When Jake Gibb graduated from the University of Utah, he had a decent job lined up as a commercial loan officer. Not the sickest job in Utah, but one that guaranteed him a future of middle-class security. He’d already given the requisite two years of his life to the Mormon Mission before college and was married at 24, so he was ready to start being an adult.
But he also wanted to pursue a career in beach volleyball. Today, the family man is shocking the world by staying at the top of his game at 40. This summer in Rio will be his third straight Olympics after Beijing and London. He and partner Casey Patterson are seeded sixth, giving them a real shot at the medal stand.
Gibb’s life has seen countless wins, the births of two beautiful children and two separate triumphs over cancer. So what else is in store for this survivor? Thanks to sponsor lululemon, we caught up with him from the World Tour Grand Slam in Olsztyn, Poland to talk fitness, fatherhood and spiking cancer.
“I was either kicked out of playing for two years or I had testicular cancer. That was the year of Olympic qualification for London. We caught it very early. Just through this doping test.”
Let’s get right down to it. I’m 34. So I have six years to catch up to you at the Olympics. What do I gotta do?
I’ll be the oldest beach volleyball player at the Olympics. Most people ask if I’m self-conscious about it. But I take it as a compliment. It’s a cool thing. I’m excited about it. I worked my ass off, so I get to enjoy it.
Let’s talk diet. What do I need to eat?
I eat very disciplined. For me it’s just living. I eat great foods and barely think about it. Except when I get heckled by the family for being a food Nazi. I eat six small meals a day. I have my ratio of protein to carbs. I take my multivitamins. Depends on the day and the workload. Today I had a double day, so I trained at the gym and the beach. So I ate four eggs and turkey sausage, some fruit and I had one cup of oatmeal. If it’s a rest day or recovery day I’ll cut out the oatmeal and have a piece of sprouted bread.
I tried doing the protein thing and could barely get a 100-gram protein burrito down. How many grams a day do you try to get in there?
In my off-season, dead of winter, I’m putting in 200 grams of protein. That’s extreme. I’m a skinny guy, so I work really hard to keep my weight up. I fight to put on good weight. Then we go into competition and it’s more like keeping strength up and keeping as lean as possible, so less protein.
But I have this fear—and I don’t want to typecast—but you’re the youngest of 11 kids, University of Utah. Let’s just talk about the Mormon elephant in the room. Is the secret gonna be not drinking?
Haha. I will say I didn’t drink when I was younger. I do occasionally now, but that’s not the secret. (Laughs).
What most guys around our age complain about is either not having time to workout or traveling for work where it’s not possible.
Our fight is finding the best gym possible when we travel. Every hotel has a room with some kind of terrible bike and maybe a treadmill and maybe some 25-pound free weights. That’s standard. So our strength coach will find an Olympic platform where we can lift. Before a competition we go in two days early and lift. For me, I lose my strength really fast. Especially being older. I really have to stay on top of it. We always say, stay loaded. I keep heavy weights on me.
You’re partnered with lululemon on the uniforms.
It’s a really difficult sport to get uniforms right. The humidity, the sweat, the sun, the sand. They’re really good at taking our input and modifying it. We’re a good team together.
To me, the craziest part of your career is that what looked like a doping scandal actually saved your life.
Well, the first time was 2004. I had a mole removed on my shoulder that was malignant melanoma. But in 2010 I was being drug tested for USADA [Anti-Doping Agency]. I failed the test because I have Beta HCG. It’s a female hormone. So they give me a call and a letter and it says you are banned from competing for two years. Unless you have a good reason. So I start looking at my supplements. It’s this female hormone for women who are pregnant. Also found in men with testicular cancer.
That’s a kick in the balls.
I was either kicked out of playing for two years or I had testicular cancer. That was the year of Olympic qualification for London. We caught it very early. Just through this doping test. They caught it before I could feel it. Maybe it saved my life. It certainly didn’t hurt. Early detection is the way to go.
You’re in Poland now. Is it hard to be away from the kids?
I’m on the road for 12 or 13 weeks straight. For six months of the year we travel a lot and for six months we’re home every day. My wife used to come, but not now without kids. The trade off for us is that if I were working in a bank, we’d be fighting for a couple hours to hang out with our kids at night when we’re already exhausted. When I’m home we’re with them all day. I have a one-year-old and a four-year-old and I don’t want to miss a moment.
Do you have to turn it off when you get home?
I’m actually coaching my son’s soccer team this year. It literally starts right when we get back from the Olympics. Perfect break to get back home to make it about him after all that. I already got a call from one parent asking if I played soccer. I said, nope. They’re five years old. We’ll figure it out.