If someone had told Carol Gattaz a few years ago she would spend her 40th birthday on a volleyball court representing Brazil at the Olympics, she would probably have laughed at the idea. Not just because the Tokyo Games were originally scheduled to take place in the year of her 39th birthday, but mostly due to the fact she hadn’t been called up to the Brazilian national team for several years.

A lot has obviously changed in the world during the last year, contributing to putting the Brazilian in a position she once judged unlikely. After several years of high-level play with her club Itambe Minas, the veteran middle blocker was included in Brazil’s roster for the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Nations League, playing with the squad for the first time since 2013.

The previously unrealistic prospect of celebrating her birthday at the Olympics materialized on Tuesday, a day that started with a birthday cake at the Olympic Village and ended with her teammates singing happy birthday to Carol on the court after Brazil’s 3-2 victory against the Dominican Republic.

“I couldn’t ever have imagined something like this, not even in my childhood dreams,” Carol told Volleyball World as she left the court. “It’s been wonderful to celebrate my birthday here at the Olympics with my teammates. I truly see it as a gift of God and feel very blessed to have this opportunity. We had a tough match but we won it, so now we can celebrate with good spirits.”

Carol had long wondered what being at the Olympics would be like. Since she was first called up to the Brazilian national team, back in 2003, four editions of the Games have been played, and the closest she ever had got to them was with her work as a TV commentator at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

In Tokyo, she’s getting to experience all the Olympics have to offer and she’s enjoying it more than she ever thought she would.

“It’s better than I imagined and dreamed,” she added. “So far, it’s been a great experience. Our team has a very tight group of players with great connection on and off the court. And I feel that we’ve been strengthening this every single day here.”

With Carol delivering 17 points, Brazil recovered from a rough start to come from behind and win their second match in the tournament against the Dominicans. To the veteran, matches like these just make the team stronger as they keep pushing for the goal of winning an Olympic medal.

“We knew it would be a difficult match,” she commented. “They are great blockers and played a really strong game, especially with their passing. It’s important for us to face these kinds of adversities and fight our way out of them. The Olympics are like this – there are no easy matches and each opponent we face presents us with an opportunity to improve.”