Dain Blanton’s claim to fame was winning an NCAA volleyball championship (with Pepperdine in 1992) and an Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball (with Eric Fonoimoana in 2000). The latter accomplishment was something out of a storybook, and Blanton has devoted much of his time since then to telling the rest of the story.
It was because he was a responsible high school student that he had the opportunity to achieve the highest goals he could have set for himself as an athlete. That’s a message Blanton has been delivering at school assemblies and educational conferences. He was the keynote speaker at last weekend’s Get Focused … Stay Focused! workshop at SBCC.
“If you don’t get the grades, you’re not going to college, and you close the door on these opportunities,” Blanton said. “My older brother was as good a player as I was, but he didn’t keep up his grades. He’s got a good life as a contractor, but I learned I’d have to be a good student if I wanted to meet my goals.
“I tell kids to stay in school, keep the grades up, get that education, and even more importantly, understand that you’ve got to believe in yourself. A lot of times if you have goals, some of your friends, if they don’t have the same goals, they’re going to shoot it down. There’s those dream killers you’ve got to watch out for. It’s easy to fall into their influence because it doesn’t take a lot of work. You’ve got to stick with it. You have to create a team around you.”
Blanton went into professional volleyball after college, and he was the first African American to win an event on the AVP tour. As the Sydney Olympics approached, he partnered with Fonoimoana, who had been a college rival at UCSB. “Eric and I are from the same background,” Blanton said. “I grew up in Laguna Canyon and used to go down to the beach the night before the tournaments. Eric did the same thing at Manhattan Beach. We won our first tournament at Clearwater (Fla.) in 1999. We beat Karch Kiraly and Adam Johnson. Karch was a big role model for me. He was the epitome of focus and hard work. I loved to play on the other side of the net from him. He’s going to give you his best all the time, and it stoked my competitive fire.”
To qualify for the Sydney Olympics, Blanton and Fonoimoana had to finish in the top four of the last international tournament, a month before the Games. “It was the most intense tournament,” Blanton recalled. “Karch hurt his shoulder, but he and Adam would have gone if we didn’t make it.”
At Bondi Beach in Sydney, Blanton said, “People didn’t expect us to do well, deservedly so, because we hadn’t done that well internationally. They thought Karch should be there with his three golds. But we looked at it as our time. It came down to determination and believing in ourselves. The cool thing was we played the No. 1 team in the world (Brazil’s Zé Marco and Ricardo), a team we’d never beaten, playing the best at their best.”
The Americans won the gold-medal match, 12-11 and 12-9, under the traditional system of side-out scoring. “I liked it,” Blanton said. “Eric and I were grinders. We prided ourselves at being in better shape than anybody. You might be a better hitter, but we’re going to do it longer. We’re going to outlast you.”
Blanton, who majored in public relations at Pepperdine, realized that people looked with respect on Olympic gold medalists. “It doesn’t matter what sport you were in,” he said. “They want to know how you got there.” He started to hone his talent as a public speaker. He met Mindy Bingham, the founder of Academic Innovations — the organization behind Get Focused … Stay Focused! — and she tapped him as a messenger for the program, which advocates long-range planning by students starting in the 9th grade. “Dain really has a passion for inspiring students,” said Bingham, who lives in Montecito. “He doesn’t do the celebrity walk-on.”
SPEAKING OF SPEAKERS: Two remarkable athletes, Mark Allen and Carli Lloyd, will address Santa Barbara audiences this month. Allen, winner of six Hawai‘i Ironman Triathlon World Championships — an event that requires a prolonged focused effort — will appear at the New Vic on Friday, January 22. He recently authored a book, The Art of Competition. Advance tickets are available at Santa Barbara Running (cosponsor of the event along with The Lab) on Anacapa Street. … An Evening with Carli Lloyd, coming Tuesday, January 26, to the Arlington Theatre, gained prestige on Monday when Lloyd was confirmed as the best player in her sport. The U.S. women’s goal-scoring star was honored as FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year at the annual soccer gala in Zürich, Switzerland. Lloyd is the third American to receive the award, after Mia Hamm (2001 and 2002) and Abby Wambach (2012). Her appearance here is presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures in association with UCSB Athletics.
DENNIS THE MENSCH: Dennis Rickard was such a beloved figure that three eulogies were delivered at his memorial service last Saturday. Father Larry Gosselin, noting the historical significance of the Rickard family in Santa Barbara, called it “the longest funeral mass in the history of the Old Mission.” Several of his Santa Barbara High football teammates from 1968-69 were in attendance, including Sam Cunningham, a member of the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
THE IRON GAUCHO: Jim Barber died at his home in Walnut Creek on Sunday after a nine-year struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Barber was a rugged lineman on UCSB’s 1965 Camellia Bowl football team, and he made a supreme effort last April to join his teammates at their 50th anniversary reunion.
By Paul Wellman