Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Holly McPeak insists she is not still trying to put the game of professional beach volleyball on her back.
The volleyball legend said Wednesday that, since her retirement earlier this year, she no longer feels the need to campaign for the sport to grow.
If you believe McPeak - and there is little reason not to - then it's another sterling example of a professional athlete simply giving back to the game that gave her so much.
Fortunately for Steamboat, part of McPeak's giving back to the game includes mentoring 2003 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Katie Carter.
Carter, who admits to idolizing McPeak for most of her life, spent a large portion of January training and learning about the game of beach volleyball with McPeak.
All of that came free of cost, too.
"It was just something to give back to the sport," McPeak said. "I played beach volleyball full time for 19 years. I've seen the world and played in three Olympic games. I felt it's a way to give back."
There are a lot of times - too many cases to note - when former professional athletes disappear after their career is done.
But recently, it's been easy to see two athletes, with ties to Steamboat, who still are carrying the torch for their sport. Look at the comeback by U.S. Nordic combined athlete Todd Lodwick and you'll see a little bit of it. Certainly, Lodwick came back with Olympic dreams on his mind, but each time you talk to him, he also emphasizes how he hopes the younger Nordic skiers take his example and apply it to themselves.
In McPeak, Carter found a way into the beach volleyball scene. The former Steamboat star admitted after playing professionally in Spain for two years, getting into beach volleyball proved a daunting task.
Beach volleyball is very cliquey, she said. If you're not known, it's tough to get into a game.
But when McPeak ran her camp and invited Carter, things instantly opened up. Carter was known as one of "Holly's girls." It garnered respect among the Southern California beach volleyball crowd and helped Carter start the beach volleyball career she has always wanted.
It's already started to pay off for Carter. On Thursday, she qualified for the main draw of an AVP event for the first time in her brief career.
Carter's not sure how long she'll compete on the AVP tour, but judging by the weekend's results, it's not out of the question to see her do it for a while.
She admits she owes a lot to McPeak, who obviously deflects attention away from herself.
McPeak admits that, even as a television commentator, she'll still try to promote the game, but now that she's retired, she doesn't feel the pressure to do it.
But it's clear McPeak still cares for the game. She cares enough to take Carter and seven other indoor players and teach them her craft.
So although beach volleyball might not be on McPeak's back anymore, the sand legend still shows her love of the game.
And maybe someday - and I'm sure McPeak would be excited - it will be Carter with the game on her back.
- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org