HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Bump. Set. Spike. Repeat.

It's a routine that pro beach volleyball player Traci Callahan could recite in her sleep, and although it's not an easy lifestyle by any means, it's well worth it for the longtime athlete.  

What You Need To Know

  • While billions tune in to the Olympics every four years to watch world-class athletes compete, what they don't often see is the financial and mental toll it takes to get there

  • Chasing Gold is a nonprofit aimed at alleviating the mental toll that comes with the pursuit of an Olympic medal

  • The nonprofit works to provide the means to maximize talent and bring more medals back to the U.S.

  • It started with 10 beach volleyball players, including Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, who recently became the youngest pair to make the Olympic team

"You're willing to make sacrifices for things you love," she said. "You do it because you love it."

But while she's been hard at work on the beach almost every day, training for a spot on the 2024 U.S. Olympic team, there was a time six years ago when she walked away from the sport entirely.

After a tournament in 2015, the schedule, lack of financial stability and mental health toll became too much to handle.

"I remember thinking after, like, they are going to back with their team and coaches and look at video, and they're gonna get better," she explained. "Me, I'm going to go back, try and find people to play with, all as I'm driving an hour to go coach, and I'm like, 'I don't see how I can catch up.'"

Unfortunately, it's a storyline that many in the sport have in common.

California may be home to some of the world's best beach volleyball players, but rising to the top of the rankings and chasing a gold medal requires plenty of financial backing and support.

Ask Callahan's husband Matt, and the journey is not always attainable for up-and-comers.

"If you're not one of the top ten teams in the world, you're probably not making enough money," he said. "These players are starving. They're eating ramen noodles, working multiple jobs trying to make a living."

Although beach volleyball is one of the most-watched sports at the Summer Olympic Games, the athletes who train to get there and compete for their country often face immense financial strain.

After all, to be the best costs a lot.

"I was shocked once I sat down and looked at what it actually costs," Matt Callahan explained. "Your coach is $3-to-$4-thousand. Travel is almost $10 thousand."

"USA beach volleyball gives them a stipend and helps them there, but there's still a lot of holes," he continued. "So we have athletes that are Uber eats drivers, those that tutor kids, work at bars and restaurants, and a lot of them coach."

It was a similar story for members of the 2020 Olympic Team, including Kelly Claes, who sparked the idea for the Callahans to create the Chasing Gold organization.

"I was listening to how much debt they were in, how she left her apartment, how her coach lives with his parents and what a struggle it was," Matt Callahan said. "I realized, 'Wow, I can help.'"

The nonprofit assists beach players financially and provides the tools necessary to find marketing and branding opportunities to fund their careers. In partnership with the Edward Charles Foundation, they've been able to help aspiring Olympians pursue their craft on a full-time basis.  

Chasing Gold also accepts donations, going directly to athletes, giving them the chance to maximize their talent and take some added stress off of an already stressful career.

"A lot of people have an idea when they watch the Olympics that it's a huge world event, so the conception is all these athletes have all these sponsors and live in these big houses," Traci Callahan said. "But that's not really the reality."

"Having something like Chasing Gold is going to give a lot of good athletes the hope that this is something I can become a part of," she added.

The group currently sponsors 10 beach volleyball athletes, with the hope of expanding to other Olympic sports in the future. To donate, visit their chasinggold.org.