News Column

Exclusive Interview: Brenda Villa, Water Polo Olympian

Aug. 29, 2012


Brenda Villa, left, with teammate. Photo by Jeff Cable.
Brenda Villa, left, with teammate. Photo by Jeff Cable.

Brenda Villa and her team scored gold at the 2012 London Olympics when they beat Spain 8-5 in the championship game.

Villa, 32, has been on Team USA since 1998. She started playing water polo at age 8 after following in her older brother's footsteps. In high school, she played on the boys' water polo team because her high school, in Bell Gardens, Calif., did not have a girls' team.

She graduated in 2003 with a degree in political science from Stanford University, where she was a three-time All-American.

Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and this Latina speaks fluent Spanish. We reached out to the stellar athlete, fresh from London, to ask her more about her Olympic experience and about her Hispanic roots. What was the highlight of the 2012 London Olympics for you?

Brenda Villa: Playing in the final game and winning the gold medal was my highlight of the 2012 games. I have been waiting 12 years to have that gold medal be put around my neck, and to have the honor to see our flag being raised above the rest is pretty special. How was it living at Olympic Village?

Brenda Villa: It is always exciting to move into the Olympic Village. You visualize this for so long, and when you check in, your Olympic dream becomes a reality. It is amazing to see so many elite athletes from so many parts of the world eat and sleep in one location. It was really exciting to see mega-superstars like Usain Bolt, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol stay in the village and enjoy the same experiences as the rest of the Olympians. Describe the camaraderie and rivalries among U.S. Olympic athletes.

Brenda Villa: Luckily, I play a team sport so we don't see very much rivalry between us or other team sports. But we did meet lots of athletes that compete in individual sports. Our team became good friends with one of the marathoners, and he briefly talked about having to race against other countrymen. Everyone here wants to win gold, but if you don't win gold you definitely want another American to win. How does it feel to represent for U.S. Hispanics?

Brenda Villa: It's the ultimate honor and privilege to represent the United States of America. For me it is extra special to succeed in the USA because of the sacrifices my parents made to make a life in the U.S. I'm proud of my heritage and I hope I have made two countries proud. I hope my journey allows little girls to dream big like I did and to realize that with hard work you can achieve what you have set your mind to. Describe how your family and cultural background have influenced, hindered or helped your athletic career.

Related story: Exclusive Interview: Diana Lopez, Taekwondo Olympian

Brenda Villa: My parent's courage and determination have helped shaped me into the driven, competitive athlete that I am. I don't really think my cultural background hindered me. We had some obstacles to tackle, like limited finances and a language barrier, but that did not stop me or my parents. We always found a way to make it work. I read somewhere that your mother was afraid of the water and that is why she had you and your brother learn to swim early on. Can you tell me more about that?

Brenda Villa: My mother didn't grow up playing sports, and when she moved to California she noticed that there were pools everywhere and the ocean was so close. She didn't want her kids to be afraid of the water, and luckily the City of Commerce offered low-cost swim lessons. She jumped on that opportunity and now my brothers and I are so grateful that she was open-minded. She was willing to let her kids try something she was unfamiliar with, and it paid off. What advice do you have for future Olympians currently training to represent the U.S.?

Brenda Villa: Never give up on a dream. It may take you longer than you think to achieve. Every failure and setback is a new opportunity to self-reflect and improve. What's next for you?

Brenda Villa: I just got back to coaching, and I am in the process of moving forward with a nonprofit I co-founded—Project2020. Our goal is to give access to kids of lower resources the opportunity to learn to swim and play team sports. I want to give back the same opportunities that were given to me.

For more information about Villa, visit her athlete profile.

Also, stay tuned for more one-on-one interviews with other U.S. Hispanic Olympians, including Sarah Robles, Carmelo Anthony and Danell Leyva, among others.

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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