MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
With the 2012 Summer Olympics in London just over the horizon, it occurred to us that for every Lebron James and Michael Phelps, there are less heralded athletes who will be wearing the red, white and blue who are equally dedicated and proud to represent their country. We wanted to meet some of them, so today, we are joined by Tumua Anae. She's a goalkeeper for the U.S. Women's Water Polo Team, and she joins us from Los Alamitos, California, where she's been training.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us.
TUMUA ANAE: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So what's a typical training day for you like these days?
ANAE: Well, we usually have double days. We'll have weights in the morning for an hour and a half, and then we'll condition in the pool for an hour and a half. And then we'll come back in the afternoon and have three more hours of purely water polo practice.
MARTIN: Is this every single day, five days a week, six, seven?
ANAE: It's six days a week, but we have double days every day, except we have one on Wednesday and one on Saturday.
MARTIN: How else are you preparing for the Olympics, mentally?
ANAE: I mean, we work with our team psychologist. The mental part of the game is just as important as the physical part of the game. And we've been working a lot with him for the past three years now. So this past quad, these past four years, we've been working for - I mean, for next month.
MARTIN: How did you get interested in water polo? I understand that you started out as a competitive swimmer. I just want to mention, you were born in Hawaii, but raised in Newport Beach, California. Right? And I think you started...
MARTIN: ...swimming competitively - what? At age eight?
ANAE: Yeah. I started swimming when I was eight, and then - that's how most water polo players get into water polo. They're usually swimmers or something aquatic, and then they'll kind of get bored at looking at the black line all day and just come over and try water polo. So that's how I got into it. I just knew some friends and went out and went to a few games, and then I was hooked.
MARTIN: What do you like about it?
ANAE: Well, I love the team camaraderie of it. I mean, our team - every team that I've been on has been really close. And not only are you working with these people, but you create really strong relationships with them and, you know, your team kind of becomes your family. And I like the physical part of it. I love getting my heart rate up and just kind of exhausting myself, and I like the competitive aspect of water polo, also.
MARTIN: What does it take to be great at your sport?
ANAE: I mean, it takes commitment, definitely. Water polo sucks a lot of time out of your life. I mean, high school all the way to junior national team, with morning practices before school and then afternoon practices and games at night. So definitely, the time commitment and the, you know, the resilience to keep pushing through it, even though you're really, really tired. And, definitely, you have to love the game.
It's a different game. It's a physical game, and you just kind of have to love that and have that, you know, that competitive nature in you to just kind of want more, I guess.
MARTIN: I just have to mention - because I don't think you were going to, because you strike me as one of these people who's too modest to toot your own horn. But at USC, you're one of the most decorated water polo goalies ever. You helped Team USA win a gold at the 2011 Pan-American games. So what about your position, specifically, to be a goalie? What other special skills does it take to be good at your position?
ANAE: Well, I think goalie-ing takes a lot of mental strength. I mean, you're either the hero or the zero. You either block the shot or you don't. And, you know, a lot of your practices are kind of self-driven. I mean, we have a coach, but a lot of it's kind of within yourself to kind of just get it done. So I think a lot of it takes, like, mental stability to be able to help out your teammates and also kind of focused in on what you're doing and making sure that you're doing your job.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. This is the latest in our series of conversations with some of our athletes who'll be representing Team USA in the London Summer Olympics.
I'm speaking with Tumua Anae. She's one of two goalkeepers for the U.S. Olympic Women's Water Polo Team. She was nice enough to take time out of one of her two practices daily to talk with us.
You know I'm going to ask, like, what's your favorite meal? I bet you're throwing off an awful lot of calories while you're training.
ANAE: My favorite meal?
MARTIN: Yeah. What's your favorite meal?
ANAE: I mean, my dad can cook a pretty mean barbecue chicken. So I love being out in the sun, so I would say barbecued chicken and rice and a really good fruit salad.
MARTIN: Is there something special that you'll celebrate with? I'm guessing that you're probably on a pretty strict regimen right now as you're training. But is there something you're going to just tear into when you're done with this?
ANAE: Well, I'm a sucker for anything homemade. So I'd have to go for just good old fashioned brownies or cookies, anything like that. I would definitely want to dig into that after the Olympics.
MARTIN: One of the local newspapers in Salt Lake City, Utah published a profile of you and your accomplishments, in part because you are a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, if you don't my mentioning that.
ANAE: Uh-huh. Sure.
MARTIN: I did want to ask: How do you think your faith intersects with your work as an athlete?
ANAE: Well, I think the church - you know, it's big on family and on - I mean, being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also takes a lot of commitment. I think a lot of the things that I learned in church, a lot of the things about my relationships with my family play into how I treat my teammates, how I respect my coaches. And I think a lot of the things that I learned when I was young and even now about respect or being able to work with one another plays into what I learned at church, also.
MARTIN: I was wondering if you ever feel kind of set apart because of your faith in a way that is not as comfortable.
ANAE: You know, it's funny, because all the teams that I've been on have never, you know, made me uncomfortable about not drinking or not going out with them. I think it's easy to look at it as, like, a step back from hanging out with your teammates, especially as you get older. But I've found that it's really not that hard. You know, everyone wants to go eat before they go out and drink, so I'll go out to dinner with them and hang out with them outside of the pool, definitely. But, I mean, just abstaining from alcohol hasn't really been as difficult for me, I've found.
MARTIN: How excited are you about the Olympics? Is this something that you've dreamed of since you were little?
ANAE: It definitely has been something I've dreamed about since I was little, and I'm really excited. I think I'm really, really excited to walk into opening ceremonies. That's the part that I think everyone says it just kind of hits you. I don't know if it's hit me yet with all these double days, but it's definitely something that I'm really proud to be able to have the opportunity to do, and I know my family's excited to go to London and watch.
MARTIN: I was going to ask: Are family members going to be able to come?
ANAE: Yes. I mean, (unintelligible) family. So, my mom's side of the family is making it a family reunion. So I'll have almost 30 people there supporting me and the team.
MARTIN: Well, don't forget to wave at us at the opening parade. OK?
ANAE: I will.
MARTIN: We'll know you're waving at us.
ANAE: I'm sure we'll be waving at everybody.
MARTIN: Best of luck to you. Of course, we're so excited for you, also. But before I let you go, I just wondered if you had any words of wisdom or advice for people who might be hearing our conversation, maybe somebody who is the eight-year-old you, right, who is looking at this and thinking: I wish I could do that. Do you have any words of advice or wisdom?
ANAE: Well, obviously, I mean, it's just so cliche, but if you really, you know, want to become an Olympian when you're older or you really have the dream of pursuing your athletic dreams, it's going to take a lot of hard work and it's going to take a lot of sacrifice, but it's definitely to be enjoyed and to be cherished and something that you should be proud of and all the work that you've put in. So continue, even when it gets hard, to push yourself and, you know, if you put your mind to it, you can do it.
MARTIN: I'm speaking with Tumua Anae. She is a goalie for the U.S. Olympic Women's Water Polo Team. She was kind enough to take some time out of her very rigorous training schedule to speak with us for this chat.
Best of luck in London. Don't forget to wave.
ANAE: I won't. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.