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Hometown Hopefuls: Monique Matthews, Oklahoma

Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.

Monique Matthews is aiming for a three-peat. The two-time Paralympic gold medalist led the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team to victory at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio and the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. When it comes to the Games in Paris next year, she says, “There’s so many uncertainties, but we’re excited to keep pushing.”

For Matthews, the win in Rio – her first gold, and the first sitting volleyball gold for the United States – was a shining moment, but all of her medals have been memorable. Four years before, Team USA finished second at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. That silver was still a high for Matthews, who had only been playing sitting volleyball for two years at that point. “The rest of my team was really sad and distraught, but I was actually excited, because that was the highest I’d ever finished.”

But winning gold? Matthews says it felt like dreaming. “It’s unreal. It’s the crowd cheering and then your teammates, everybody’s so excited.” In Tokyo, although there wasn’t a crowd because of the pandemic, the first-place finish was just as exciting. And yet, Matthews is looking forward to celebrating her next gold medal not only with her teammates, but also with friends, family, and fans.

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Matthews is used to playing for a crowd. Growing up in Ardmore, Oklahoma – about 100 miles from Oklahoma City – she played softball, basketball, and even ran track. “I went to a pretty small school, but I was competitive,” Matthews says. “I was all-state in softball.” In fact, Matthews was planning to go to college for softball when she got into a forklift accident that caused her to lose her foot and eventually led her down the path of becoming a Paralympian.

Matthews still has family back home, but she lives in Choctaw now to be closer to the training site in Oklahoma City. When she thinks about how her hometown and home state have shaped her as a person, an athlete, and a Paralympian, Matthews says, “Not a lot of people think of Oklahoma. But great athletes can come from any state, any stage of life, small town, big town. If you’ve got the push and the drive to be great, you can accomplish anything.”

Plus, she says, there’s that small town pride of being featured in the local paper and all of a sudden, everyone’s rooting for you. “That makes you want to keep going. It makes you feel good that people recognize you.”

Since Matthews started playing sitting volleyball in 2010, the sport as a whole has become more competitive. While the competitive outlook remains unclear for China and Russia, usually two of the world’s best teams, other countries are stepping up. Brazil, Matthews says, is made up of a team of fighters who beat the U.S. at Worlds, and Canada plays better and better each match. The same three countries – China, Russia, and the U.S. – no longer dominate. Instead, the players are pushing themselves and the sport to new heights.

“You just never know who’s gonna come fighting for everything, because you literally have nothing to lose,” Matthews says. “You throw it all out on the court, and you just have to be prepared.”

Team USA has itself been shifting, too, in part because several players have taken time off for pregnancy and maternity leave. Yet throughout the changes, there’s been a through-line of stability — largely due to the fact that many of the women have been playing together for 10, 12, even 13 years — that contributes to natural chemistry and a strong bond on and off the court.

“We have to be able to push each other,” Matthews says. “At times it’s hard, but then it’s great to see our team work through the challenges. It’s a great dynamic. We get along really well.”

As the first U.S. team to qualify for the 2024 Games in any sport, the road to gold in Paris feels both challenging and within reach for women’s sitting volleyball. The biggest hurdle right now? Coming back after Worlds, where the U.S. team placed third — their lowest finish since Matthews joined the team — a result that she calls both disappointing and humbling. And although Matthews has faith in herself and her team, she’s most excited about the chance to get out there and play.

“It’s so much fun. The thrill of it, seeing my teammates do amazing stuff, pushing each other,” she says. “I just love this team.”