From the April 1997 issue, Rob Heidger describes the changes he made in his life on the way to becoming a professional beach volleyball player.
When I first set out to tackle the Miller Lite AVP Tour in 1993, life was so simple. It was basically made up of three parts: The beach. The gym. And a restaurant job to make ends meet.
My brother and I shared a bedroom in a small apartment, and my diet consisted of pasta, pasta, and more pasta. The biggest worry I had as far as volleyball was concerned was not how I was going to do in the upcoming tournament but if I was even going to get in.
There was a small group of us down at State Beach near Santa Monica that would hang around the pay phone every Wednesday at noon (the entry deadline) and call to see if we had enough points to get in. If I didn’t get in, I’d usually pick up some shifts hosting at the restaurant to make extra money and wait a week to see if my luck would change.
If I did get into the tournament, I just hoped to win a game or two, party a little bit, and head home to gear up for the next week. I never used to make a hotel reservation on Saturday night because I wasn’t sure I’d be playing on Sunday. If I did make it to Sunday, there was always a mad scramble to find somewhere to sleep. I’ve slept on a wide variety of surfaces, including the beach, bathroom floors, and a lounge chair next to a pool in Florida.
As I began to improve over the next couple of years, things began to change. Because my income was increasing, the first major decision I had to make was whether to quit my job or not. I did quit, and I ended up losing money that year, so I was forced to work a lot during the winter to pay down the debt I had incurred on my credit cards. Eventually, I could afford to stay jobless during the winter as well, and that was when I started to think of volleyball more as a full-time career. I started replacing motorcycle riding and skiing with less dangerous pursuits such as movies and bowling. To make sure I was getting the most out of my training, I hired a strength and conditioning coach to put me on a year-round program. I was also able to afford a massage therapist, and I had more than one ball to bring down to the beach. And because my grocery shopping branched out beyond one aisle of the store, I had to start worrying about what type of fuel to put in my body, so I consulted a nutritionist.
Off the court, for the first time in my life, I was dealing with things such as health insurance, taxes and the fact that I could no longer fit all my worldly possessions in the trunk of my car. I used to hear my parents complain about taxes all the time, but I never thought they were that big a deal. I would just spend about an hour on April 14th of each year filling out my little 1040EZ form and drive it down to the post office. Now my taxes consist of a year-long collection of receipts and an endless search for the ultimate tax shelter.
Along with all these complexities, there are the obvious benefits to having a career as a top pro beach volleyball player. I get paid to keep myself in shape, my office is at the beach, and I don’t even own a suit. In addition, I’ve been fortunate enough to play volleyball in beautiful places such as the Caribbean, Spain and Italy. The people I’ve gotten to meet and the things I’ve seen have been nothing short of incredible, and I’m very grateful for that. And the opportunities only seem to be getting better. If I really wanted to, I could be gone on volleyball-related vacations during our entire off-season, but I’ve had to turn down some great offers because I haven’t had the time or energy.
The real challenge for me now is to be able to enjoy this wonderful lifestyle I’ve earned for myself and keep the same focus I had back when things were so simple—that clear desire to be the best volleyball player I can possibly be.
Originally published in April 1997