Beach volleyball star Alexa Strange about her India connect and life on the sand
Alexa Chitra Strange finds it amusing that India is not what her mother, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, remembers. “I didn’t even pack any shorts because I had formed a different idea from her stories,” says Alexa, whose father has Scandinavian origins.
A lot has changed, indeed. While the athlete in her grew up to be a familiar face in the American professional beach volleyball circuit with titles like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Beach Volleyball Champion to her name, India has also evolved to host professional games other than cricket.
So, this time around, she’s in her mother’s native land as the commentator at the first season of Pro Volleyball League. As her energetic demeanour behind the microphone is captivating fans of the game, we catch up with this Olympics aspirant.
Growing up in the coastal city of San Clemente, California, influenced her professional decisions. “I played basketball, soccer, baseball and volleyball in school. But, when dad asked me to pick one sport to pursue professionally, I chose beach volleyball for the feminine energy it has,” says the 24-year-old, who has visited countries like Croatia and Cyprus as a part of the US Youth National Beach Team. She also dabbled in indoor volleyball in college as the sand style was still not accredited by NCAA.
“Unlike most other players, I didn’t concentrate on one particular position. So, I’m both a setter and a hitter and that works to my benefit on the sand court,” says the athlete, who moved to University of Southern California (USC) once the sport was accepted by the athletic association.
Her performance with USC—including the NCAA championship win for them in 2016—has brought her the label of an All-American (an honourific title used for best amateur players). “When we won, the association released a video about my mother’s blindness and how my dad narrates my matches to her. It was Mother’s Day and that was one of the best moments in my career,” says the professional, who currently plays for The Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP).
Searching for roots
Deep into the conversation, she reveals that she is not in India by an accidental invitation.
“I happened on a video about Jimmy George (legendary volleyball player) and was really excited to find out that he’s from the same state as my mother. I figured that a fast-growing country like India will slowly make a statement with sports like volleyball. So, I tried to reach out to various organisations in the country and received a reply from the Pro Volleyball League, which I discovered from the social media handle of badminton star P V Sindhu,” she winks.
“I was asked if I could do commentaries. Although I haven’t had any professional exposure in commentating, I’m used to narrating matches for my mom. Add to that my bubbly and outgoing nature and I figured I’ll give it a shot.”
Seeing this as a breakthrough into a country that “feels like home-base,” she hopes to promote the sport amongst millennials. “It’s evident that volleyball offers space for females as it is one sport that people watch without making a distinction between men’s and women’s teams. I see this India trip as planting seeds of something big in terms of doing more outreach in the country, especially for younger girls,” Alexa sums up.
Set on it
The athlete’s day involves at least six hours of practice. She spends four-five days a week on the court with her beach volleyball partner and an equal number of days in the gym. Another habit she has developed over the years is to watch her recorded moves to better understand how she needs to improve.
Alexa is counted on by fans as a future Olympian. “I took up playing professionally full-time only last year and right now my goal is Paris 2024. By then, I’ll be 30 which is a perfect age. When you’re 18 or 20-years-old you tend to be more athletic and fit, but this sport takes so much mental strength and that comes with experience and repetition.” Asked if she would want to represent India on the field, she says that she would only be happy to if given the chance.
Besides all the adrenaline rush of smashes and surfing the waves, Alexa also loves to meddle with art and design. Her sketches exhibit evident Indian influences in their intricate patterns and motifs like Shiva. “Something I want to do in due course is to bring out my own sports clothing line,” she says.
Pics by: Mpu Dinani