I first met Misty May (before she was Misty May-Treanor) while she was playing volleyball at Cal State Long Beach. She was the most decorated NCAA women’s volleyball player ever before she finished her career there, capping it off with the Honda Award, going to the best Female Student-Athlete in any sport her senior year. I knew she was good, very very good. She was an All-American High School player, too, at Newport Harbor High School in Orange County, California. I was working as the sports anchor and host of the Orange County Newschannel’s “OCN Sports Talk” and this charismatic, vivacious college senior sat down in the chair opposite of me and I was hooked.
Sure, I saw the highlights of the athlete, but it was the person I fell for. Misty May was simply cool. Realize that I had interviewed hundreds of athletes at that point in my career (maybe thousands already), including superstars in every sport you can imagine. So to say I wasn’t easily impressed by athletes, male or female, is an understatement.
But Misty carried herself in a timeless fashion that reminded me then – and reminds me now – what I love most about sport.
Since that time, I’ve interviewed her a handful of times, watched her compete dozens. It’s always the same experience. This is why we play any game, I think.
Throughout her career, dating back to those days as a school kid, Misty seemed to have no problem, make no excuses, defining herself as an athlete. She loves to play, and that is why I will always cheer for her in competition. This is a fearless competitor, someone who has lost before and hates it – but you will never see her living in failure, even when it inevitably catches up to her one day. But it is the playfullness, the joy in getting dirty (sandy would be more appropriate), in reaching for something and getting there while people happen to cheer, that defines her.
For all the selfish athletes, those who take for granted their gifts and rewards, there are many more who are like Misty May-Treanor, but you don’t always hear those stories. Why?Some sports producers would actually call her story “boring”. All she does is win and love doing it. No trouble (although she did have to overcome a horrifying injury suffered during Dancing with the Stars). No drama (though she silently grieved when her mother passed away, never using it as an excuse). All she does is love to play.
When I formulated the idea to produce and host a TV sports talk show, taped on the beach and featuring athletes who, as we tagged it “were just like us, only cooler”, I was imagining Misty May as my first guest. She embodied the stories I loved to tell, the people I wanted sports fans to get to know, and when I told her about the show, she jumped at the chance to join us. Yes, she was a guest on the first edition of Action Figures and you can see that interview below.
Since the time she joined me for that interview, early in 2004, Misty has gone on to win three Olympic golds with her partner Kerri Walsh Jennings. She made Treanor a household name, marrying a baseball player who she met while they were both rehabbing an injury. He now plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers and I’m guessing doesn’t mind at all being the less famous of the couple.
It is with great pride I look back on meeting Misty, all the times I interviewed her and for the graciousness she showed then when joining us on the set for Action Figures’ first episode back in 2004. I gave her a Surfing Monkey (all our guests received one signed by the guests on the show), and I wonder if she still has the little statue. Even if she doesn’t I can honestly say the memories i have of getting to know her – and share her exuberance and joy of sport with our audiences – is something I will always cherish more than any keepsake.
The only thing that could make me happier for Misty to see her success in the Olympics, was to hear – and watch – her statement after the ceremony in London.
“I want to be a mom,” she said. “Our families sacrifice more than people realize and this is about getting back to that. My mind says it’s time, my body says it’s time. It’s the right time.”
So Misty will go out on top, no regrets, no looking back. And for all of us who watched her play, we know she deserves it, and we wish her the same joy in achieving her next goal, to be a mom. And you know, I have a feeling, she’ll be just about the coolest mom ever.
Way to go Misty. See you (and your kids) at the beach one day soon.
By the way, across the net from Misty in the final of the London Beach Volleyball Gold Medal Match was April Ross, who at age 30 is five years younger than Misty. Ross was in middle school when May graduated from Newport Harbor High School after the 1994 season, but April followed in her footsteps, starring as a freshman two years later and going on to have her own stellar career playing for the Sailors.