Comeback: Priddy makes fourth Olympic team after knee injury

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Reid Priddy's volleyball story would not end this way, as many around him figured it might.

The picture itself is still painful to see even two years later: The hard-hitting American down on a volleyball court in Bulgaria, face to the floor and grimacing, his taped-up hand gripping his injured right knee after he landed awkwardly following a hit.

Even those who didn't watch it live questioned whether he would ever come back. And, probably with good reason. Doctors harvested the tendon from his left knee to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right.

Priddy was so busy trying to heal himself he didn't even hear the skeptics along the way - and now, he's an Olympian again. A four-time Olympian at that.

''Not many people thought I would make it this far,'' he said. ''I'm learning that now. I didn't know it at the time. I think people weren't really saying that to my face, but now that I'm sort of back and doing my thing and playing the way I play, I'm finding more and more people that are shocked and surprised. That takes a toll after a while, just these little subtle negative messages, `Wow, you're still going.'

''It doesn't add motivation. I have all the motivation I need.''

Finally healthy and in a groove again at 38, the outside hitter has sealed his spot for the Rio Games, named to the U.S. men's roster Tuesday by coach John Speraw. Priddy is just the second four-time Olympian ever for U.S. men's volleyball.

''Going to Rio would be the highlight, it would mean more. It is requiring so much,'' Priddy said during a recent sit-down at the U.S. training headquarters in Orange County. ''I really still believe I can be better.''

Fellow 2008 Beijing gold medalist David Lee made his third Olympic roster Tuesday while eight first-timers on the 12-man squad include brothers Erik and Kawika Shoji, whose father Dave is a longtime college coach at Hawaii.

As Priddy tirelessly worked his way back from the knee injury suffered during 2014 World League pool play, he constantly reminded himself to be patient and to block out everything and everybody who wondered about his current place in volleyball.

Would he still be the high-flying force at the net he once was? Would that new knee betray him with all the pounding?

Priddy's support system was strong. Wife Lindsay committed herself to helping every step of the way, down to studying his diet and sleep patterns to maximize recovery. They have two children, son Caden, 5, and a 16-month-old daughter, Scarlett.

''We're in this together,'' Priddy said. ''It's been a fun journey. We've learned a lot.''

Determined to find his rhythm again, Priddy even took his game to Italy in late January to play on a club team alongside U.S. setter Micah Christenson, making his first Olympic roster.

''It's amazing to see how hard he works to maintain his body and his strength to play at a high level, the highest level in the world for, what is it, 16 years now?'' Christenson said. ''His comeback is great. I'm not surprised one bit, just because who he is and his character.''

Speraw values the experience Priddy brings considering so many of the Americans haven't previously faced the Olympic pressure.

''He took the time the end of last summer to kind of reboot his body holistically, because I think his knee was good but the rest of him was hurting, so he was a little unbalanced,'' Speraw said. ''He had a good season overseas and I've been really impressed with how he's playing.''

Others are noticing, too. One day last month, U.S. women's coach and former beach and indoor gold medalist Karch Kiraly stopped to congratulate Priddy in the cafeteria of USA Volleyball's giant warehouse training center, remarking on Priddy's strong play and comeback quest.

Priddy's teammates appreciate all he has done to return to the top level, just in time for what they hope is a special run in Rio.

''He had a potential career-ending injury two years ago,'' said star hitter Matt Anderson. ''It was even more unfortunate because at that point in time before that injury happened he was, in my mind, playing some of the best volleyball I've ever seen him play. ... To come back from that in two years and still have the drive, still have the motivation, speaks to his character and his support system.''

His preparation these days might take a little more time, and that's just part of it as Priddy pushes 40.

''At this point, it's been consuming to try and get back to the top level,'' he said. ''That's more the focus, especially now that we're here to this summer. It seems like for the last two years it's been a progression. I needed to do all of these steps to get to here. Now that we're here, it's very exciting that there's no more `I need to cross this threshold.' I've crossed all the thresholds.''

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