Three-time Olympian Stacy Sykora has decided to formally retire from volleyball, two years after she sustained a serious brain injury in a bus accident while playing in Brazil.
The 36-year-old Sykora has played on a limited basis since the injury that impacted her vision. But a recent stint as a coach at the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships spurred her to officially retire from playing and move on to the next phase of her career.
"I was just holding on to it and I could not let it go. I just thought, well, maybe I can play again. Maybe, maybe, maybe," she said. "I always had these high hopes and these dreams that I would play again. `'
Sykora, who is from Burleson, Texas, won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She is one of the players who defined indoor volleyball's libero position, which became part of the international game in 1998.
The 5-foot-10 former outside hitter was USA Volleyball's indoor player of the year in 2010 after leading the national team to that year's FIVB World Championship.
But on a rainy April evening in 2011, the bus taking Sykora and her Brazilian professional team to a match overturned just outside of Sao Paulo. Sykora suffered bleeding and swelling on the left side of her brain, which prompted doctors to put her in a medically induced coma. She was hospitalized for more than a month.
The accident had lingering effects on her vision and at times she had trouble tracking the ball, but she continued to train with the U.S. national team in advance of the 2012 Olympics. While she didn't make the U.S. roster for London, she did play on the team that won gold at the Pan American Cup.
She said it stung not to go to London.
"Looking back, I just wasn't ready. My vision was still bad," she told The Associated Press. "I was just upset because it wasn't my choice. I didn't get to retire; I had it taken it away from me. It wasn't like I wasn't good enough, I couldn't play volleyball. I couldn't even try. That battle couldn't be fought. That's why London was so hard on me."
She concluded her career last December when she parted ways with a professional team in Italy. She didn't even pick up a volleyball until the recent High Performance tournament in Florida.
While she enjoyed her coaching experience, it's not something she's ready to commit to. That could come later if another opportunity presents itself.
"I've always said my life has been so wonderful, because every time a door has closed on me another would open," she said. "And I'm about to walk througth with a smile."
Sykora was a three-sport athlete at Texas A&M, competing in volleyball, track and basketball. She joined the national team in 1999 and played for the United States in the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics.
"The greatest thing was those four years leading up to the Olympics, that voyage," she said. "You get to see all these countries and meet all these people. You get to experience so many things, and see so many things and do so many things. And you do it together as a team. That's what I will remember the most."