Kerri Walsh Jennings had a lot on her mind as the 2016 Olympics came to an end. She was exhausted from playing back-to-back matches in the Brazilian heat and felt disappointed by her performance, which earned the previously three-time gold-medalist only a bronze, but more than anything, the beach volleyball legend wondered if there’d be a sixth Olympic Games in her future or if Rio would be her last.
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After discussing the decision with her husband, fellow volleyball player Casey Jennings, and getting her kids’ support, it was official: she would compete in the Olympics 2020 and retire a champion. Walsh Jennings knew that a lot could happen in the four years leading up to Tokyo Olympic, but with decades of experience under her belt, she felt prepared for anything.
“We were ready,” Walsh Jennings says. “We were physically so sharp, so in shape, so ready to go, but mentally, we were stressed, and it was like we wanted it too bad.”
Then, just as they were preparing for a tournament in Australia in March, everything changed, and within days, all sporting events across the globe were cancelled. At first, the volleyball player thought fears of an Olympic cancellation were overblown, but when the International Olympic Committee announced on March 24 that this summer’s games would be postponed until 2021, she ultimately supported the decision.
Even as she made sense of the postponement though, Walsh Jennings was struck by what the move would mean for her personally. Instead of competing as a 41-year old, she would now be attending her sixth Olympics at 42. Rather than shift her focus to raising her three kids and running P1440, the coaching program she started with her husband, the volleyball player was signing up for yet another year of training and with the near-total shutdown of American life in the wake of the pandemic, no one was sure what that would look like.
“They took down the nets immediately in Manhattan Beach, where I live, so we went from pre-season to off-season like overnight,” the Olympian says.
Despite its name, though, “off-season” did not mean a break from her busy schedule. Between her three days a week of weightlifting, regular Pilates sessions, and mobility work at home, Walsh Jennings has spent the last four and a half months maintaining her athletic abilities, but even more than that, she’s turned her attention to the parts of her training that happen off the court. A lot of people think that if they just work hard, their bodies and minds will transform, but you have to dedicate yourself fully, she explains.
“I’ve always aspired to live a really healthy life, but it’s even more important for me to walk my talk with my kids,” she says.
At seven, 10, and 11 years old, the Jennings kids have had to adapt to virtual schooling, but their mother, too, has found herself in plenty of Zoom classrooms since March with her P1440 program. An online presence was always in the cards for the beach volleyball platform Walsh Jennings founded with her husband in 2017, but the pandemic expedited it considerably.
“We always aspired to be largely digital because we wanted to scale and be global, and obviously, the live events are finite and very expensive,” she notes. “
Walsh Jennings was worried about going completely digital, assuming that the virtual world naturally meant less, but the transition has actually been quite seamless. The Olympian says. She and her husband have been working on P1440 every day, and they even have a new program coming out in August to showcase the volleyball player’s path to next summer’s Olympics.
The working title is ‘The Journey,’ and we’re inviting people to journey with me to my quest of Tokyo Olympic and inviting them to share their own goals with us, Walsh Jennings explains. I’ll be sharing my real-time journey, and people will be sharing their real-time journeys with us, and we’ll be giving them bite-size lessons in how to develop their minds, bodies, and spirits to fortify them for the journey.
With high hopes for Olympic 2020, Walsh Jennings plans to finish her career on a high note, but as her seat-back pocket discovery four years ago taught her, it’s not about winning or losing; it’s about winning or learning. The medals are amazing, and I’m going for gold, period, she speaks. But the real gold is on the way there.