The Ladies of Summer

I walked into the ladies restroom at Holland State Park this August 2017 and a vivid sense of déjà vu pervaded my mind as I walked to a stall. A fine layer of sand stuck everywhere on my sweaty torso and had settled inside my bikini. I poof of sand fell on the floor at my feet. How many times had that happened on a summer Saturday at beaches all along Michigan’s west coast? I wondered how many times I’d played at Pere Marquette Beach in Muskegon, at South Haven, in Traverse City and a slew of other sugar sand beaches. The beaches truly are unique in the Mitten. I’ve spoken to countless Californians who marvel at the clean, dense and deep sand. It’s hard not to notice our sand…it can talk. It squeaks under your feet as you walk.

How many weekends had I set my alarm for an early wake up call? Packed a cooler with fruit, pasta salad and lime protein drinks? How many sunburns had I endured on my shoulders and thighs from brushing the sand off in between plays? How many serves had I hit out? How many aces? How many miles had I traveled? How many wins? How many agonizing 2nd’s and 3rd’s? Thankfully, my roster does not include many one-two-bbq scenarios in twenty-five years!

Now At 47, Michelle and I were playing against girls half our age and they kept choosing serve, not side. Rookies! Someday they will understand the wind is in charge. At my age, I’ve learned to transition from a #1 seed to a AA player, thankful not to have had shoulder surgery and still competing at a high level. I live on memories now, especially the thrill of a victory against Chicago opponents. My lucky stuff block sent me rushing to hug my partner Amy DeLong. We had won, MPVA Champions 2001! It meant something at that time from 1993 – 2003. They handed out trophies then but it was the thrill of the competition (and the beach) that kept me coming back.

And the people of course. I have retained many friendships all the result of a beach volleyball culture that fills a sizeable chunk of memory. Partner or foe, I have a special place in my heart for the ladies of summer: Maureen, Brenda, Jen, Lori, Carin, Amy, Deb, Nikki, MaryAnn, Julie, Michelle, Megan, Peka, Elisa, Kathryn, Jeri, Annie, Sondra, Deb, Shannon, Kathy, Emily, Tree and more. I still laugh at our conversations at after parties, freshly showered in street clothes. “You look different with your hair down and all those clothes on.”

Instead of 10-12 tournaments per summer, now it’s just two or three. The love of the game remains, but I don’t love how I feel on Sunday. Recovery sucks for aging veterans. Things change, you learn to adapt and pass along what you know. In my early 40’s, I played with Keegan, a young aspiring player at the request of the tournament director. “She could use some experience and your calm demeanor,” he said. It did seem time to transition to player/coach role. I agreed and had no expectations that we’d make it to playoffs. Wrong. The day churned forward and the sun baked our shoulders. I encouraged, I taught, I explained and we miraculously fought our way to a semi-final. Keegan was clearly excited and nervous. My pep talks revolved around taking each point as a snapshot…. don’t look back, don’t look forward. She asked me, “Have you ever gotten this far?” I nodded an affirmative but changed the subject quickly. I wasn’t sure how many times I had been in a semi-final or final…too many to keep track of. She had no idea of my history, # of wins or that I was 17-years older. We played valiantly but lost to the eventual winners. I despise losing but that match created a warm glow inside my volleyball heart. I grinned and posed with young Keegan while holding our winnings check.

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