With a pass to the center of the net and a lightning fast, second hit spike by her partner, Misty May-Treanor watched her dream come true yet again. Capturing their second consecutive gold medal in Olympic beach volleyball, the tandem of Walsh and May-Treanor solidified their place in the pantheon of volleyball greatness.
Not only did this dynamic duo fail to lose a match on their quest for repeat gold, the two queens of the beach were so dominating, they did not even lose a set in the Olympic tournament. In fact, Thursday morning’s victory marked the 108th consecutive win for Walsh and May-Treanor. Michael Phelps, with his eight gold medals, may be the face so far of the 2008 summer games, but 108 is the mark of true domination in a sport that is the quintessential combination of individual and team athleticism.
It is during her moment at the top of the volleyball world that Misty May-Treanor sheds tears of both joy and sorrow. It was six years ago this Olympic champion lost her mother Barbara to cancer, and it was in the culmination of May-Treanor and Walsh winning their first gold medal in Athens in 2004 that Misty shared that victory with her mom. Standing in the middle of the Olympic Beach Volleyball Center in Faliro, Greece, Misty opened a medicine bottle containing the ashes of her deceased mother and spread her remains across the sand. As she celebrated her historic win in Chaoyang Park, Misty made her way courtside to her gear and found the camera film canister that carried more of Barbara’s ashes. In a bit of a rush, Misty managed to empty the contents of the canister on the sand in China and completed the promise she made to herself four years ago in Greece.
I can’t even begin to understand what it means to be a world class athlete, let alone an Olympic champion. Watching these and every Olympics, I am often left fascinated with the realization that I am watching so many individuals do so many things I could never do. Sure I can run on a track, but I can’t come remotely close to running as fast as an Olympian. I can kick it around in the sand, but I’d get smoked in any type of competitive beach volleyball tournament. Still, if there is one thing I have in common with a certain gold medalist, it’s the understanding of what it’s like to lose a parent to cancer.
Death is never something that’s easy to accept. The pain and the loss, like the tattoo Misty wears of Barbara’s initials surrounded by angel’s wings, will be a permanent part of who she is. Still, it’s often in the depths and emptiness of life’s tragic moments where we find our greatest source of inspiration and strength. I am not sure if the passing of her mother was the turning point that drove Misty to accomplish back-to-back Olympic gold, but one would think her outlook on volleyball and life itself had to change in 2002.
For me, losing my dad will always resonate with the time in my life when I felt most lost. Like a beach volleyball player, my path forward since that moment has been made possible by both individual effort and the help and support of others. I know I will never listen to the Star Spangled Banner as a gold medal drapes around my neck, but in watching Misty May-Treanor do exactly that, it was wonderful to know the spirit of Barbara May was with her just as I know my father’s is with me in everything I do.