It all feels real now

Annika Dries, third from the right, and the rest of her team celebrate the first Olympic gold medal for U.S. women's water polo. Jeff Cable Photography

One minute showed on the clock. The score read USA 8, Spain 5. We were just 60 seconds from winning Olympic gold. But by the looks on our faces, you would have thought we were tied, or even down, fighting for our lives in that pool. Sure we had been dominating Spain defensively since the second quarter, but nothing -- and I mean nothing -- was going to stop us from finishing what we'd started. It wasn't until the clock read 0:00 that we realized what we had just done: We were Olympic water polo champions!

I jumped off the bench with my teammates and coaches and into the pool to join the rest of our team in a circle. There was lots of splashing, smiling, crying, kissing, hugging, cheering -- everyone trying to embrace the moment of being in our element, on our stage. In that pool we had challenged teams every second, elevated our level of play each game and fought for one another. There is no greater feeling than fighting alongside your teammates representing the country you love. Every moment was so special, every possession a memory.

As we cleared the pool, flags were passed down from the stands by family members and loved ones. We posed proudly with the red, white, and blue around us. And then I started searching for my family in the crowd. I had waved to my parents before the game, feeling both nerves and the power of the USA behind us.

As I found their faces again, pride and joy overwhelmed me. I reached my mom first. She is the strongest person I know, and I jumped up to give her a hug, full of excitement. And then, as soon as I saw my dad, I lost it. Tears of pure emotion poured down my face. Through all of the times of doubt, loss and hardship, my dad was there. He is my rock. We had one final hug all together, and then I ran back to my other family, the 13 women who had decided to come together to do something amazing.

It was a blur while we changed into our podium gear and chanted USA cheers in the locker room, then we were back out on the pool deck for the medal ceremony. Fittingly, Anita DeFrantz, an Olympian who has championed the advancement of women in sports and who spoke at our team announcement in May, gave us our gold medals. It was such an honor to hear her officially name us Olympic champions now and forever.

Moments later, our anthem started to play. Half crying, half smiling, all of the thoughts, emotions, love, trust, and memories rushed through me as I listened, and watched our flag rise above the pool. While many moments during the three weeks at the Olympics seemed surreal, hearing my teammates sing and standing up there all together made it all real. We did it! Together. One love, one team. Olympic champions forever.