Beach Volleyball Olympian Nikki Laird Announces Retirement
Rio 2016 Olympian Nicole ‘Nikki’ Laird has announced her retirement from international-level beach volleyball.
Born in North Sydney, Laird was originally a springboard diver but grew too tall for the sport. She attended a beach volleyball camp at her local beach Manly when she was young and was instantly hooked.
She made her international debut in 2010, and represented the green and gold on the world stage for over a decade, clocking up numerous Australian and Asian Championship podiums. Laird teamed up with Mariafe Artacho del Solar in late 2013, and the duo won gold at the U23 World Championships in 2014, before winning the national championships in 2015.
Laird and Artacho del Solar both qualified for their Olympic debut at Rio 2016, after they defeated the top seeded Vanuatu team in Cairns at the Oceania Olympic qualifier. In a nail-biting final, the pair took the third set 19-17 to secure Australia a second beach volleyball Team for the Games.
“Many of the most memorable moments of my career had a lot of my family and friends there, which I am so grateful for,” Laird said.
“One that will always live with me was our qualification for Rio and that Continental Cup being in Australia. With so many people who were pivotal in getting me to that place in the stands, it was so amazing, and having my family and friends cheering me on in the stands at Rio was so special.
“Beyond that, winning the three-star [2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Sydney 3-star] at home in front of family and friends with Becchara [Palmer] was a really cool highlight.”
The 30-year-old said it was a challenging decision to make the call to step away from the sand, but it was a decision she didn’t rush into.
“It was definitely a tough decision, but it was not the first time in my career where I’ve considered if it’s best for me to step away from the sport, so it’s not the first time I’ve had to go through the process of considering what life would be like outside of volleyball, so I think that worked in my favour,” she said.
“I wanted to make the decision on my own terms and make sure I could step away with an overwhelming sense of pride and gratitude.”
Stepping away from the beach as an athlete, Laird plans on using her undergraduate degree in Psychological Science and Sociology, and her current degree of Psychology to assist athletes in the health and wellbeing space.
“I’m keen to get into some post-grad study in psychology, and I am excited to have more headspace to invest in the learning,” she said.
“I’m excited to get into a space with work where I can make a difference. As much as I have loved my career as an athlete, I’ve really battled at times with what felt like a really self-focused environment and I think that balance has been quite off-kilter for me for a while… so I am excited to get into an area where I can make an impact on the people around me.”
Volleyball Australia National Performance Director, Craig Marshall, congratulated Nikki on her sporting journey and thanked her for the contribution she made to Australian beach volleyball.
“Nikki has been competing for Australia for 13 years and during this time, we’ve seen her not only grow as an athlete, but also as a leader in the Australian Volleyball community, often guiding junior athletes that she has paired up with at various stages of her career, and jumping into commentary and leadership roles.
“She is a talented and motivated player, whose determination and resilience has made her an integral member of our beach volleyball program, and seen her represent Australia at the highest level, on the Olympic stage.
“On behalf of VA and the Australian volleyball community, I would like to wish Nikki all the best. We’re excited to see what’s next for her,” Marshall said.
Volleyball Australia’s National Beach Volleyball Coach, Margo Wiltens said Nikki’s journey with Becchara Palmer in 2019, as the team chased qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, was a testament to the team’s determination.
“Of all our years working together, the period leading up to the Tokyo Qualification will stick to me,” Wiltens said.
“Three strong-willed women who stuck together, ‘Team Llama’, on a mission to Tokyo 2021.
“I have no doubt that the next chapter for Nicole will be a successful and positive one.”
South Australia Sport Institute’s Head Beach Volleyball Coach Andrew Schacht said from her introduction to the sport, Laird maximised every opportunity she was given.
“I was part of Nicole’s recruitment process from the NTID program into the National team program in Adelaide in 2010. Nicole displayed a strong work ethic as a younger athlete and took on the challenges we put in front of her from day one,” he said.
“Nicole was a strong competitor; I could see her desire to perform and win from her early days. She was a real trailblazer for our sport.
“It was great to see her win an U23 World Championship and become an Olympian in 2016. I am sure she has inspired many younger taller girls into our sport along the way.”
In announcing her retirement from international competition, Laird also took the time to recognise the support she received over the years from the volleyball community and the people who accompanied him along the way, including his teammates and support staff.
“From the start of my career to the end of it, Mick Nelson was a steady person which I am really appreciative for,” she said.
“Definitely Ben Haines throughout the years as well and his work to ensure that I could recover from some pretty serious injuries.
“And in more recent times, Margo made it her personal responsibility to stay in our corner during the Tokyo cycle… and I think a couple of those relationships that were built through the sport have existed beyond just an athletic career but have been really important.”