2018-04-05 06:00:00 CET
English girls on their quest to put beach volleyball on the map back home
They are carrying the hopes of a nation at the Commonwealth Games and have given up their day jobs in order to realize their beach volleyball dream of glory on the world stage.
Meet England’s Jessica Grimson and Victoria Palmer. The pair warmed up for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games by entering the Fort Lauderdale Major back in February.
And while defeat in qualification was not the result England number one team wanted, it gave the duo the kind of big-tournament experience.
That know-how will be vital when they play in front of a packed and passionate crowd Down Under as beach volleyball makes its long-awaited debut in the world’s second-largest multi-sport event.
“We’re sacrificing everything,” explains Jessica, a two-time British youth champion who gave up her job as a sports therapist. “We sat down and said we can’t go into a season of a major tournament without giving it everything we’ve got.
“We said we’d give up our jobs and put everything into this season. It was a joint decision after we’d qualified for the Commonwealth Games because we did not want to go into the tournament without being in the best shape.”
Victoria, meanwhile, is on a sabbatical from her job as a support officer for one of England’s county Police forces. “My work have been very supportive,” says the 31-year-old. “They’ve given me extra leave and our families have also helped an awful lot. We did not want any regrets so it made sense to us to give it all up and focus 100 per cent on beach volleyball this season.”
After the experience and preparation in Fort Lauderdale, attention now turns to the Gold Coast and the Commonwealth Games. The pair, who are now in their sixth season together having met 10 years ago in Los Angeles, now want to establish themselves and the sport on the big stage.
“Last season was our first full-time on the World Tour and we knew it would be a learning curve for us,” continues Victoria, who has also played indoor professionally in Belgium. “We had a better season than we expected, though. We finished fifth Daegu in Korea and had a couple of ninth places, and they have all helped in getting us a step on the World Tour ladder and enable us to compete in some of the big tournaments, like the Majors.
“We want to be successful to put England on the map and for people back home to take us and this sport seriously. It's become a in-joke at home, people will ask us 'how's the netball going?' Now it's time for us to stand up and show them that beach volleyball is a major sport and not just for the Olympics every four years.”
For Jessica and Victoria, it’s competing and improving and not the sight of dollar signs that interest them. What makes their story even more remarkable is that the pair, who train in Bournemouth, on England’s south coast, are not funded by their federation. For trips around the world to tournaments must try to find the funding themselves – often generously receiving financial support from close family and friends.
“It’s not about the money – that isn’t what drives us,” says 27-year-old Grimson. “What drives us is performance, improving, doing what we love and having pride in doing it. We know it’s going to be hard but we’re firm believers that the more you want something and the more work you put into something the better you can become.
“Getting to the Games itself has surpassed our expectations but we're focused on a podium place. We're not unrealistic. We're in a strong pool. We've prepared right, this is the tournament we've focused on for so long - it's all about peaking for the Games in the best way possible. We just hope we can do ourselves justice.”
The task is to make their dream a reality. And that vision will come true when the team begin their tournament against Trinidad & Tobago’s Rheeza Grant and Abby Blackman on the Gold Coast Center Court at Coolangatta on Friday night (8.30pm AEST).
“It was a dream to go to Fort Lauderdale and see other teams train – I always dreamt that could be my job,” says Palmer. “Now it’s even more real. We know we can do it – we know we are not far away from competing at the very top level. It’s definitely worth us taking the risk and we’re going to grab it with both hands.
“We're proud of what we've achieved so far at the top level without a lot of help or funding. We want to show England that beach volleyball is an amazing sport. We love it and we want other people to fall in love with it like we did.”