Olympic starter Rachael Adams makes huge strides past year

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Strong. Capable. Enough.

Those three, simple words written on Rachael Adams' water bottle serve as a regular reminder. Along with the kicker: ''Don't Dare Tell Yourself Differently.''

It's her positive affirmation, a message she heeds herself each day and one she would like to share with girls and women everywhere about staying true to themselves despite the constant ups and downs of life.

Just last summer, Adams wasn't sure she would be an Olympian in Rio de Janeiro.

Not chosen as one of the four American middle blockers for the World Cup in Japan, Adams knew she was out of the Olympic mix at that moment. Yet she also realized she had a supportive coach in Karch Kiraly who would not give up on her if she changed, if she committed to finding consistency in her game.

''It hurt a lot, but deep down there was a trust and a belief,'' Adams said Wednesday. ''I didn't know where that would take me, but I knew that I had to embrace my journey. Everybody when times are tough is like, `I don't want to go through this,' but I was like, `OK, What do I need to be learning, why am I going through this, what are the lessons I need to take?'

''Last summer was very difficult. Everything shaped me for this moment and for this goal.''

Adams had eye surgery. She wasn't quite herself. Doubts crept in.

''It's not like I didn't believe in myself. But our thoughts become a reality,'' said Adams, who has embraced the mental side of sports and the expertise of high-performance psychologist Michael Gervais.

Now, she has worked her way back so brilliantly Kiraly calls her the most-improved player in the U.S. program this year and named her an Olympic starter. Adams will help lead the top-ranked U.S. (6-0) into the semifinals of the Rio Games on Thursday against Serbia, the very team that beat the Americans at the World Cup last year. That meant the U.S. had to earn its berth from a January qualifier in Lincoln, Nebraska.

She would be selected to travel for some tournaments and not others. Away in Italy with her club team last summer when her American teammates were elsewhere, Adams made a pact for progress. Her professional coach also challenged her to chase her Olympic ambitions.

''I set out to improve,'' she said. ''I had to think things through, `You want to go there, but you have to grow here.'''

The 26-year-old Adams does so much behind the scenes, too. Just this past spring, she launched her ''Proceed With Courage'' T-shirts featuring the hashtag journeystrength. The motto is ''To remind girls stay with it.''

Just the way Adams was determined. Kiraly noticed. Everybody did.

''Rachael's had a tremendous 2016,'' her coach said. ''They all have a special story and all of them have adversity that lots of people don't know about. Rachael is an example of that, fighting through some ups and downs and some real challenges to become part of this. There's no player in our program more improved than Rachael in this 2016 season. That's been phenomenal for her. She's worked herself into a starting role.''

Adams, who figures she goes through more athletic tape for her fingers than anybody on the team, earned a spot on the 12-player roster from a deep pool of talented middle blockers.

Her teammates are thrilled to have her.

''She's steady. We trust her,'' libero Kayla Banwarth said. ''There's no doubt whether or not she's going to get it done.''

As she celebrates each step toward the goal of the Americans' first gold in women's volleyball, Adams takes pride in how far she has come in a year's time.

''It made me a stronger person,'' she said. ''There are lessons to deal with, hard and difficult times that you have in life. You have the capability to take on that mission that you want to take on.''

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