I can’t think of a more timely note than this as I watch Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh battle back against the Austrians in their Olympics beach volleyball quarterfinal match tonight. As those two gals continue to show the world what talented, special athletes they are, I am reminded about my teenage years and how I never thought Misty and I would have something in common beyond our height (5′ 10) and our love for the game of volleyball.
When I was a teenager, I had the most voracious of volleyball appetites. I knew every name of every player on the women’s national team, on the beach volleyball circuit, in the college ranks, and yes, the juniors circuit. Whenever I was playing at a national competition, I would immediately search for the courts on which Misty, Kerri and an absolute lethal hitter named Elsa Steggemann were playing. They were the very best and it was all I could do to finish my match, suck down a Gatorade and haul ass to find them and watch them play.
Misty was always my favorite. She was just so much smarter than the other players and was the very best outside hitter in the country. She had grown up playing on the beach and emitted a saavy and command of the game way beyond her years. I followed her career at Long Beach State where she brought the 49ers their first national championship as, of all things, a setter. And I saw her join the US National Team and then leave it for the AVP beach tour instead. She always seemed…unflappable and somewhat self-contained. And always, always, she won.
So imagine my surprise two years ago when I read reviews of her memoir where she revealed that she was a victim of sexual assault in her off-campus apartment in college. Apparently, she awoke to a man violating her and she kicked him in the crotch, called the police and prosecuted him. For some reason, I had forgotten this part of her story until now. But it leapt forward to the front of my brain while I was looking up her quarterfinals match time today. And my God does it make me smile.
I met Misty and Kerri in July 2009 backstage at the ESPYs (award show) while I was working. I remember talking to them about their downtime since winning their second gold medal. I was right in the thick of things with my case against Marco and that show had been particularly stressful for me, but I recall the joy of that conversation. I wish I had known then about Misty’s assault. But as it turns out, she was herself coming to terms with her own assault – and a childhood marred by alcoholism – through the writing of her book. I find it uncanny that we were in each other’s presence then, battling our own assault aftermaths.
In explaining her decision to write about what happened to her both with the assault and her tumultuous childhood, she told the Associated Press: “I didn’t feel comfortable coming out and saying it, or I’m ashamed, but now it’s OK. If it can help somebody else, if somebody else can read that book, a young girl can say ‘Oh my gosh, she went through that same thing? No way!’ Then I feel that I’m helping.” Sound familiar?
Misty May of two Olympic gold medals and my teenage volleyball aspirations is a sexual assault survivor like me. She was not immune. She fought back and has shared her story to help others. And even as she continues to torment opponents with mind-blowing digs and trick shots to the back court that just kiss the line, I hope those facts one day become as celebrated as the hardware that will likely hang from her neck a few nights from now.