SAN MARCOS — At the age of 31, Lynda Morales has already lived the kind of highlight reel most athletes only ever dream of, culminating in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Now she’s ready for her next act as a firefighter—with some beach volleyball on the side.

Morales, 31, spent the fall 2019 semester preparing for the Palomar College Fire Academy—a regimen that included physical training and learning about fire science.

A lifelong athlete, Morales was in her senior year at Cal State Northridge when she got an email from the manager of a professional team in Puerto Rico. Within months she was living in the Caribbean and playing professional volleyball as a middle blocker.

Morales also made the Puerto Rico national team, which was preparing for an Olympic run when she arrived. The team made history by earning one of 12 qualifying spots in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, and Morales recalled the experience as one of surreal encounters and intense competition.

After the Olympics, she started thinking of what would come next.

“I knew I wanted a job that was physical,” she said. “I went on a ride-along about a year ago with the San Diego City Fire Department and loved it, the whole experience—the rush of getting a call, jumping on the engine, going out and helping people. And then hanging out in the station.”

When the time came, she chose Palomar College: “It’s very well-known, in a positive way, as having one of the top fire academies in Southern California.”