My Path to the Olympics: Part 2

“Hold the vision. Trust the process.”
~Unknown

 

Before reading this post, check out Part 1 here!
 

After a lot of deliberation and discussion with my husband, I finally decided that I had to leave the indoor National Team behind, and try to qualify for the Olympics on the beach. I would be 30 years old going into the Rio 2016 Olympics, which isn’t exactly young for an athlete (or for someone starting a new sport), but I knew that I needed to explore every single option of getting to the Olympics before my career was over. I would never be able to live with myself if I didn’t.
 

With those thoughts in mind, I started playing beach volleyball in 2013. Before I had even had my first practice, there were people telling me that I probably wouldn’t be very good because the sports are so different, and that just because I am good at indoor, I should prepare to struggle on the sand. I also heard that, being an indoor athlete, I probably wouldn’t be prepared for the mental challenges of playing beach, and that I would “have to think for myself” since there was no coach. I hated that; I hated the condescending tone and elitist attitude that those people took with me. It made me so angry that people who didn’t know anything about me thought that they could try to discourage me in this way. I was well aware that the switch would be challenging, and that it would be a long process, but I also knew that there is no one as focused and dedicated as me. I knew that I would do everything I could to be successful, so in my mind I thanked those people for giving me extra motivation to prove them all wrong.
 

The first couple of seasons were tough. There was a long adjustment period as I retrained my body to perform skills that had become second nature to me indoor. I had to alter the way I jumped, the way I blocked, the way I set. I actually had to pass haha. Learning any new skill takes time; learning new skills while playing against the best in the world is humbling.
 

There were days I wanted to give up. I asked my husband if he thought I was crazy for trying to do this, and I thought that I would never figure out the sport. I didn’t give up though. I knew what I wanted, and I knew that beach volleyball was the way to get it, so I kept pushing to get better and learn every single day. Finally, the changes came, and in my third season, the results started to come as well. Fortunately, that was the Olympic qualifying year, and we finished that season with 4 medals and a #3 world ranking.
 

In beach volleyball, the Olympic qualification lasts for a season and a half. Each team needs to play in at least 12 tournaments, and if more are played, the top 12 point totals over that 18 month period at added up to determine the top 16 teams in the world. At the end of qualification, we were #5, and had earned a berth for Canada in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. My biggest dream had finally come true, and I was going to savour every sweet moment of it.
 

When I first set the goal of being an Olympian, I thought it would be very straight forward. I was a young child, after all. As I got older, though, I realized that while a lot of my goals were mostly in my control, this one was not. There were a lot of moving parts that had to perfectly align to make it happen, so I had to make adjustments. It took 25 years to reach this dream of mine, from the moment I first said it, to the moment I stepped on the sand in Rio. There were times when I tried to convince myself that there was nothing special about going to the Olympics, and that it was just a glorified tournament. I did that to protect myself from the reality of potentially failing to achieve my dream. I saw through my own mind games, though, and knew deep down that being an Olympian was incredibly important to me. Being honest with myself allowed me to dig even deeper, and gave me a renewed energy with which to pursue it.
 

My path to the Olympics was full of zig-zags, and it definitely took a different course than I expected. Looking back on it, though, I think that’s what makes it so precious to me. I was forced to improvise and take risks, and learn things that I didn’t expect to. Now, I am an Olympian, and I possess a new set of skills that I will be able to draw on for the rest of my life. I am so thankful for the path that lead me here.
 

xo, Sarah

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