Beach volleyball in 2020 is a waiting game. For the players, it’s frustrating not to know when the next event will come, so much as being unable to even train with a net.
Chaim Schalk and Lane Carico, who married on New Year’s Eve 2015, are among those who have waited the longest.
Schalk, a dual citizen who previously competed for Canada, recently completed a two-year waiting period and paid a $25,000 FIVB fee to switch federations. Worse yet, Schalk even flew to Coolangatta, Australia, in March, only to find that the tournament had been abruptly cancelled while he was in the air.
Carico sat out all of 2019 dealing with a challenging pregnancy, a premature Caesarean section birth of her daughter Koa, as well as postpartum recovery issues. She was able to resume training in December, but hadn’t made a partner decision when COVID-19 stopped the volleyball world in its tracks.
“Everybody wants to be playing,” Schalk said, “and the way the world is right now, it’s easy to think, ‘Oh, it’s so brutal for us,’ and if I were to be selfish about it, I could think, ‘I’ve sat out so long already, I just want to play.’
“It’s easy to look at it from a top-down attitude, but I think that everybody needs to be smart at the same time and contain the virus.”
“The world doesn’t operate on my timing,” she said, adding that after what she dealt with in having a baby, “it hasn’t been too stressful on me in that regard.
“Of course, not having tournaments affects our financial situation and other things. It can provide stress, that’s for sure, but I’ve learned how to deal with it in a healthier way than just being wired, waiting for things to get going again.”
Schalk played with Ben Saxton for Canada in the 2016 Olympics and they finished ninth in Rio. Schalk, 34, grew up in Red Deer, Alberta, just north of Calgary, the second youngest of five boys who were all born with five years of each other: Makiah, Chaim, Seth, Jaben, and Kyle.
“It was a mess,” Chaim recalled. “My whole mentality growing up was fighting for everything: Fighting for food. We didn’t have a lot of money and we were fighting with each other on the dinner table.
“Everyone was so competitive, I had to prove myself even to play with the guys. From the very beginning, I had to prove myself to all my brothers. They’re all more competitive than I am, that’s for sure. No doubt.”
“I have a couple of brothers that will not lose at anything because they will just lose their minds,” Schalk said. “Growing up in that mindset was really good for my development, because you have to stay hungry and battle for everything, so it gave me that approach.”
With four brothers, Chaim had a built-in family grass doubles game.
“Before I even started playing indoor, I was playing grass 2’s, and just loving the dynamic of doing all the skills, which is something that I loved from the beginning,” Schalk said.
“I was always so pumped about it, so I nagged my dad to build a beach court,” Schalk said.
By the time he was in high school, his father came through.
“So every day after school, I would just come home and play beach, and got used to the outdoors, and loved the sand.”
The 6-foot-5 Schalk excelled as a setter, earning All-Canadian honors while at Trinity Western University. After college, he weighed his indoor professional options as well as his beach options with Volleyball Canada. Beach won out and in 2012 he united with Saxton, a four-year partnership that includes NORCECA wins in Chula Vista and Turtle Beach and a FIVB silver medal in Yokohama.
Going through the arduous process of obtaining U.S. citizenship involved documenting every year of his mother’s records.
“On paper, it looks really easy because my mother is a (U.S) citizen, so I was a dual citizen from birth. It was a huge headache to actually get it. I had to prove every year that my mom was in the U.S., medical or school documents for every single year. Something for every year since she was a baby.
“Her elementary school had shut down, so there weren’t any records of her from kindergarten to grade 6. They were denying me U.S. citizenship because they couldn’t find my mom’s records for those years. So I almost had to go to some secretary’s house in Iowa to find records. It was crazy but I ended up finding everything I needed.”
With dual citizenship in hand, Schalk weighed his options with USA Volleyball and Volleyball Canada. The cost of switching federations: sitting out two years and that $25,000 fee.
“One of the factors was financial. Playing beach volleyball for Canada, you’re not receiving support, sponsors, really anything from the federation. Everything’s on your own dime, there’s no stipends. The difference in support between the two systems is night and day.
“I was looking at it like ‘I had a great run, you need to have really great results to make money.’ And then the money got really bad on the world tour. I was wondering if I could fit into the U.S. program. I’m still young compared to the other defenders — most of them are quite a bit older than me — and I think I can compete on the world tour. And not only that, I would be able to compete on the AVP Tour as well.”
While waiting out his world tour transition, Schalk played AVP and it paid off last season in Seattle, where he and Jeremy Casebeer defeated Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb 21-19, 21-18 for the biggest win of his career.
“That was amazing,” Schalk said. “It’s technically my first win. I wouldn’t count NORCECAs and smaller events. Being so close on the FIVB and AVP several times, to finally have that come together, it was a really cool experience.
“And to do it with Jeremy, who is awesome. He was just lights out that tournament. That was super-fun.
“It was just a different mentality. I just felt from day one, the way we were playing, I just knew that we were going to win. And that was even before we were into Sunday.”
That victory was a big moment in the future of his career, Schalk said.
“So all this hard work. Everything lined up in that tournament. It’s so hard to do, to finally do it, there was so much joy in that experience. And it made me hungry to do it more. It’s kind of a blur, the tournament, a little bit. It’s hard to beat these teams, and for it all to come together is something I’ll never forget.”
This year — whenever play begins — Schalk is partnering with former NBA player Chase Budinger. Schalk believes that the 31-year-old, 6-7 Budinger, the VolleyballMag.com 2018 Rookie of the Year, could be his guy.
“I reached out to him after last year,” Schalk said. “I watched him a lot. I see a lot of potential there. He’s finding a groove, figuring this game out, and I just thought that looking at his skill set and mine, it could be a really dangerous team.
“I gave him a few nudges, had a couple of meetings with him, and looking at the long-term feel, I think we could be a top team in the U.S. for a long time.”
Schalk said he hopes it’s a long-term partnership with Budinger, who played with Casey Patterson in 2019.
“We could play multiple years together and make runs at it. That’s kind of what you look at on the world tour. The best ones are usually teams that have been together for many years. They figure each other out and know how to win in all situations,” Schalk said.
“It’s not the teams that are tuned in every single season. In the U.S., the players change a lot, so for me, it was a no-brainer, and in looking at both of our goals, to play FIVB, go for the Olympics, and to win, that’s someone you want to partner with.”
Accordingly, breaking up with Casebeer after a successful season was one of the most difficult conversations Schalk said he has had.
“That’s one thing that’s been tough. Jumping in and out with different partners. And for me in Canada, I had the same guy in Canada for so long.
“Here there are so many options. People are calling you, and it makes you make really tough decisions. Those aren’t fun decisions to make. It’s tough telling your old partner. Telling Jeremy about it was not easy. You don’t expect that after a season where you’re a top-three, top-four team on the AVP.
“I’m doing that in the sense that I’m jumping with a guy that could be the long-term guy for me.”
And while we’re talking about long-term partners, Schalk met Carico on the bus at NORCECA Trinidad-Tobago in 2014. He told a buddy of his, in a half-joking manner, “I think she’s the one.”
“Long story short, Lane caught my attention on the shuttle from the airport and I liked her right away,” Schalk said. “I tried to talk to her throughout the tournament, and she was pretty stone cold and tough because she’s very focused when she’s playing.
“I didn’t feel like I was getting a ton back from her, so I was like, ‘Oh, shoot’.”
But Schalk kept on, messaging her on Facebook, asking her if she wanted to play a game of short court. Carico was cautious at first.
“I told him, ‘Yeah, I’m not really looking for anything, but as a friend, I’d love to hang out. And then we hung out for quite a few times, and he was really nice, and it was like, ‘OK, I could like this guy as more than a friend,’ and it just went from there.
“I was skeptical of athletes in general in first, and just wanted to get to know him, and then realized that he was a genuine and kind person. I just got to see who he was without the pressure of trying to make anything romantic out of it. It was easy to like him from there.”
They married in December of the following year.
Carico was raised in Manhattan Beach, where her father Chris introduced beach volleyball to her mother Keli. Their days were spent down at the beach with her older sister Taylor, who played at USC, and her younger brother Weston, who played at Concordia.
“They would play for fun,” Lane said. “We kind of grew up around it. My sister Taylor started playing club stuff before I did, and we just played our entire lives.”
Carico went to famed Mira Costa High School, where the Mustangs won the CIF state championship all three years she was there. She went on to the University of Miami where she earned AVCA All-American second-team honors in 2011, third-team in 2010.
In 2012, Carico began her graduate studies at Georgia State, earning All-American honors in the nascent sport of college beach volleyball.
She progressed to the professional level, where she won AVP Seattle in 2016 with Summer Ross, finishing second in Seattle 2015, New York 2016, Manhattan Beach 2016 and San Francisco 2017.
“It’s such a fun, all-engaging workout,” Carico said of beach volleyball. “You have to use your brain for strategizing, all these things where indoor, a lot of things fall to a coach, or you just play a role. And being outside, in nature, out on the beach, or on sand anywhere, is just super-exciting to me versus inside.
“I think it’s just a platform to be free, wild, present, and creative. Any sport, really. But it’s your craft, and you’re creating it, and constantly modifying things, that ability to be free and creative and express that.”
But Carico wasn’t prepared for childbirth. It was a difficult experience, to say the least.
“Everybody’s experience is very unique. Mine had its own complications, and I don’t want to compare myself too heavily to anyone else’s, but mine was challenging in my own way, I had extreme illness throughout most of my pregnancy.”
Koa arrived four weeks early at 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
“We had a doctor’s checkup appointment around 36 weeks, and to be on the safe side, we should have her right away in the next day or two and be sure we could get her out and get her all the nutrients that she needed.
“She happened to be in the breech position, so intead of having a vaginal delivery, it had to be a caesarean. We had Koa about 48 hours after we saw the doctor.”
Koa, who turned 1 three weeks ago on April 27, is healthy and happy, Carico said.
“She’s very happy and playful, and she already has a sense of humor. She thinks it’s so funny when she’s eating, and I ask her, ‘Can I have some?’, and she’ll go to give it to us, and then take it away at the last moment, with a big grin on her face the whole time, and just start cracking up laughing after she puts it in her own mouth. She has a sense of humor.”
However, Carico had significant postpartum issues to deal with.
“In the postpartum period, it was a challenging recovery. Physically it was difficult coming back from the C-section, but again it was mostly because of what happened during the pregnancy.”
The C-section involves slicing the abdominal muscles and extended recovery time.
“It was tough to go from being active every day to feel that I wasn’t the same strong person with a solid core that could protect my daughter in any circumstance. I felt vulnerable, and that was very new for me and very challenging.”
Carico returned to training in December.
“I would say that I’m still, to this day, strengthening from all that, and I will probably never again have the same body that I had before in many ways. It’s an adjustment, but it’s worth it.”
Motherhood has redefined Carico mentally as well.
“On the positive side, I have this new appreciation for my body in a different way; it responds in a different way, but it’s done some amazing things.
“I’m much more resilient because I’ve been through so much more than just injury, and I can come back from things that were pretty scary at times.
“Mentally, I’ve had to reflect, and look at my mindset before her, and my mindset now, and I would say that there are definitely some differences. Drive-wise, even before I wanted kids, I was very focused on my main dream being pursuing my volleyball career, and having that help me be a better human and impact the people I’m in relationships with and the people that I need. That was my main avenue.”
Carico said that ASICS maintained its sponsorship support throughout her pregnancy.
“I’m super appreciative of my sponsor ASICS who has stood by my side throughout my pregnancy and these uncertain times,” Carico said. “They empower women in more ways than one, but supporting professional athletes become parents is one that I wish every woman could experience.”
Carico, who said her life is more balanced than before, is more than ready to play again.
“I was training just as hard as anyone else before this happened,” she said. “It definitely stopped some momentum that you have going, but there’s nothing you can do about it but make the most out of the situation.
“So I’ve just been focusing on all the positives, and the silver linings, and that’s really been quite refreshing, and even enjoyable. Other areas of our lives now get more attention that it would be hard to give that much attention to if I’m in the swing of a season. It’s been a great opportunity to dive into other areas of life. Keeping patient and seeing it as an opportunity.
“It’s a tough time for a lot of people now, so in all, we feel really grateful to have a healthy family and have love in our lives and have the opportunity to appreciate everything we have. It’s a life experience. We’re going to come out of this stronger than we went into it.”