First Class: Misty May-Treanor

Entering only her sixth season, May-Treanor already ranks eighth all-time in career wins with 40.

It goes without saying what Misty May-Treanor has been able to accomplish in her career.

The Costa Mesa, Calif. native has cut an indelible path that has her headed straight to where only the very elite players in this sport have ever gone.

Some will argue she’s already there and is now setting a new standard of greatness.

But there is a side of May-Treanor off the court that shines just as brightly as any spectacular dig, gold medal or huge first-place payday.

Her father, Butch, a 1968 indoor Olympian, recalls one of the first FIVB titles May-Treanor won with current partner Kerri Walsh several years ago. Instead of keeping the gold medal as a memento, May-Treanor graciously gave it to a child in a wheelchair.

Butch also cited a recent event his daughter attended at Humbolt State University in Arcata, Calif.

“There were other athletes there that couldn’t wait to get out of there,” said Butch May. “People were talking to each other saying, `Look. She’s normal. She’s sticking around and talking to us.’ What did you expect? Her to have a third arm or something? Yeah, she’s normal.”

It’s that down-to-earth attitude that has made May-Treanor one of the sport’s most high-profile names and one of its biggest ambassadors.

“Misty and Kerri have both elevated our sport in level of play, level of awareness and level of domination,” said 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Holly McPeak, who partnered with May-Treanor in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “Misty and Kerri are so important to our sport and I know how much time they have put into representing our sport on all levels. I know where the sport has been and where it is going and it is great that they are strong role models and representatives for our sport on a national and global level.”

May-Treanor, 27, is more than happy to be in that spotlight—especially if it means growing the sport.

“I like what I’m doing and I enjoy it,” said May-Treanor, who went undefeated in Athens with Walsh en route to winning the gold medal. “Hopefully, everybody else sees what I’m doing and they catch the bug. Kerri and I are good people who enjoy what we do. I love teaching. If I can get kids excited about the game, I feel I’m doing my job. For awhile, beach volleyball fell off the map. It’s nice to see it gaining momentum and getting stronger.”

Long Beach State women’s coach Brian Gimmillaro isn’t surprised in the least bit by what his former star All-American setter has accomplished.

“It’s not surprising. It’s incredible. It’s great for the sport,” said Gimmillaro. “It’s very important to have names associated with your sport. We have a name associated with our sport. Misty is a special person with special talents.”

But there is also the other side of the spotlight. May-Treanor experienced that at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

A stomach muscle injury dogged May-Treanor prior to the Olympics and forced her to miss time on both the AVP and FIVB circuits. May-Treanor and Walsh’s record 90-match and 15-tournament winning streaks were also snapped during this time. Her injury and return to the Olympics were big news in Athens.

“Nobody knows how a person feels expect the person themselves,” said May-Treanor. “I had to take the precautions that were necessary. It was tough pulling out of tournaments. It’s very tough for an athlete because you always want to play. I felt it was the right thing to do. Of course it makes me mad. It fuels the fire. You want to come back and show people you know what you are doing and show that they were wrong.”

May-Treanor also created headlines in Athens when she spread some of the ashes of her late mother, Barbara, on the court. Barbara May passed away from cancer three years ago.

“Everybody was there. My mom was there, my dad was there. It meant a lot to me,” said May-Treanor. “My mom watched us play in Sydney and I came up short. This time I won. It felt complete. I didn’t think about it. It was something I just did that was unique. Everything in my life was coming together. I don’t think I would have ever gone to practice when I was a kid without my mom. She worked with me a lot. She and my dad made sure I always had the best stuff.”

May-Treanor is thankful her father has been a major part of her career as well.

“He’s always helped me and has always given me tips,” said May-Treanor, who is now represented by Dan Levy, of sports management giant Octagon. “He can be very harsh at times. But it’s nice to have him there. He sees things I should be doing differently.”

And if you’ve ever heard someone scream “lucky” out of the stands after May-Treanor has made a great play—that’s Butch May.

“That’s my appreciation,” said Butch May. “I expect her to do good things because she has that knowledge. That’s probably unwarranted by a parent. I only get mad when she messes up on the easy ones. I’ve offended people in the stands before. It’s not malicious. I’m always proud of her accomplishments. Good things happen to good people. She’s had a fair amount of accomplishments and she has had some setbacks. People that have setbacks, the ones that get up again, those are the people that accomplish things when other people might have stopped.”

Butch May saw his daughter deal with a knee injury earlier in her career.

“The last two years of college and the first three years of pro she had a torn PCL,” said Butch. “One of the best knee surgeons in Los Angeles said he wouldn’t do the surgery because it wouldn’t be successful. Misty was ready to quit. I told her that her mother would be ticked off at her. I said to her, `Your mother struggled to stay here and now you’re ready to give it up.’ I told her to give it some more time to heal. Sometimes you never want to leave before the miracle. Misty had enough persistence to keep going. One day she came back and said she could run again.”

After Athens, May-Treanor embarked on a whirlwind media tour, while still finishing out the 2004 AVP season. Despite a flurry of commitments and travel, May-Treanor and Walsh still went 14-1 after the Olympics with three titles.

“I think Kerri and I dealt with it very well. It was a new experience for both of us,” said May-Treanor, of the media barrage. “Winning a gold medal has its perks. All the perks can get very hectic, but it was well worth it.”

May-Treanor and Walsh appeared at such galas as the MTV Music Awards and The Emmys. But May-Treanor is still waiting for one particular phone call.

“I’m still waiting for Saturday Night Live to call,” she laughed.

May-Treanor also tied the knot last off-season with Florida Marlins catcher Matt Treanor. The two originally met at the Sports Medicine Institute in Orange, Calif.

“She initiated all of the contact,” laughed Treanor on the phone as the couple was driving in the San Diego area recently (Florida was in town to play the San Diego Padres). “It wasn’t like she had me as a target or anything. It wasn’t flirting. It was more being inquisitive about each other. We had both gotten out of relationships. I wasn’t looking to dive into one.”

May-Treanor recalls the first time they went out.

“On our first date I knew he was the one,” said May-Treanor, who noted the first date was a UCLA-UC Irvine men’s match. “I didn’t want the night to end. I felt comfortable like we knew each other for years.”

“It was weird. Both of us were really receptive to each other,” said the 29-year-old Treanor, a Garden Grove, Calif. native. “It was one of those feelings I’ve never had. It was a genuine feeling that this is the woman I am supposed to be with.”

The couple recently bought a home in South Florida. They also have a residence in Southern California.

“It’s our little baby,” said May-Treanor, of the Florida home.

May-Treanor, who also got bit by the racing car bug after driving a Grand Prix car at a charity event in Long Beach earlier this year, has also taken up golfing and fishing.

“I can hit the ball. I just need to be more consistent,” said May-Treanor. “Our house is on a lake so we can fish. I don’t bait the hook and I don’t take the fish off. Matt does that.”

Both admit their hectic professional schedules can be challenging.

“I miss her,” said Treanor. “My job doesn’t give me the liberty to come see her during the season. When we’re together we try and make quality time. But Jack McKeon (Florida manager) told me because we don’t get to see a lot of each other during the season means we will stay together forever.”

“I’ve been able to make some longer visits to see him,” said May-Treanor. “It’s good for me to make it to the finals, because he can watch me on TV.”

May-Treanor has also become a big baseball fan. Her favorite Marlins players besides the obvious, are left-handed pitching phenom Dontrelle Willis and speedy second baseman Juan Pierre.

“I enjoy learning about Matt’s sport. I’m learning more strategy now,” said May-Treanor. “I never understood why they bunted the ball. Why don’t they hit it all the time? Juan Pierre, he almost laps Matt when he’s behind him on the bases.”

On the other side of the coin, Treanor is thoroughly impressed with what is wife does for her vocation.

“At first it was hard to understand,” said the personable Treanor, labeled by Butch May as a “Gentleman’s gentleman.”

“People were trying to tell me how good she was. It’s funny. She’s dainty and feminine and then gets out on the court and is so aggressive. It’s fun to watch. She does some workouts that if I did them I’d end up in the hospital with knee problems. I’ve seen how much time she puts into this. It definitely gives me a better appreciation for what she does. I got a chance to watch her play at Santa Barbara last year and I started to get an idea of how natural she makes it look. It’s almost like she was born to play volleyball.”

Funny Treanor would say that. It’s a line echoed by many in the beach volleyball community.

“Misty was born to play this game,” said Walsh. “She has an ease and an awareness about her when she is on the sand that is magical. Misty is the player she is because she has taken her natural, God-given talent—which is amazing—and worked her butt off to improve—which makes her the best.”

“EY (Elaine Youngs) says this and I echo it, Misty is a machine,” said Mike Rangel, the exclusive plyometrics trainer of May-Treanor and Walsh. “She is the best sideout player in the world. She’s willing to do whatever it takes out there. It’s like she was made for the beach.”

Many feel May-Treanor hasn’t reached her potential yet.

“When I first started with her four years ago, I felt she was at about 70 percent of her potential,” said beach great Dane Selznick, who coaches May-Treanor and Walsh. “Now, she’s at 90 percent. There are still parts of her game that she can improve on without a doubt. When you are the No. 1 sideout player in the world, you want to maintain that edge by making sure your passing game, footwork to the set and mechanics in hitting-shot making are always as precise as they can be. She is stronger than any player out there and that is the reason for the team’s continued dominance.”

McPeak has seen May-Treanor’s development not only on her same side of the net, but on the other side as well.

“Misty was so young when she played with me, but she always had a great feel for the game,” said McPeak. “I think she progressed really fast because she already had a beach background and we also taught her to do things right from the beginning. She continues to improve but especially on the offensive side. Her approach and hitting are consistently strong and she is a smart defensive player. Her and Kerri both make the big plays when they need them and that is what sets them apart from the rest at this point.”

Karch Kiraly, beach volleyball’s all-time winningest player, points out May-Treanor is usually the target of the opposing team—the “lesser” of two evils if you will.

“She is like Atlas. She has no problem shouldering the burden,” said Kiraly. “Boy, she is just amazingly solid. She’s not as spectacular a player as Kerri, which means teams try to go at Misty. Kerri is a strong 6’3” and so powerful. Misty has to carry the load and she does it without blinking.”

With as much unfettered dominance as Walsh and May-Treanor have unleashed over the last few years (they were on another 33-match winning streak through early June), one would think things like complacency and motivation would start to become issues.

“The competition out there is still tough. It keeps us on our toes,” said May-Treanor, who along with Walsh this year became the first women’s team to eclipse $1 million in career earnings. “Kerri and I stay motivated because we hate to lose. What’s great about beach volleyball is you can always find something to get better at. I don’t think about losing. It could happen. I just go out there and play. I couldn’t tell you any numbers or winning streaks. I just go out and do it.”

May-Treanor also has plenty of plans for the future.

“Kerri and I want to get another gold medal,” said May-Treanor, who has coached the last five years at Irvine Valley Junior College. “Our goal in Beijing is to be the best. Once the Olympics are over I would like to take some time out and have a family. That would be three Olympics for me. I also like coaching. I’d like to get my master’s degree and teach and stay around the game and teach it to others.”

Walsh paid her partner the ultimate compliment.

“As far as how much has she helped my development on the beach? It’s impossible to say,” said Walsh. “I have a partner who can do it all with grace and ease. Since I was 14, I have been watching Misty play and since I was 14 I have been trying to emulate her. It’s impossible, however. She is one of a kind.”

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