A year ago Ellen and I climbed into the car on a Thursday evening set to drive over 900 miles to Omaha to watch a team compete that had become so important to us. It was a spur of the moment decision. One I will always be thankful for. We knew at that time that Ellen's cancer was advancing, that treatment options were running out. I mentioned the World Grand Prix, and she said let's go.
A year later, it's just me. I am still emboldened by the decision we made that Thursday. It spoke to knowing our time on earth may be short, that tomorrow isn't a promise for any of us. We should live present. This thought has been lingering since Ellen's passing. It's something we spoke of on many days, waiting for test results, sitting in treatment rooms, in the hospital after her last surgery. Try not to waste time on anger and sorrow. Some days that's easier than others, but with the help and support of our families and some new friends, I've found I can be happy. I can forge on. Ellen would have wanted and expected nothing less. So a year after Omaha, I set out on an adventure by myself. I went back to Southern California for one big reason...
The US Women's National Team. Comprised of some of the greatest, gutsiest, and kindest athletes in our country. It was a chance connection to them three years ago in Serbia that got this ball rolling. Then a visit to Southern California for the USA Volleyball Cup vs Brazil two years ago. Last summer the aforementioned Omaha trip for the finals of the World Grand Prix. I have been paying close attention for a while now. My blog posts in the "Five Questions" section quiz almost every member, and some of them have been open to additional questions about mindset and presence...
I have learned so much from these athletes. The answers on the blog were intended to enlighten volleyball players and fans, but there was someone who needed the lessons just to piece the brokenness back together in the last six months. Me.
Part of my recovery was getting back to Southern California this summer. Visiting with my friends on the USWNT. Why? Close the circle. Dot the I.
These athletes, this team, has come to symbolize the support and love I have felt from the volleyball community all along. The Vol-B-Que was icing on the cake. Journeying back to SoCal was the first piece in putting me back together.
I knew it was going to be difficult to travel alone, but inside the sadness there was healing. Push back. Stand up. It was hard, but not for long. Enter Steve and Linda Thompson. Ellen and I had met them in Omaha, and they were overwhelmed by our story. They stepped up in Long Beach and helped me get through the weekend with lots of treats in downtown Seal Beach, great volleyball, awesome access to Courtney and her teammates, and late night trips driving through the In and Out for burgers! We had a great time!!!
On many days before that trip I wondered what it would be like to go to the Olympics in Rio. After spending time with Courtney, her incredible teammates, and her kind and caring family it became quite clear. If Court made the team, and the Thompsons were going, I was going too.
I got a thumbs up from Steve and Linda. Courtney did make the team, and I have now made plans to attend the biggest most important volleyball tournament on the planet.
I have the ability to do this right now. This team is so special. For most of them, and especially for the core group that first connected with Ellen and me from Serbia three years ago, this will be the last chance at Olympic glory. I want to be there to support them. These are more than just superior athletes, these are friends who shared in my worry and sorrow. Check the rafters in Brazil's volleyball temple. Go for the Gold, one last time...
Ellen was a terrific symbol of resilience and bravery. How she lived has given me the courage to get up every day since her passing. It would be cowardly to not follow her example. I intend to keep going, keep learning, keep living, for her and for myself. Driving to Omaha, a chance encounter with volleyball elite, the kindness of new friends, and Ellen's example, has led me to this.
Tickets to the Rio Games and another adventure to discover. Many thanks to the principal players in this story...
Alisha Glass, who answered the tweet that got it all started, and the most daring and deceptive setter in the world.
Courtney Thompson, whose character extends off the playing surface and into lives. Court coordinated the birthday video for Ellen and has been a constant source of encouragement and support throughout the last year.
Steve and Linda Thompson, whose kindness and compassion have allowed me to make this journey. I am in debt to the Thompsons.
Everyone at USAVB. Bill, Lori, BJ, John Kessel, all the players and of course, Karch. What I've seen in your gym has inspired me in life. The incredible power of sport and the lessons that are so valuable in life. I'm powerful because I've learned from you all.
My family, Aly and Mason, my brothers and sisters, my mom and all of my in laws. You guys have watched over me and cared for me on days when I'm sure you wanted to kick me in the pants. There is nothing easy about the road we all are traveling, but you have listened and held and cried with me. This family is one of a kind.
And finally Audrey Graylin. She stepped in front of the freight train when every instinct had to be telling her to run. The time we have spent and our hours of conversation have been invaluable to the process of healing. Thank you, Aud.