|Brenda Villa poses for a portrait during the 2012 NCLR ALMA Awards
at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Sept. 16, 2012 in Pasadena, Calif.
As we hold hands to stand on top of the podium, I can’t help it. I can’t help but smile. I look left and I feel Lauren (Wenger) squeezing my hand, I look right and Mel (Seidemann) and I lock eyes. Then I scan the crowd, and I ask myself, where are they? I can’t find them. There they are. I find my parents and lock eyes with them. I nod my head at them and shake my head a couple of times; it feels like I’m in a dream. I can’t believe it. But seeing the smile on my parents' faces, I knew it was real. They were on this amazing bumpy ride with me and the women of USA Water Polo for the 12 years. They have heard about the triumphs and they have wiped away the tears after defeats.
We did it! We beat Spain in the gold-medal game!
The game is somewhat a blur; I’m sure you have all watched it so I won't go into details. What I remember most are the emotions and feelings I felt throughout the game. The chills I got after seeing Petie’s (Heather Petri) face light up when she scored the lob, the adrenaline rush I felt after Betsey (Armstrong) blocked a penalty and Maggie (Steffens) scored off it. If you were in that pool you could feel the energy that we all had and that we were feeding off. I’m sure the coaches felt it the moment they jumped in the pool to celebrate with us.
As I stood on the podium, I remembered a team moment at Opening Ceremony. We started this Olympic tournament in our team circle. As the whole world was watching the Olympic cauldron being lit, we all looked at each other and we all came together interlocked arms and decided to do our silent “TEAM” cheer. Very magical moment, the world had their eyes on us but we only had eyes for each other. No other words were needed. We knew we were ready and nothing would break our circle, not even a time-out. I had to throw that in for Coach Adam (Krikorian) because it is a tribute to him that our circle never broke.
The journey to our game on Aug. 9, 2012 was not easy, and we were tested every step of the way, but we had each other and helped each other get through it. We didn’t treat the gold-medal game any different, and like all of our game days, we followed our game day routine. While our win was the culmination of years of preparation, our routine kept us grounded in order to stay calm before our big game. You would be surprised as to how we prepare for games but it just shows the great spirit of this team.
We, the women of USA Water Polo, are creatures of habit. Our coach always did everything in his power to get us out of our comfort zone in order to prepare us for every possible situation. Game Day is different. We control what we do and we follow a strict routine. This involves team activation, team practice, team coffee, team dance party and, of course, matching uniforms. As captain of this amazing team, I have the honor of picking Game Day attire. Let me tell you, this is probably the most stressful part of captain duties. For this final game, I asked for input from some of the girls. We decided to wear a special USA shirt that one of our coaches made for us. This shirt was special because the idea originated from a book we all read: “The Gold Standard” by Coach K. Coach K stressed the importance of not worrying about the name on the back of your jersey, but instead about the name on the front of your jersey. Believe in the TEAM. Coincidently, TEAM is what we cheer in our circle before games, during games and after games. These shirts were incredibly special because we all knew that it would take all of us accepting and fulfilling our individual roles and coming together to make our dreams of becoming Olympic champions come true. The inside of the shirt had our names in numerical order. We are all unique pieces that our coach was able to put together in a right combination to complete the puzzle that would lead USA Water Polo to the only medal that it was missing: Olympic gold. Those shirts were our battle gear; it was like we had secret information that no one else knew.
After we do our activation in the morning and last-minute game preparation in the water, we have a lot of down time. We always liked to nap before big games, especially games in the late evening and under the lights. It helped us rest our minds. After naptime, we would listen to our team music mix and drink lots of coffee to get ourselves going again. We would break into an impromptu dance party. This day a year ago, we followed our routine and drank coffee and danced. We then met in the basement of our apartment building for our pre-game meeting. We had played Spain earlier in the tournament and lost a three-goal lead with two minutes left in the game and tied. They had our attention and we knew exactly what we needed to do in order to not allow that to happen again. The funny thing is I remember that meeting being shorter than usual, which meant we had more time before we met to walk over to the bus together as a team. I totally remember us sitting in a lounge area outside of the USA apartment building in our cool uniforms and sporting these amazing V-MODA headphones. V-MODA gifted us with these huge DJ headphones that were custom made for us. They were red, white and blue, and had our nicknames on the side. If you walked by us on that day, I can guarantee you would have been intimidated. We were all bobbing our heads as we listened to music and making eye contact often with each other. I remember connecting with everyone and giving them a smirk, like we all knew a secret.
This day marked an end of an amazing journey for me and my team. It has been an honor to represent my family, my city and my country and bring back a gold medal.
Brenda Villa is a pioneer in women's water polo who has played in every Olympic water polo competition. Villa helped Team USA earn silver in the event's debut at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. She then went on to claim bronze at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Finally, at her final Games before retiring from the sport, Villa and her teammates won Olympic gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games.