It’s a wonder how Caitlin Ledoux did it, given that she operates with the same 24 hours a day, the same seven days a week, as the rest of us.
There she was, working full-time at Lululemon. There she was, coaching two or three club teams and a high school team.
There she was, playing full-time professional beach volleyball, making three quarterfinals and her first career Sunday in Hermosa Beach, capping the year as the AVP’s Most Improved player.
“I worked a lot,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Literally seven days a week coaching for four hours a day. That’s what I mean. I was overworked, I was exhausted, my body was struggling to keep up with what I was doing mentally, physically, everything. I just needed to hit that reset button.”
On the court, 2017 had been her most successful year. Off it, it had been both mentally and physically debilitating, something that didn’t go unnoticed by her partner for the final three tournaments, Maria Clara Salgado.
“She knew I was struggling here with my nutrition and my workouts and my working, I had been working a ton. It was too much. She said ‘Come down to Brazil, let’s see what works for you, because what you’ve been doing isn’t really working. Let’s put the reset button on and see if it works.’”
And so, for three months of the “off-season,” Ledoux went to Brazil, getting reps six days a week from four different coaches. She switched her weight routine, swapping out Olympic lifting for more functional movements. She overhauled her nutrition.
“It was the first time I’ve ever felt like a professional athlete,” said Ledoux, who has been playing professionally since she first qualified on the AVP in 2012. “That was career changing. It was amazing.”
Indeed, it seems it has been career-changing. This year, Ledoux has arguably the best case to again take home the AVP’s Most Improved Player, making the quarterfinals in New York with Salgado before getting the call of a lifetime, from perhaps the most dominant female player in the game today: April Ross.
"It was pretty funny because in New York she texted me and said 'Hey I need a practice partner for these days, can you practice with me?' And I had never played or practiced with her so I was stoked to practice with her for two days," Ledoux said. "And I was in the car with my mom and she texted me and I said 'Mom! Guess what just happened?' And she said 'April asked you to play.' And I said 'Yes!' It was awesome."
With Ross playing behind her block, Ledoux made her first final, which may be the match of the year on the AVP thus far, a 21-19, 19-21, 16-18 loss to Emily Day and Betsi Flint. Two weeks later she did it again with Geena Urango, making her third career Sunday and second straight losing once more to Day and Flint in the finals, 17-21, 21-16, 7-15.
Another three weeks after that, in Hermosa, Ledoux was back on a Sunday, falling in three to Ross and Alix Klineman, 14-21, 21-18, 9-15.
“A lot of it is just personal growth about myself and having the right support system around myself the last year and a half,” Ledoux said of her blink-and-you-missed-it rise. “Having that support system and the coaches and helping you figure out what you need to do, I’d say that honestly is the biggest thing.”
What you need to do. It’s a simple concept for Ledoux. Identify what your goal is. Figure out the next step.
Olympics, she knew, has been her goal since she was a little girl. How would one get into the Olympics?
Travel. A lot. With no promises of a return anytime soon. So there her and Irene Pollock went, jet-setting across the world, beginning in Russia of 2014. Over the next three years, they went to 16 FIVBs in 10 different countries, qualifying in some, whiffing on others, taking every risk they could, because there were goals to reach and one ladder to get there.
“It was hard, but the same time it wasn’t,” Ledoux said. “Irene and I had the same goal and that’s to make the Olympics and we knew that was what we needed to do. We needed to just drown ourselves in all the experience of traveling and losing and having to play these single elimination matches to get that experience. I look back on that year and it was a very draining year but I also learned a lot.
“When you look at the end game: what’s your goal? I had to do it. It’s a no-brainer.”
And sure, it may have been rough for a while. There may have been a learning curve on how to travel internationally, particularly when doing so in, say South Africa.
The investment is beginning to see returns, dividends in the form of a bronze medal (in China with Sarah Sponcil), a silver (in Australia with Jace Pardon) and a gold (in Thailand with Emily Stockman).
“I think there’s probably a more responsible way to do it than the way I did it,” Ledoux said of climbing the ranks of the FIVB. “But I’ve really enjoyed my life the last five years of just doing it and saying yes to a bunch of experiences. One of the cool things about this career is I look back on the last five years and all of the crazy memories I have of going to all of these places and a lot of times I had fun because we lost out super early and we didn’t know how to book flights yet so we’d book our flight home a week or week and a half in these places and we lost on the first day and now we have a week in South Africa and it’s ‘What do we do?’
“I look back on these last five years and I wouldn’t change anything. If you’re looking to just start, I would say set your goal and jump in.”