateful for it because there was a time when I thought I’d never get to see anything. I’ve gotten to see places around the globe from the likes of Thailand, to Russia, Spain, Brazil, Dubai, Argentina and many many others in between. That in itself makes me feel so fulfilled. The only places left on my travel bucket list are Africa and Antarctica, maybe Patagonia on my way to Antarctica ;). 

Another huge reason I do what I do is the lifestyle. Most everything is up to you: your schedule, your teammate, how hard you work, how often you work, etc. Your office is the beach; something I will never take for granted. The people are generally awesome and the community really supports it’s own. It is an honor to be apart of this great sport and I’m always working to earn my right to stay here.

Working hard towards a purpose makes me joyful. Nothing worthwhile in this life comes easy and I love putting in work to get results. I want to find out how much my mind, body, and spirit can do, I want to see how much I can accomplish with what I’ve been given. I’m obsessed with growth and improvement and this sport requires me to push myself in this regard hourly, monthly, and yearly.  You have to seek out new ways to grow, new ways to gain a competitive advantage, new tools to use on the court. It requires creativity. I know I’m working for my best life, and beach volleyball allows me to continue in that pursuit.

Being a professional female athlete allows me to reach young people, and hopefully add to the good influence in this world. I love attempting to inspire the next generation of women to be strong and independent, it is a huge mission of mine and it would be ideal if I could continue in that area even after I’m done playing.

It is such an honor to represent our country through this sport. One of the raddest experiences EVER is being at the Olympics with USA on your chest. Easily, one of the most emotional moments of my life was getting announced for our first match at the London Games, I had never felt pride like that before. I want more.

And most importantly, I want to be free. Volleyball has allowed me to be independent, probably the thing I value most in this life. I will continue to pursue excellence and work my ass off to preserve my freedom. Freedom to do what I want, when I want, freedom to choose if I want to be in a relationship or not, freedom to stay or to go, say yes or say no, and all the other ways you can think of to apply the feeling of freedom in this life. I never want to feel trapped or controlled by someone else, I want my life to always be my own, and I will claw tooth and nail to maintain my freedom. THIS is why I work so hard.

What is your why?

My Super Bowl Weekend.

When it came in the mail I was beyond excited, an invitation to the Super Bowl with Gatorade!! If anyone does anything right, Gatorade does the Super Bowl RIGHT. 

Last time I got to go to the Super Bowl I told my sister I would take her “next time”, but I decided to tell her that I didn’t actually get a plus one this time, and then I surprised her with the ticket on Christmas! She said yes 😉 So I picked her up at 5am on Friday and we flew out to Atlanta. The plane was hyped uimg_9284p with Rams decorations and the flight attendants handed out Rams towels to the passengers, little did we know that’s where the Rams fanship would pretty much end. Once we landed in ATL we were greeted by Gatorade logistics people and escorted to our personal car we would have for the weekend.

Our home base in the ATL was to be the Ritz-Carlton in downtown, a fifteen minute walk from the stadium.  Thankfully, Gatorade was also able to secure and build up a space for a legit gym so their guests could get in workouts around the festivities.  They also created a huge hospitality suite with an open bar, gifting booth, and full buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  And the food was goooooood. Super creative dessert bar, southern flair on traditional classics, lots of biscuits and waffles, and even a poke bowl bar for lunch one day, makes me hungry just writing about it. 

After we settled in, and indulged in a few local treats left for us in the room, my sister and I got ready for the big dinner Gatorade hosts every year. The attendees include a number of their athletes, strength and conditioning coaches, trainers, and a variety of others who have won awards from Gatorade for their work in the industry. Held at the Foundry, it had a super bluesy feel, complete with four grand, beautifully set tables that spanned from one wall to the other, a live band, and wall of human arms handing out flutes of champagne (you read that right, just arms sticking out of a wall).

After the lovely dinner, we enjoyed the band for a a little while and then took off to The Tabernacle to catch Imagine Dragons in concert! They are one of my favorite bands; they write their own music, are ridiculously talented musicians, champion important causes, and bring so much fire when they perform. I thought we were seeing them in some huge venue, but we got there and it turned out to be a really intimate setting and I was in heaven, probably my favorite music experience to date. (Thanks to my agent for hooking us up with that ticket!) 

Luckily, nothing was scheduled for the mornings, and being that we were out late and on pacific time, it was really nice to sleep in. Also lucky that Waffle House serves breakfast all day! I make it a point to visit Waffle House at least once whenever I’m in the south, and my sister had never been so it worked out perfectly. I have NEVER had better customer service than we received at this Waffle House, never with anything ever.

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After we stuffed ourselves with eggs, hash browns, and waffles, it was off to the SPA! Gatorade arranged for TWO spa treatments at the St. Regis Hotel for everyone! I mean, best gift ever! My sis and I both opted for massages and facials, and they were beyond blissful, but just as great was the quiet space to wait in beforehand and hang out in afterwards stocked with healthy snacks, and of course champagne! We felt very spoiled. 

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After being at the spa for over four hours we reluctantly left, but only because I still needed to get a workout in before getting ready for the Bruno Mars and Cardi B concert that night! I ended up in the gym with Adam Levine (lead singer of Maroon 5) and I didn’t bother him for a photo or anything, but I am going to go ahead and say we worked out together 😉 

That night we decided to walk to the concert at the State Farm Arena, also a fifteen minute walk, because the traffic was so insane, but WOW I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a city so crazy. People performing in the street, protesting, selling stuff, smoking stuff, preaching, lots and lots of preaching, motorcades, ticket scalping, and a good amount of police watching the madness, all shoulder to shoulder jam packed. But we made it and it was definitely worth the hassle.

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Ready for Cardi B and Bruno Mars!

Cardi B was Cardi B: funny, badass, unapologetic. Her performance was short, as she was the openner, but it was entertaining. I think a Cardi B headline tour would be spectacular and I would love to see her perform the full version of all her songs plus featured artists, but I was stoked to see her live in any capacity. Bruno killed it, like he always does. This was my second time seeing him and you just can’t go wrong with one of his concerts. He and his band are so talented. It was a BLAST dancing to his set late into the night and singing along to all of his songs. We decided to drive back. 

Super Bowl Sunday! First things first though, we went down to the hospitality suite, got a healthy breakfast in and then headed to the gym. I was able to get a great workout in, which always gives me energy and helps me feel prepped for the day. Then we hit up the incredible late brunch that was now laid out in the suite and visited the gifting booth to pick up some super bowl goodies, made personalized pressed t-shirts, and most importantly, picked up our tickets to the tailgate and the game! After we got ready we jumped in the car (big mistake) and headed to the tailgate. The stadium is less than a mile away and it took us an hour to get there, talk about frustration. But it was literally the only slightly negative part about the weekend. We made it to the tailgate party just in time to see Tim McGraw (we missed Aloe Blacc), and I’m not a country music lover, but how can you not enjoy a close up Tim McGraw concert?! 

After the concert, we snaked through the crowds of Brady jerseys in our nbrhd RAMILY hats and found our way to the pimped out Gatorade suite with open bar, TVs in the bathroom (and out), and of course a full spread of delicious food; I could have been watching snails race and had a good time up there. The game obviously wasn’t high scoring, or what people were expecting, but I found it very inspiring to be there and watch what these players had worked so hard for. To see how each team handled it, how individual players performed, and also how the coaches approached it strategically. You just know you’re in the presence of greatness and high stakes and that alone is thrilling and motivating. 

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After the Patriots won, we stuck around for a while because you HAVE to find out what color the Gatorade is! (Blue) And to watch the celebration and because our seats were just so comfy and, mainly, we just didn’t want the weekend to end. Eventually, we decided to head out, we walked back to the hotel this time, in the midst of thousands of celebratory Patriot fans, it was a fun atmosphere. Once back to the hotel we jumped into bed and got a few hours sleep before our 4am wake up call for our flight home and away from the best weekend ever. 

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I can’t explain how grateful I am to Gatorade for giving me the opportunity to experience stuff like this, the weekend was perfect, and we felt so spoiled the whole time. It wasn’t lost on me this past weekend, nor will it ever be, how cool experiences like this are. 

Ixtapa Don’t Stopa

If your idea of a perfect day is basking in the warm sun on a beach in Mexico playing volleyball with a bunch of awesome people then you belong on a South of the Border Volleyball Vacation. I just got back from spending nine pretty awesome days down in Ixtapa, Mexico with 240 SOB-ers on my second trip with this organization. My first one was in Puerto Vallarta circa 2013 and I’ve had a hard time fitting in another one since then until the FIVB tournament in Fort Lauderdale (Feb. 4-10) got cancelled and my schedule unexpectedly opened up! 

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I immediately reached out to SOB’s fearless leader Tom Davenport to see if he had room for me. Luckily he did, but once I was in I got a little nervous. The Puerto Vallarta trip is known for being a little more mellow and a lot less people than Ixtapa, and don’t get it twisted, we Pros are working while we are down there even if it is one of the coolest jobs you can land. I was envisioning it being really hectic trying to get around to everyone, I definitely wasn’t sure I’d be able to remember anyones names, and most importantly, how many tequila shots was I going to have to take?! But I managed to stay in the moment, put myself out there, just accept that I’d be asking for people’s names over and over, gave most of my shots to Troy and Miles 😉 and in the end everything ran really smoothly and I genuinely had a great time.

The new pros to Ixtapa flew down Friday so we could get the lay of the land. New to this particular trip were myself, Sean Rosenthal, Kerri Schuh, Geena Urango, and Troy Field. We checked in to The Park Royal Hotel, which I loved immediately. It’s airy and clean, my room had a gorgeous view, and it’s right on the beach with a picturesque pool. After we threw on our bathing suits we headed out to the beach for a welcome drink and a few rounds of four on four fun volley, then it was back to the room to clean up before heading to dinner. The restaurant Tom took us to was nestled in the hills of Zihuatanejo with an unforgettable view and food that matched. It was a great night with the crew before all the guests arrived the following day. The veteran Ixtapa pros that also joined us Saturday were Caitlin Ledoux, Janelle and Billy Allen, Ty Loomis, Ty Tramblie, Kelley Larsen, and Miles Evans, a pretty solid group of people to spend a week+ with in Mexico!

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The pros have a few specific responsibilities while we’re down there; mainly playing with the guests in the morning and afternoon for a few hours, leading clinics every day, with a little coaching sprinkled throughout as well. Some of my favorite moments on the trip were playing with the SOBers during the Pro Games each day. All the guests are allowed to sign up for one thirty minute session with a pro and we either play a couple of games or they can ask for something else like a hitting lesson, etc. There’s another pro and guest on the other side of the net, so really you get to play with two pros at once! I had a lot of fun getting out there and playing with everyone who signed up for my games and hopefully I was able to give them a few tips they could take home. I also had a blast playing a few pick up games in my spare time. This really allowed me to meet and get to know some of the people on the trip, which I was thankful for, no better way to break the ice with someone than to play a sport with them! 

Another huge highlight of the trip was the boat cruise that all the new pros got to go on with the first eighty guests that signed up. We rented a huge catamaran to meander the coast of Zihuatanejo, and once we reached our “destination” we anchored in a cove, took turns doing backflips off the side of the boat, and just floated around on life jackets or, in my case, a toddler zebra floatie that I bring with me everywhere there is going to be water. At the end of the cruise we had the opportunity to do something called spinnakering where the guys on the boat attach a harness to the huge sail and use the wind to lift the passenger way up into the air. I’ve been parasailing before, but this was way more fun!

The trip down to Ixtapa is known for having a pretty healthy nightlife, there is something to do every night if you so choose, but I was especially excited about theme night. This year it was Naughty or Nice and I decided to go as Rainbow Brite, which is now my new favorite costume! One of the guests even coincidentally brought some blow up unicorn drink holders, of which she gave me one, to be Rainbow’s unicorn, Starlite! Seeing what everyone decided to dress up as was equal parts entertaining and shocking, and it was a blast dancing the night away at the Sexy Bar (the hotel’s beachside club).

I also really enjoyed going out to dinner every night with different groups of people and got to know a lot more of the guests this way. (Thank you to everyone who extended the invite!) I now feel like I’m going to have a mini reunion at each AVP tournament this summer and I can’t wait!

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By the end of the trip, I had enough chips and guac to last the rest of the year, secured a base tan that no one should have in January, and made some connections that I hope will last a really long time. On a side note, I was stoked it was too hot to do anything in the middle of the day which allowed me to get in a siesta to catch up on sleep each day and then hit the gym before our afternoon session, I actually came back from Mexico in better shape than when I left! I did a ton of yoga and my body held up really well throughout the nine days of going pretty non-stop down there.

I really didn’t know how the week was going to go, but I can’t overstate how much fun I ended up having. I can only imagine how rad it would be for the volleyball weekend warrior to come down and play in the huge week-long ‘King of the Court’ tournament, and/or give the co-ed tournament a go, while relaxing in the ocean side lounge chairs with a pina colada in between matches. If it seems like it’s something up your alley, cruise on over to the SOB website for all the info! www.sobvolleyballvacations.com

Tom Davenport deserves lots of kudos for making these trips happen. The volleyball community is special, it’s full of fun-loving, inclusive people and to get a lot of them together and take them down to Mexico for a week in the middle of winter is simply a perfect vacation. And it also creates an opportunity for us pros to make a little off season money, which all of us appreciate tremendously. Thank you Tom! I can’t wait for my next SOB Volleyball Vacation!

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Olympic Qualification; the deets.

Since the time is upon us, I figured I should actually explain the process of qualifying for the Olympics as it pertains to beach volleyball.  It can be confusing, looooooong, and calculating the points is tough even for the mathematicians among us, but I will do my best to lay it out for you. 

Olympic Qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Games technically began in September of 2018 (earliest ever), but the first qualification event for us was the NORCECA Championships in the Dominican Republic that Alix and I were able to win (!) towards the end of October.  

The first step towards qualifying for the Games is to play in at least twelve FIVB World Tour events. However, you must take into account that the FIVB uses a star system to differentiate the events. Most important are the 5 STARS, the cream of the crop, where you have the opportunity to win the most amount of points and prize money (unfortunately there aren’t very many of these each season, I think there are two in 2019). Then come the 4 STARS which are a pretty big drop off from a 5 star in regards to points and money, but the competition is usually the same as at a 5 star (you gotta get those points somehow!). You get the idea, 3 STARS are worth less, 2 STARS and 1 STARS are usually good for teams just starting out. Each event counts as one of your twelve finishes regardless of the star count.

Ok, get your thinking caps on because this is where it starts to get complicated.  On top of the star system there is also a “country quota” rule that limits each country to only FOUR teams. Each tournament (regardless of star ranking) is a thirty-two team main draw that takes eight teams from a twenty-four team qualifier.  So you can have four teams from each country in a combination of the main draw and qualifier in each tournament. The caveat is that even if all four teams have enough points to be in the main draw, the team with the least amount of points is automatically put in the qualifier…these rules start to seem even more outdated as I write them.  

You are allowed to sign up for 5-1 star tournaments based on the amount of FIVB points you have, so as you may have put together already, the top performing teams get first dibs on 5 and 4 stars, normally. Some teams that can’t get into those events then sign up for the 3, 2, and 1 stars to attempt to build up enough points to pass that fourth team that is qualifying for the top events. *Sidenote: there are wildcards awarded for each event and it’s possible for both to be awarded to the same country, as has been the case a few times in the last year for the U.S. (normally unheard of), so in that case one country could have up to six teams in one tournament. 

To determine where you rank among U.S. teams trying to get into the top events, teams add up points from their best four finishes out of their last six events in a 365 day period.  Because of this it is detrimental to play 3, 2, and 1 stars if you have good finishes in your last six events in 5 and 4 stars, sometimes teams won’t even play 4 stars in order to hold on to their 5 star points longer. Got it? Sure…haha. 

As far as Olympic qualification goes, you’re in a good spot if you’re able to land in the main draw automatically in 5 and 4 star events, but with such a long qualification period there is room for lots of movement if you don’t perform.  The race to get as many points as possible in at least twelve events goes all the way up until June 2020, almost a full two year period. Then at the end of the qualification period you take your best twelve finishes and stack them against all the other American teams’ best twelve finishes. 

IF you find yourself in the top two places among U.S. teams you have a very good chance of going to Tokyo in July.  BUT, and here’s the catch, you must also be in the top fifteen teams in the world (also based on your best twelve finishes). If that happens then the two top American teams (per gender) will automatically get bids to the Olympics, yay! 

If there is only one team that qualifies in the top fifteen, then there are a few other routes that the other team can take. One is through a continental qualification tournament and the other is through a last chance qualification tournament with teams from all over the world who still have yet to qualify (at least that’s how it was in 2016).  If neither team is in the top fifteen then they would both play in the continental tournament and/or last chance tournament (as one team, I don’t have time to explain this one) and then have a playoff versus each other to determine the ONE team that would represent the U.S.A. in Tokyo. Intense!!

There was a time when USAV wanted to hold a “one-off” Olympic qualification tournament in the U.S. with only American teams, but there were too many variables. First, two teams would have to qualify two spots for the U.S. the traditional way I just outlined for you, but that wouldn’t mean they’d actually get to go to the Olympics, they’d still have to make the final of this U.S. qualification tournament, which is pretty unfair in itself.  But also, what if a team that had been dominant all year leading up to the Olympics incurs an injury or gets ill? And the way a team matches up against international teams can be different than how they match up with American teams. A team that beats top international teams that will be at the Olympics, but matches up poorly against another American team could lose out on the chance to go to the Games when they might actually be our best chance. Or a team with no chance otherwise, competing in this one-off event with “nothing to lose” may play super loose and upset some teams that have consistently done well internationally in high pressure situations. However, that team that played well with nothing to lose cannot be expected to play the same way on the biggest stage in the world at the Olympics. The liability of an event like that could be too great. Consistency and strength should have to be proven over time against the best teams from other countries.

One situation I didn’t discuss, but I find notable (especially because it happened to me) is the possibility of having multiple teams in the top fifteen in the world. All technically deserve to go to the Olympics after having proven they are among the best in the world, but because the Olympics has a two team per country quota, only the top two get to go. This is in order to ensure room for teams from countries that may not be as competitive, but wouldn’t be represented otherwise.  Jen Kessy and I were ranked fifth in the world at the end of the qualification period for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but barely missed out because there were American teams ranked first and fourth in the world ahead of us.  I’m very conflicted about this rule, obviously… but those are the rules.

I think that’s basically everything you need to know about how to qualify for the Olympics in this sport… the only other caveat is that if you win the World Championships this year in Hamburg your national federation (USAV) gets an automatic bid to the Olympics, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the team that won gets that spot, but ultimately it is very likely that that team would claim that spot in the end.  The race on the women’s side will be competitive, there are many more teams doing well internationally this quad than there were in the quad leading up to 2016. 

This is my fourth attempt at qualifying for the Olympics, it’s exciting. I love my team and I’m having more fun playing and traveling than I have in a long time.  We are super motivated, but have a long way to go. I hope you’ll cheer for us!

Commitment to the Process

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When you’re competitive and all you want to do is win and NOW, staying committed to the process can be tough. Inevitably you will have ups and downs. It is after the disappointments that this commitment is hard, obviously. The impulse to scrap everything and start over because “apparently everything you’ve been doing is wrong” seems very logical while seeing red, but it is something I’m trying to be consciously better about.  If I look at what I believe will be the period of time between when Alix and I started our journey and when we will get to our destination, it doesn’t make sense to train one way with one intention in mind for a little while and then switch it because of an unsatisfactory result. It’s denying my outcome oriented mind in favor of the more logical and self-serving process oriented method. Fake it til you make it right??

Like I said, I want to win yesterday already, which is appropriate considering our tournament in the Hague last week. I love this tournament. It’s in an amazing city, we stay in a cute hotel with a great breakfast, in the city center, get to wear warm cozy clothes to and from the venue. The venue is STATE OF THE ART, it’s heated, the sand is great, center court feels like you’re at a concert, and if all that wasn’t enough, it has working toilets and warm showers for when we’re done competing! (it’s the little things!) AND it’s over New Year’s, and in the Netherlands THEY GO FOR IT. We may not participate (too busy taking shelter), but their firework policy is absolutely nuts. I won’t even attempt to describe it, but you should really check out this video, promise it’s worth it-  How to Survive Dutch New Year’s Eve

So anyway, despite all the amazingness surrounding this event, the fact that we had a mediocre ending has definitely left me with a bad taste in my mouth. We ended up in fourth place, which, even though it’s better than any place below it (and had we gotten one of those finishes I might be wishing for a fourth), it’s not a fun result. In the semis we drew a young good Brazilian team that we beat in the finals of our last tournament in China, but we weren’t crisp enough down the stretch to pull it out despite being up a few points at both technical timeouts. Ok ok, now you gotta get over it, get fired up again, and play the bronze medal match. Some teams pooh-pooh the bronze medal match, but that was never an option for us, we knew the importance of the match and for many reasons really wanted to win. 

We convincingly won the first set, probably with our serving to passing ratio. One thing you should know about indoor beach volleyball (and this is with the Mikasa ball) is you are able to serve the crap out of the ball and it can drop on a dime for no reason, it requires a sharply increased reaction time compared to outdoor beach. I would bet there were more aces in this tournament than any other tournament all last season. In the first set against the Finnish that worked in our favor. We were able to fight off their serves and we got more aces than they did. I have to think they realized that, because they then stepped up their serving and passing game and outdid us in that category for the rest of the match, and it showed. 

There are a lot of factors involved in those two losses, some will not be an issue again until the next indoor beach tournament (The Hague is the only one as of now), some just come and go as is natural in sport, and some were completely under our control.  Some had to do with preparation, some with our mental approach- not necessarily bad, but maybe wrong. Either way, wether I can control what went wrong or not, one thing is for sure: I’m extremely motivated to move forward, fix what went wrong, and make sure the next time we have a chance to medal we take it. There’s just something different about the motivation inspired by a loss versus a win, no matter how hard you try to maintain it after the latter.

So the challenge now is how do we stick to the long term plan, trust the process, and still fix what we feel went wrong? 

Find perspective– Look at the timeline from where you started to where you want to go as a linear line in your mind. It’s probably decently long, if not never-ending. How much importance do you want to assign what happened during a blip on this timeline? How crucial was it really? If say, your New Years resolution was to eat healthier, but you end up going HAM on left over Christmas cookies one night, how detrimental is that really to your end goal? If you jump right back on the wagon believing you haven’t sabotaged your end goal, you’re going to be in much better shape. 

Trust the people we have put around us– We have a lot of people helping us, and to come back and say, “nothing we were doing worked! We need to completely change our training!” (which I have done before to my chagrin) What is the point of working with these people? We should feel comfortable asking for small adjustments, but if the long term plan has been mindfully created, regardless of short term outcomes along the way, we need to trust the effort these people have put into our goals and the process of getting there.

Study, study, study– The best way to fix what you feel went wrong while sticking with the plan and trusting the process is to watch video of yourself and learn from your mistakes! Not everything is a result of bad technique or lack of preparation, etc. Maybe you will notice something that in the end is really easy to correct, maybe it’s as simple as changing one of your cues. Also I find that by studying others it gives me ideas of things I can try within our training, without changing basic strategy, that may help me improve. Outside of volleyball this can be translated into ‘knowledge is power’.  Research what you’re trying to get better at, the more we know about how to get to our goals, the more tools we will gain to help us get there.

Practice acceptance– Most of us competitive perfectionists beat ourselves up after losses or bad performances. This can serve a purpose, but only if it can then quickly be overcome. I find it extremely helpful when I am critiquing myself to take notes. In the moment I’m hyper aware of what made me uncomfortable, what I feel like I need to get better at, and my mentality during the performance that maybe I want to improve upon.  If I take notes immediately so I know I won’t forget, I find it is much easier to let it go.  After I decompress and we start working on our training plan, I can objectively go back to my notes and reevaluate them. I can then decide what ultimately fits in with the long term plan and will actually help us get better versus something that may have been situational and out of my control.

Meditation will also help with the acceptance of our imperfect selves. My favorite part of the practice is to surround all thoughts that may float through my mind uninvited during meditation with a flood of acceptance. Some thoughts are harder to do this with than others, but with effort and consistency this really works. 

None of this is easy, but if we can manage to avoid overreacting to our shortcomings, and maintain focus on our strengths, loving ourselves in the process, it will help us trust the process and stick with it. So this is my task moving forward, I’m three quarters of the way there and writing this blog definitely helped me work through my feelings and create a game plan for next time. That’s part of why I want to maintain this blog, it’s as much for me as it is for you. I hope you also found it helpful! And know that even if you’ve had a rough start with your resolutions, be understanding with yourself and know that there will be a learning curve, but if you stay committed to the process you will get there!