Brenda Villa shootsBrenda Villa is a water polo attacker who won the silver medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the silver medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

We Inspire the President?

September 14, 2012

He had me at “I will shake everyone’s hand.” Can you believe that he delayed part of his schedule to have the opportunity to personally meet all of us?  This was my third trip to the White House and most likely my last as an Olympian. It was everything I hoped it would be and more.

It all started the moment I arrived at the hotel, I was directed to the lower lobby to get my White House gear. We all received a cool Nike letterman jacket, a tee with the American flag on it (my favorite), and a pair of capris.  Then I rushed upstairs to change for the athlete party hosted by BP. Half of my team was already there because they were on earlier flights and kept calling to see when we would reunite.  Luckily, I was on the bus with members of the men’s Olympic water polo team and the royalty of taekwondo, the Lopez siblings.  We entertained ourselves with stories and a few YouTube videos and that helped me not feel too lonely without my teammates.  The moment we arrived at Union Station, where the party was being held we rushed to get food.  Yes, athletes love to eat.  We ate, we danced, we took pictures, we ate dessert and we had so much fun.

It was great to see both teams of Team USA. There haven’t been that many opportunities to meet the Paralympic team. It was great to mingle with Paralympians and hear about their stories. I even got a glimpse at their medals that are slightly different and equally beautiful.  The evening had to come to an end but I was ok with that, I still had the next morning to hang out with Team USA.

The early wake up call did not faze me. I was excited to get this day started. I was so curious about the program at the White House.  The moment we arrived we had to go through two-security check -points before we could enter.  Once inside, we were able to wander around the South Lawn of the White House and take pictures of the Washington Monument, each other and the White House itself.  After they arranged about 400 athletes into our seating arrangements, we all waited anxiously for the President.

One of my hopeful wishes was to get to meet the First Lady and I did!! She came in first and spoke to us!  It was great to hear about her experiences in London. She then introduced us to her husband. I got goose bumps when President Obama began to speak. It was great to hear about the stories that touched him. He mentioned that he had to figure out the DVR to watch us all compete. He even mentioned that we inspire him to go faster on the treadmill.  We inspire him?? That is pretty cool.  The best part of the day was when the First Lady announced that her husband would stay and shake every Olympian’s hand.  The crowd went WILD.  This caught all of us by surprise. What a wonderful surprise.  Not only did he meet all the Olympians individually, he hugged everyone.

I can say that the President, Vice President and First Lady hugged me. That was definitely a highlight!!!

Thank you to the USOC, the White House and the President for organizing this event. DC, thanks for the hospitality it was GREAT!  Go Team USA!

A Journey of Joy, Tears, Doubts and Triumphs

September 13, 2012

Brenda Villa on airplaneDC here we come! I am so excited and fired up to hear our President speak to us. It is pretty special to have our Commander in Chief address us personally. It reminds me of a post-Olympic pep rally. I’m going to go out on a limb and be a little selfish and hope he brings the whole Obama family to this event. The First Lady has some great initiatives that resonate with all Olympians. Her “Let’s Move” campaign is creating more awareness about the importance of fitness and healthy eating for kids. This is something we all believe in and preach. Oh and I would love to chat with their two daughters, maybe convince one of them to try the wonderful sport of water polo.

Another reason I am so excited for this trip to DC is I get another opportunity to see my GOLDEN teammates. I want to keep adding to our golden memories of 2012. I want to be inspired with them by my side as we listen to our President. I want to feel the connection we had for the last 16 months one more time. I don’t want our time to together to end.  I had the privilege to train with these ladies 10 times a week for 6 hours a day and now all I can get is a text message, a phone call and if I’m lucky maybe a 5 minute Skype call. Yes, I am having withdrawals from my team. Is this normal?

Since our return from London we have all gone our separate ways. We all went back to our hometowns and received amazing receptions. Jessica and Maggie Steffens were honored with the keys to their city, the city of Danville. Courtney Mathewson was greeted at the airport by the Anaheim Ducks mascot; she loves her city of Anaheim and her ducks.  I was surprised and brought to tears at my own home celebration. The city of Commerce decided to rename the Commerce Aquatorium the “Brenda Villa Aquatics Center”.  I was overwhelmed at the ceremony by watching a highlight video the city put together. I saw a clip of a younger me talking about her experiences in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Can you believe that was 12 years ago? This reminded me that the last 12 years have been an incredible journey, a journey of joy, tears, doubts and triumphs. We were able to bring home the first gold medal for USA Water Polo in over 100 years. The tears needed to fall. I always imagined myself crying like a baby on the podium as our national anthem played loudly, but when, I was finally in the moment, the moment I had always imagined, all I could do was smile, smile and smile.  I’m thankful that I got another opportunity to compete in an Olympic Games and that we were finally able to realize the goal and dreams of many before us. It was very fitting that I finally cried in my city because the city of Commerce has been so instrumental in my path to becoming an Olympian. The tears I cried were tears of joy! I was so proud to make my city proud!

Oops, I have to go now, I hear the United representative calling my flight and I can’t help but smile. I will be seeing my teammates soon and I will have the honor of hearing our President speak. Pretty cool to think that this will be the third President I get to meet at the White House. We USA Olympians are presented with many amazing opportunities and I am SO grateful and honored to be part of TEAM USA.

Stay tuned!  More to come tomorrow! I have an athlete’s dinner to get to and a President to meet.  There will be some great stories to share tomorrow.