LONDON – In Sydney, she was still just Misty May.
Her mother was seriously ill and her beach volleyball career was still maturing when the daughter of 1968 Olympian Butch May finished fifth in her Olympic debut. By the Athens Games, Barbara May had died of cancer. Misty memorialized her with an angel tattoo on her left shoulder and scattered some of the ashes on the sand before winning the gold medal with Kerri Walsh.
Beijing brought more change: She was married now, to ballplayer Matt Treanor. Her name had grown and so had her goals, and she talked of children and retirement and all the other things she wanted do when her beach volleyball career ended. A second gold medal came as smoothly as the first.
As it turned out, Walsh had the children and May-Treanor came out of TV’s “Dancing with the Stars” with a repaired Achilles tendon but also a renewed desire for another Olympic run.
The two are together again and heading to London, a fourth Olympics for each and their third as a team. As they try for an unprecedented third consecutive victory – no athlete had won even two beach golds before – they can look back at one of the most successful partnerships in the history of the sport.
“We understand fully – maybe too much – how special our journey is,” Walsh said. “We know that London is our last tournament together for the rest of our careers. That’s a really big deal after an amazing ride.”
May-Treanor, who will turn 35 while she’s in London, has said she will retire from international competition following the games, a decision that opens a coveted spot as Walsh’s future partner and creates a new dynamic in the sport. With young teams from the Netherlands, Italy and China – including 2008 bronze medalists Xue Chen and Zhang Xi – the Americans see themselves as part of an older generation that helped the sport grow from an Olympic also-ran into one of the most popular events at the games.
“When we started, we were girls,” May-Treanor said. “The older players, you idolized them. You want to be like them, but you don’t really understand the process. And now, kind of, we’re here. We’re where the players we looked up to were. We’ve been through a lot of life’s transitions.”
You can fit a lot into an Olympiad, the four-year gap between the games that feel like an extended offseason in a sport like beach volleyball.
The 33-year-old Walsh got started right away.
Nine months after winning the gold in 2008 she gave birth to her first son. Another son was born less than a year later. After each pregnancy she took time off before returning to the sand, usually with Joey and Sundance in tow.
“I feel like more life has been lived in these past four years than ever in my life,” said Walsh, whose husband, Casey Jennings, is also a professional beach volleyball player. “As you get older, more profound things happen to you. I’m a mother of two now, and with that comes so much love. We’ve just been living life as 30-year olds, mid-30s. It’s way different than when you just turn 30, or when you’re 26 in Athens.”