Before Phil Dalhausser became an Olympic gold medalist and four-time USA Volleyball Beach Male Athlete of the Year, he spent his days playing Daytona Beach tourists for $20 a game.
“Because Daytona is a big tourist town, a lot of guys there think they can play,” Dalhausser says. “We’d play them, win an easy 20 bucks, go straight to 7/11 and get some Slurpees. Then straight to Taco Bell because at that time they had like 50-cent tacos.”
These days, many things have changed for the FIVB record-holder for consecutive match wins. The price of a taco has doubled, Slurpees are no longer part of his diet as a professional athlete, and the 6-9 Dalhausser is now making much more than $20 a game as a veteran preparing for his 12th professional season on the AVP tour which kicks off May 30 in St. Petersburg.
Edge caught up with the 34-year old Dalhausser to talk about the early days of his career, his new partnership, and all the awkward moments that come along with being the tallest guy in the room.
On breaking into the clique
You’d think beach volleyball would be as welcoming as beach culture, but the sport comes with its own set of social rules. Dalhausser didn’t spike his first Mikasa until he was 17 years old. As a high school baseball and tennis player, he was hesitant to try volleyball when his ninth-grade math teacher suggested he try out for the team. “My exact quote to him was, ‘Volleyball is for girls,” Dalhausser says. After reluctantly trying the sport, he soon started playing on the beach with a friend but was stuck hitting on the outside courts of the exclusive Daytona beach volleyball community. “Guys are jerks about it, I had to get into their little clique,” he says. “They are like surfers- surfers don't let you in on their break. They don't let you in on their court until you put your time in.” Dalhausser worked his way up to the cool kid’s lunch table by beating established members of the group. “And then I became one of those jerks,” he says.
On looking for a tennis partner
Dalhausser credits his old tennis serve for the smooth development of his natural spiking motion. It has been five years since he last picked up a racket, but he would like to get back to his tennis roots. “I really do enjoy playing, but all my buddies play in Florida and I don't know anyone in California that plays,” he says. Not sure I know anyone who’d want to be on the other end of serve from the ‘Thin Beast’ either.
On his once being pathetically weak
In 2003, you could definitely have lifted more than Dalhausser. Your little sister probably could have beaten him up. When he first started playing professionally, Dalhausser had never picked up a barbell. Woefully out of shape, he began working with strength coach Bob Alejo (now Director of Strength and Conditioning at NC State) at UCSB in 2006. At first, Alejo had to raise the bar a foot off the ground for the thinly built Dalhausser to deadlift.
“I was pathetic. I wasn’t strong enough to deadlift off the ground,” he says. “I was working out at a college and every girl in there was way stronger me.” About a year later, Dalhausser had mastered Olympic lifts (clean, snatch and jerk.) Today, Dalhausser balances three cardio workouts and four days of volleyball training each week with three lifting workouts on the Olympic platform inside his garage. A courteous neighbor, Dalhausser waits until at least 8 a.m. to start lifting: “I can’t do it too early because it is a little noisy and the neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate it.”
On no longer being a sheep.
Dalhausser won gold as a first-time Olympian in 2008 with partner Todd Rogers. Rogers and Dalhausser, who first teamed up in 2006, dominated the AVP as well as the international circuit. The three-time AVP Team of the Year played for a medal in 41 of 49 FIVB international tournaments through the end of the 2012 season (winning 22 times in that span). But after seven seasons, Dalhausser needed a change, and announced last season that he’d begin playing with a new partner, the laid-back and relaxed Sean Rosenthal.
“The dynamic between Todd and I was that he was the leader and I was the follower,” Dalhausser says. “I was the sheep. Now with Sean, I have to be the leader.” Learning his new role on the court hasn’t been easy, but Dalhausser picks up strategies from studying other natural leaders on the court: “I watch guys or girls that I think are good leaders on the court and try to pick up things from them.” One of those girls that inspired him was Brazil’s Talita Antunes, who won gold at the 2013 FIVB Rome Grand Slam, even though her partner Taiana Lima was struggling in the heat. “Talita was on her partner but in a positive way, like ‘Come on, lets go! lets go!’” Dalhausser says. “It was really good how she dealt with it.” Dalhausser and Rosenthal went on to win their first gold at that same tournament and have since gone on to win two more in Grand Slam events, tying for the most on Tour. The two have their eyes set on a chance to channel that positive energy all the way to Rio in 2016.
On his belief that the green stuff is good
The 200-lb. Dalhausser is changing the way he eats. A daily protein shake and bar are necessary to keep on weight. He once got down to 182 lb. in 2010, “My stomach was sucked in, I looked awful,” he says. “I think it has something to do with being 6-9 and everything is so stretched out.” His nutritional goal is to make half his plate green at every meal. “I feel like I cheated if I don’t do it,” he says (a man of his word, he ordered the steakhouse salad at lunch). But even 2-time Olympians have moments of weakness: “Last night I got in super late and no restaurant was open in the hotel so I got beef jerky and potato chips and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, this is terrible.’”
He’s sticking to the diet, but the recent dad says he isn’t forcing his 11-month old son, Sebastian, to eat his veggies just yet. “He already hates vegetables,” Dalhauser says. “Whatever he wants I just give it to him. Right now it’s black beans, which is such a pain because he puts it in his hair and by the end of the meal he has a black bean goatee.”
On roller coasters … which just aren’t his thing
Off the sand court, being 6-9 isn’t easy. Dalhausser once waited in line for two hours ride Space Mountain at Disneyland. When he got to the front of the line, he struggled to squeeze himself into the car. “I couldn’t fit into the damn seat,” he says. “I tried to cross my legs and do all the little tricks, but nothing worked.” Another time while waiting in line on a crowded day at Six Flags, Dalhausser was again the center of attention. “This little punk kid who was working that day gets on the speakers and goes, ‘Excuse me sir, excuse me, get off the railing,’” Dalhausser says. Dalhausser looked around for someone standing on the railing, only to see his volleyball buddies laughing at him. Someone in the crowd yelled, “He’s not on the rail, he’s just that tall!” #DalhausserProblems