Fourth Olympics a long shot for Stacy Sykora

Stacy Sykora knows her chances of making her fourth U.S. Olympic team are "very slim." But she has faced bigger odds. Doctors didn't give the former Burleson High School star a chance to get even this far after a bus accident a year ago nearly killed her.

"Stacy has always had her eye on what she wanted," her mother, Sherian Richards, said, "and she just doesn't give up."

Sykora, 34, knew from the time she learned to walk what she wanted to be when she grew up. Richards still has some of the rudimentary, Crayon drawings Sykora made of herself competing in the Olympics.

Three times Sykora has lived her dream, including winning a silver medal at the Beijing Games in 2008.

She had hoped to make it a fourth, a rare feat for her sport. Sykora is one of only nine U.S. female volleyball players to play in at least three Olympics, and only Tara Cross-Battle and Danielle Scott qualified for four teams.

Sykora had been at the top of her game in 2010. The former Texas A&M All-American was named the best libero, a defense-only position, at the FIVB World Championship that summer with a tournament-best 4.85 digs per set.

It seemed a foregone conclusion she would wear the red, white and blue in London.

Then, on April 12, 2011, everything changed.

She has had the date stamped across her heart -- a 4/12/2011 tattoo -- so she would never forget, though she still can't remember.

"I didn't know I had to learn to walk again," Sykora said in a phone interview. "Did you know that? I had no idea. I read an article where my mom was talking about it. I called her and said, 'Mom, I had to learn to walk again?'"

Sykora can't recall anything from a week before the bus accident until April 23, 11 days after the accident, when she circled the date on a calendar in her hospital room. She doesn't remember her mom or her sister, Keri, being at her bedside. She doesn't remember the doctors who treated her. She doesn't remember having to relearn how to walk, bathe and eat.

It's as if it never happened, except her brain still reminds her it did.

Sykora was on her way to a semifinal playoff match with her Brazilian professional team, Volei Futuro. She had been sitting on a teammate's lap, sharing headphones to her iPhone, when the bus overturned on a wet road near the gymnasium.

A scan at a Sao Paulo hospital revealed swelling on the left side of Sykora's brain. She was placed in a medically induced coma for three days and spent 36 days in hospitals in Brazil and California.

Only days after coming out of a coma, Sykora amazed her Brazilian medical staff by walking, though unsteadily and with some assistance from her mother, down the hallway.

More than a year later, she still has vision problems. Her tracking is off, making it difficult for her to get her timing down. Digging a volleyball traveling in excess of 100 mph no longer is second nature.

"I'm not there yet," she said. "I've finally gotten there in a mental way. I'm just so thankful to be alive and thankful to be able to try again. My gosh, there are so many people who never have this opportunity. I can honestly say it was only probably about a month ago that I finally got my brain back."

Sykora, once the best libero in the world, isn't even the best at her position in the U.S.

She will not be one of the athletes at the Team USA Media Summit in downtown Dallas this week. Though she is back training with 25 others on Team USA in Anaheim, Calif., her chances of being on the final 12-player roster for London aren't good.

Nicole Davis and Tamari Miyashiro are other liberos competing for what could be one spot. U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon has until July 2 to announce the team.

"I want it as much as all 26 girls training in the gym right now; I want it as much as every kid watching it," Sykora said. "Of course, the want is there. But sometimes you don't get the things you want in life.

"I'm a realist. I don't live in a fantasy world. Are my chances more slim than they used to be? Yes. There's a very slim chance I go to a fourth Olympics. I've accepted this fact. But am I going to try? Yes. In the end, it's not about Stacy Sykora. It's about USA Volleyball. If I don't make it, I can say whatever I did, in everything I did, I helped my team."

Charean Williams, 817-390-7760

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