COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Stacy Sykora (Burleson, Texas), the Best Libero at the 2010 FIVB World Volleyball Championship and a three-time U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team member, has been released from in-patient hospital care 36 days after suffering serious injuries in a bus accident in Brazil on April 12.
On her first day out of the hospital, Sykora went to what is familiar to her - the American Sports Centers where the U.S. Women's National Team trains in Anaheim, Calif.
"To come here this morning and see my teammates - they are my family, they are my sisters, they are the people that I love to death," Sykora said of returning to the gym. "To come back to my family and my life and everything that I have ever known has been amazing. When you have a serious injury like this, everything means more to you than back in the day. This means so much to me. It is incredible how great it has been today. I can't even tell how great it was. It was like I was on a number 10 of 10 of an emotional happiness high today."
Yet, for the iconic member of the U.S. Women's National Team, Sykora is taking her continued rehabilitation one step at a time.
"We are not going to rush it," Sykora said. "I feel good physically. Today we did some weight room and strength and conditioning because I can - I was actually working out in the hospital before being released. I got to touch about 10 balls today. I can watch practice, but I can't be hit by a ball. Today, I watched the younger girls on the team and got to know them. I also got to see my old friends."
Under the care of U.S. Women's National Team physician Dr. Chris Koutures and U.S. Women's National Team Athletic Trainer Jill Wosmek, Sykora's rehab plan will seek to get her back into shape in more ways than one.
"Jill is getting me back in shape, not only in volleyball but physically like my eyes, my brain and getting Stacy Sykora's body and physical stuff better," Sykora said in discussing her rehab. "Jill knows what she is doing. I am still doing some things with the hospital and making sure I will be okay physically and mentally. We are not going to rush it."
"The entire medical staff has been awed by Stacy's hard work and tremendous progress - it is inspiring to talk with her and see how passionate she is about her recovery," Dr. Koutures said. "As we move to the next stage of her rehabilitation as an out-patient, we will use the knowledge and resources of several experts in head injuries to monitor and continue her great progress. We will also rely upon the enthusiasm of Stacy's teammates and coaches, who are excited to see her smile and hear her laughter light up the gym once again."
Sykora, who was released from her Brazilian hospital on May 7 to return to the United States, had been continuing her remarkable recovering at Casa Colina in Pomona, Calif., widely considered among the very best neurological care units in the western United States. Sykora will continue out-patient therapy at Casa Colina three times a week for the near future.
"I am extremely impressed by Stacy determination to continue to get better every day," Wosmek said. "Stacy is lucky to be in the situation she is in and continues to be grateful of her abilities at this time and stays true to her goals for the future. The Olympian mentality is paying dividends at this time. To watch and help her progress since she has been back in California has been inspiring to a lot of individuals, both at Casa Colina and within the USA Volleyball family. I am proud to be a part of her rehabilitation process along with Dr. Koutures and the medical staff at Casa Colina."
The bus accident occurred in rainy conditions as her Brazilian professional volleyball club Volei Futuro was traveling to the gymnasium to compete in the first match of the best-of-three semifinal round Superliga playoff. Based on reports, the bus tipped onto its side after hitting a guardrail separating the highway and an off-ramp. Sykora was the most seriously injured person traveling in the bus as most of her teammates or club staff did not require overnight stays.
Having experienced a life-changing event such as the accident, Sykora thinks she can possibly come back even stronger.
"If you ask me, I am going to be better," Sykora said. "I might not be great physically, you never know. I am saying I am going to be better because mentally I feel stronger. For me I have pictures and memories right now that make me remember every single day to take advantage of this day. This day is so important. It could be your last day to ever play again. I love volleyball so much. It is the only thing that I have done. When I got here in 1999, I have been here. It is the one thing I know and love and give everything for. I love the people on the team. They are my family members and the people I love."
The support given by her teammates and staff did not go unnoticed by Sykora as she had a constant stream of visitors once she arrived back to the United States.
"Jill was there with me every single day to see me after I flew back to California on May 7," Sykora said. "She came in every single day for 11 days. She was really supportive and saw me grow and get better. She was talking with the doctors and knowing what I would need. My progress was incredible the past week and she got to see it firsthand. And I have to tell you, every single day at least one of the U.S. players came to see me as well. That meant the world to me. One, for Jill to do that is amazing, and two, for me to be with a USA member every day was incredible."
Sykora received an out-pouring of well-wishes from not only her teammates and fans in the United States, but volleyball enthusiasts across the globe.
"It is absolutely incredible," Sykora said about the worldwide support sent to her during her recovery. "I can't even describe the happiness. It has made me feel so wonderful inside to know that so many people actually care about me. It has meant a lot me. For them to take the time to think about me is incredible."
As for the future, Sykora hopes to have the chance to go back to her hometown of Burleson, Texas, during the next break in training with the National Team. Other than her sister Keri and mother Sherian Richards who flew down to Brazil to be with her after the accident, her non-volleyball family in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have yet to see the remarkable progress.
"If you ask me to be a realist, I am going to do all I can, but if I can't play again, it is what is supposed to happen. That is something I can't help or change. That would be a sad day," Sykora said. "I want to play for this USA Team. I don't want to think of my future other than that until I have to. I really feel like I am going to give 100 percent every day to come back. I am going to work my tail off every day in practice."
Based on her past history of hard work in the gym, Sykora may very well accomplish her goal of competing in a fourth Olympics and helping Team USA improve upon its 2008 Olympic Games silver medal.
Story courtesy of Bill Kauffman, USA Volleyball