I had the ball in my possession as the time ran out. I looked at the ball. Then the ref. Then the scoreboard. Yes....WE WON!!!! At which point, I realized I was at about half tank in the pool because I was trying to swim the ball up the field of play to run out the clock. I turned to my left, towards the center of the pool and tried to look back at our bench. I came face to face with my teammate Brenda. Behind her, the fuzzy shapes of the rest of the team and coaching staff, jumping, screaming, flying into the pool, splashing, hugging....celebrating. Brenda said to me...."Petie. We have done it!!! Again!" (Brenda and I have been on the team together since 2000....winning World Championship gold medals in 2003, and 2007.) Realization was setting in. And soon followed the perma-smile. Inner dialogue: "Oh my god. Oh my god. We did it. WE DID IT! OMG. OMG!!!!"
I think from a spectators point of view, our celebrating may look like we are trying to drown each other. A dog pile in a pool can become a precarious situation if you are in the middle, getting kicked and hung on. For our coaches and staff, who have all their clothes on, I know it can't be easy to stay afloat. But with the kind of adrenaline that is coursing though your body, it seems like the best place in the world to be. The tournament staff tried their darndest, to herd us out of the pool and into the locker room to change for the medal ceremony, in a timely fashion.....they were speaking Italian, so it was easy to pretend not to hear them and soak up the moment for just a little longer. ;)
Receiving a medal is an incredible experience. The receiving ceremony, seeing your flag, and if you are on the top tier- a chance to hear your National Anthem. It is enough to make your heart burst.
But for me this year was that much more special. Four years ago, I had come to Italy to play for a professional club in Florence. It was my first experience living abroad and I did not know one bit of Italian. There were twins on my team. Not the tallest girls (OK, most of the high school girls I coached were bigger as freshman than these two), but I soon found that they had gigantic hearts. They taught me Italian, drove me around, welcomed me into their home, and took care of me as if I was their sister. I broke my nose when I was playing there, which was so bad I needed to have nasal surgery to fix it. Their mother sat with me in the hospital, went to the pharmacy and got all my drugs and then doted on me, as all moms do, for the next two weeks while I stayed with them. Coming back home after that season, they visited America once but we have kept in touch mostly over the Internet. I had not seen them in three years....but they made the quick trip to Rome to cheer for us during the entire tournament. They are true water polo lovers and incredible supporters of my water polo adventures. They made the sign above and hung it in the stands. Their seats were positioned directly behind the poles holding the medal winning countries flags. So as I stood atop the podium, heavy medal around my neck, sweet national anthem singing to us....I could clearly see their smiling faces and the jubilant waving of a homemade flag as well. It was an amazing thing to get to share with them.
Then after all this, Canada (our final game opponents) protested the result of the game. They thought there had been a portion of the game that should have been handled differently by the referees. So they put in a formal request of protest, meaning after ALL that.... the celebration, the medals, the hugs from supporters, the adrenaline and joy....we were told we had to wait until 10:30 the next morning to find out if we were, in fact, the winners. I felt like my body was a balloon and someone had just stuck me with a pin. SERIOUSLY?!?