Stacy Sykora has nothing to hide

Jul 15, 2012 6:31 PM ET | By Morty AinPhotographs: Art Streiber
tkArt Streiber for ESPN The MagazineAfter she was in a car accident, Stacy Sykora has trouble tracking the ball. But she plays on.

This is an extended interview from the 2012 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to the Mag today!

If you could write the caption for your photo, what would it say?
SS: I used to say I had the body of a 16-year-old boy, but now I have a little bit more boobs and I'm a bit more feminine. I'm not as cut up and masculine, so I'd probably write, "Yes, it's a girl, not a 16-year-old boy."

What exercise can't you live without?
SS: Pushups. I love them. I probably do no fewer than 50 a day. When I get to the gym, before I start warming up, I do pushups. I call them my "good morning pushups." And I do man pushups and the hard ones where you use a lot of triceps.

What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any further?
SS: I've never gotten to that point. One time I messed up a drill on the ball, and the next day my coach made me do 1,000 of them. We were training and it was a free ball and it wasn't perfect, and I'm a libero so I have to make every ball perfect. So I did 1,000, and I had done weights that morning, and we had a scrimmage that night. Was I tired after? Yes. But did I ever think, "Gosh, I can't do this anymore?" No. I played four sports in high school, I did three sports in college, and then I came to the USA team and played overseas, as well. I've never had a summer off. I'm always going, and I think it's what I need. I can't sit still. So when I'm doing something, I don't want to quit. I have the energy to keep going.

What's the biggest challenge you face with your body?
SS: I was in a terrible bus accident in Brazil last year. We were right outside the damn gym -- we were almost there -- and the damn thing flipped. The accident was on April 12, and I don't remember anything from the week before until April 23. I was in a three-day coma and had brain damage. My balance and coordination were so messed up that I had to relearn how to walk. My vision was terrible. But after one month I was like, "All right, I'm ready to train, let's go. I'm ready to go to the Olympics." I didn't understand. I didn't remember how to move, but you could never tell me it was over. It wasn't until after a week or two that I thought, "Wow, I still don't think I'm healed." Last May and June, that Olympic dream was still there, and it can't go away. I'm still going for it, I'm still fighting for it, I'm not letting it go. But I'm still not 100 percent. I have obstacles every single day. Every day I have to wake up and be motivated and inspired and dedicated. I have difficulty "tracking." When you look left to right, your eyes should be together; well, my right and left eyes ain't friends. There's a few milliseconds' delay before they meet up, and in that time I can lose the ball because I can't track it. So my brain has to be at 100 percent and has to be like, "Hey guys, we can be friends," and then it will happen.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
SS: I've always had confidence. I never cared what anyone thought of my body. I never showed it off or hid it; I just wore what I wanted to wear when I wanted to wear it. I didn't have boobs, but I would make fun of myself -- even in high school. I've never been self-conscious about my body. I just don't care. I guess it's how I was raised. My mom never ever said anything positive or negative about my body. It just wasn't an issue. I lived in Italy for seven years, so I went through the Versace pants and Louis Vuitton. I had the long hair, had to get it done every few weeks, had to get it bleached and had to straighten it. Every three days I would do my nails with a French manicure. I did all that for a few years, and then it was, "Eh, I just feel like wearing Levi's and Converse and tank tops."

What are you looking forward to once London is over?
SS: Dancing in a club with my medal on, like I did last Olympics. I'd get in everywhere for free and just dance with my medal. It was great; I loved it. I wore my medal for like a week without taking it off. That medal. Gosh, it's incredible what comes with it. I got to meet Oprah. I got to meet George Bush.

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