Nick Lucena got a taste of the life of the retired dad. Riding around in golf carts. Picking the kids up from school. Barbecues. Enjoying a few drinks every night.
“At first, I was kinda like ‘This is what retirement is like,’” Lucena said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “And then, after a month or two of this, I said ‘This is not good. We gotta figure out something.’”
He’s never been one to sit around, to relax, to enjoy the supposedly good life of retirement. Adam Roberts, a professional who has competed in more AVP events than any active player, has described Lucena as the most competitive person he knows. So what to do, then, in a year where you cannot compete? Where your second event of the year, a three-star in Australia, was canceled, and four hours after you arrived in the Outback, you hopped on another back home?
What are you supposed to do with that?
“I’ve never stayed still this long. Ever,” Lucena said. “This is something different. I am not used to it.”
It’s why he’s currently back in California, for a two-week training camp with USA Volleyball trainer Christian Hartford. He had equipment at home, in Tallahasse, Fla., in the garage he converted to a gym.
The trouble, when he’d go look at that garage, and ponder whether or not to load up the bar again, was why?
What did he need to lift for? With COVID cases back on the rise, both in the United States and around the globe, there is little chance of a reliable schedule coming out anytime soon. So what was he training for?
“The issue is that I keep telling myself, ‘You don’t need to work out now. You just need four weeks and you’ll be fine,’” Lucena said, laughing. “It’s definitely a challenge, not being able to play.”
That four-week expedited training schedule worked well enough in July and August, when he and Dalhausser won two of three AVP Champions Cups. He hadn’t been training. Neither had Dalhausser. But then his wife, Brooke Niles, saw that Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb were training up in Utah.
“I was like ‘What’s he doing in Utah with Taylor in a training camp?’” Lucena said. “I sent a message to Jeff Conover, and I was like ‘Hey man, I’ve been drinking an absurd amount, an alarming rate, and I need to know if I need to stop and if we’re playing for anything coming up.’ He said ‘Plan to be in L.A. in four weeks. Don’t tell anyone.’ I call Phil and said ‘Hey man, there’s going to be tournaments.’ I was in panic mode. We gave ourselves four weeks to get ready.”
The typical pre-season training camp for the two is a minimum of six to eight weeks. Yet, with their unintentionally expedited training schedule, they played 12 matches and lost only one in the three AVP Champions Cups, the final of the Porsche Cup, to Bourne and Trevor Crabb.
“We’ve been doing it for so long that we really don’t need much,” he said. “You do your thing, I’ll do my thing, we’ll get the touch going.”
So even without a schedule, or a date for which to train, he’s finding ways to keep busy, to keep his constant motor going. He’s learning how to golf, exchanging lessons for bottles of wine with his coach, Jason Lochhead, who has a simulator in his house — “the cottage” as Lucena calls it. He’s terrible at it, which, to a guy like Lucena, only means he needs to play it more, to get it right, so, at the very least, he won’t lose bets to Trevor Crabb. He’s coaching a little, filling in as a player when needed. And if anything positive has come out of this extraordinary year, it is this: Lucena, whether he needed confirmation or not, knows he isn’t finished playing after the Tokyo Olympics are over.
“I love hanging with my kids, but every day? For eight months? C’mon!” he said, laughing. “I’m telling my wife ‘We gotta go somewhere!’ That’s the truth. I speak the truth. Most parents think it, but they don’t say it.”
He’s joking. Kind of. Parents understand the humor. And besides, he does love his kids, enough that he and Niles, the head coach of Florida State’s beach volleyball team, are expecting another, in December.
So, yes, it’s been an odd year, but also quite a wonderful one for Lucena. His fifth in Doha moved he and Dalhausser closer to surpassing Bourne and Crabb in the Olympic race. He won two of three AVP Champions Cups, got to stay in an epic beach volleyball pad just east of the Hermosa Strand. He played a fun tournament with Taylor Crabb, in Myrtle Beach, his old stomping grounds with Roberts and Dalhausser. He’s learning to golf, growing his family, finding ways to prepare for whatever the 2021 season may look like, and figuring out what life could be like beyond.
“I enjoy competing,” he said. “That’s the best part. Phil, he’s won so many dang times, he loves it. Before I started playing with Phil I lost a lot of times, and a lot of times to Phil in the final. You have this unique opportunity to play with him, and I said ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure I’m not slowing us down or letting an opportunity go.’ Any time you play with Phil, that’s an opportunity, and one I take seriously.”