Sandy road to Olympics lined with sacrifice for women’s beach volleyball pair

Travel, sand, sun — and sacrifice.

For Olympic hopefuls Heather Bansley and Liz Maloney, the reality of striving for the top of the podium in women’s beach volleyball isn’t always as glamorous as people sometimes make it out to be, Bansley says.

“It’s really challenging being on the road, our travel schedule is very demanding,” she said. “We were on the road for eight months last year. It’s a really long time to be away from home, away from family and friends and to be living out of your suitcase.

“It is not like a vacation, I mean we are there for work and we are expected to be at our best, to perform at our best. And we are constantly outside our comfort zone.”

I feel really confident. I know that we can do it. I think we have a great shot at it.

—Heather Bansley

The Canadian pair have made Hermosa Beach, Calif., their home base to get outdoor training and opportunities to practice with other international teams before they begin competing on the international beach volleyball circuit leading up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Twenty-four women’s beach volleyball teams will qualify for the Olympics, said John Child, the pair’s coach. The 16 top ranked teams qualify automatically while the remaining eight spots are determined through Olympic continental tours.

“They are not currently in position to be in the Olympics, they are just outside,” said Child, a 1996 Summer Olympics bronze medallist. “But definitely within striking distance and we are only halfway through the Olympics qualification process.

“The team has shown steady improvement and better results have been coming lately. So I think it’s all good signs to hopefully get there.”

Bansley agreed.

“I feel really confident,” she said. “I know that we can do it. I think we have a great shot at it. I’m really looking forward to getting started so we can get there.”

Bansley’s beach volleyball career changed dramatically in 2010. It was the year she started competing internationally full-time. It was also they year she joined forces with Maloney and together they won the Beach Volleyball Canadian National Championships.

Since then, the chemistry between the two has strengthened, Bansley said.

“We know each other very well on and off the court,” she said. “We travel together so much. We trust each other a lot and respect each other as players, which is huge in the game of beach volleyball when there are only two of you.

“I feel really confident in our team.”

Bansley’s will to win is the quality that stands out more than any other, said University of Toronto women’s volleyball head coach Kristine Drakich, her previous coach.

“She is very, very competitive,” Drakich said. “Very few had the will to win in the way that she has.”

Bansley was under the tutelage of Drakich for five years while she completed her honours bachelor of arts in English literature and linguistics at U of T.

It was then that she made the tough choice to stick with her passion for beach volleyball, Bansley said.

“I graduated from university and I see all my friends pursuing academics or careers, and they are sort of in a more stable environment, whereas sometimes we are not sure if we are going to get paid or not,” she said. “It’s challenging in that way.”

But, Bansley said, “I still love it and that’s why I’m doing it.”