As a national team member for the U.S. beach handball program, Andres Espinosa has high expectations on the court to perform.
But the expectations for him to perform off the court are much, much greater.
Espinosa has served his community as a firefighter paramedic for the Ventura Country Fire Department in California over the past 11 years.
“I was like every kid who wants to be a policeman or firefighter. I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was a boy, but I really like the medical aspect of it as well and that's why I became a paramedic,” Espinosa said, who has been playing handball since he first watched it on television during the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.
“I realized that I could work for the fire department because firefighter paramedics take on a lot of the emergency medical responsibilities in the community. That's what drew me towards it.”
A few years ago, Espinosa was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. Lasting over a month, it turned out to be one of the biggest fires in California’s history.
“The fire was about six or seven miles east of my station, so we got the initial alarm and were one of the first engines to arrive. I was on duty that night,” Espinosa said. “A lot of the alarms we get are small fires or false alarms, so you never know what you're going to get. It was devastating for the county of Ventura, and it was the biggest fire I've ever had in my career.”
Espinosa said that some of the skills needed for firefighting can also be applied to playing beach handball. Both require the essential ability of performing under pressure.
“There are a lot of intense situations in both firefighting and handball," Espinosa said. "There’s pressure in public environments to perform as a paramedic during emergency calls, and obviously the same goes for any sport. You have to be able to perform under pressure.”
Espinosa and both national teams are competing at the inaugural World Beach Games this month in Doha, Qatar as part of the American beach handball delegation. As an original member of the beach handball program since its creation, he voiced his excitement for their sport to gain more exposure through a large international event.
“I'm really excited for Qatar, but I’m also excited for beach handball to get more exposure. Through this competition, hopefully people can watch on television and see what our sport is," Espinosa said.
"I really think beach handball could be huge. I know the potential is there; if someone were to walk by a game and watch, anybody would be interested in it. It just has so much potential, especially here in the US with all the beaches we have."