At 10 minutes past noon on most Thursdays, freshman Kyra Petersen isn’t having lunch with her friends.
Instead, she’s on her way to the airport for a flight to Los Angeles.
Petersen practices there with a team called Elite Beach Volleyball at Manhattan Beach from 3:30 p.m. until the sun sets.
After the Thursday afternoon practices, there’s more practice on Friday and Saturday.
Petersen also has individual practice with her coaches every Saturday.
At least one of her parents accompanies her to Los Angeles, where they rent a condo by the beach.
Petersen likes the nice weather and the fun vibe of the city.
“I really love it down there,” she said.
Usually, Petersen returns home on Saturday night.
That is, unless she has another individual practice scheduled. In that case, she flies home on Sunday.
So every week Petersen misses part of Thursday and all of Friday at school. This will be the arrangement until March, when the season ends.
She also misses a Tuesday volleyball practice in Los Angeles.
But that’s how she manages to stay at Country Day and play for Elite Beach Volleyball.
That his daughter is trying to balance school and beach volleyball shows how much she loves the SCDS environment, including the teachers and students, her father said.
Otherwise, it would be easier for the family to move to Los Angeles.
Petersen has been playing volleyball since fifth grade, but this is her first year playing for Elite Beach Volleyball.
Her father introduced her to beach volleyball the summer of 2013, when he took her to Southern California, where the family stayed for four weeks. There she met other volleyball families and college players. One family told her about a coach named Barbra Fontana, a beach volleyball Olympian.
In the spring of 2014, Petersen met and trained privately with Fontana. Last summer, she attended many camps, trained with Fontana for seven weeks and met other coaches.
Then she came back to Sacramento in time to start practice with the school varsity volleyball team.
She returned to Los Angeles in September to try out for Elite Beach Volleyball.
Before she started flying down to practice (which began the week before Thanksgiving), Petersen talked with Brooke Wells, head of high school, about how to deal with missing two days of school each week.
They made arrangements for Petersen to use FaceTime (a video-chat app) to sit in on classes if necessary.
Petersen said she is happy with the volleyball arrangement.
But sometimes, she said, she feels bad about the whole situation, especially with the details she has to work out with the teachers.
She said she talks with the teachers before she leaves so she can be ready for the work she will need to do.
If there is an important lecture, she can FaceTime one of the students and virtually be there for class.
“I’m really thankful for that,” she said.
Keeping up with her classes in this way can be challenging, she said.
On Friday, she checks in with the teachers again to make sure she has everything.
If there’s a test, she can try to take it during a free period. And if there’s a class activity that’s too hard to miss, such as a lab or a presentation, Petersen will simply not go to Los Angeles.
For instance, the week before Winter Break, she stayed at school to manage tests and projects.
And she plans to stay in Sacramento the weeks before and of finals.
Petersen hopes to continue playing for Elite Beach Volleyball, she said, but hasn’t thought much about the future.
According to her father, the decision to play for this team has been positive.
“She’s gotten an opportunity to play a sport that she is passionate about,” he said.
“And she is exposed to a couple of very successful, positive women.”
Fontana and Holly McPeak, another of her coaches who’s also a former Olympian, are “smart” and “very empowering,” her father said.
“All the players that go through (the program) end up doing amazing things, going to the Olympics, getting scholarships,” Kyra Petersen said.
Aside from the positive athletic experience, Petersen is learning about efficiency, both on the beach and in school, her father said.
“She’s learning to focus even more on the school task at hand,” he said.
However, there are some downsides to the arrangement.
Petersen said she doesn’t like missing this much school.
“I never missed school when I was younger,” she said. “It’s kind of hard. It’s tiring to go back and forth.
“I have Monday and Tuesday to figure out and catch up. And then Wednesday’s a regular day.”
Then on Thursday, it’s back down to Los Angeles.
Additionally, Petersen hasn’t been able to spend much time with her friends.
“(This experience) also forces her to better understand sacrifice, as she misses friends and some of the social opportunities with the Sacramento Country Day community,” her father said.
“I give her a lot of credit. That’s a tough decision to make when you’re only 14 years old.”
Previously published in the print edition on Jan. 13, 2015.