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Olympic gold medalist Alix Klineman returns to beach volleyball as a mom, with new partner

Alix Klineman

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Alix Klineman #2 of Team United States celebrates after defeating Team Australia during the Women’s Gold Medal Match on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Alix Klineman, in Paris last week for her first beach volleyball tournament since giving birth to son Theo on June 9, sent her fiancé an obligatory picture in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Her fiancé, former NHL winger Teddy Purcell, sent back a photo that was, well, dirty.

“My fiancé and I are always sending each other pictures of [Theo’s] biggest blowouts,” Klineman said. “I don’t know why we feel the need to photograph it, but it makes us laugh.”

Klineman, who won the Tokyo Olympic title with April Ross, hardly slowed down in pregnancy.

Her last practice was just two days before she went into labor.

“It felt like I was wearing a 40-pound weighted vest,” she said.

Six weeks after giving birth, she was back on the sand.

“I was expecting it to feel pretty easy just because I had pushed through so much of the pregnancy part,” she said. “Day one, I could barely even take a step to the ball, and I felt extremely exhausted.”

As recently as three weeks before the Paris tournament, Klineman felt really nervous and unsure she was ready to return to competition.

She consulted with nutrition and women’s hormone experts including Alisa Vitti, author of “Woman Code.” Klineman learned she needed to increase her protein input, eat warm foods and hydrate.

“I know that it’s not totally realistic to expect to be in tip-top shape three or four months postpartum,” she said. “But I’ve been pushing myself, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come in such a short period of time.”

Klineman, 33, now plays with Hailey Harward, a 25-year-old USC alum whom Klineman describes as an Energizer bunny with a lot of potential.

Klineman’s Tokyo Olympic partner, Ross, is pregnant with her first child and has transitioned into coaching while not closing the door totally on a comeback at age 41.

Klineman and Harward played their first match together in Paris on Sept. 27, just 110 days after Klineman gave birth. They were eliminated in the first round of qualifying for the main draw by Ukrainians Valentyna Davidova and Ievgeniia Baieva in three sets.

“Even though Paris didn’t go as well as I would have liked,” Klineman said, “I think at the end of the day, if I know that I gave it my all and I’m giving it 100 percent of my effort, that’s all I can do.”

The Paris tournament was Klineman’s first trip apart from Theo.

“When I got home,” she said, “I just started bawling when I saw him because I felt like he seemed so much bigger and so much different than when I left him.”

Separation will not be a concern during her next tournament. Klineman and her mother are bringing Theo to Mexico for the world championships, which begin Friday (streaming for subscribers on the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) website).

Worlds award the most ranking points of any tournament during the two-season Olympic qualifying window that runs into next June.

A nation can qualify a maximum of two teams per gender. The top two U.S. teams —Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss followed by Kelly Cheng (née Claes) and Sara Hughes —rank third and fourth in the world and have built a significant cushion over the other American pairs.

Klineman, having missed nearly the first half of Olympic qualifying on maternity leave, acknowledged there is a “very small percentage chance” she can qualify for Paris.

“In a perfect world, I would have loved to have given birth a couple months earlier than I did,” she said. “I think that would have opened the door a little bit more.

“There’s no denying that there’s a couple American teams that are doing really, really well at this point. But I don’t think I would be out here working this hard and playing if it wasn’t for that 1% chance of it working out.”

Klineman, a Southern California native, is not ready to commit to a 2028 Los Angeles Olympic bid.

“Once I get to the next quad, I’ll reevaluate and see where I’m at and see if I have the desire to go for it or how family life is going,” she said. “So I’m leaving the door open, but I’m just not sure at this time.”

Listen to Alix Klineman’s episode of My New Favorite Olympian to hear about her efforts to destigmatize women’s health.