On one of the walls in Sara Hughes’ bedroom is a poster of Misty May-Treanor. It’s been there since she was little, when Hughes began getting into volleyball, serving as a reminder of what she might be one day should she continue to pursue this beach volleyball dream of hers.
So it struck her when, during a tournament this season, a parent of a young fan approached her and told Hughes that on one of the walls in her daughter’s bedroom is a poster of Hughes.
“I was like ‘No way that’s actually happening,’” Hughes recalled on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I am so grateful for that and I hope I can keep being a person young people can look up to for a long time and thank you to everyone who does.”
Did you catch that, at the end? Hughes thanked the fan for looking up to her, not the other way around. In an era where celebrities grow more and more closed off, taking instead to social media to communicate behind iPhones and laptops, Hughes remains open, willing to talk to anyone, pepper with anyone, give back any way she can.
“I’m always just trying to help people,” she said. “If anybody wants to ask, just come up to me, you can ask me directly.”
No different than May-Treanor treated her.
When her age could still be measured in a single digit, Hughes would head down to the Huntington Beach Pier and sit on the wall, waiting for a chance, any chance, to simply shag balls for May-Treanor. Sometimes May-Treanor would let her pepper or hop in for a drill or two, creating an indelible memory that Hughes will cherish more than likely the rest of her life.
“I love talking to people and I love talking to young girls because I don’t think I’d be in the position I am today if I didn’t have the coaches I had and people like Misty May taking the time to talk to me,” she said. “I love doing the same to everyone else.”
She’s a sponsor’s dream, Hughes. She has the looks – blonde hair, blue eyes, Colgate smile – the smarts – she’s currently on a one-year track to earn her Master’s degree, just a year after delivering a graduation speech at USC – the media savvy, the talent, a voracious competitive drive juxtaposed with a disarmingly charming personality.
Oh, yes. She has earned this position, the right to have Mikasa run her through photo shoots and turn those shoots into posters for young girls to hang on their walls, to point to each night and say “I want to be like that.”