10 Things You Didn’t Know About Olympic Beach Volleyball Player Kerri Walsh-Jennings
As one-half of the legendary team also starring Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh-Jennings is instantly recognizable as one of the greatest beach volleyball players in the world.
Together, they’re defending Olympic champions who won gold medals in both the 2004 and 2008 games, and they’re looking to repeat their success for a third time in London this year.
Despite the fact that Walsh-Jennings has been a fixture in the past two Olympics and is synonymous with her chosen sport, there are a few things about her you may not know. Check out our roundup below.
FAST FACTS ABOUT KERRI WALSH-JENNINGS
Walsh-Jennings was born in Santa Clara, California on August 15, 1978 to Margery Lee and Tim Walsh, a former pitcher for the Oakland A’s. She stands at a whopping six feet, three inches tall.
Her official website is here, Facebook page, which has more than 61,000 likes, is here and her Twitter account, with more than 18,000 followers, is here.
SHE WAS AN EXTREMELY SHY CHILD
According to her mother, Walsh-Jennings was a painfully shy child who barely spoke the first five years of her life. Instead, older brother Marte did most of the talking for her.
As Walsh-Jennings grew, she began to excel in sports, but was still reserved. She quickly became capable of propelling teams to victory, but wasn’t exactly a vocal leader.
When she was a sophomore at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Walsh-Jennings played against May-Treanor for the very first time and was starstruck by the older, more accomplished athlete. “It was magical watching her,” she said. “She could do anything.”
Walsh-Jennings wanted the older girl’s autograph but was too shy to ask. So, she asked her teammates to have May-Treanor sign a towel. But when she tried to give the towel back, Walsh-Jennings ran away in embarrassment.
SHE BEGAN BY PLAYING INDOOR VOLLEYBALL
While attending Stanford University, Walsh-Jennings played indoor volleyball and was All-American four years in a row, leading some to consider her as one of the greatest collegiate players of all time. In addition, she won national titles in 1996 and 1997, was Final Four MVP in 1996 and co-National Player of the Year in 1999.
But Walsh-Jennings was unsatisified after her stint on the 2000 US Olympic indoor volleyball team, which placed fourth in Sydney. So, she turned to beach volleyball as a new outlet.
SHE DISLIKED BEACH VOLLEYBALL AT FIRST
After partnering with May-Treanor, Walsh-Jennings initially found it difficult to master the dynamics of beach volleyball. “I looked like an idiot at first, I really did,” she said. “I was kind of intimidated by the beach. Weird, huh? It was just a different world.”
She said things were looking “bleak” after two months of practicing and she even considered quitting the sport altogether. But after a year, the two athletes finally began to gel as a team.
“I was kind of looking over my shoulder, figuring Misty was going to pick up someone else, and that would be understandable,” she said. “So I’m not sure if she thought about it, I assume she did, but she decided to stick with me, and I’m very fortunate.”
SHE TOOK TIME OFF TO RAISE A FAMILY
After their amazing wins in Athens and Beijing, both athletes took a sabbatical. Walsh-Jennings had a son in 2009, and another boy in 2010 with husband and fellow beach volleyball player Casey Jennings. The decision to quickly have children, she said, was driven by her desire to continue as a pro athlete.
“As a professional athlete the lifespan of my career is, unfortunately, pretty limited,” she said. “I felt that having my children back-to-back would enable me to make the most of my time in the sand.”
And now that Walsh-Jennings is the mother of two boys, she wants to set a good example for her children and show them the importance of hard work, dedication and following one’s dreams.
“I hope after London they know that their mom is a three-time gold medalist and she is one tough cookie,” she said.
THE TEAM ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT TO LONDON
While Walsh-Jennings was ready to go for gold again after the birth of her two children, things looked uncertain for May-Treanor. She ruptured her Achilles tendon during practice for an appearance on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons on the sidelines. Her future in beach volleyball looked uncertain and she considered retiring permanently.
So, Walsh-Jennings began practicing with another partner, Nicole Branagh. But in early 2011, May-Treanor decided to return to the sand one last time and the two reunited. But, putting the team back together hasn’t been easy.
IT MAY BE DIFFICULT TO RECAPTURE GOLD
The women will have their work cut out for them in the upcoming games. They aren’t favored to win gold and are ranked third at the moment, behind Xue Chen and Zhang Xi of China at number two and Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva of Brazil at number one.
“Misty has been through so much, with her Achilles injury and rehab,” explained Walsh-Jennings. “We had a really terrible start to this year. We’ve played not our style of beach volleyball. We’ve played tentatively and we’re thinking too much. It’s just the mental aspect that we’re having problems with.”
So, the athletes hired a sports psychologist to help them overcome their difficulties. And now, Walsh-Jennings feels as if gold is within their grasp. “I feel like we’re so close to magic. It’s right around the corner,” she said.
SHE REFUSES TO DITCH SKIMPY BIKINIS
Feeling pressure from countries where modest attire is preferred, the International Volleyball Federation has recently designed uniforms that don’t show as much skin as those in the past. However, Walsh-Jennings and May-Treanor will be sticking with two-piece bikinis because they allow greater movement and cause less chafing.
“It’s something I really feel comfortable with,” Walsh-Jennings said. “It’s something I feel empowered by, not distracted with. I’m not a sex symbol; I’m an athlete. I want to be streamlined out there.”
SHE MAKES BIG BUCKS
In 2006, Walsh-Jennings became the fourth American woman ever to make more than $1 million in sports earnings. As of last year, she had grossed almost $2 million in tournament wins, sponsorships and endorsement deals (like those with Gatorade and Visa.) Her tidy salary is due in no small part to the growing popularity of beach volleyball over the years.
SHE’S CONSIDERING ‘DANCING WITH THE STARS’
In the past, Walsh-Jennings has flatly refused to appear on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ like May-Treanor and fellow Olympian Hope Solo. However, she seems to have softened lately to the idea of hoofing on the dance competition.
“I don’t think they have a dancer who’s tall enough for me,” she said. “And I’m a terrible dancer. So I think the answer is no, however, it used to be like 90 percent no, 10 percent yes. Now it’s like 60-40 yes-no. So we’ll see.”
But for now, she’s solely focused on heading to London to win her third consecutive gold. The mirrorball trophy will just have to wait.