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Olympic Gold Medalist Makes Big Impression On Marymount Students

Beach volleyball champion Phil Dalhausser and 2004 Olympian Dax Holdren talk candidly with students.

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Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Phil Dalhausser greets students at Marymount of Santa Barbara on Friday. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Phil Dalhausser towered over his eager audience on Friday morning at Marymount of Santa Barbara, many of whom were cradling signed volleyballs like they were gold.

Dalhausser, fresh from his Beijing beach volleyball victory, was sporting a gold medal around his neck and taking questions along with Dax Holdren, who represented the United States in beach volleyball at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

The students asked candid questions. One witty seventh-grader announced he had two questions, the first of which required no words as he got within an inch of the 6-foot-9-inch athlete, looked up and said, “Whoa!”

When a second-grader asked Dalhausser how it felt to be a gold medalist, he answered, “It’s maybe the best feeling ever.” The uncomplicated answers Dalhausser gave were balanced well by verbose humor coming from Holdren, who is a Marymount parent. 

The pair will compete in the Association of Volleyball Professionals Crocs Cup Shootout at West Beach this weekend. The tournament begins at 9 a.m. Saturday and continues into Sunday.

A fifth-grader asked Dalhausser when he “started being, like, good at volleyball,” and Holdren took the reins.

“Phil got good fast, faster than probably anyone else,” said Holdren, who remembered how impressed he was by Dalhausser when he stood out in a 2004 Hermosa Beach tournament.

“We had never seen someone 6-foot-9 be able to jump 35 inches and block balls with their bellybutton over the net,” he said, earning laughter from the students. 

One student asked if Dalhausser planned to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and he replied, “Yes, that is the goal.”

Holdren talked about how huge the Beijing venue was, saying it was more than six times the size of stadiums for the upcoming AVP tournament, which will hold 2,000 spectators.

The Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground in Beijing accommodated 12,500 fans, almost the size of the Staples Center.

In fact, the two have a shared partner in Todd Rogers, the Olympian who won the gold with Dalhausser in Beijing. Rogers and Holdren were San Marcos High School teammates and competed in the domestic AVP tour after college.

A student asked Dalhausser how fast he can serve. “I only know it in kilometers. It’s 95 kilometers per hour,” Dalhausser said. Holdren added, “Someone has to know what that is. Teachers?” Someone said it was about 60 miles per hour.

“I guarantee he has one of the, if not the hardest serves in the world,” Holdren said.

Listening to accounts from two Olympic athletes whose talents have taken them around the world fits into Marymount of Santa Barbara’s theme this year: going global.

Students are split into mixed-grade buddy groups, working on internationally impacting projects such as collecting spare change to send to Engineers without Borders programs.

“The idea is not to have mom write a check for you. It’s the kids doing this themselves to make a difference,” said Rageshwar Kaur Wilcox, director of admissions. “When a student leaves Marymount, they’ve got the skills, the flexibility, but also the personal confidence to be able to navigate anything anywhere.”

Wilcox said having Dalhausser and Holdren speak was integral to the school’s theme because of how a sport so popular on beaches in Santa Barbara can spark worldwide adventures and “the unexpected.”

Dalhausser also embodies the global perspective because he was born in Switzerland to a German father and a Swiss mother.

A group of seventh-grade girls asked Dalhausser what advice he would give to someone aspiring to become an Olympian.

“Beach volleyball is a hobby of mine, and after college I decided to give it a shot,” he said. “If I had never given it a shot, I would never be here. So, I would say you have to give your dream a shot.”

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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