When the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team lost to China at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Lexi Shifflett had already practiced with the squad and knew the members of the team.
So while the Waseca graduate wasn’t then a team member, she still felt the heartbreak of the Americans missing out on gold to the Chinese for a third-straight Games. Shifflett also knew what was at stake at the 2016 Games in Rio De Janeiro.
That’s why when Shifflett, 20, now a member of the American squad, defeated China in straight sets to win gold earlier this month in Brazil, it was personal — for her and for everyone on the team.
“For four years that was our goal,” said Shifflett, who spent three weeks in Rio. “It was all about defeating China and winning that gold medal. All the hours we put in was for that and I think we really lifted a burden off our shoulders.”
That burden came with USA’s history with China in the Paralympic Games. The Chinese women’s team had never lost a final at the Paralympics, twice defeating the Americans in the gold-medal match. Not only did Shifflett and the rest of the USA team get revenge, it came with the gold on the line.
“It’s really a surreal feeling,” Shifflett said of winning gold. “It’s hard to describe what it feels like to put in so much work and see it pay off like that.”
Road to gold
Despite having her family there and being in the paradise-like city of Rio, Shifflett didn’t quite see the trip as a vacation. While the Waseca grad has enjoyed success in the World Championships with the U.S. team, she had a goal in mind.
“I looked at it as if I had a job to do,” Shifflett said. “We went there to do one thing and I wanted to remain focused on that until we accomplished it.”
On the court, Shifflett shined brightest in the USA’s three-set win over Rwanda. Coming off a 3-2 loss to China in the medal rounds, the Americans needed a bounce back win and Shifflett provided a lift in the third set in a big way.
The Wasecan went on a 19-point service run – which set a Paralympics record – and recorded eight aces. Of the team’s 20 aces in the match, Shifflett had eight in the final set alone. Aside from her work at the line, Shifflett totaled seven assists, one dig and one block.
Helping Shifflett on and off the court was the support of her family in Brazil, which she didn’t take for granted.
“Family is everything to me,” she said. “I was very fortunate because I know a lot of players didn’t get to have their families there and it just really added to the whole experience.”
That support’s been a constant.
Shifflett was born with fibular hemimelia, a condition in which her right leg is significantly shorter than her left. Her parents, charged with making a decision on treatment, elected to have doctors amputate part of her right foot. The 2014 grad has practiced and competed with Team USA since 2012, when she was recruited while playing a standing volleyball game with the Bluejays.
Shifflett and her team get some time off after returning from Rio, but the experience of winning a gold medal doesn’t stop once the players are home.
Just this week at the Team USA Awards in Washington D.C., Shifflett and the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team was named “Best Paralympic Team.” The award comes at an event that featured all American Olympians and the Waseca native wasn’t shy about who she wanted to meet.
“Simone Biles,” Shifflett said without hesitation. “I loved watching her in the Olympics, and my sister Natalie was a gymnast and I kind of want to meet Simone for her.”
The women’s national team also heads to the White House where it’ll get the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama.
After the festivities are over though, Shifflett wants to enjoy some time at home in Waseca.
“I’ve put volleyball first for so long and this is my first time home in a while so I want to just relax and enjoy being home,” she said.
That won’t last long. Shifflett already has her eyes set on Tokyo. And training for the 2020 Games begins in January.
“I already can’t wait for the next games,” she said. “It’s not much time off but I’m ready to get back in the gym to start working toward 2020.”