Nicole Branagh is a professional volleyball player who has taken her skills from the court to the sand. A Bay Area native, she played indoor volleyball at the University of Minnesota before going pro and, eventually, making the switch to beach volleyball. Nicole is currently training for Tokyo 2020 where she hopes to best her 5th place performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. During her down time, she enjoys spending time with loved ones and doing anything outside, whether that means going to the beach, riding bikes, or hiking.
Here, Nicole shares a little more about herself, in her own words.
How did you get your start?
I’ve loved playing sports since I was young. In high school, I played basketball and volleyball and ran track and field. I’ve always felt my background in various sports helped me get where I am today. By mixing it up, I was able to use different muscles for each sport, which led to overall improvement. In college, I was recruited to play volleyball. I focused on that for the next four years at the University of Minnesota where the amazing spirit, fans, and atmosphere were hard to beat.
After my senior season of volleyball, I joined the USA Indoor National Team. I played with them for three years, and during the off season I played professionally in the US for the Minnesota Chill, then in Japan and Italy. I had memorable, rewarding experiences playing indoor volleyball and was thankful for the friendships I made along the way. The switch to beach volleyball came later. One summer, I was taking a break from indoor volleyball and got a call from a former teammate asking me to come down to LA and play beach volleyball.
Although I thought she was crazy—I had never played before—I got in my car and headed down from the Bay Area to check it out. A week later I was moving! I joined any volleyball group I could to start learning the game and getting in practice. Although the skills of the pass, set, and spike are the same, it’s a different game.
I stayed down in LA for that summer before returning for one more pro season in Italy. I missed the beach so much after that, I went straight back to LA to get in the sand and start playing in any tournament I could. Fortunately, that year, I was AVP Rookie of the Year and was asked to play with one of the top players in beach volleyball. I said yes, stopped playing indoor so I could really give it my all, and here I am—14 years later—still at it and happy to share this part of my life with my children. It’s taken things to a whole new level.
Where have you appeared or been featured?
I’ve been featured on many media outlets, from television to print. They include NBC, ESPN, ESPNW, Pac-12 network, Women’s Health magazine, Dig magazine, Volleyball magazine, and various newspapers.
How do you find your fit?
I can only go so long without a workout, otherwise I get antsy. I stay the most motivated when I mix up my workouts. I move around and try new things to keep it exciting, and I think it helps my body as well. Beach volleyball is an amazing workout; I encourage anyone to try it. On top of that, I work out at the gym with circuit training, plyometrics, and weights. I’ve been known to enjoy spin classes as well—I love the music and the atmosphere.
What’s your most memorable achievement?
My number one most memorable achievement is becoming a mom. The 2008 Olympics was also a dream come true and something I am very proud of. I will never forget that feeling of walking into the stadium for our first match. It’s something I want to do again with my family in the stands.
Why do you love Fitbit?
I love Fitbit because it helps me stay on track in so many different areas. It reminds me when I need to get moving. It helps me track my sleep and heart rate, which aids in my recovery and allows me to maintain a high level of training. I like competition, so it’s fun to compete and challenge friends with the app. All around it has been a huge asset in elevating my training because it provides useful information that allows me to adjust my workouts as needed.
What do love most about your job?
I love beach volleyball for so many reasons. I love working hard and challenging myself, and each practice allows me to do that. Plus, I get to enjoy the beach daily. I love that we get to do it all: travel the world, learn about different cultures, and—of course—pass, set, and spike. We dive around and make athletic plays. It’s challenging but so much fun.
What are you most proud of?
Being a mom is the thing I am most proud of. That, and being able to come back and play at a high level after having our two kids.
What’s the best health or fitness advice you’ve ever received?
Mix it up! Try new things with workouts, incorporate classes, and keep it interesting. Mixing things up can help keep your body balanced and feeling great.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That’s easy: Take time for recovery! Training hard is important, but it is just as important to take time to recover. That means stretching after practice, taking an ice bath, getting a massage, and rolling out with a roller. I’ve gotten better at this over the years, and it has made a huge difference. Also be sure to listen to your body. If you’re tired, take a day off and don’t feel bad about it.
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