Phil Dalhausser was talking to himself out loud when his wife overheard him.
Dalhausser, in his late 30s, was contemplating whether to retire from beach volleyball to spend more time with his two young children and his wife, Jennifer. After all, he didn’t have much else to prove in the sport.
Nicknamed “The Thin Beast” at 6-foot-9, Dalhausser won gold medals at the 2007 world championships and the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 while paired with Todd Rogers. He qualified for his third Olympics and reached the quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio Games with a different partner, Nick Lucena.
Still, Dalhausser admitted he was close to retiring a few months ago. He wasn’t enjoying volleyball or being away from his family for almost five months during the year.
His wife then intervened as he was doing some “soul-searching.”
“I was kind of talking to myself in the kitchen like, ‘What is my purpose in life?’ and blah, blah, blah” said Dalhausser, 39, who lives in Orlando, Florida. “I said I guess it’s playing volleyball, and my wife goes, ‘You’ve got to be an idiot if you don’t think it’s playing volleyball.’
“And I was like I guess you’re right.”
Truth be told, Dalhausser’s wife — herself a fellow beach volleyball player — might have used at least one expletive during the conversation. However, her strong words and support helped him rediscover his passion for beach volleyball and put off retirement until hopefully after the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“I looked at it as I’m part of maybe the 1 percent of people that can make a living out of playing beach volleyball, a good living, so already I’m super lucky and grateful for that,” Dalhausser said. “I think I was just focused on the wrong things, all the negative things, being gone (from my family).”
Dalhausser’s wife and kids — ages 4 and 5 years old — plan to travel with him to more tournaments this year so he isn’t away from them as much. His change in mindset is already evident on the court with Lucena.
In mid-March, Dalhausser and Lucena regained the chemistry they had built over the years and earned silver at the Katara Cup — an FIVB World Tour 4-star tournament in Qatar. It marked their first World Tour event together since August 2018, and the first final they made in a year.
“We were just clicking. We were crisp, that’s basically the best way to describe it,” Dalhausser said. “Everything was on all cylinders. Nick was digging some balls and I was blocking balls, and we were siding out well.
“So when we’re doing that, we’re tough to beat.”
The Katara Cup is among the FIVB World Tour events this year that award ranking points to teams to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
As well as the Americans played in the windy conditions in Qatar, Dalhausser left somewhat disappointed that he had lost his focus during the final match against Chile’s Marco and Esteban Grimalt.
Dalhausser tried but couldn’t seem to get out of his own head during the 21-15, 21-15 loss to the Grimalt cousins.
“It was a little bit bittersweet because we played so well up to the finals and then we just kind of laid a dud in the finals,” Dalhausser said. “We didn’t play well at all unfortunately, but it was a good way to start the season, a good way to start Olympic qualifications.”
Dalhausser said he has given some thought to what he’ll do when he finally retires from competition. He plans to open a beach volleyball club in Orlando and try to give back to the sport that has provided him with so much.
In the meantime, Dalhausser has worked to remain in shape and avoid the aches and pains that he feels more at 39 than he did a decade ago.
“It’s definitely cleaner eating for sure, less sweets unfortunately,” Dalhausser said. “You have more stretching and rolling (to do), all that kind of stuff, just (be) a little bit more careful, I guess, because little, tiny, nagging injuries tend to pop up more often and you’ve kind of got to stay on top of everything to avoid them as much as possible.
“They’re going to pop up no matter what we do.”
Dalhausser hasn’t given up sweets entirely, though. He still allows himself one treat a day, and lately he has been raiding the candy that his kids still have from Halloween.
Dalhausser, whose birthday is Jan. 26, will be 40 when the Tokyo Games begin. While that would make him one of the older athletes competing in Japan, he realizes it’s not unheard of for a beach volleyball player to keep winning at that age.
Brazilian legend Emanuel Rego was approaching 40 when he earned the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics. Lucena, too, will turn 40 before Tokyo.
“It’s pretty cool to win gold in general, but to do it at 40 is even cooler,” Dalhausser said.
So as Dalhausser was doing his soul-searching and coming close to retiring, did Lucena say anything to try to talk his partner out of it and get him back onto the court?
“He probably said a lot of stuff, but it went on deaf ears,” Dalhausser said. “It was definitely just a decision between my wife and I.”
So far, his decision has looked like the right one.
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.