Olympic volleyball: Jake Gibb given fresh new perspective on life

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 11:04 p.m. MDT

Jake Gibb, left, of US celebrates with his teammate Sean Rosenthal, right, after defeating South Africa in their Beach Volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Associated Press

Sweating and smiling after winning his first match of the 2012 Olympic Beach volleyball tournament, Jake Gibb reveled in the ordinary.

Questions about the victory, the competition, the pressure of performing on the sport's biggest stage — they were all sweet after the bitterness of almost losing it all.

"This is what we live for," the Bountiful native said after he and his partner, Sean Rosenthal, defeated South Africa's Freedom Chiya and Grant Goldschmidt 21-11, 21-10 Saturday night. "Once you get the nerves out of the way, it's fine. I could go back out there right now."

Gibb led the match in kills with 15. He also led in blocks with three. Gibb and Rosie scored on 15 opponent errors while committing only six of their own.

Saturday's struggle was a sweet reward for enduring what 36-year-old Gibb calls the most difficult year of his life.

"2011 was the hardest year of my life, hands down," Gibb said in a video entitled "More than gold" on Vimeo. A false-positive drug test, it turns out, was a blessing. It led doctors to diagnose testicular cancer — Gibb's second bout with the insidious disease.

"It felt like a heavy load on my shoulders," he said, adding that his wife delivered their first child while he was traveling and competing.

Gibb and Rosenthal finished fifth in the Beijing Olympics and have played in the shadow of defending Olympic champions and U.S. rivals Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. Earning a second trip to the Olympics was a dream that motivated Gibb to endure the travel and physical toll that beach volleyball requires.

"It means the world to me, it's something so special," he said of wearing the United States uniform in the Olympic Games. "It almost wasn't a reality for me for the London Olympics. When I was first told (about the cancer), I was told that I would have to go through three bouts of chemotherapy, so the Olympics were out."

His diagnosis came at the beginning of the qualification period, and a devastating blow became even more difficult as his wife learned she was pregnant with their first child.

"It was a tough dream to let go of," he said. "The tougher part was actually calling people to tell them. Once it came out of my mouth, it felt real."

Part of the fear was the unknown.

"I didn't know anything about it, and I didn't know how to react," he said. "I didn't know where to go from there. Until you have information, it's a scary thing. I realized the things that mattered most to me — health and family."

Then doctors discovered they'd caught the cancer earlier enough that he didn't need chemotherapy.

"That was the biggest relief and joy of my life to that point," he said. "It opened up my world, the Olympics, a career … I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

Gibb and Rosenthal qualified for the London Olympics en route to their first Grand Slam victory in Berlin two weeks ago. They got the best of Brazil's Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti to earn that title.

Gibb said he's playing with new purpose and focus thanks in large part to their coach Mike Dodd. He coached the duo in Beijing before taking another job and returned to coach the Americans last year.

Having him back helped them on the court, but Gibb is enjoying the perspective he gained from a disease he's now beaten twice.

"I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world," he said.

He thanks his family, especially his wife, Jane, and their 11-month-old son for his ability to keep things in perspective.

More than cancer, more than being an Olympian, becoming a father changed Gibb.

"The birth of my son was a game-changer," he said. "It was more impactful than I thought … He's become everything. I love him to pieces."

Gibb and Rosenthal take on Poland's No. 9-ranked team of Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel today at 9 p.m. local time.

email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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