Courtesy of Beach Volleyball Major Series Media Service
Nick and Phil talk about the bittersweet moments of their beach careers
Hours after they stood triumphantly on top of the podium on the Red Bull Beach Arena, home favorites Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser were already flying to their next tournament. Just the small matter of a 16-hour flight to Doha.
So, while the Americans were thrilled to have ended a three-year wait to win gold on home soil (they had secured silver and bronze on their two previous visits to Fort Lauderdale) – it was a bittersweet moment given that they were surrounded by their closest friends and family.
Both Lucena and Dalhausser live in Florida. Both have wives and both have two children. They will not get to see them to celebrate their long-awaited first triumph on home sand. In this vein of golden form, beach volleyball comes first for these 38-year-old professionals.
Lucena grew up in Fort Lauderdale and began playing beach volleyball just meters away from the Center Court. “It’s not easy, it’s never easy, but we’ve got to live with it,” he says.
“We’re privileged in a number of ways to play this sport and see the world. Unfortunately, we can’t always share our moments with our families. This time, especially as this is my home tournament, it’s great that some are here but it sucks that we won’t have time to let this win sink in and share it with them.”
Dalhausser moved to Florida from California with his wife Jennifer and children Sebastien, four, and three-year-old Sophia. They were not present to witness this latest triumph of the 2008 Olympic champion’s career, but his parents were.
“My wife couldn’t make it – instead she was chasing the kids on the beach back home,” said the man named on the beach volleyball circuit as the Thin Beast. “My folks were here but I think Nick had 100 family members here!
“Sadly we don’t have time to really enjoy the win. We’ll head to Doha, and then come back home for a month before we go out to China for the next tournament.
“We have mixed emotions. We’ve finally won this tournament after three years of trying and there’s nothing else we’d like to do than go out for a nice steak and have a couple of bottles of wine. But we’ll do that when we get home from Doha.”
Leaving family and friends behind is part and parcel of the nomadic life of the beach volleyball pro.
“Every year it gets tougher,” explains Dalhausser. “Sebastian is four and he makes it really hard. He cries every time I leave for a tournament which sucks even more. But it is what it is. We spend a lot of time away from them, but when we’re home, between September and December, we’re home the whole time.
“With each passing season you think to yourself ‘what am I doing? This is enough.’” It’s a tough balancing act. After the 2016 Olympics if the right coaching job had come along, I would have probably said goodbye to the sport.
“A job never came up and I felt I still had something to prove. Of course missing your family and wanting to be with them goes through your mind.
“But when you’re getting good results and performing well it helps you get through the grind of competing away from the family.”
That feeling is shared by Lucena, who once missed the birth of his oldest son, Gunner, because he was playing on an AVP tournament in New York.
“We’re fortunate to be able to do what we love but the hardest thing is being away from our families,” he says. “It’s not ideal, we FaceTime a lot, but we’re used to it.
“We miss them but, on the other hand, you get to hang out with your buddies a lot, traveling the world with Phil and our coach, Jason Lochhead.
“Phil’s in the same situation which helps. It’s just the nature of the business but we do a good job of keeping in touch.”
With a gold medal already in their pocket thanks to their exploits on Fort Lauderdale beach, and with their performances showing no signs of stopping, Nick and Phil’s families might just have to wait a few years yet before they see them more often.
But you can be sure they’ll be making time to have that steak when they get back from Doha – maybe with another medal to show the family.