Poon lived her dream by becoming a JC beach player in her 40s

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Geraldine Poon-LBCC
Geraldine Poon digs while competing at LBCC/courtesy Michael Diaz

On first glance, you wouldn’t think of Geraldine Poon as a college beach volleyball player.

But she was just last year, despite being in her 40s, standing barely 5-foot-4, and dealing with osteoarthritis in both knees and a bad shoulder that limited her predominantly to serving underhanded.

Her career at Long Beach Beach City College is over, but it was the experience of a lifetime after getting to play for her idol, Misty May-Treanor. Poon is still in the sport, volunteering for Loyola Marymount’s beach team. She also volunteered with the indoor team at LA Trade Tech, the last school with a sign graphics program — where she is also studying — and has also gotten her USA Volleyball certification to officiate on the beach.

No wonder she says, “I’m looking to have a more flexible schedule.

“I don’t want another 9-to-5 job. I would love it if my week or month had something to do with volleyball, and something that had to do with signs, or calligraphy twice a month. Now I’m into face painting and henna.”

Geraldine Poon

“G,” as she is affectionately known, is a self-avowed volleyball enthusiast. She had played volleyball since she was at Stanley Junior High in Lafayette, Calif., and played at virtually every opportunity she had, even earning a coveted “AA” rating in 2011 in Santa Cruz.

She also attended three volleyball vacations a year for a time, including the NVL’s Volleyball Vacations and South of the Border’s Volleyball Vacations.

Poon, who earned her MBA at Yale, had a six-figure income as a health-care finance analyst in San Francisco.

When she was offered a buyout package, she decided that “11 years is a long time in a cubicle. I thought it was an opportunity to take some time,” and pursue her dream of playing college beach volleyball.

Poon had already been to college, so she was ineligible to play NCAA beach volleyball, but in junior college, in most cases there are no age limits and anyone can play any sport for two years.

She first made the team at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif. for the 2015-16 season. She found her first semester at West Valley difficult, between 19 units of chemistry and anatomy coupled with a 40-plus mile commute from San Francisco. Still, she was following her dream.

“It’s an opportunity. I could just stay in a cubicle every day, or I could go after something that I want,” Poon said.

Then she found out that May-Treanor was coaching at LBCC. She attended AVP San Francisco, and hastily jumped out of her Uber when she saw AVP pro John Mayer.

“John,” she said, “I heard Misty is coaching. I want to play for her. I want to make this happen.”

Mayer was able to forward an email to Misty, who set up a time for Poon to speak with her at an indoor practice, and encouraged her to try out. Poon didn’t hesitate, she quickly moved to Hermosa Beach and enrolled in LBCC in the fall.

It is difficult enough for a 40-something to compete with teenagers and 20-somethings in a vertical sport like volleyball. And after viewing her MRIs, which showed her osteoarthritis, school athletic trainers asked her, “Are you sure you should be doing this?”

Moreover, she didn’t look like a player.

One time the LBCC team attended a USC beach practice. She met USC assistant coach and 2000 gold medalist Dain Blanton.

“Hi, I haven’t met you yet,” Blanton said. “Are you a coach?” No, Poon said.

“A player?”

A player, indeed, but one with quite literally a generation gap. Poon was nearly a decade older than one teammate’s mother.

“Why not?” became Poon’s mantra.

“I love volleyball, I wanted to do this, and part of it is kind of crazy, and you forget how old you are, and you realize the age difference between you and your teammates, but why not? I mean, I know that others are doing this, and I used to pay other people to take lessons, why not throw yourself into it, have training five days a week, and have the athletic trainers?”

Poon found herself frequently in awe of May-Treanor, who won three Olympic gold medals with Kerri Walsh.

“We played a fair amount of queen of the beach and sometimes she would jump in. It was usually short court, and she was probably playing at 50 percent or less, and she was just amazing. And the team would be like, ‘Yep, that’s Misty May-Treanor.’ ”

But it was hard work, too.

“It was an amazing experience, but it’s also waking up at 5:15 to get to weight training at 6:30, and double-days, and homework,” Poon said. “It wasn’t all just super-fun.”

Especially when May-Treanor was coaching her directly.

“ … she’s pounding the ball at you 10 times in a row, you’re not seeing the volleyball legend, you’re seeing your coach telling you to do something.”

Geraldine Poon-Butch May-LBCC
Former partner Valeria Payan (left), coach Butch May and “G”/courtesy Misty May-Treanor

May-Treanor said she enjoyed her time with Poon.

“Coaching Geraldine was a treat,” May-Treanor said. “What makes coaching at the community college level so special is you can get athletes at different phases in their playing lives. 

“I wish we had G for two years, she is just so passionate about the game and wants to learn.  I have to admit she did drive teams crazy that she played because she wasn’t afraid to send the ball over with one touch.”

Poon admittedly didn’t know much about May-Treanor’s father and assistant coach, Butch May, before arriving at LBCC. Poon said he was a tremendous resource who was always coming up with entertaining “Butch-isms.” Some of May’s best quotes, according to Poon:

“Your body is like a barbell. Your mind is like a dumbbell.”

“Chase after it like it’s a Benjamin.”

“You have your half of the court and half of your partners.”

“You guys look like you are working at Home Depot. You’re not helping anyone.”

College matches feature five pairs. When last season began, Poon found herself on the No. 6 pair — the exhibition spot — for the first match. But she worked her way up to the No. 4 spot for most of the season.

Long Beach finished 8-4. The CCCAA state championships were especially surreal for Poon, hosted at her alma mater, West Valley College, where she had the opportunity to visit with her old coaches and teammates. LBCC finished second in the team competition.

“It sounds trite”, Poon said, “but it’s controlling the control-ables. Going after what you want. If there’s something that you want to do, do everything you can do to make that happen. I had to recognize that I couldn’t control everything.

“The coach will make playing decisions, my partners will make playing decisions, I just have to get the most that I can out of this crazy playing opportunity.”

Poon lives in a small apartment on the Hermosa Beach strand where she can watch pro beach practices daily.

“I tried to remind myself each season just to enjoy the moment and not get overly stressed about coaching decision, team dynamics, or academic stresses,” she said. “I reminded myself to enjoy the moment, and relish the opportunity.”

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