Dublin High School’s Bethany Zummo Brings Home Gold from the 2016 Paralympic Games
DUBLIN, CA–We recently caught up with Dublin High School Class of 2011 and University of Central Oklahoma student Bethany Zummo who returned as a gold medal athlete from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. Bethany was born with Fibular Hemimelia and Rroximal Femoral Focal Deficiency, two congenital disorders, resulting in her right foot being amputated at 2 years old. Bethany’s enthusiasm goes well beyond the thrill of being a gold medal winner; her love for live shined through during our conversation.
OneDublin.org: When did you first get the itch for volleyball and did you start with sitting volleyball?
Bethany Zummo: “I started playing standing volleyball in 7th grade at Fallon Middle School. I participated in dance a lot growing up, but it got to a point where I couldn’t continue in ballet, so my dad suggested I find something else to get good at. I tried different sports and volleyball clicked. I wasn’t fantastic at volleyball in the beginning, nobody’s fantastic at anything when they start, but I was looking for something fun and challenging, and fell in love with volleyball.
“The same year I became aware of the national sitting volleyball program and at the time I wanted nothing to do with sitting volleyball. I had some pride issues – I really regret not starting sitting volleyball earlier. I needed time to figure out what kind of athlete and what kind of person I was. By my sophomore year of high school I had several years of volleyball under my belt, knew how to play and starting thinking about where volleyball could take me. I tried sitting volleyball and immediately fell in love with the sport!”
OneDublin.org: You mentioned pride issues about your leg; what have you learned about yourself that could help other kids or adults in a similar situation?
Zummo: “When I was younger I used to not take my leg off at the pool, and wouldn’t tell people I had one leg. If I was limping one day because my leg was bothering me, I’d be worried people would notice. Now I take my leg off in the middle of class and leave it in the walkway! I let people take my leg off in the airport. I’ve embraced that ‘this is Bethany’ and I won’t hide. I love that I’m different. I love that I have this uniqueness about me that few people have. I love my leg and I love myself. It’s funny thinking about it now, I just live!”
OneDublin.org: Describe, if you can, the instant you knew your team had won the gold medal.
Zummo: “We went into the tournament with confidence because we’d beaten the Chinese team three times previously. We knew we had the capability to win. That said we lost to the Chinese team in the preliminary round, and it sucked! In the gold medal game we went in focused on playing one point at a time. This morning I was tagged on Twitter with video of the winning point and it hit me that I was a part of the last point, I passed that ball – I’d forgotten! I remember looking at the score as the Chinese ball went out of bounds and realized we’d won. It was everything it was supposed to feel like, we worked so hard together to win.
OneDublin.org: How do you get a group of individuals to gel into a gold medal calibre team?
Zummo: “You can enter a gold medal game and put a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself and play mind games, or as our coach tells us every day you can focus on the job you have to do as an individual player. ‘Your job is to pass the ball down – focus on that.’ Every time time that I touch the ball I know that if I do my job well, I trust that my setter will do her job. And the setter has one key job, to set the ball for the hitter, and so on. If you trust each other and focus on the job you need to do, it helps you focus and deal with the pressure. It’s taken a long time for us to feel that way about each other, to become a unit, a machine. Believing in each other is what makes us successful.”
OneDublin.org: What was it like being in Rio and part of the Paralympic community?
Zummo: “Being in the village was awesome! Seeing all the other sports, and supporting the other Team USA athletes, being strangers and members of a family at the same time, was an amazing feeling. The Brazilian fans were terrific – they know how to party! It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. They get excited and emotional – it’s so different (and louder!) than when you watch on TV.”
OneDublin.org: How did you end up at the University of Central Oklahoma?
Zummo: “I chose UCO because of sitting volleyball: it’s a training site for the US national team. Going into college I knew I wanted to play volleyball and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life beyond volleyball. I started as a psychology major, but met a professor who specializes in costume design and she was really interested in how I had created all my homecoming and prom dresses during high school. She invited me to take one of her classes, which is part of a major in theatre arts / design tech, and I ended up switching my major. I love sewing and would like that to be part of my life along with, of course, volleyball.
“I feel like I’m a kid that gets to play volleyball every day, and am so lucky to have this opportunity. I know my body won’t be able to play volleyball forever, so I’m going to play until I can’t physically play anymore and then my hands will still work and I’ll be a seamstress!”