Ever since the 2016 Olympics ended in disappointment, Lauren Fendrick has had "Tokyo 2020" circled on the calendar.
But, instead of a seamless transition between summer games, the beach volleyball pro and Carlsbad native is in the midst of her most challenging comeback yet.
It's a comeback all due to one of life's biggest gifts: her first child.
"Not ideal, not ideal at all, but she's a blessing and a miracle and we love her so much," said Fendrick referring to the Olympic timing.
While her American counterparts started competing in the Tokyo 2020 qualifying tournaments last year, the pregnant 37-year-old could only watch from the sidelines.
In June she gave birth to a little girl named "Willa" and although the delivery carried a few complications, she believed it would be just a matter of weeks until she was back on the court training for the Olympics.
Turns out Lauren's body didn't agree with her mental optimism.
"I kind of thought I'll be back for world champs, which was I think six weeks after I gave birth, and there was no chance I was playing in world champs," said Fendrick.
7 months after giving birth, Fendrick is finally feeling full strength again, but she and her partner Sara Hughes have an uphill climb towards earning their Olympic birth.
The United States will only send a maximum of 2 teams to Tokyo, which will be decided by a points system during select qualifying tournaments around the world.
Because Fendrick missed so many of the tournaments during her pregnancy and recovery, she has just about dozen events left to qualify and believes she'll likely need to medal in all of them.
As a 4-sport athlete at Carlsbad High School and Academic All-American indoor volleyball standout at UCLA, Fendrick has spent her entire life pushing her body to the max.
She says she wouldn't be pushing herself this hard towards Tokyo if she didn't think it was possible.
"I just feel like I'm right where I'm supposed to be," said Fendrick.
She leaves for her first qualifying tournament in Cambodia next month, the start of a grueling travel schedule around the globe, while at the same time balancing the demands of being a new mom.
"I've got to make sure she is covered and taken care of with childcare, maybe flying breast milk home, all the things I haven't had to think about before," said Fendrick.
Fendrick says she'll lean heavily on family over the next several months, starting with her husband, Andrew Fuller, who is the head beach volleyball coach at Stanford University.
The couple lives in the Bay Area, but Fendrick frequently travels to Southern California to train with Hughes who lives in Hermosa Beach.
Willa has been along for the ride for most of the travels and often sits in a baby carrier courtside while Fendrick dives in the sand and jumps above the net during training sessions.
With a mom who is 6'1 and a dad who stands 6'9, she'll have all the genetic tools to make a name for herself in beach volleyball one day too.
Fendrick says she'll let her daughter decide whether to pursue volleyball when it comes time because life is full of interesting choices.
And if Willa is anything like her mom, she may just choose to do it all.