Annika Dries: 'I'm doing my best to keep fighting'

USA Water Polo

Annika Dries, top left, and her teammates wore pink swim caps during a Holiday Cup match to bring attention to breast cancer research.

Annika Dries will be blogging for espnW throughout her training for this summer's London Olympics. Check back in April for more from Annika on the journey.

USA Water Polo

Breast cancer survivor Pam Dries, center, Annika's mother, posed before she dropped the ball for one of Team USA's Holiday Cup matches.

One of the proudest moments of my career happened last month at the Holiday Cup -- and it had nothing to do with how I played. We had a series of nine matches against Greece, Canada and Italy, and we dedicated one of those matches to raising breast cancer awareness. We all wore pink caps listing the names of people who'd been affected by the disease, and we auctioned off autographed sports bras to help raise money. The biggest moment, though, was when we had a breast cancer survivor drop the ball for the game's opening sprint. That survivor was my mom.

My mother was diagnosed my sophomore year of high school, and during that time, she endured surgery and two years of chemotherapy. I dealt with the diagnosis by throwing myself into the Pink Ribbon Club Foundation, a group that encourages self-screening and patient advocacy. We raised money for research, but most of all, I think we helped instill hope in our community for those who had been dealt this disease.

My mom's a fighter -- she's now a five-year cancer survivor training to hike the Grand Canyon this fall. I'm doing my best to keep fighting, too, and will continue to pursue my human biology major when I return to Stanford this fall. My mom has inspired me to follow a career in medicine, and her determination also gives me power every day in the pool and around the world.

I'm currently in Italy with the U.S. team, to train, compete and continue to sharpen our skills as we eye the Olympics, only four months away. It's awesome to play against someone else; it feels great to take our aggression and tactics out on another team!

USA Water Polo

The U.S. team auctioned autographed sports bras to raise money for breast cancer research.

Our first match was in Avezzano, about a two-hour bus ride from Rome. It was an adventure through many hills and mountains to get there, and the venue seemed far away from any real sports center, so we were expecting low attendance at the game. But we were completely wrong! As we pulled up, we could see a line of kids and fans surrounding the venue, and it turned out this town is fanatic for water polo. The Italian fans were loudly enthusiastic for both their home team and our team, and the whole game felt like I was at some big celebration rather than an international water polo match.

But we still wanted to win, of course, and we did, 9-7. We were rewarded with a huge Italian dinner and Nutella pizza for dessert. It was amazing. Since then we've played Italy twice more, winning our next game and tying 8-8 in the last one. It sets us up well for the Games, since it will likely be our last matchup with Italy until then.

Now, it's on to Russia next week. We'll play at the Kirishi Cup against Greece, Russia, Spain, China and the Netherlands. They're some of the toughest teams in the world -- and we're hoping to beat them!

Read Annika's previous blog entry, about the Holiday Cup and the dirty fighting that goes on in water polo.

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