As the memories of last year pile up, one on top of the other, I wanted to share one more. Many times while in Rio I had chances to reflect on the circumstances that brought me to the place I was in. The powerful journey, the deep sadness, the overwhelming loss, all culminating in this truly unlikely trip of a lifetime to this beautiful place. So what was the highlight of this pilgrimage? Let me set the scene...
After being stunned by the Serbs in the semifinals, the USWNT had to rally and refocus on a new prize, a bronze medal.
When I wrote my blog post that night, I put a ton of "feels" into it. I should know better by now. I guess you never know who might be reading.
So my friends did rally, as I expected they would. When the match was over they celebrated like children, how special it was to see the explosion of joy. The journey had concluded with a win.
After things settled down, the Thompson's ask me if I would like to join them at the team hotel, where the parents and loved ones would get to see the players for the first time in a few days. Of course. I wanted to be there!
The hotel the team stayed at was behind on renovations for the Games, but USA Volleyball struck a deal with them to house both the Men's and Women's teams. It wasn't as crazy as the Athlete's Village and was closer to the volleyball venue.
The lobby was small, and with the parents and loved ones of 12 players it filled up quickly.
As much as I really loved being there, I also wanted to withdraw just a little and let these families enjoy this moment. I positioned myself against a wall in the back and tried to stay out of everyone's way.
Now remember, these are volleyball parents. DNA being a thing, they are tall people, for the most part. (I see you Linda Thompson) As the bus rolled up the excitement built. As the staff entered, the applause started, getting louder as the players walked through the door. As each player entered, and paired with their group of followers the applause dwindled, and there was laughter and tears. With each successive entry, the noise grew. What an exciting scene, and I'm in "the room where it happened" to witness it all.
As the last few players came through the door, this tiny lobby was a crush of hugs and handshakes, sobs and giggles. Then I noticed Kim Hill, craning her neck in effort to find her mom and dad. As I watched her, her eyes scanned the room, and finally settled on mine. It was then I sensed her recognizing me, and her lip quivered slightly as she moved toward me. She gave me the nicest hug, thanked me for coming, and for my blog post...
I was stunned. How did she know about the blog post?
Kim then spotted her parents and the scene I had watched play out for everyone else repeated for her.
The players slowly moved through the lobby and up for the showers, and I found myself in a line waiting to go out to the street. At the front of the line was the staff, accepting congratulations from those assembled as they exited. I was nearly the last one to leave. Karch was waiting for me. He reached out his hand, shook mine, and thanked me for traveling all this way to be with them. He also explained that he had used the blog post in his post Serve and pass talk, that it inspired he and the team. Like I said, you never know who is going to be reading...
Obrigado USA Volleyball. The journey was not easy, the road not smooth, but the destination sure was grand.
It was nice to find an e-mail in my inbox this morning, confirming what I was feeling about this memory...
I definitely do remember having a moment with you, and I remember it being very emotional. Karch was correct in saying it meant a lot to have you there. Not only did it mean a lot to have your support, and your positive energy, but you also sort of gave some perspective, at least for me personally. You represented the bigger picture…while we were absorbed in this world of volleyball, obsessed with each match and point that we had worked 4 years for, your face helped us to remember that all those things are not the reason we were there. We were there for people like Ellen, for the larger influence that volleyball has on our world. I’m getting emotional writing this, because even now it’s so easy to lose this perspective. We had and have a platform and as a team we want to have a bigger impact on the world around us, not just volleyball-wise, but relationally. You and your wife have been that for us. Ellen as the example of what a woman of character looks like and how this incredible sport can be used for a greater good. And your continued journey with us as the constant reminder.
I hope you do understand that it meant a lot for us as a team, a program, and also me individually to have you in Rio with us. Thank you for choosing to be there. I hope you continue to be on this journey with us, you’re a part of this USA volleyball family and the story that we are constantly writing.