Misty May-Treanor said it was surreal to return to Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach on Thursday, where she spoke to students and answered questions.
The three-time Olympic gold medalist had not been on the campus since graduating to Newport Harbor High School, "many moons ago."
The school holds a special place in her heart, she said. Ensign was the first school she attended when her family moved to Orange County from Muscle Beach in Santa Monica.
"From the moment we moved to Orange County my eighth-grade year, I felt like an outsider," May-Treanor says in her 2010 autobiography, "Misty: Digging Deep in Volleyball and Life."
The beach volleyball legend told Ensign students how sports played a valuable part in her transition and helped her establish lifelong friendships.
There was a time when May-Treanor wasn't all about beach volleyball. She also excelled in soccer. At Ensign, she began competing in track and field, which she said was fun.
"I'm here today because you never can forget where you come from," May-Treanor, 35, said in a brief interview before speaking to students. "To be able to come back where my transition to Orange County happened is special."
Joey Fuschetti, a physical education teacher at Ensign and a local club volleyball coach, asked May-Treanor to speak at Ensign.
May-Treanor, who teamed with Kerri Walsh Jennings to win three straight Olympic gold medals in beach volleyball, first arrived at the school's office, where she posed for photos with office staff and a few students. A girl from Aliso Viejo said she ditched class to go to Ensign to meet May-Treanor.
"I don't think you should tell these people that," joked May-Treanor, who brought an apt photo prop: her gold medal from last year's Olympics, held in London.
She later showed the medal during one of two school assemblies in the gym, saying, "This is some serious bling. Flava Flav has nothing on this."
Eighth-grader Bobby McCracken, the school president, along with seventh-grader Claire Covina, helped organize a few questions to ask May-Treanor, known as the most successful female beach volleyball player ever. She has 107 championship wins in domestic and international competition.
"It's a huge honor," said Bobby, who plays water polo and was excited to meet an Olympic gold medalist. "I was very nervous. I'm glad I got the opportunity to ask her questions."
Among the questions the students asked was this one: What was it like to win that third gold medal?
"It was quite emotional," said May-Treanor, who has retired from competition and is pursuing a coaching career. "I'm not usually a loud person, mostly quiet. But when we won I let out a primal yell. I think it was more about relief than anything. I knew it was over and time to start a new chapter in my life."
May-Treanor offered different types of advice, ranging from, "cherish every minute you have," to "if you're going to jive with anybody, be sure to stretch."
The latter was in reference to her stint on "Dancing with the Stars" in 2008, when she ruptured her Achilles tendon while practicing the jive. She also came back from a knee-ligament tear in 2001. Injuries don't mean the end for a sports career, she told the students.
"If you want something bad enough, you just push for it," she said.
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