Misty May-Treanor just won back-to-back gold medals in beach volleyball, but all she can think about is dancing.
"Every time I wake up, it's like I can't wait to dance," the Olympian says after wrapping a three-hour rehearsal at a dance studio here. "I can't wait to get back in there to see if things soaked in overnight."
As a contestant on the seventh season of "Dancing With the Stars," May-Treanor has traded the beach for the ballroom. Her swimsuit and bare feet have been replaced with swingy skirts and high-heeled shoes. And the 31-year-old athlete is loving every minute of it.
"I followed the show and I never thought in a million years that I'd be a participant," in the show that pairs stars with professional dancers to compete weekly in tightly choreographed routines, she says. "It was something where deep down I was like, 'Oh, it would be so fun to be on that show."'
May-Treanor glides around the room, her champagne-colored heels hitting the wood floor in perfect time. She's so graceful and elegant, it's hard to believe that this is the same woman who's known as a killer on the sand court.
She learned she'd be joining the cast while she was in Beijing, where she and partner Kerri Walsh defeated China to win their second gold medal.
"She missed the closing ceremonies to come and start training with Maks," executive producer Conrad Green says, referring to her professional dance partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy. "He whisked her straight to rehearsal."
Chmerkovskiy, a Latin-dance champ and veteran of the show, also traveled with his student to the last remaining tournaments of her volleyball season, where he urged her to keep her eye on the ball and her mind off the dance floor.
Ready to focus on something newBut May-Treanor says she's eager to set her sport aside and focus on something new for a while.
"It is nice for me, especially playing for so long," she says, adding that she hasn't had a summer off since she was 11 years old. "This takes my mind off of volleyball... It's nice just to step away."
She's not stepping into entirely unfamiliar territory. May-Treanor studied dance as a child in Los Angeles, fitting ballet, jazz and baton-twirling lessons in between soccer and volleyball practices.
The challenge now is shedding the powerful stance developed over years of dedicated sports training and recapturing that effortless, light-on-your-feet elegance.
"That's what I'm trying to do and it's bringing that passion in again, like trying to be graceful and using your body to make it flow instead of thunk," she says, stomping her feet on the floor.
She's put her full faith into her instructor and follows whatever direction he gives.
"I'm in his world so I let him decide everything," she says. "If he was on the sand, then I would be like, 'OK, you need to be in shorts and this is what we're going to do."'
May-Treanor has been such a compliant student — rehearsing constantly and allowing Chmerkovskiy to choose the moves, the music and the costumes — that he just might lose his hardheaded reputation.
"I know what I'm doing and I feel like, with her, I don't have to prove it," Chmerkovskiy says. "She trusts that my best intention is for her to do the best she can."
Advantage for athletes?She'll be competing with singers Lance Bass and Toni Braxton; TV personalities Brooke Burke and Kim Kardashian; actors Cloris Leachman, Cody Linley, Susan Lucci and Ted McGinley; comedian Jeffrey Ross; chef Rocco DiSpirito; NFL star Warren Sapp and fellow gold medalist Maurice Greene. The first couple will be eliminated Tuesday.
(Chmerkovskiy, however, is confident enough that he has already ordered up five weeks worth of costumes from wardrobe.)
The cast is the largest ever assembled for the ABC show, and it boasts the youngest (Linley, 16) and oldest (Leachman, 82) contestants in its history.
No leading dancers have emerged yet, Green says, but athletes have an advantage.
"They know how to train. They know how not to get exhausted by the training. They're used to taking orders and they're used to pushing their bodies," he says, noting that two gold-medal Olympians — Kristi Yamaguchi and Apolo Anton Ohno — have won past competitions. "They definitely have an advantage, but it's not unfair because there's no reason to believe that a beach volleyball player would be any good at dancing."
May-Treanor already has ideas for the freestyle dance, which comes at the end of the competition, and Green says she could go all the way.
Would taking home the mirrorball trophy herald a new career for the volleyball star?
"Right now I'm busy with this and having a great time, so if something comes out of it, then something comes out of it," she says. "But that's not what I'm looking for. It's not like I hope from this I'm going to be a reality-show (regular). I'm just doing it to learn something new and have fun."