Lina Taylor is a two-time beach volleyball Olympian, real estate business owner, mentor to elite athletes, co-founder of a college football award, wife of a Super Bowl champion and mother of three. She has a full life of reinvention and that did not happen by accident. She grew up in Communist Bulgaria and at seventeen came to the US to further her education. Unsatisfied with her first job she followed her passion, learned to play beach volleyball all while working three jobs and she qualified for the Olympics in two years. She is now a career coach and we’re excited to have her on the show today!

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Alice:  Lina Taylor is a two-time beach volleyball Olympian, real estate business owner, mentor to elite athletes, co-founder of a college football award, wife of a Super Bowl champion and mother of three. She has a full life of reinvention and that did not happen by accident. She grew up in Communist Bulgaria and at seventeen came to the US to further her education. Unsatisfied with her first job she followed her passion, learned to play beach volleyball all while working three jobs and she qualified for the Olympics in two years. She is now a career coach and we are so excited to get to talk to you today.

Lina Taylor: Thank you, Alice. Super happy to be here.

Alice: Thank you so much for being on. Okay, so I just have some fun questions to start. Favorite football team?

Lina: Favorite football team and we are talking American football not European football?

Alice: Yes.

Lina: Yes. I wanted to clarify that. So favorite football team it has to be the Green Bay Packers. So my husband played for the Packers, but I did not know him then. But it was interesting because when I graduated from college, so that was 1996, I moved to San Diego and I started watching. That was my first time following the NFL and I just remember falling in love with the Packers. They had a great start to the year and then went on to win the Super Bowl. Unbeknownst to me, my husband was on that team.

Alice: What? That is go crazy. That is just perfect. Wow. Okay. Favorite Bulgarian food?

Lina: It has to be this thing called Banitsa. And it is basically like phyllo dough filled with feta cheese and egg kind of a mixture then you bake it and it is so delicious. My grandmother used to make it from scratch and that is the best way to do it. But I cheat and buy the phyllo dough from–

Alice: Okay, that is great. That sounds so good. I want to try it.

Lina: All right.

Alice: Okay. What is your favorite food in the US now?

Lina: Oh the US, it has to be a good cheeseburger, right? I mean, I just cannot resist a good cheeseburger.

Alice: I do not think anyone can. Okay. Beach or indoor volleyball?

Lina: Oh gosh, I have to say beach. It is what I fell in love with. I love playing indoor volleyball too. It was a lot of fun. I know your sister plays. And I was actually a coach for a long time. It is very dynamic, very intelligent sport. There is a lot that happens very quickly. Beach volleyball is just so physical, you know, you have to be so physically strong, mentally strong. We do not have coaches on the court when we are playing beach volleyball. So you really have to see the game from many different perspectives and I love that kind of complexity.

Alice: Well, that is amazing. Wow. And can you talk about being in San Diego? What is your favorite part of the city? I know there is beach volleyball like everywhere around each beach.

Lina: It is unbelievably. It is one of those cities where you can just look in 360 in any direction and fall in love with it, with the mountains. We have a ton of valleys between different mountain regions. And then of course, you look to the West you see the ocean. I fell in love with San Diego and I came to visit in my junior year in college. There was a tryout for, at the time for like a force beach volleyball league. I do not know if you remember. There used to be like a four-on-four professional league, only for a couple of years.

Alice: Wow.

Lina: Yeah. And then I came to San Diego and I just fell in love with the city and I decided to move here as soon as I graduated.

Alice: Oh my gosh, that is amazing. Do you have a favorite restaurant here?

Lina: We do. My husband and I go to this place called Market. It is just down the street from us and it is the best kind of New York quality. You live in New York. So, you know, good food is good food. And in San Diego, there is a lot of good places. There are a lot of like holes in the walls Mexican places where we just go and grab something pasta. But this is like a dining experience with just top-of-the-line food.

Alice: Market. I am gonna have to try it later at home.

Lina: You have to try it. It is by the Polo Fields.

Alice: Oh, Okay. Oh, I like that area. It is really flat there. Okay. Oh, cool. And can you talk about starting your volleyball life. When did you start playing?

Lina: Oh gosh. Okay. So I was 8 years old in third grade and if I show you a picture, I do not have a handy picture here, but here is my class. And here is me, and I was just like head and shoulders above everybody. And so my dad having been an athlete himself, he knew that I just have to start playing some kind of a sport. He was a rower. He did not want me to be in rowing because it is just a tough, tough sport for girls especially. And he thought volleyball was just a very interesting game and very pretty and so when he signed me up for volleyball I, for the first time in my life, I felt like the ugly duckling turns into a swan right? It is like, it was when I am with all these girls that are all my height and we are just, you know, I found my crew. I found my little group that I felt like I belonged there and that was the first feeling that I remember for volleyball. And then just falling in love with the game very quickly.

And then in Bulgaria the way things were set up you kind of had to pick what you are going to be very early on. So by the age of eleven, by the time I was in fifth grade I had to decide basically, “Oh, I want to be a professional athlete.” So I needed to go to a special school where you would be selected and be trained and all of our schoolwork was arranged around our practices and that is kind of unusual. You do not hear about it here. But yeah, so by the time I was in sixth grade I was committed to this path of volleyball. And school became kind of secondary, even though we still were required to do all the school work.

Alice: Wow. So were you just training for the Olympics that whole time? Were you like that is what I am going to do?

Lina: Well, you know, yeah. You have your childhood dream. I am going to be in the Olympics. You are just out there with your friends playing and staying after practice. And yeah, that is basically the path you have to take if you were to make it. So you start on this club team, you know that the club had its own school with all the different sports. And then from there you could be selected to play on the junior national team, which I made the junior national team and we qualified for, that is an interesting story, we qualified for the world championships.

And when I went there, it was in Portugal, that was the first time I left Bulgaria. But when I went there, there was an official that came to our team and said, “You”, pointing at me, “are not allowed to play. You are disqualified.” And it was because somebody in our Federation had made a mistake on my birthday. So they basically had copied it wrong on the documents and they did not allow me to play and that broke my heart. I mean, you put your heart and soul since I was eight years old, countless thousands and thousands of hours and then you go with like the Pinnacle. I was probably sixteen at the time and I cannot even wear the uniform, and that was just like one of the most important things. It broke my heart, but also it opened another avenue in my mind that said, “I will not let myself be dependent on somebody else to make that kind of mistake ever again.” So that helps to look solidified my decision when I was thinking about coming to the US, which meant yes, I will play volleyball in college, but I probably won’t ever have a chance to go back and fulfill that Olympic dream.

I probably, they will never take me back to play on the national team. So it was like it was a very, you know, a fork in the road for me. But having had that experience of just being so dependent on somebody and then making a mistake and me not being able to do anything about it really made my decision to take my own path, go to the US, get my education and then see what happens from there.

Alice: Wow. And why was that such a divergent path of you could either go to college in the US or you could pursue the Olympics? Why did you think that was such ambivalent choice?

Lina: Well, at the time and I think even now, once you left the system, so we are talking about a highly competitive, very selective system that they were training their athletes. So once I left the system and went and played volleyball in college there, I virtually ensure that there I had no way to go back and play for the national team. And at the time, I just thought, “Okay. This is my choice.” And there were other things that happen too but basically it was my way of leaving Bulgaria and establishing a life for me and my family to come to the US And that became more important than just my childhood dream of playing in the Olympics. Now, little did I know that once I graduated and beach volleyball became an Olympic sport that I would have another chance in this other sport–

Alice: Amazing.

Lina: — to pursue my dream.

Alice: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about, you use the term the system, that is like a very communist term for these this team system that is created, I guess. Can you talk about growing up under the iron curtain and what that was like?

Lina: Well, that is the thing is that I started hearing it very early on from my family. It was kind of a thing like, you did not have a lot of opportunities to advance no matter how talented you were in a certain area. So my mom was an engineer. If you did not belong to the party, so you basically have to be aligned ideologically with the ruling party at the time and if you were not aligned with that your opportunities were cut off very early on. There was a lot of favoritism. There was a lot of corruption. There was a lot of unspoken rules like who do you know? And so it just became this place for me where I did not feel that my life depended on my ability to make something of myself or how hard I worked at something. It was dependent upon this rules that would change constantly. And, like I said at first I started hearing it from my parents where they would get passed over her for a promotion repeatedly. And then you know, they did not see light at the end of the tunnel.

At that time, thankfully I was still very young but as I gave you the example of the volleyball team, being on the national team that still was not in my hands. It was in somebody else’s hands to do that. And there was another very interesting situation where I was actually cut from the team before that and I thought, “Okay, that is the end of the world.” Just because we had a new coach that came in and she all of a sudden decided that she does not want me on the team. That was another turning point for me where I went home and I thought all my dreams are ruined and like I thought it was death, like I was not going to wake up the next morning. Well, lo and behold I woke up next morning and I decided if I am awake there has to be a different way and I am gonna go to my practice. So if the coach will want to cut me and humiliate me in front of everybody like she will have to do it directly in my face. I am not just going to accept that somebody would tell me, “You are off the team. Like, basically you are just delegated to some other things.”

So those were the kind of freedoms that were not in our own hands at that time and that I felt that the US provided that opportunity. I felt that here. I had the opportunity to do something based on my ability and be rewarded for it.

Alice: What were the biggest change is that you saw when you came to the US versus growing up in Bulgaria? What was like the first thing that you noticed?

Lina: My sister gives a very funny example too because she followed in my footsteps and came to school in the US three years after me, but she reminded me of that. She said, “You know, it was just so overwhelming going to a store. You just needed to buy toothpaste. Well in Bulgaria when you go to a store to buy toothpaste there was like one tube that said toothpaste now there was like 50 different choices all saying different things and you are going, I just want to buy toothpaste.” That was one of the first things, just the abundance of things that were available to us.

The abundance of information. I think accessing information was very easy. Obviously the internet was coming online and at that time too. And I just felt that personally there was a path for me depending on how hard I work, that I could realize different things. You know, my sister just recently got her PhD in Astrophysics.

Alice: Wow. Amazing

Lina: It is just like things that you can think of. You can, in your own mind you can think of it and then you can achieve it. You are not depending on somebody else’s opinion or having to do a favor for someone so that you can be given an opportunity. You know that it is just and we do not realize this today how much opportunities I think we have in a place like the US. And that is not available to everybody around the world.

Alice: Wow. And can you talk a little bit about your sister as well? Because you guys were beach partners, like that is just so cool. How did you guys become partners and end up going to the Olympics?

Lina: Well, that was the thing. So 1996, I graduate from college the year before I had sort of help my sister get a scholarship to University of San Diego and she was playing for them. She was doing amazing. She is really great player. I am watching the Olympics in Atlanta and I see beach volleyball and at the time I was living at Mission Beach just like steps away from a weekend warrior, go out there and play on the weekends. And one of my friends, you know, “Ha ha maybe you can qualify and play in the Olympics.” Then I go, “Ha ha that would be funny wouldn’t it.” But then something of that comment just kind of stuck with me and the time and I go, you know, I started remembering those things that I had forgotten in kind of put away out of my mind. And I was like, “Oh what if? Like what if? What if?”

And so I started thinking about it, playing a little bit more seriously, even though I was working full-time. And then in 1998, I said to my sister, “Well, basically I had to find another Bulgarian, right?” and I am like, “Hey, Bulgarian, you are coming out with me.” So she hated it at first. Because you play indoor volleyball or your sister did but making the transition on the beach is very challenging.

Alice: Yeah.

Lina: Because you do not jump the same. Nothing is the same. The wind is blowing the ball everywhere and the sun is in your eyes and there is sand. And so my sister hated it at first but then I took her to, in 1997, in Los Angeles. They had the world championships and she could see for herself the best players and how they play. And I think that is when she got the bug inside of her to basically both of us got the bug. We knew very little. We did not have a lot of money. I was working full-time and she was still in college. And so we were only able to play in three tournaments that first year and in only four tournaments in 1999. So when we started the year 2000 we can we had made it to something like number seventy-three in the world and if we wanted to play in the Olympics, we had to jump fifty other teams and–

Alice: Wow.

Lina: –get to number twenty-three in the world and we had two months to do it, like two months worth of tournaments to do that. And it just seemed pretty impossible I have to be honest with you. We sat down and I asked my sister, “Why do you think that we would get to qualify for the Olympics ahead of these fifty other teams that are better trained, better funded, have played longer, have much more experienced.” And she looked at me and she said, “I have no idea.” And that is when I said, “Okay. I just need to put my head down.” And I discovered this is one of the things that I say in my coaching, but it was a huge lesson for me of how you approach a task that is so impossible, that seemed so out of this world.

How do you do it? That is the time when you do not look at the big picture. That is the time when you have to focus on something very specific that is right in front of you. And I learned that. I said, “I am not going to look at the rankings from here on out because that will distract me.” Well actually discourage me because it just and they you know, what there is nothing I can do either.

Right? Just like if you look at the score, there is nothing you can do about the score. You cannot go over and flip the score. I cannot physically go in and move our ranking higher. So what can I do? What is in my control? And that was when I learned that lesson is you put your head down and you do the next indicated step. So the bigger the task, the smaller your focus needs to be.

Alice: Wow. And so you guys did it

Lina: We made it. And it was in dramatic fashion and the last tournament, the last game a team that we had never beaten before. And I have to tell you another thing is I went to bed the night before and I said, “How are we going to beat this team?” And I had a dream about it. I had a dream about a strategy that we use in the game. And in the morning, I told my sister this is what we have to do.

Alice: Wow.

Lina: Gratefully, she was a great listener and just boding to the plan and that is what we did and it is what happened. It is just like one of those things. I think it was not so much of a dream than it was like your deep intuition about things that you can tap into those resources that are available to us, but we very rarely access. It is usually when you are faced with some dire situation that you really tap into all the possibilities that are available within you, only if you ask the right question, only if you were in the spot where you could receive that kind of guidance. It was not like a crazy dream. Somebody was telling me, no, it was my intuition. It was my knowledge putting together all these days.

My subconscious mind speaking to me without the distractions of what your conscious mind can tell you a lot of times. Your conscious mind can tell you there is no way you can go from number seventy-three to number twenty-three in two months. Your conscious mind has all these excuses and different things that will tell you, “You know, that is not possible. I have never beaten them before. How am I going to do it?” But your subconscious mind is the place of possibility, is where you tap into for those resources.

Alice: Wow, that is amazing. It is so cool that you got to do it with your sister.

Lina: Yeah, it was.

Alice: And you went to Sydney and you went to Athens with her. Can you talk about just like walking in those Opening Ceremonies? What was that like?

Lina: Oh, that was one of my favorite moments. It is really overwhelming to be in a place of a hundred thousand people are in the stadium and you see all the cameras from all over the world. I mean, you really feel like, it is really special. It is hard to explain but you just feel like you are walking on clouds, right?

Alice: Oh my gosh.

Lina: It is just that like that energy that is created there and then playing, playing was really fun too because the audience is right there. Everybody is just super involved. I have a great video. I do not know if I can find it. I can share on my screen to see.

Alice:  Okay. Perfect. I wanna see.

Lina: Yeah, I know. I did not expect that to come about. So let us see real quick here and I will show you even with, it was really special having our parents there too.

Alice: Oh, that is wonderful. And are your parents in San Diego now too?

Lina: They are in San Diego. Okay, I have it cued up. I don’t know if you–

Alice: Oh perfect.

Lina: Okay. So let us. This is a nice little treat. Okay, here we are. Can you see my screen?

Alice: Yes.

Lina: Okay. So this is a very short video. These are our parents in the stands and in Athens.

Alice: That is amazing. And they showed your parents. That is so wonderful. I love them waving the flag.

Lina: I know. They looked like lost out there, right? It was so much fun.

Alice: They must have loved that. Like their two daughters in the Olympics, like what is better than that.

Lina: It was really special. I have to tell you it was the culmination of all these struggles that I told you about, like just being trapped in that system, finding a way out in one of the most improbable ways. I have not told you that story but just, and then working so hard like being at the brink of having to work three jobs, brink of bankruptcy. Just all these struggles and then overcoming all of that. And just having the whole family just meant a lot to me. It really did.

Alice: That is wonderful. I am so glad that like all of your family could come over too and just like sharing more version of what the United States is as well.

Lina: No, yeah. It really became the place of where you achieve your dreams.

Alice: And you talk about that too in your bio and on your website like about life’s transitions and how you are constantly reinventing yourself. Can you talk about going from an Olympian to now being a career coach?

Lina: Oh, yeah, that was an interesting transition too. A lot of times when you are an athlete you do not always get to choose the way you end your career. In fact, that is probably the norm. So it was a difficult transition for me having to retire at the time where I was not necessarily I did not feel ready to retire but due to injuries and other things. I think that is one of the things that another lesson that I learned is that the way I say it is, “If you do not want regret, you have to think ahead.”

It is normally when we are at the height of some career or an experience. We are not thinking necessarily about planning our next steps. Some people are and I think that is very smart. I think that is when you think about your resources and maybe you start a database of people that you can be connected with. So that is number one I would advise anybody that is not even thinking about transition, but just keep track of all of your resources and your connections. Because you do not know how you may need that in the future. And then you know, it took several years for me.

I went back to graduate school and I got my dream job of what I thought at the time was to run Coast Volleyball Club, where your sister Samantha was playing. And I had a lot of fun with it, you know, it was just right up my alley, all of my volleyball expertise, but also just my organizational skills. I have always had a mind that could see a lot of different moving parts. I thought if I was not a volleyball player that I did not go to the Olympics, I would love to be one of those people that are directing traffic at the airports. It just seems like a fabulous job like all these different moving pieces very high stakes. Right? Like I love the pressure. I love the having to perform under that kind of pressure. It is exhilarating. So I have an operations mind that I can see because I have had to do it for myself, but also I can see how the different pieces fit together to come with the whole product, from beginning to end.

And then I wanted to start a family too. So I met this guy whom I fell in love with. He traveled with me, my last year on tour and then it was just it was time to move on. But it was not necessarily easy. So we had kids right away two boys. I mean they just happened like one after the other. That was unexpected, but you go with it. And I am just so glad. It was amazing. And then when they started, when they got to the school age, I started thinking it is fulfilling it and it is wonderful to be a stay-at-home mom. I think I am very grateful for having that opportunity, but it was also challenging. Like I am talking about how my mind loves that complexity and the pressure and so I found myself like competing with the washer and dryer.

It is going at one point this is not healthy. I need to do something else. [laughs] I mean I thought I need another challenge.

Alice: Yeah.

Lina: So that is when I got involved with an organization called Victory, at that time and it was putting together groups of professional athletes who are transitioning into business. It was peer mentoring group, and it was phenomenal. I went through the program, learned a lot and then I became the, what they call the Chair for a group that I was leading. When we moved to New York with my husband, I got involved with another organization called Elevate where I was mentoring young women professionals in business. You may have heard of it.

Alice: Yeah, definitely.

Lina: Yeah.

Alice: I am part of it actually.

Lina: You were a part of it. Yeah, see, Ellevate. I was a member of Ellevate. I was a mentor there for a lot of years. It was a lot of fun. And then, I was also approached by the USOC through all of those connections. I was approached by the USOC to be a mentor for their Athlete Career and Education Program for–

Alice: Wow, that is cool.

Lina: –at least trying to establish a life after sport. And all those things just kind of fell into place. And now the most amazing opportunity came about through Airbnb experiences. It is something new that something Airbnb is an Olympic sponsor. So they partner with the Olympic Committee, International Olympic Committee, and they are bringing Olympians to share their experience with anybody.

Alice: Wow.

Lina: So it is amazing. On their site it needs all line experiences. So that is one of the ways that I am coaching people from around the world. I would never be able to probably advertise my services in Hong Kong but through that platform, through Airbnb, people from Ireland, Lithuania, England, Hong Kong, are just signing up.

Alice: Wow.

Lina: It is very dynamic.

Alice: That is so cool. And since you have all of these reinventions, what is next? What is next on the horizon?

Lina: You know I try. My mind can race ahead. So one of the things that I have learned is to really appreciate what I have right now. So after the two boys, when they went to school and I thought, “Oh, I am just going to start my career and I was going to all these business meetings and different things.” Well little later, I got pregnant with our third, who is a little girl born in 2016, so she is about to turn four now. So I have her at home. I have the boys are ten and eleven. I really want to, what I have learned is to slow down, you know. Yes, I do have ambitions of doing this and that but I also want to enjoy what I have right now because that time with the kids is so fleeting. I mean they are going to be out of school before I know it and so I really want to focus on that. I also want to help focus on having a challenge so that I am not competing with the washer and dryer. So contributing in some way. And so basically little by little creating a life of what, it is like a hodgepodge but it is really like what my talents are in having the ability to do it on my own terms is tremendous.

Alice: That is amazing, Lina. Thank you so much. Is there anything else you would like to add to our listeners?

Lina: Oh gosh, you know I just feel really grateful for you guys. I listen to a lot of your podcasts and I think it is phenomenal to have a place where you can hear things that are not talked about in the mainstream media, where people can be vulnerable and we can learn from each other’s experiences. I think that is, you feel connected, especially at this time of this connection between people and we do not have our girlfriends right next to us to help us and support us. So I think what you are doing is really inspiring.

Alice: Thank you so much, Lina. And thank you so much for being on today.

Lina: Thank you. I appreciate it, too.

Alice: Yeah, thank you so much and have a great trip with your sister tomorrow

Lina: Tomorrow. Yeah.

Jubilance for PMS is dedicated to telling untold stories and to helping women and menstruators with that time of the month.  Jubilance for PMS is the only clinically proven supplement helping to relieve your emotional PMS, including stress, anxiety, gloominess, and irritability.  This oaa supplement (oxaloacetate) is here for you to help with your PMS.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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