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2016-07-28 09:44:00 CET

The men chasing a dream living in a van

We meet England’s only senior beach volleyball stars on the road in Klagenfurt

Jake Sheaf keeps the ball alive at the A1 Major Klagenfurt Major. Photocredit: Mike Ranz.Jake Sheaf keeps the ball alive at the A1 Major Klagenfurt Major. Photocredit: Mike Ranz.

How many beach volleyball players do you know sleep in a van that they drove 1,700km in just to play one match in qualification at the A1 Major Klagenfurt?

Step forward two English guys chasing a dream living in a van: Chris Gregory and Jake Sheaf.

Their adventure by the Wörthersee this week might have lasted just 32 minutes, but their story highlights the lengths that dedicated athletes in our sport go to fulfill their ambitions.

Setting off last week from their base on the south coast of England, Gregory and Sheaf finished ninth in a satellite event in Liechtenstein on their way to compete in here at the capital of beach volleyball. Later this week they will head to Switzerland, to compete in a tournament in Basel.

“With three competitions in a short amount of time we thought driving was the best solution for us,” says defender Jake, 26. “It keeps the costs down. We bought a van and drove it here and slept in it for a couple of nights. Sometimes you do what you’ve got to do. We’re just a couple of guys in a van chasing a dream.”

The pair are currently the only English team competing on the World Tour and, while Sheaf and Gregory are proud to represent their country, that’s not the only reason they are rallying around Europe collecting ranking points.

“It’s a privilege,” says 6ft 10in blocker Chris. “A lot of people dream to play sport for their country but we want to make the most of it.

“We’re the first senior English team on the World Tour since the London Olympics finished and we try to get around England as much as we can to encourage youngsters and to help those teams behind us come through.

“But, at the end of the day, we want to improve ourselves and realize the dream of making a living from the sport. We don’t want to just compete for our country, we want to compete for our ourselves.”

The pair in action at the A1 Major Klagenfurt: Photocredit: Mike Ranz.The pair in action at the A1 Major Klagenfurt: Photocredit: Mike Ranz.

The team’s aim is to reach the main draw of competitions on a consistent basis but the duo understand it’s not easy, especially as they juggle working in the UK with training and travelling to competitions around the globe.

“We know we have to work on things and work hard to achieve this,” reflects Chris. “You can’t just rock up and expect to win straight away. It takes time, work and experience. If you spend 15 years of your life trying to qualify then something’s wrong. But we understand that it’s hard – we just need to keep working at it.”

The potential in England is there for the sport to really take off – so what’s their message to any budding young English beach volleyball star?

“There are some great opportunities in beach volleyball in England,” says Jake. “The Olympics in 2012 helped us forge a base in the UK with courts all across London – and we’ll continue to do our bit on the main tour and spreading the message.”

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