The 2016 Olympics have entranced us all. There’s simply nothing quite like watching the best athletes in the world compete against one another and shine. Talk about grit! We had a special opportunity to chat with Holly Herbers, little sister to U.S. Olympian beach volleyball player, Brooke Sweat. We asked her to share a bit about the journey that has led their whole family to Rio, as one of their very own has earned this most special honor…
As I sat in the Miami airport, eager to begin our trek to Rio, I couldn’t help but think of the journey my sister has been on. She is one of the strongest, bravest, most loving, and selfless people I know. She has sacrificed so much over the last four years while pursuing her dreams, but now she’s made it to the highest level of competition in her sport… She’s an United States Olympian.
Brooke finished her indoor volleyball career at Florida Gulf Coast University and moved to California to officially pursue professional volleyball in January of 2012. Her husband, Nick, originally moved out there with her, but came back home to Florida when he realized that Brooke was traveling the world, playing volleyball, and only home just a couple of days a month. When Brooke did return home to California for the 1-4 days a month, she wanted to come back to Florida to see all of us, too… Our parents, brothers, myself and our nieces and nephews. So for Nick, being in California full-time just didn’t make sense when he could be here in Florida with both our family and his.
When she does have a weekend home in the States, Brooke usually flies home to Florida and gets in around midnight on Friday and then typically leaves sometime on Sunday… So we get Saturday to spend with her. Her being here in Florida for one day just shows how much we all mean to her and how important it is to her to be with us when she can. That means the world to me as her sister. When she’s here, we typically don’t do much… Hang around the house, play some ping pong, have dinner with our whole family, and manicures and pedicures (for her and I) always get worked in while she is here.
When she is away, the time difference is really hard on all of us. Most of the world is ahead of us, time zone wise, but it goes both ways. So when she’s in a rural city in China, she could be anywhere from 9-13 hours ahead of us. It just depends on what part of the world she is in at the time, but rarely is she ever within 5 hours of us. My mom and Nick are always up between 2am-4am watching her live scores while she is playing at 12pm somewhere in a different country. Most of the time we aren’t able to watch her play, we’re only able to see the scores as they update online. So that’s pretty tough, too, not actually being able to see what is going on… Just anxiously waiting for the score to change 1-2 points at a time. Sometimes the internet goes out where they are and we cannot even see the scores, which makes it even more nerve-wracking, having to wait to hear from her about how the match went.
Brooke’s always been tough though… We grew up with older brothers, and she never wanted them to see her cry. Her tenacity is one thing that has never changed about her, in fact, I’ve only seen it strengthen over time and deepen through challenges. I can’t even imagine living 3,000 miles away from my family and husband the majority of time, being “home” (in the US) for only a few days a month, having to constantly deal with the stressors of traveling, not being familiar with the country you’re in, having to pack cans of chicken because the meat isn’t safe, living in a different time zone and trying to talk with your family, all while trying to compete at the highest level possible in your sport. And this is just scratching the surface.
Most people don’t know how much pain she’s been playing through. She has a torn rotator cuff and was waiting for her season to be over so that she could get it fixed. Yet, at the same time, she is still one of the humblest and kind people I know. She always takes care of everyone around her, without expecting anything in exchange. She is not very present on social media nor is she ever in the lime-light because she does not like the attention to be on her. She has a quiet demeanor and doesn’t have much to say if she doesn’t really know you. If she does know you, she’ll tell you like it is, and that’s one of my favorite qualities about her. There is so much about Brooke that I admire. She is not only my sister, but such an inspiration to everyone around her. I could not be more proud of her for achieving the dream she has worked so hard for; she deserves to be an Olympian.
Being in Rio and watching her dream become a reality at the Opening Ceremony is something I’ll never forget. The atmosphere and the art that takes place is absolutely astonishing. The chance to see years of planning unfold in front of your eyes is something remarkable in itself. Brooke and I were texting the whole time leading up to her walking onto the floor. She told us where she would be standing in line while her and the rest of the USA athletes were waiting behind the scenes for our country to be called. There’s something very special about watching all of the athletes walking and representing their country with pride.
The eight of us (my parents, my two brothers, one sister-in-law, my brother-in-law Brooke’s husband, and my husband and I) were cheering and anxiously waiting for the U.S. to be announced. When I finally saw Brooke walking in her red, white, and blue Polo outfit, I had tears in my eyes. We were all screaming for her and waving our giant USA flags trying to get her attention amongst the other thousands of people surrounding us. She never got to see us, but being able to see her walk on the biggest stage of the world because of the talents God has blessed her with, was beyond breathtaking. There are no words to describe that moment of sheer pride. It made me think of everything that she has gone through to get to that moment and how worth it all of the blood, sweat, and tears had become.
Watching Brooke play in Rio was intense. The Brazilians are all about their beach volleyball, which made it all the more exciting. The stadium was always full, no matter who was playing. Although there were some logistical things that made the experience a little different than I expected, we soaked in every moment of watching our girl. And I wouldn’t change that for the world. There is nothing like watching someone work toward and live into their gifts and purpose. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is. Now that she’s completed her matches, she’s ready to recover and work towards Tokyo 2020! And you can bet that behind this beautiful, brave Olympian, who is also my sister, there will be the rest of our family, cheering her on and waving our flag.
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Photo courtesy of www.avp.com