Steamboat Springs Part of Katie Carter's reason for continuing to play volleyball is the rapid progression of her career.
The other part, and the most important to Carter - a 2003 Steamboat Springs High School graduate and former All-American at UCLA - is that she absolutely loves the life she is living.
She recently made the final eight of the USA Beach Volleyball U-26 team. The team will be cut to four players July 15 before heading to Finland in August to play. She's also playing on the AVP beach volleyball professional tour, something she's dreamt of for as long as she can remember.
Add in that Carter lives two houses from the beach, spends as many as 12 hours a day playing volleyball, spends countless hours at the beach and is getting mentored by her idol, Holly McPeak - one of the most successful beach volleyball players of all time - and Carter said life is pretty darn good right now.
"I'm totally focused on what I do," Carter said Tuesday while waiting to catch a plane to Brooklyn, N.Y., for an AVP qualifier. "I'm really confident I am going to do well. Holly always tells me, 'Katie, you're going to be a great player, it's just going to take time.' She's the best person to tell me that."
After a decorated career at Steamboat, Carter went on to be a first-team Pac-10 and third-team All-American selection at UCLA. She spent two years playing professionally in Spain before returning to the states.
She knew she wanted to get into the beach volleyball scene, but she wasn't totally sure how.
Enter McPeak, who earned a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and is third in career winnings on the AVP tour. She knew Carter from covering the Pac-10. In January, McPeak invited Carter and seven other former collegiate indoor players to a camp where she trained them three times a week for free.
"In beach volleyball, it's how much work you put in," McPeak said. "It's figuring out your strengths. But the sky is the limit with her. She has the size to compete with the top player in the world. It all comes down to her learning ball control and strategy."
Carter, at 6-foot-2, plays with Christina Hinds. Hinds, who was a libero at Pepperdine, has a little bit more experience on the AVP.
The team qualified for the main draw of the Brooklyn AVP tournament Thursday for the first time.
Players are given points in the AVP. Since Carter and Hinds are relative newcomers, they have to play in qualifying events to get into the main draw. The team had been close, and it finally qualified for the first time.
"I see them qualifying in Brooklyn and a couple more times this year," McPeak said. "Her big year is next year. That's when she'll take a big step forward."
It's not all fun for Carter. Playing on the AVP has been costly. Training as much as she does, Carter said it's tough to have a full-time job.
She does private beach volleyball lessons and also coaches club volleyball teams. She said those gigs help her pay the bills and allow her to play volleyball.
A normal day for Carter consists of practicing at the beach in the morning for three hours, doing another workout in the afternoon, and teaching a lesson in the early evening before wrapping the night up by coaching a club volleyball team.
Sometimes that translates into 14 hours of volleyball.
But Carter is not worried about getting burnt out on the sport.
At this point, volleyball isn't just a game, it's a full-blown addiction.
"Indoor volleyball really narrows it down. Beach narrows it down even more," Carter said. "Everyone is a good athlete. It's crazy. There is such a small group of people that are successful in this sport. If my body isn't cut out for it, I'm not going to spend five years at it : But this is a dream come true. My first dream was to go to UCLA, then play professional and now to play beach."