Apr the 12 Corporate
Alumni Spotlight: Conrad Leinemann
VC Alumni Spotlight catches up with past National Team members. This edition features Conrad Leinemann, who was active from 1995 to 2008 with the men’s beach team.
Getting cut from a team is never easy. For Conrad Leinemann, how he reacted to getting cut ended up starting his career.
In his third year with the University of British Columbia, where he was honoured as the school’s Athlete of the Year in 1994, Leinemann had his sights set on the national team. Just not the beach team – yet.
“I wanted to play on the indoor national team,” he explained. “Reality sunk in when I went to a tryout - I was way out of my league. I was pretty upset getting cut but it turned out to be a good thing. I eventually made the switch to beach volleyball, which I am happy I did.”
The switch worked out very well for the Kelowna, British Columbia native, who was kick-starting a Hall of Fame career in the sand. Even in his first international tournament, he started to believe he was on the right path.
“My first tournament was in Puerto Rico,” Leinemann started. “We had to play a top Brazilian team to qualify. We were right there with them but lost. Even with the loss, I felt I could do this.”
From that first tournament, he continued to push himself to get better. He was determined to continue to improve and succeed in the sport.
“I loved to train hard. Like really hard. Like throw-up training,” he said. “I was in great shape. In the back of my mind, I knew I was in better shape than most other athletes. It gave me confidence knowing I had put in the hard work especially when it was the third or even fourth match of the day. Being in good shape gave me an advantage over other players later on in tournaments and when it was very hot.
“I loved to compete. I loved to find a way to win when I was not playing well or the other team was playing great. A lot of this came with experience. Changing the game plan, calling a time out, etc. In beach volleyball, there are no coaches allowed while you compete. You are your own coach. So making some adjustments to find a way to win.”
That continued pushing of himself paid off, as Leinemann went on to win a gold medal in the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba, qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and added a silver and bronze in two other FIVB tournaments.
In terms of his most memorable moments, it’s not hard to guess which stands out for the beach athlete, who at one point had the fastest serve in the world at 104.4 kilometers per hour.
“(My most memorable moment was) when we won the gold medal at the 1999 Pan Am Games,” Leinemann said. “We played two very good teams from Brazil in the semis and finals. Having all the fans sing 'O Canada' at the top of their lungs will stay with me forever.
“The second is walking into the opening ceremonies in Sydney 2000 with 110,000 people there. I have never seen anything like that before. My jaw dropped to the ground and stayed that way for some time. It was the start to an incredible experience there. “
Sydney ended up being Leinemann’s first and only Olympic qualification. He and partner Jody Holden came into the event as the 18th seed, finishing in ninth place. It was also Leinemann’s first try at qualifying for sport’s biggest stage.
“It was awesome,” he said. “We had a great match against the US where we came back to win the game. Over 10,000 Aussies were cheering us on as we crept back into the match. My family was there from Kelowna. I jumped into the stands and gave them all a hug. They were a huge part of me qualifying.
“The emotions got the best of us and we lost to the Germans who went on to win the bronze medal. It was a massive learning experience. I was so excited to get back to the Games again. I tried two more times without making it. It is not easy to get to the Olympic Games and so much harder to win a medal.”
Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics especially, Leinemann thought that he and his new partner Rich VanHuizen had a real shot.
“We were playing great,” he said. “In 2007 and 2008, I was playing the best volleyball of my career. The wheels fell off when Rich hurt his knee and knocked us out of the Olympics. I really believed we were on track to win a number of tournaments.”
While he’s widely known for his performance on the beach, he’s also well known for his work off the court through “The Pep Rally,” where he inspired others to get into volleyball while earning money for his training expenses.
“(The Pep Rally) is a one-hour, motivational talk with an interactive experience,” Leinemann explained. “I would play the school teams and teachers one-on-six. Me against everyone. The kids would pay two dollars to watch and I would use this money to help me pay my coach and travel expenses.
“Over 10 years, I was able to talk to over 200,000 students across Canada in 500 schools. I would do them 24 hours a day if I could. I loved connecting with kids and showing them to go after their dreams. They were my number one sponsor. Without all these kids, I would not have been able to do what I did.
“When Jody and I got inducted in the Volleyball Canada Hall of Fame I thanked all the kids across Canada for being on my team. After my speech, a lady came up to me and said, ‘I saw you at my school with the Pep Rally. That is why I made the indoor national team.’ How cool is that?”
In fact, when asked what he was most proud of in his national team career, Leinemann didn’t point to his gold medal at the Pan Ams or his Olympic performance. It was how he made it all happen that stands out to him.
“I would say being an entrepreneur of some sorts,” he answered. “It might sound strange but we had to figure out how to financially make this work. Doing The Pep Rally and getting key sponsors like Speedo, Ryders Sunglasses, McDonald’s, Subaru, and G-Shock was key. My agent was Jane Roos and the companies liked her creativity.”
With his playing days behind him, the volleyball player has turned this entrepreneurship mentality to continue earning money for athletes, running the Canadian Athletes Now Fund (CAN Fund) with his agent-turned-wife Jane Roos.
“We raise money for our Canadian athletes on the world stage,” he explained. “We support both Summer and Winter athletes. Able-body and Para athletes can receive $6000 each in financial support. To do this, we have raised over 40 million dollars. … It has been an amazing transition to supporting our current athletes representing Canada.”
By Josh Bell, Volleyball Canada
Photo above: FIVB