Misty plays with purpose

In 2002, Misty May-Treanor hit the lowest point in her career.

In a career filled with so many highs, there have been very few lows. When she was 24, she was down there. It didn't have so much to do with an injury or a missed opportunity.

May-Treanor said her mother's death caused her great pain and challenged her love for volleyball, she revealed in an exclusive interview with the Daily Pilot Thursday afternoon.

She was in Huntington Beach to promote a contest with Arnold/Brownberry/Oroweat bread. People can enter on the company's Facebook page. The winner receives a one-on-one clinic with May-Treanor.

The bread company is a supplier of U.S. Olympic teams and May-Treanor is one of their most popular athletes.

Back in 2002, May-Treanor was well-known, but not as popular as now. Back then she was on the cusp of legendary status. She had already won a national championship with Long Beach State and competed in the Sydney Olympics, where she finished fifth with Holly McPeak.

Her world would never be the same later after her mother, Barbara, died of cancer.

May-Treanor said playing volleyball wore her down while dealing with her mother's passing.

"You start to resent your sport a bit," said May-Treanor, the former Newport Harbor High standout who lives in Long Beach with her husband Matt Treanor, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Playing volleyball kept her from dealing with Barbara's death, May-Treanor's father, Butch, said. He was also near the Huntington Beach Hyatt on Thursday to see his daughter's photo shoot.

May-Treanor and her father still think of Barbara often. Butch, 70, who lives in Costa Mesa, said he still has remaining ashes of her in an urn. May-Treanor sprinkled some of those ashes on the sand after winning gold in Athens in 2004 and again in 2008 in Beijing.

The plan is to do it once again in London, and she wants to do it with an unprecedented third gold medal with teammate Kerri Walsh.

"People might think it's weird, but it's not weird to me," May-Treanor said.

May-Treanor and Walsh are ranked No. 2 in the world.

May-Treanor, who is 34, confirmed these will be her last Olympics, so she would like to go out on top. With their No. 2 ranking, May-Treanor's injuries and recent reuniting, many believe the duo is not heading into these Olympics with as much momentum or the label of being favorites as in past Olympics.

May-Treanor doesn't concern herself about which team will be the favorite.

"I don't feel personally I have anything to prove in London," she said. "Of course we've put in all this hard work. We want to go for something that's never been done before, which is a third gold medal. But what Kerri and I have done throughout the years it's going to be hard for people to break those records. I don't think we have anything to prove. As athletes we want to prove to ourselves that we can do it."

After winning their second gold in 2008, they went their separate ways. Walsh gave birth to two boys. May-Treanor tore her left Achilles during a rehearsal for Dancing With the Stars. She needed 18 months to recover.

While Walsh was out during a pregnancy, May-Treanor teamed with Nicole Branagh. That was in 2010 when May-Treanor published her autobiography, which revealed her parents struggled with alcohol addiction. Butch said her daughter's character strengthened by living through that and she continued to hold a strong love for her parents.

May-Treanor didn't win any tournaments with Branagh in 2010 and sat out the next season, while Branagh teamed with Walsh.

But later May-Treanor wanted back in and reunited with Walsh.

"Our relationship is like a sisterhood; It's like a marriage to be honest with you," May-Treanor said of her relationship with Walsh. "There's a lot of communication. There's sacrifice definitely. We're good friends both on and off the court. That's what you need. You need to know that person is going to be with you through thick and thin. We don't hang out as much as we'd like to off the court. If you look at our lives we each have our own marriages. We have our own things going on. I think it's healthy. We do see each other every day because of practice and we travel together too."

May-Treanor admitted it was difficult to come back from tearing the Achilles and later to play after rehab. There was a time she thought her career was over.

Her return helped her put things in perspective, she said. She pursued a Masters degree in coaching and athletic administration that she says she's on course to attain in November. She says she has a strong passion for coaching, but she wants a long vacation before that comes up. She also wants to have a child after the Olympics.

Coaching excites her. She was asked if she incorporates any of the lessons she learned from Newport Harbor Coach Dan Glenn, who could potentially have two former players in the London Olympics, as April Ross is preparing with Jennifer Kessy.

"I think I'm easier on them," May-Treanor said, somewhat jokingly. "You want a coach who is going to push you. I swear there were some drills he gave us when he already knew we weren't going to be able to do it, but he wanted us to do it anyway. You look back and you see that he was pushing us to get better."

May-Treanor will continue to push toward the Olympics.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: SteveVirgen

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