Reid Priddy easily could have called it a career in 2014 when he tore his right ACL during an FIVB World League match.
He was 36 years old, had competed in three Olympics, won a gold medal in 2008 and ascended to the highest levels of professional volleyball overseas.
Doctors told Priddy the injury would require a double knee surgery to repair the damage. They needed a ligament from his good knee to fix the bad knee. For an outside hitter whose effectiveness relied heavily on jumping, there was no guarantee he’d ever return to the level he’d become accustomed to competing at.
Over the weekend, Priddy, now 38, returned to his old spot on the U.S. men’s national team. The Americans faced Cuba in a friendly match, and Priddy led all scorers with 18 points on a match-high 14 kills and four blocks.
“I’ve had to learn different ways of how to win and how to be successful and how to be effective from a hitting standpoint,” Priddy said. “I feel like that’s just opened up an entire new box of tools that it feels great to have. I just feel more versatile as an attacker, which is so crazy to say. I really feel like I’m attacking the ball better than ever, at least more effectively and efficiently.”
Priddy’s knee injury happened relatively early in the Olympic quad, as the players on the national team were figuring out their roles. But on that ill-fated World League trip to Bulgaria, Priddy felt the pieces begin to fall into place.
“I really felt like I caught a vision of what this group could do,” Priddy said. “Without that, then yeah, maybe this happened and I’d ride off into the sunset and call it quits. But having that vision really helped me get through that first month and just say, ‘OK, this is worth it for me and I see a place for me.’”
Potentially there’s another [Olympic] quad in these legs, it’s just not on the hard surface. Maybe transfer over to beach and who knows?In January, almost two years after the injury, and a year after sustaining a second injury in an intra-squad scrimmage early in the 2015 season, Priddy signed with the Italian professional team Cucine Lube Banca Marche. In May, he took the court with Team USA versus Japan in the exhibition USA Volleyball Cup. He contributed nine kills to the team’s 3-0 victory.
Even legendary all-stars like Priddy aren’t guaranteed a spot on the Olympic roster. But the possibility of a fourth Olympics is certainly on his mind.
“It would be the most significant of them all because of the mountains that had to be climbed, and that it was such a collective effort,” Priddy said. “I really feel like I’m a part of a team—just from obviously my wife, the support that she’s given, and my family, my kids.”
Whether he travels to Rio with the team or not, Priddy will have some choices to make comes September.
“Indoor is just so violent,” Priddy said with a laugh. “Potentially there’s another [Olympic] quad in these legs, it’s just not on the hard surface. Maybe transfer over to beach and who knows? I’ve had a lot of exposure to beach and I’m friends with a lot of the guys out there. I’ve done some cross-training on the sand, and I’ve played in probably a couple dozen beach tournaments. So I anticipate giving that a very, very serious look, at least a season.”
If Priddy makes the move to the beach, he would be following in the footsteps of some of the best beach players of all time who continued playing on the beach after concluding a career with the indoor national team. Karch Kiraly. Kerri Walsh Jennings. John Hyden.
At 38, he wouldn’t even be close to the oldest guy on tour.
“To me,” Priddy said, “peak years are where your experience and physicality meet and the game’s really easy. Without a lot of thought, you’re able to perform day in and day out. I’ve heard you can really extend peak performance; it just takes a lot more work. I think there reaches a point in an athlete’s career where that work is just too much. I haven't reached that point yet.”