Not long after we resumed, something extraordinary happened that tipped the psychological balance our way and kept it there. It had such an effect on the outcome that, from that moment, it didn’t matter what the scoreboard said. What happened was this: Adriana served, and her serve hit the top of the net and began its trickle over to our side and onto the sand. Of course, as soon as it hit the net, everyone in the stadium, including Kerri, thought it was going to ground—except me! For months I had been attempting to dig this very same ball in practice. We had decided that if this ever occurred, the setter would go for it, as she would be heading towards the net anyway, and only had to continue her momentum. However, in all the months we had practiced it, I had never touched such a ball, let alone dug one with any control.
I was already moving towards the net when the ball hit the top and began to drop. If I had ever doubted my ability to dig those balls, that doubt was now gone. “Go! Go! Go!” I told myself as the ball quickly made its decision to fall over our side. As it plunged, I took off. I felt as though everything was in slow motion. Although I’m sure the ball took less than a second to fall, it seemed to remain in the air as though controlled by an invisible wire. For that second, it was as if I was under water. I couldn’t hear the clamour from the crowd, and my own voice filled the inside of my head.
And before I knew it, the world came rushing back in. I was on the sand, just as the ball got there. The crowd noise exploded again as though someone had suddenly flicked a switch. With one outstretched arm, I dug it high enough for Kerri to set magnificently to the corner. The Brazilians had no time to react—it all happened too quickly. If what I did was a surprise to Kerri, she sure didn’t show it. She finished off as though we had successfully practiced the move a thousand times. It was a sideout (a handover of the ball to give you a chance to serve for a point), and the turning point of the match. I got up, and as I removed the sand from by body with a wry smile, I looked through the net at my opponent Shelda. The look of utter disbelief on her face fuelled my fire. I could tell that, at that point, she realised we couldn’t be beaten. More importantly, so did I.
Once I had let go and realised that I was destined for gold, I decided to have a little fun with the crowd. I was in the zone and wanted to give the people an experience of a lifetime, to make them feel a huge part of our success. I was pumped, and every time we won a point I would turn to the crowd and throw my arms up encouraging them to roar louder. I could feel the adrenalin course through my body. I felt super-human. I wanted to deflate the Brazilians. For the first time ever they had to contend with a crowd that was not on their side. I knew this would have an impact beyond what the eye could see. I felt the energy, strength and excitement of 10,000. What a rush! It put a huge smile on my face, and allowed me to dig my heels in further, jump higher, run faster and feel stronger.
Soon after, we were down 11–8. To onlookers, it seemed as though we couldn’t bridge that three-point margin. We’d been here before, many times, against Adriana and Shelda, and in the past, it would have been a sign of things to come. Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede were again everything we expected them to be: cunning, strategic, strong, talented. But this time, something had happened that made a difference. We found ourselves enjoying every moment of it! At that point in the match, we called a time-out. During that time, we quietly reminded ourselves of our goals, the first of which was to keep having fun. We were growing, and we could feel it. They were shrinking, and we could see it. If no one else could see it, it didn’t matter. In our minds’ eyes, we could see them undergoing a transformation. At 11–8 down, you could say it was a precarious time in the match for us. But that day it wasn’t, because we chose not to see it that way.
Smiling, we marched back onto court, and Kerri served an ace. 11–9. A minute later, it was 11–10 as Adriana got called for a net touch. We were reeling them in! At 11–all, I went back to serve, knowing that this may be my only opportunity to close out the set. I looked up. Shelda had snuck over to the middle of the court, leaving me some room down her line. I threw the ball up, caught it with a slap to remove any excess grains of sand, brought it to my lips and kissed it for luck.
To be continued…