Adriana Behar works on the beach, wears a two-piece bathing suit to the office and in the past seven years has earned more than a million bucks. Don't bother suggesting, though, that Behar, one half of the world's top-ranked women's beach volleyball team, has a cushy job. "It's a very tiring game," says Behar. "We play almost every day, in all kinds of weather—blazing heat, wind, rain. You keep yourself in form playing beach volleyball, but there's a downside. It's exhausting."
Fatigue aside, it has been a charmed career for Behar, 33, who lives and trains in her native Rio de Janeiro, where volleyball's popularity (it plays second fiddle only to soccer) has conferred celebrity status upon her. Since she first teamed up with Shelda Bede in 1995, the pair has won 28 events and the last five world championships on the professional beach volleyball tour. They are the undisputed stars of a sport whose raucous crowds, scantily clad participants and thumping music often make matches seem like frat parties. "I love it," Behar says. "You're in the sun, showing off your body, the beauty of the game, the power. But we don't come to enjoy the beach, we come to work."
Behar began playing indoor volleyball at 12, and by her late teens she had played professionally in Reggio Calabria, Italy, and Porto, Portugal. At 24 she gave up the controlled temperatures and even surfaces of the gym for the Ipanema beaches. "In indoor volleyball you can be a good defender or a good striker and weak in another area," she says, "but in beach volleyball you have to excel in all parts of the game, or your adversary is going to find your weak point and pound you into the sand."
That might be what happened at the Sydney Olympics, where the heavily favored duo lost a 12-11, 12-10 gold medal match to an Australian team that they had beaten in 14 of 17 previous meetings. After weeping on the Bondi Beach podium and apologizing to Brazilian fans for "waking them up to watch us lose," Behar's edge returned. "Look, we won four international championships in a row," she said after the Games. "Isn't that good enough?"
Apparently not: Behar and Bede dominated the 2001 tour, winning seven of 11 events, and their victory in the finale, at Fortaleza, Brazil (Bede's hometown), gave them $1.1 million in career earnings and made them the winningest team on the women's pro tour. "Our coordination and teamwork," Behar says, "have made us an almost unbeatable pair so far, knock on wood." No need: For her, winning has become just another day at the office.