‘You’re Not Going to Die Under My Watch’
The memories were fleeting at first. Blocked out, Pri Piantadosi-Lima thinks, by the trauma of it all – the cancer diagnosis for her wife, Michelle Piantadosi-Lima; their volleyball club, Optimum, that had taken years to build and yet was losing teams as one of its coaches, Michelle, was trying to survive while the other, Pri, was doing her best to support her.
Pri, a native of Rio de Janeiro and a longtime player on the AVP Tour, still doesn’t remember everything from the roughly two years Michelle battled with breast cancer. But she remembers their club, Optimum, based in Florida with a year-round, Brazilian-style training regimen, shrinking from five teams to one. And she remembers thinking that “‘You’re not going to die under my watch,’” Pri recalled on Monday afternoon. “And ‘We also need to live.’”
Pri did what she could for Michelle, but when it comes to conditions such as cancer, there is only so much one can do. So she did what she could, and then turned to the outlet she always has: volleyball.
“Volleyball is like meditation for me when I coach and when I play,” she said. “It was like that for me even when I was a teenager. If I was having problems at home, volleyball was where I went to get away. I could have a good or bad practice and it didn’t matter. All the outside noise was gone. I think that’s how I made it. It was good to have, at least once a week, the outside noise was gone and I was present.”
As Michelle fought the cancer, Pri fought for the club they had built together. Slowly, it began to take shape again, not just back to where they had been prior to the diagnosis, but beyond. When Michelle was declared cancer-free, midway through 2017, it didn’t take long for them to change their viewpoint on it. Once looked at as a massive obstacle, now, with hindsight being 20/20, they saw it as a blessing, an opportunity for massive growth, a reorienting of perspectives.
“You don’t know until you have these conversations – the cancer has been a blessing, how much it has helped us be present, making time for people we love and for other people,” Pri said. “We can help them overcome so much more. We can look back and appreciate everything so much more than anything else. The simplest things that make you grow and be a better human being.”
It is these messages that they preach to their athletes now. And, oh yes, they have athletes. The club is now flourishing, with three locations – St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor, Temple Terrace – and athletes ranging from junior girls to professional men.
“We went from barely having one or two sessions with our juniors to now we have three locations,” Pri said. “I have great coaches, everybody loves our Optimum family. That’s how we started: We had to restart.”
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