From Family Life to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings Is Leaving Her Footprints in the Sand
Written By: Annie Kim
Photographed By: Ryan Hensley
Styled By: Janelle Arreola
Makeup and Hair By: Roxy Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings
“I believe in Gold,” states a determined Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings, three-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time Olympic bronze medalist. “I really want that fairytale ending. I want to go out on top, and I want to go out being a bright light and a beacon in the sport.” Although everyone already views Jennings—who currently holds the most career victories leading with 133 wins and is possibly the greatest beach volleyball player to have ever played the game—as the brightest beacon in the sport, she is not yet satisfied. But, that is what makes Jennings great. This is the mindset of a champion, and her story will tell the makings of one.
At the young age of 10, Jennings fell in love with the game of volleyball within the first minute of stepping onto the wooden court outlined in white. At that time, Jennings was sporting dirty blond front bangs and spouting lanky limbs from her slender athletic figure. She had no idea that that was the beginning of an intense love affair, the kind that’s rarely heard of and would later transform into an empowering movement that inspires people everywhere.
Today, people cannot imagine a beach volleyball court without seeing Jennings fly through the air in her signature ponytail braid, embodying all the elements of grace, fierceness and power, as she slams a perfect set down the line with a simple thumb-down turn of her wrist. Before the volleyball even hits the sand, the crowd will already begin cheering. Jennings is a volleyball phenomenon that inspires entire world-class arenas to rise to their feet every time she steps onto the court.
The 6-foot-3-inch Olympian credits her family and support system for her success. “When I was growing up, I was very encouraged, supported and empowered by the love within my family. My parents and everyone I have been surrounded by has given me nothing but support and it helped me believe in myself and that continues to this day,” explains Jennings. “When you’re unconditionally loved and you feel that, it feels like it’s impossible to fail and it makes you braver. I am the product of that.”
After graduating from Stanford University as a student athlete, which was Jennings’ first big dream come true, and playing in her first Olympics in 2000, the fearless ballplayer took her extraordinary volleyball skills from indoors to the beach. “I’m a homebody. I love the Golden State and being near my family. Beach volleyball allowed me to chase my big volleyball dreams,” she says. “It allowed me to partner with my childhood idol, Misty May, and hit all the goals that I was chasing indoors.”
When asked how the duo continued their streak of greatness for so long, Jennings replies, “I don’t know to be honest with you… From the very first moment we knew what we wanted, and we wanted to be the best in the world and…to win a lot. And we never apologized for that. I think we rose to our expectations. I don’t think we allowed our expectations to scare us.”
Throughout the years after May’s retirement, Jennings played with several talented beach partners but her goal of being the best in the world has always remained the same. If anything, the 40-year-old Olympian and mother of three is setting bigger goals to achieve and higher expectations to reach.
Jennings is currently training to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo—and win Gold—with her new beach partner, Brooke Sweat, who Jennings describes as “rad and so ready.” “High expectations are a beautiful thing in my mind,” says Jennings. “I want to always expect and know that I have more in me, and that’s been my journey in sports.”
In preparation for the upcoming Olympics, Jennings upholds herself to a daily routine that aligns her physically, mentally and emotionally. The Olympian is very attuned with her inner self and has purposefully set every workout, meal, recovery session and meditation practice to prepare her body, mind and soul to perform at her best during all hours of the day.
Jennings completes two to three workouts each day. Her training sessions are a cumulation of morning meditations, daily beach practices, pilates and intense twice-a-week strength training. “I like diversity in my training. It keeps my mind and body fresh,” she says. “I have both sides of the workout—the egocentric ones that feel more masculine and gnarly, and then, I have the Jedi ones where it really hones me and allows me to sustain the greatness that I want.”
Meditation, nutrition and recovery—layers that form the foundation of Jenning’s ABC’s—are a big focus for the dedicated athlete. “I believe to be great, you need to have your body, mind and spirit aligned,” Jennings explains. “Every day I talk to God and myself to figure out how I want my day to feel, how I want a certain practice or training session to feel and I try to get totally aligned so that I can live in my best and highest self.”
Without fail, Jennings always starts her day off with meditation. “Every morning, there’s a moment where I am in silence and in solitude, just getting connected to my day and myself,” says the busy mother of three. Then, she has her morning celery juice and coffee with all kinds of good-for-you stuff mixed in and prepares breakfast with her husband, Casey Jennings—who is also a beach volleyball professional —for their three beautiful kids: Joseph, Sundance and Scout. There is no shortage of excellence in the Jennings household. After breakfast, the entire family is off and running by 8 a.m.
With years of wear and tear on her body, including six shoulder injuries and several broken bones, Jennings’ goal is to train more mindfully and with purpose, something she wishes she had done sooner in her career. “I started by running into brick walls and I did that for 15 years. It’s kind of the culture. We’re taught to suck it up and go, and I appreciate that,” explains Jennings. “I’m capable of carrying a big load. I just believe that I can mindfully carry a big load, now. I have better tools to lean on, instead of just grit and bear it.”
Whether it be an everyday beach practice or the final match of an Olympic game, Jennings prepares for everything the same way. Consistency and meditation are important components of Jennings’ success. Meditation helps clear her mind and set her intentions. “The spirit within us is enormous,” she exclaims. “If we create time every day to sit with our spirits, I feel like we’re all unstoppable and we’re all infinitely capable. We just need to create that space within ourselves to know that.”
Throughout Jennings’ successes, it has been another dream for her to share her hard-earned wisdom for anyone else trying to achieve their dreams. Alongside training to win Gold in the upcoming Olympics, Jennings has teamed up with her husband, Casey, to create p1440, a digital platform and event series that goes beyond the lines of the beach volleyball court. The objective of p1440 is to elevate beach volleyball as a community and sport—from broadcasting matches on national television to fighting for higher wages for beach professionals—and provide people of all ages and skill levels with access to the exact resources that are used by elite athletes. The four pillars of p1440—Competition, Development, Health & Wellness and Entertainment—are inspired by the power couple’s way of life.
The pair has access to some of the best experts and resources in the world to help them elevate their game as players and as people. “Through p1440, a huge focus for us is to give people the access that we have to our experts. You shouldn’t have to be a professional athlete to have access to the best,” says Jennings.
The groundworks of p1440 are all the layers in Jennings’ life that helped her develop and perfect the life’s fundamentals. “Everyone who is a master in their craft really does the ABC’s well,” she says. “We are the creators of our lives. I [want] to inspire people to get down the ABC’s of their life and to really customize them so that they can feel good in their days.”
Jennings’ hope is that by providing the community with access to these various options that have been the roots to her success, people can rely on p1440 to figure out what works best for them so that they can live all 1,440 minutes of each day with purpose and win in their game at life.
So, how are champions made?
“Living in the moment. That’s where the richness of life is at. That’s where our power is at as individuals. Not five minutes ago, not a year and a half from now when I’m winning my fourth gold medal. It’s right now,” express Jennings. “It’s right now and what we do with it dictates how our next moment is going to be—and our next and next.”