Mariafe Artacho del Solar on the determination and self-belief that got her to the top in beach volleyball. By Cindy MacDonald.


On the beach: Mariafe Artacho del Solar, beach volleyball player

I originally come from Peru and moved to Sydney with Mum when I was 11. I’d already started playing indoor volleyball in Lima at a very young age and I continued to play when I got to Sydney. When I was 12, my brother asked me to go play a special beach volleyball event with him down at Manly Beach. I was like, “Woah, I love this sport and I really want to do it as a career.”

I was around 16 when the rumours were out there that I was going to be too short to make it to the top. I was like, “I’ll prove you wrong.” Because beach volleyball became such a passion of mine. And I always played with my heart regardless of my height, which I think is sometimes more important than the physical side of things. 

I claim 174 centimetres. Obviously once you get to the top level, if you’re not the tallest player, you need to make sure you’re the fastest, strongest, fittest. I have been working on that and have complemented my other strengths, which are my ball control and my ball skills.

As an elite athlete, determination, discipline and commitment are critical. For me, no one was going to stop me or get in the way of me becoming an Olympian and a world champion. I always had written on a big piece of cardboard that I was going to be a junior world champion and an Olympian, and both became true. 

I work a lot with visualisation and am a big believer in that. If you believe it and you see it, you’re halfway there. You have to trust in yourself that anything is possible. There are always going to be people who don’t believe in you, there are always going to be so many challenges in your way, but they are only there to make you stronger and I am grateful for all of that.

Playing in Rio was amazing. To play your first Olympics at the home of beach volleyball in Brazil was definitely a very special experience. My highlight was being called out into that huge arena at Copacabana Beach with 15,000 people there and the music and the party atmosphere. The arena came alive at midnight; it was prime time. I had the adrenalin rushing through my body – it was definitely a moment I will never ever forget. We had prepared to play at midnight and the energy was insane, so it felt like a normal time.

Funnily enough [my Rio partner] Nikki Laird and I went to the same school in Sydney – Killara High – but we didn’t know each other until one day Nikki came to the beach for a volleyball summer camp. We saw each other and our faces looked familiar and eventually we realised we went to the same school. We became friends and we played in a few junior events here and there and then we got partnered to play in the Under-23 World Championships, which we won. Then to qualify for Rio was just a dream come true. 

I moved to Adelaide when I was 18. There was no way I was going to make it anywhere else, because the beach volleyball program is based here. It’s good having so many events in Australia, especially international events like the Volleyfest in Manly, which starts on Friday. It’s so good for the sport and it’s so special for us to play in front of our family and friends. Manly is where I started, so to go back to play there is something special. It’s a great atmosphere and the people in the crowd get involved. It’s good that Volleyball Australia is putting a lot of effort and support into growing the sport. I think it’s only going to go up and up and I look forward to what’s in the future.

For me, the uniform has never been an issue. You don’t want to play beach volleyball in more than what we wear. Because we get so hot and sandy and sweaty, it would be annoying to play in shorts and shirts. I love everything about the culture and the atmosphere of beach volleyball, the whole thing is just so much fun.

I used to play all different sorts of ball sports and I even did gymnastics and taekwondo. I’ve always been a sporty girl, but tennis is definitely my second-favourite sport – I love it. Roger Federer is my absolute idol – I’ve looked up to him since I was a young girl. He just continues to amaze me. He is the whole package, not just a good athlete. 

As an elite athlete you’re a role model as well, and it’s important to give back. I was recently involved in the Undie Run for the Children’s Tumour Foundation. I love being a part of all that. I’ve always wanted to do ambassador work alongside my volleyball career.

The commitment and dedication that helps you in sport also helps you in everyday life. What I’ve gone through in my sport has made me a stronger person in my day-to-day life. If you have a dream, don’t let anything or anybody get in your way. Go for it.

Next year on the Gold Coast it’s the first time beach volleyball is going to be in the Commonwealth Games. We’re only allowed to have one Australian team, so obviously it will be very competitive between us. After that my focus is on Tokyo [2020 Olympics] and beyond.

I’ve got my head set on a minimum of four Olympics and I want to win that gold medal. I know it’s not going to be easy but, yes, it’s definitely something that I will do.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 11, 2017 as "On the beach".

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Cindy MacDonald is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.

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