When the final ball landed, it all looked very much like any other championship moment:
There was Jen Keddy, falling to her knees in Tavares, Florida, disbelief knocking her to the sand. There was her unlikely partner, Carly Kan, falling down with her, wrapping her 6-foot-4 teammate in a sandy, sweaty hug. There are smiles. Thousand-watt smiles. Smiles that are reserved for toothpaste advertisements and moments such as this. There is an awkward post-match interview, one in which Keddy could not find the words to properly describe the moment.
Three weeks later, she still couldn’t find the proper word. She leaned on surreal when discussing her first AVP title, a 17-21, 21-19, 15-12 win over Geena Urango and Emily Capers in the AVP Central Florida Open final. For most, surreal wouldn’t be wrong. It was, indeed, the most unlikely victory in a season full of them on the AVP Tour.
Keddy and Kan had never practiced together, let alone competed as a team. When Kan flew to Austin, Texas, to get a few reps in, she ate something awful and was heaving her way through food poisoning. So they practiced once, the day before they’d match up in the first round against Macy Jerger and Kahlee York. Neither had finished higher than ninth in a Pro or Gold Series event on the AVP Tour. So when Keddy joked with Kan, telling her that “We’re going to win,” nobody, even themselves, took it all that serious.
So in many ways, it was a bit surreal when they marched through the field, winning all five matches to claim their first AVP titles. But when Keddy allowed herself to take inventory of what these previous five years have included, it seemed, frankly, quite normal.
Two years ago, Keddy, the 2011 Big West Conference indoors player of the year for Cal Poly, had never truly pursued beach volleyball. She played one youth tournament in Santa Barbara, made the final, and had to forfeit because her partner needed to catch a flight; years later, she played one forgettable season as a fifth-year at Cal Poly.
Three years ago, she had been living in Missoula, Montana, a town that averages more than 40 inches of snowfall per year and is more likely, Keddy joked, to host an event on snow than sand.
Four years ago, Keddy could hardly walk, a symptom of the chemotherapy that had ravaged her nerves and left her feet completely numb.
Five years ago?
Jen Keddy’s life…