22.05.2019 - Hamburg, Germany
Just days before the precious wildcards were announced for this year’s World Championships, Lauren Fendrick sent an email saying she needed to withdraw her wildcard bid.
“I’m still pregnant,” said the American. “And I would like to withdraw my wildcard request.”
As requests go, there’s not a lot else you can do but sit back, smile, reply, send your thanks and then ask for an interview to discuss the status quo.
“We have to register for World Champs over two months before they start and so at the time of registration there was a possibility I’d be back for the World Championships if I delivered early and the baby came out being self-sufficient and able to care for herself,” Lauren explains. “So I wanted to register to be able to play if I was ready.”
Her due date is May 22. As these words are written, “the baby is still cooking and happy inside”.
“Three weeks after the registration date passed, and with baby girl still enjoying kicking me in the ribs, I knew that World Champs were no longer in the cards for me this year.”
Expecting her first child, Lauren is of course experiencing mixed emotions. Two years ago, alongside April Ross, the 37-year-old won silver at the World Championship in Vienna, Austria.
Pregnancy means a crack at going one step better at this year’s championships in Hamburg is off the table for the 2016 Olympian.
“My first world champs was in Stavanger in 2009 and it wasn’t until this interview that I realized that I’ve played in every one since,” says Lauren. “This will be the first time in 10 years I won’t play in the world champs.
“I’m bummed for sure, because I love Hamburg [it was also the spot where she and Brooke Sweat secured their Olympic berth in 2016], and with Beach Majors running it, it will be great, but this is an incredible moment for my husband [coach Andrew Fuller] and I, so I think it’s a fair trade off.
“The time off has also allowed me to focus more on coaching the Stanford beach team with Andrew. In year’s past I’ve had to miss practices and matches because my training and tournaments came first. This year, I’ve been able to be with the athletes more often and it felt like some important foundations were laid and I’m excited for the future of the program.
“It’s also been huge to be able to pick the brain of our new assistant coach, Louise Bawden [a three-time Olympian for Australia], so I feel like I’ve added some tools to my coaching and playing toolbox, even though I haven’t been getting the same high-level reps in the sand.”
But while strutting her stuff on the Rothenbaum sand will have to wait another year, a trip to Vienna definitely remains on the agenda. After all, the Danube Island is a place close to her heart after the exploits in 2017.
“That World Championships in Vienna with April holds some really great memories – it was a highlight of my career for sure,” says Lauren. “The crowd, the atmosphere, how close we were to gold – it was super memorable for me.
“April and I hadn’t played our best in the lead-up; she had suffered a broken toe beforehand, so she had to take six weeks off from playing and while we had played together a handful of times before, we never had a pre-season or off-season together. Despite that, I knew if we played well we were capable of beating anyone.
“I love the World Championship format and the extra prep time that it allows. It’s more extended than other tournaments, you’re playing one, maximum two, games a day and it’s great having the extra time to prepare for matches; analyzing opponents and working on team strategy.
“So while it will be a shame to miss the World Championships, hopefully, I can be back for Vienna.”
One only has to look at Fendrick’s social media channels to realize how motivated she is to make a swift return to the beach once the pregnancy is over. This is also, of course, an Olympic qualification cycle…
“I’m doing everything I can to prepare for a return. I have the awesome support from everyone around me,” she says. “I have my trainers, movement coaches, Andrew of course, and our parents. Everyone is keyed into what we’re trying to do to help make the recovery process as smooth as possible. I also have a Masimo pulse oximeter at home that tracks data that makes sure I don’t train too much or too little.
“Tokyo is the goal, a big goal. I know I don’t have a lot of time, and there are a lot of unknowns, but we’re trying to control what is in our control and to be as prepared as possible.
Fendrick is of course taking inspiration from a number of her fellow athletes who have juggled motherhood with a career in beach volleyball.
“I delayed starting a family because of volleyball as there were things in my career I wanted to accomplish first, but now I have a long list of athlete-moms who are an inspiration and role models to look up to,” paying tribute to the likes of Kerri Walsh Jennings, Jen Kessy, former teammate Brooke Niles, Rachel Scott, Kim DiCello, Talita Antunes, Vicky Arvanti, Elsa Baquerizo, Carol and Maria Salgado and Laura Ludwig, just to name a few.
Should Lauren make it back in time for the Vienna Major, another big question is: who the hell will she play with? During the 2018 season, Fendrick partnered no less than six different players on the FIVB World Tour, including rising star Sarah Sponcil in Vienna.
“Last year I was figuring out who to play with,” she laughs. “I was looking to see who I’d gel with and then I found out I was pregnant and that put things on hold. I have ideas, but a lot depends on how teams are doing on the World Tour.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to prepare and to put myself in the best position possible and then we’ll see what happens.”
That preparation will see Fendrick watching intently as the drama unfolds in Hamburg, checking on teams’ performance and progress.
“I love to watch, I’m totally a beach volleyball nerd and the world champs will be no different,” Lauren says. “Success at a World Champs, in my humble opinion, lies in the ground work that you lay in the off-season, pre-season and practice beforehand. It takes belief, preparation and dedication on the part of the whole team—both players and the coach. There can always be some luck involved or things that happen that you don’t have control over, but if you’re prepared and believe and you’re surrounded by the right people, you give yourself a good a chance as any.”
Now, even off the sand, Lauren is keeping to the same principles.
But when the wildcards are announced for Vienna, fingers crossed there’s no need for her to fire out any more emails.