HERMOSA BEACH, California — Kim Smith wasn’t necessarily worried about what life might look like after her volleyball playing days were finished. She just couldn’t picture it.
Can’t blame her, either. Volleyball had been woven into the fabric of her life, a sport she picked up when she was 10 years old. Raised in Zionsville, Indiana, Smith competed for two years at Robert Morris University-Illinois, leading the Eagles to a Conference Championship, before finishing her collegiate career at Florida International. Then came the beach, four years of AVP tournaments in which the 6-foot-3 blocker would finish in the top 10 six times, good enough for her to enter the AVP Champions Cup as the No. 20 seed.
Problem was: Only 18 teams qualified for the Champions Cup, the AVP’s three-week sprint of a 2020 season during the COVID pandemic.
For the first time since 2015, Kim Smith wouldn’t be competing in an AVP, but writing on it. For the first time, the line on her resume would shift from Kim Smith, AVP Player, to Kim Smith, AVP Staff Writer.
“The Champions Cup was a good time to see if I’d have fun not playing, be miserable not playing, and I felt really good,” Smith said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I loved it.”
She loved that she could wake up in the morning and casually drink a few cups of coffee. No rush. No need to get to the venue two hours early for stretching and treatment. No longer was there a fastidious need to watch what she ate or drank. Heck, she could even enjoy a beer or two after the day was done, just hanging with the staff. There was no scouting necessary, no film over which to obsess.
It was blissful, really.
There’s a part of her that misses the adrenaline, the rush of a big win, the surge of emotions after a critical block. But the flip side of that? The crushing sadness of a three-set loss? The bottomless pit in your stomach after an error or shanked pass or the dreaded accountability of failure on match point? Smith is just fine leaving that behind.
“I journal a lot and I journal online, and I get these pings that say ‘This is what you wrote two years ago.’ During summer, my emotions in my journal are teenage level, my highest highs and lowest lows and during your 20s that’s kind of fun, but I’m ready to move on just because I never found the success I really wanted and I wanted the steadiness of it,” Smith said. “It feels really right. I never knew what I would do after volleyball and I was never really worried but I couldn’t picture it. This fell into my lap so naturally and obviously not grateful for the pandemic but we’re all looking for the silver linings and this is definitely one of them.
“I was forced to do something different and all of us had to evaluate. A lot of people moved on, a lot of people dug deeper and worked harder, and I think I did somewhere in the middle where I just changed my role. I do feel like I’m never going to make a huge difference as an athlete but I could make a huge difference as a writer or whatever else I may be.”
The ease with which she has settled into retirement as a player, and a burgeoning career as a writer, was aided in part by a pair of roommates with the borderline psychotic work ethic it takes to compete at the highest level. For two years, Smith lived with Sarah Sponcil and Katie Spieler. She witnessed, first hand, the work Sponcil put in on a daily basis to become an Olympian. She watched her eat the same breakfast, practice at the same block, return home for a brief minute, head to the gym, get treatment, watch film — and then crash and do it again, and again, and againandagainandagain.
Smith took a look in the mirror and knew that while she loved volleyball, few on the planet can love the game with that type of devotion, can live, breathe, and eat volleyball and still maintain an appetite for more of it.
“My goal was to win an AVP or go to the Olympics, but I never really did what I knew I needed to and I think that’s because I knew deep down that wasn’t my path. So I did everything I needed to do to be middle of the pack, which is what I ended up getting,” Smith said. “The work I put in is what I got out. That gives me a really good perspective of ‘I worked really hard but I didn’t’ work hard enough.’ I know the people who were far ahead of me, the work they’re putting in. At I lived with Sarah Sponcil for two years and oh my gosh. She is dawn till dusk volleyball and she loves it … It’s so constant, it really is a full-time job.
“Living with Sarah was a huge eye-opener: This is the pinnacle of what I’m going for and I don’t know if I want that. But looking at a writer, I would love to be Stephen King. Maybe that’s where I should be.”
Now, in 2022, Smith alas has the opportunity to write on beach volleyball. Sure, she’s been working with the AVP for two years, but there’s only been six events in that span. She’s been forced to get creative with the content, digging into the backstories of the players, searching for any whimsical nugget to spin a story. Now there’s 16 tournaments, as well as an AVP Championship. There’s new ownership, a new system, and loads of new talent to populate the AVP’s pages, which also have a new look.
“It helps that it is my job to make them all look good,” Smith said. “Working for the AVP, it’s not like I’m doing investigative journalism. My job is to tell these stories to bolster their brands, to celebrate them as people. Most everybody has been happy to contribute and happy with the way that I’ve represented them. I try to really spread it because I have the people I’m closer to but I want to give everybody a chance and also highlight different stories that maybe I don’t know as well.”
It’s still a bit funny to her, how this all worked out. The picture of what her life might look like when she was 10 years old, picking up a volleyball for the first time, certainly didn’t have the sandy texture it does now.
“I’m from Indiana, I did not imagine beach volleyball to be a part of my life,” she said. “Now it is my life.”
Last May, VolleyballMag.com editor Lee Feinswog visited with both Kim Smith and her boyfriend, AVP announcer Mark Scheurmann, after both of them — yes, both — won it all on Wheel of Fortune. Read about it and watch the interview here.
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