Enjoy this Premium story on VolleyballMag.com
The semi-timely arrival of Luca Anthony DiCello — thanks to some castor oil — was a little tougher on Kim DiCello’s pro-beach volleyball career than she imagined.
But after Luca was born this past June 14, DiCello was back on the sand with an eye on getting back on tour in 2019. But then Irene Pollock called, because her partner, Amanda Dowdy, was injured. They were scheduled to compete in the FIVB three-star event in Chetumal, Mexico.
Pollock called DiCello 10 days before the October 24-28 tournament.
“I wasn’t planning to compete this soon,” DiCello admitted. “I had been training, I had been back in the weight room, I had been back in the sand, but the first time that I set foot in the sand was September 6th, and that was just light passing and setting. It wasn’t at all planned that at this point I would be competition-ready.”
She wasn’t, of course.
“In our last match, I absolutely ran out of gas,” DiCello admitted. “It was interesting, because mentally I felt calm, focused, alert, and my mind didn’t know that I was physically fatigued. It was almost surprising to me when I wasn’t getting my feet to the ball, or I would go to swing at a ball, and my shoulder didn’t have any power behind it, or it felt like my arm didn’t have any power behind it, and I think that’s because I’m still in the process of returning to the sport.
“This was a cruel re-introduction to the sport,” she said with a laugh.“Our very first match was at 1 o’clock, in 90-degree weather with 90-percent humidity, and I was running up as a blocker, as well as taking every serve, but I had the biggest smile on my face the whole time.
“I was just so excited to be out there, I’ve always loved a good challenge, I had to acknowledge all of these things that were going on, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the entire time we were down there. I was just so happy to be out there, and competing.”
Perhaps pregnancy helped.
“I felt so good after the first trimester, that I didn’t think that it was going to be too long or difficult of a process to get back to where I was feeling strong, stable, healthy, and ready to be training again. I felt strong, in some ways I felt stronger than I did before,” DiCello said.
“I joked that the pregnancy gave me superpowers. I kept lifting all the way through, at the end I weighed 28 pounds more than I did before the pregnancy, so I was lifting the same amount with 28 pounds added, and feeling really good. I was really fortunate to have a great second and third trimester. I would still ride my bike, but had to point my knees outward so they wouldn’t hit my stomach. I was still riding my bike on the strand, was playing volleyball up until seven months. I wasn’t jumping or diving on my stomach, but I was still out there doing drills. I enjoyed coaching, while I was pregnant, because it kept me around the sport, and I got to build relationships with a couple of girls going into college, and it helped me keep a little touch on the ball, even though I wasn’t training myself.”
The former Kim McGiven, a 6-footer whose Santa Clara team made a surprise run to the 2005 NCAA semifinals, partnered with Emily Stockman throughout 2017, competing in seven domestic events and nine international events. They lost in the AVP Austin final to April Ross and Whitney Pavlik and took third at AVP New York.
DiCello, of course, was pregnant during that season, which Stockman didn’t know at first.
“Emily was very supportive. At first, she didn’t know that I was pregnant, and saw me sick, and I kept trying to reassure her that I didn’t have anything contagious. I didn’t want her concerned that I was going to catch whatever I had. I kept telling her, ‘I think it’s food poisoning.’
“Of course, waves of food poisoning over several weeks wasn’t really normal.”
DiCello hadn’t told anyone other than her husband, Mark, and her sisters at that point.
“I underestimated the impact that pregnancy and delivery would have on my body physically,” DiCello said. “The first four months of my pregnancy, Emily can confirm, we would be traveling in Europe or Australia, and unfortunately, she would have to wake up to the sound of me throwing up in the mornings.
“We laugh about it now, but we’re in the car on the road to the Hague tournament (in January 2018), and I roll down the car window quickly to throw up. Luckily, she was very supportive, and had a good sense of humor about all of this, but she was very confused that I switched from a diet of mostly vegetables and protein to all of a sudden carbs and candy. It was the only thing that would help with the nausea. I had a really rough four months, I was extremely tired, I had to take a lot of naps, sleep a lot, and I was just really sick.”
Luca was born two weeks late and this birth took a remarkable 36 hours.
DiCello and husband Mark opted for a natural birth at Beach Cities Midwifery in Long Beach.
“It’s a really cool place,” DiCello said. “Dim lights, music, candles burning. It’s not at all the sterile environment that you get in a hospital.”
Due to state law, DiCello said, midwives are not allowed to deliver babies past 42 weeks.
“I needed the baby to come, otherwise I would have to go to the hospital to get synthetic hormones and be induced. Often the pain is more intense, and it’s more difficult to have an unmedicated birth. It would have put my whole birth plan at risk if I was induced, so I did everything I possibly could to get the baby to come, from eating spicy food to eating dates and pineapples, to walking in deep sand and running stairs.
“I ran so many stairs, my calves were so sore I literally couldn’t walk. I was so sore it was hilarious, I had this big belly and I could barely walk around.
“There’s different inversions, different things you can try to get the baby to come, but nothing was working, so finally, the day before the induction was scheduled, I took a shot of castor oil, which is disgusting, and nothing that I would wish upon anyone, but it’s an old wives’ tale that castor oil will start labor. I took it, and an hour later the contractions began, so I believe the old wives’ tale.
DiCello said it made her throw up, “but it worked,” she added.
“If anyone’s curious, it’s the consistency of motor oil. It’s something that people’s grandmothers would have them take. I knew that I was going to shoot the castor oil, so I went and did my workout in the morning, and then came home and mixed it with root beer.”
Luca arrived at 6 pounds, 15 ounces, 20.75 inches long.
“The birth was really intense. I had 36 hours of labor, it was long, and a test of mental strength. I do feel like my experience as an athlete helped me to focus and stay strong throughout the entire process.”
The DiCellos would like to have another child, but it’s difficult in the prime of a beach volleyball career. Kim works as a Senior Program manager for CLEAResult, advising business on ways to reduce energy consumption, while Mark is in medical sales, representing companies that provide metallic components for medical devices
“I joke that I want to clone Luca, because I’d love to have more, but being pregnant, giving birth, and then recovering from birth, and getting yourself back into shape for competing in volleyball, is a process. It’s very challenging, and it’s pretty exhausting at times. I love baby Luca, but cloning him sounds great,” she said with a laugh.
“Actually having a second one myself, we’ll have to see. It’s certainly in consideration to continue to grow our family, but I’m not willing to commit to anything right now.”
A big reason might be sleep.
“Sometimes he’ll have good nights, most of the time we have challenging nights,” DiCello admitted. “We’re learning to manage whatever kind of night we have. He slept better as a newborn, and once he got to four months he got to be more aware of his surroundings, and started to struggle a little more with sleep, because he would get distracted or excited. He doesn’t really like going to bed, or going to sleep. He always wants to play and spend time with people, and be active doing things, so it can be challenging to get him to agree to sleep over the past month.
“Luca is very active. I have to admit, he gets that from me. I don’t sit still very well. I’m constantly on the move, and Luca is the same way. He’s very curious, he’s very active, he really enjoys being around people. He’s a very happy baby. We get a lot of smiles, a lot of giggles.
Her husband, she said, was more than ready for fatherhood.
“Mark loves being a dad, he’s wanted to be a dad for years, I’m the one who kept postponing the baby because I was enjoying volleyball so much. I wanted to compete and travel without having to be pregnant, and having to sit out for a year. Mark was very patient in waiting for a year until I was ready to take that leap. He’s been really excited to be a dad, we’ve both agreed that there’s more smiling and more laughing in our home since Luca came into our lives.”
Her pregnancy during the 2017 volleyball season certainly made for some good stories.
“While pregnant, Emily and I rode motorcycles together in the Colorado Rockies with her family, we jumped off the Hermosa Beach pier together, and we rode horses in Iceland. Emily’s a daredevil, so we had some good times together in that pregnancy.”
The DiCellos also took advantage of the time off to take some real vacations.
“Mark and I did some really cool trips. We went to Jackson, Wyoming, and went snowmobiling through Yellowstone when I was six months pregnant, and we got to go to Maui, Hawai’i, where we got to do a lot of snorkeling, swimming with turtles, and hiking.”
She was an outside hitter and team captain when Santa Clara got into the NCAA Championships after upsetting Stanford, Pepperdine and fourth-seeded Arizona to make the school’s only final four. The Broncos lost to Nebraska in the semifinals. DiCello won the NCAA Leadership award and graduated valedictorian, summa cum laude with degrees in finance and religious studies.
“There’s a lot that I remember from that run with that team,” she said. “I remember our team memorized the words to ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ by Mariah Carey. The final four is during Christmastime, and we would sing it in the locker room after each match we won.”
The first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament were at Stanford, just 20 miles from the Santa Clara campus.
“We got to compete in front of friends, family, and students at Santa Clara, and a lot of the wins that we had leading up to the final four in San Antonio were in front of a home crowd, which was really special for our team to experience.”
She went on to play professionally for for Caja Sur in Spain, and Plantina Longa in the Netherlands and then figured she was going to call it a career.
“As much as I loved the sport, I thought I was retiring from volleyball,” she recalled.
“I was ready to pursue something different, and I wanted to be back living in the U.S., because my boyfriend (Mark) at the time, we had been doing long distance for a while. I made the decision to move back to the U.S., and get a full-time job, and play beach volleyball for fun after work.
“And this was during the Beth Van Fleet era, where Beth, and Angie Hall, and Angela McHenry, Lisa Rutledge, and Paige Davis (Jensen), and I would jump in on their training either before or after work. I would go work my office job, I would be counting down the minutes until I could kick off the heels, run across the street barefoot in my bikini, and jump onto the courts of South Mission Beach in San Diego and play until the sun set.
“I was also playing with Juliana Evens at that time, Ann Vaughn (Osburn), and Leslie Finn, and play until the sun went down, and sometimes it was pick-up games, maybe co-ed, sometimes the pros that were training would use me as a practice player. Whatever opportunity I had I was excited about. As long as I got to step in the ocean I was happy.”
She gradually fell into a professional beach volleyball career, progressing through the qualifier, and the USA volleyball Elite Development program.
“After a couple of years of that, I realized that I was starting to get to a level where I realized I was getting competitive with the girls that were playing in the qualifiers, so I decided to jump into a couple of local ones here and there. When that went well, I decided the following year that I would travel to a couple of events, and then that started to go well, so I decided to try out for the Elite Development program that USA volleyball had.”
DiCello not only made the EDP in 2014, she also received the AVP Most Improved Player award that year.
“When I made that team, I started commuting up to L.A. to train with them, and after commuting for a while, I realized that I needed to live up in Hermosa, because the commute was challenging, so then I moved up here.
“It’s funny, because I kind of almost just by following opportunities that opened up, and where things were going, I ended up in the space where I’m living in the South Bay, pursuing beach volleyball at the professional level. But it wasn’t necessarily something that I had clear direction that it was something that I wanted to do out of college.”
DiCello falls into that second tier of players, so when a partnership change occurs at the top, the partnership changes run downhill.
Since 2013, DiCello has played at one time or another with Kathryn Piening, Sarah Day, Brooke Niles, Lisa Fitzgerald, Michelle Lonergan, Tealle Hunkus, Lane Carico, Kendra VanZwieten, Summer Ross, and Emily Stockman.
“There have been times in my beach volleyball career where I’ve found partnership changes to be very challenging,” DiCello said.
She’s not sure with whom she’ll play in 2019, but wants to be totally prepared for the season.
“I want to get myself not only back to where I was before, but stronger than where I was before, mentally, physically, and all-around as a competitor, and I have faith that a partnership will work out one way or another,” she said.
“I don’t have clarity right now on how that will come together, but I think that by focusing on myself now, it’s something that I can address when I’m ready.”