(L-R) Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings celebrate winning the women's beach volleyball gold-medal match at the Olympic Games London 2012 on Aug. 8, 2012 in London.
Misty May-Treanor recently came across an old VHS tape showing her and former partner Holly McPeak playing at a tournament in Brazil and had to laugh.
Her first thought, she said, was that she could actually move back then. Then she began to reflect on all the changes she went through over the course of her career, from the different courts to the size of the ball to the rules.
“It was nice to actually have the video of me playing in Brazil,” she said. “I’m finding that even players I coach don’t truly know the history of the sport they’re playing, so to have that to show them and show my children is nice.”
The last thing May-Treanor needs to worry about, of course, is her contributions to the world of beach volleyball being forgotten.
Her place in history as one of the best to ever play the game was unquestioned before, and now she’s being inducted to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2019 to make her place amongst the nation’s greatest athletes official.
“I never played for the accolades but it’s nice when you get recognition,” May-Treanor said. “To even be named among the athletes that were nominated and selected is amazing because they’re some of the greatest athletes in the world.”
May-Treanor’s career reached heights few will ever achieve. As a teenager she helped Newport Harbor High School in Southern California win two state volleyball championships. She was then a standout college athlete at Long Beach State, leading her team to the NCAA women’s volleyball championship in 1998 with a 36-0 record.
Then just Misty May, she began her professional career playing beach volleyball with McPeak in 1999 after a brief stint on the U.S. national volleyball team. It was with McPeak that May-Treanor qualified for her first of four trips to the Olympic Games.
She still remembers her first Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000.
“One of my favorite parts of the Olympics have always been the opening ceremonies,” she said. “I never missed an Opening Ceremony. There’s nothing better than marching behind your flag with all the other athletes, chanting ‘USA’ in the tunnel before you go out then hearing thousands of people cheering for you. The Opening Ceremony is definitely very special.”
May and McPeak finished tied for fifth that year, but the best was yet to come. Beginning with the 2001 season, May teamed up with Kerri Walsh Jennings, and the rest is quite literally history.
Walsh was a year May’s junior, but she was already aware of her from playing high school volleyball in California — Walsh attended Archbishop Mitty High School in Northern California — and said May was a superstar in her world.
“I believe it was the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, and I believe I was a junior,” Walsh Jennings said of meeting May for the first time. “I could have been a sophomore. But I was starstruck. I got her autograph the first time I met her. If I wasn’t playing when she was playing I made it a point to sit and watch her, just mesmerized.”
Their partnership would be one for the ages.
They would go on to compete in the next three Olympic Games, becoming the only duo ever — male or female — to win three gold medals in beach volleyball. During their time together they won 21 consecutive Olympic matches, losing only one set the entire time, and May-Treanor was named Most Outstanding Player in both 2004 and 2008.
Walsh Jennings said that with May-Treanor as her partner, every time they stepped on the court they just knew they were going to win.
“We could be down 20 points and come back and win,” she said. “I think we each had that confidence in each other and ourselves. What I could count on was Misty was just as stoic as it gets, as calm as it gets; she’s kind of like Yoda, pretty unflappable. But underneath that stoic demeanor was a lot of fire, and when it came out it was my favorite thing in the world. Our opponent was in trouble when it came out. Often it didn’t have to, but when we did need it I could count on Misty being Misty and that was more than enough.”
May-Treanor not only loved competing and winning, she also loved the entire Olympic experience. She enjoyed seeing the different uniforms and outfits athletes wore during the Opening Ceremony, seeing a new country represented that wasn’t there four years earlier and seeing countries that had just one athlete, knowing how much that person’s life was going to change upon being an Olympian. She loved trading pins and trying to communicate with other athletes over the language barrier and being around people from all over the world.
Even more than that she loved hearing the national anthem on the podium and knowing that it wasn’t just her standing there but her family, coaches, teammates, friends and everyone else who helped her along the way.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything greater than wearing the red, white and blue because you’re representing so many people that don’t have the chance to be able to do what you’re able to do,” she said. “The Olympics are that one point in time where the world stops and everyone gets along and everyone’s cheering on their team and you kind of forget about everything else. And there’s nothing greater than hearing that national anthem play. It’s something no one can ever take away from us as Olympic athletes. We’ll always have that one moment that can’t be replicated again that no one else will ever feel. It’s truly an honor.”
That she was chosen for the hall of fame by fellow athletes as well as fans from all across the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements also means a lot, May-Treanor said. She voted as well, and it shows that athletes are all fans of each other, she said.
“We don’t just stick with our sports, but we follow everyone,” she said. “You’re one part of this Olympic family. You’re much bigger than just your sport, and we all cheer each other on.”
Walsh Jennings said she wasn’t the least bit surprised that May-Treanor was chosen from amongst the 15 Olympic finalists that included such legends – and now inductees – as Lisa Leslie, Dara Torres and Apolo Anton Ohno.
“It’s the biggest ‘duh’ of all time, you know?” Walsh Jennings said. “I’m just so proud, and Misty deserves it all. She’s a once-in-a-generation athlete, and she’s just so special in so many ways.”