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The Emotions of Sports: On top of the world

There are few feelings better than reaching the pinnacle of a sport

Posted: August 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 


The countless hours of training.

Missing out on weddings, holidays and birthdays.

Sacrifice after sacrifice.

It all led up to one final opportunity — a chance to win it all and be called the best.

Only a select few athletes actually reach the pinnacle of their chosen sport, and for those who do, the emotional spectrum surrounding the achievement reach far beyond happiness.

Articulating them becomes virtually impossible.

“Well basically, it’s one of the best feelings you’re ever going to have, and the greatest thing you’ll have ever done or ever will do,” says Crystl Bustos, a Canyon High graduate and two-time Olympic gold medalist with USA Softball. “When you stand on the podium, and they put the gold medal around your neck, you’ve got your close family there that could make it, and you know that everyone else is watching on TV, and you hear the national anthem as they raise the flag higher than everyone else’s, it’s pretty intense.”

Bustos won gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and took silver in 2008. She was the 2008 USA Softball Player of the Year, had an extensive professional career and is largely regarded as one of the best athletes to ever play the game.

“My first time in the Olympics, I was pretty nervous because everyone is watching you, and you know that any kind of mistake is going to be seen across the world,” Bustos says. “You hope to do your best to represent your family, the country, and the neighborhood you come from.”

While USA Softball was expected to win each time it took the field, the 2008 Fresno State baseball team was not.
Hart High graduate Steve Susdorf still carries the Bulldogs’ national championship with him at all times.

Before each of his games with the Double-A Reading Phillies, he says he watches film of a good at-bat the College World Series.

“Watching the dog pile at the end, it fires you up. Sometimes it will even bring tears to my eyes when watching the final out made at the College World Series,” Susdorf says. “This season, I’ve started watching a video pretty much before every game. It gives me a lot of confidence going into my game. That’s the last thing I think about going into the game. I take that confidence going into the game that I’ve done that before.”

After a slow start to the season, Fresno State was largely written off, Susdorf recalls.

The Bulldogs had to win the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA Regional, in which they were the lowest seed.

When they advanced to the Super Regionals, they dropped the first game of a best-of-three series to Arizona State. Sun Devil officials were told to plan for a sweep, Susdorf says, but Fresno State had other plans.

In the College World Series, the Bulldogs again fell behind a game, but rallied for two victories to beat Georgia and claim the title.

Susdorf relished the moment with his family and teammates, but first, joined in on an iconic dog pile.

“I slipped down to the bottom,” he recalls. “I was just trying to fight to stay alive. On the bottom, I could barely breathe.”
Valencia graduate Tony Ker’s run to the 2006 men’s volleyball title with UCLA began in similar fashion to Susdorf’s.

The Bruins slumped to open the season, and as their record dropped, their sense of urgency increased, Ker says.

UCLA went on to beat Penn State 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 in the final match.

And like Susdorf, Ker still takes a moment to reflect when he sees the championship ring.

“It’s more about what it represents,” he says. “Every time you look at it, you see all the faces that you partnered with. There are times where a bunch of us will get together, and we’ll say we’re all wearing our rings not because we want to show off the ring, but because we want to get back to the team camaraderie.”

The hardware is nice, and so are the bragging rights.

But what carries the most weight, Ker says, are the relationships that were built during the season.

Not one of us shaved, and I didn’t wash my jersey,” he recalls.

“The team was just die-hard,” Ker adds. “We never stopped working as hard as we could. It was a feeling of camaraderie. It was a feeling of achieving something you didn’t think was possible, or what you think was possible and other people didn’t.”

For Bustos, Susdorf and Ker, the window for collegiate accomplishment has closed.

Not so for Hart grads Destiny Rodino and Devon Lindvall, both of whom were freshman on UCLA’s 2010 softball national championship team.

Lindvall started game 1 against Arizona in the College World Series and played the final inning of game 2.

She was in center field for the final out.

“The last pitch — it was a strikeout, I froze,” says Lindvall, a recruited walk-on who worked her way into a utilized role. “I had to take a second. Wow, it’s over. It’s done. For us, we all sprinted from the outfield and the whole team was already dog piling. Everyone’s faces. It as over, finally. You put in all this effort and focus. I was speechless. No one wanted to leave the field. It was the greatest moment I’ve ever experienced in my sports career.”

It’s an experience a minute percentile of athletes get to go through.

It starts on community fields across the country, it ends under the national spotlight.

But through it all, seemingly everyone who reaches their respective sports’ pinnacle, the takeaway is something different — a connectedness to those who ascended alongside them.

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