Serving It Up: Q&A with Kerri Walsh

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA – SEPTEMBER 20: Kerri Walsh Jennings warms up on the beach prior to her match at the AVP Championships at Huntington Beach on September 20, 2014 in Huntington Beach, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

She’s one of the winningest beach volleyball players of all-time and is still getting it done.  With three gold medals under her belt, all coming in each of the last three Summer Games, Kerri Walsh is preparing for number four in Rio next summer.  

This time though, she’ll be age thirty-seven, with a new teammate, April Ross.  Along with that, Walsh and husband, Casey Jennings, have three children.  Being a mother and competing in the Olympic games is not your usual athlete’s story.  Then again, Kerri Walsh is not your usual Olympic athlete.  

She dominates her sport, she works seemingly harder and harder as the years tick on, all while juggling the duties of a doting mother.  Walsh recently joined Temperpedic’s campaign, "You’re Important. Sleep Like It", recognizing mothers and the work they do.  Of course, Walsh is the perfect person to represent hardworking mother’s who deserve rest.

At this point in her career, Walsh recognizes the importance of taking care with her body, along with taking care of her family.  Rest is a key part of her training, as she preps for Rio in 2016, she’s as locked in as ever, only this time she’s bringing a bigger cheering section.

How do you juggle the seemingly impossible feat training for Olympic competition and motherhood?

You know it’s pretty wonderful because it just makes you take stock in what you’re doing.  My kids are going to know what I do.  I see that when I mess up and say a bad word and they’re like "oh my gosh!"  I have to pay attention to what I’m doing because for my kids, I’m their role model.

It’s the biggest blessing in being a parent that you guide your kids, but with that comes a lot of responsibility.  

And looking forward to next year, how are you preparing for Rio in 2016?

I’m focused on my physical training, my metal training, my recovery when it comes to sleep and physical therapy.  I’m taking care of myself from head to toe, working hard to be the best teammate I can be for April Ross, my partner on the court.  

Nothing works if I’m not taking care of myself healthwise and with my family.  That’s my heart.  That’s my spirit.

Family first.  It’s just really fun chasing this journey with my three little ones – along with my husband.

So as a person very familiar with a successful team structure, what to you, makes for a great duo?

I think respect needs to be the foundation of any great relationship.  I think you need to be on the same page with the same goals.  You need to be looking in the same direction.  If someone wants to go left and you want to go right, that’s a recipe for disaster.  And I think you just need to put your head down and go to work.  

I think hard work, respect and a good attitude will take you really far in life, no matter what goal you’re chasing.

Certainly for me on the court, I’ve been blessed with partners who have all the intangibles as far as great attitude, work ethic, grit, determination – all these things money can’t buy, but they also work their butts off to be the best they can be.

My team at home, with my husband and my kids, it’s so fun.  We’re doing this together and it becomes a fun challenge, not daunting.  

What other duos have you liked watching as a sports fan?

I grew up in the Bay Area loving the Warriors, but I became a Spurs fan because they are the ultimate team and have been for so long.  So, Duncan and Parker (and Ginobili) so not just a duo, they have the trio.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch when you have a great team, and the Spurs embody that for me.

I grew up with Jerry Rice and Joe Montana.  They were amazing.  Same with Peyton Manning and whoever his receivers are.

I feel like whole life I’ve focused on the greats.  The greats elevate everyone’s play level.  That’s what I aspire to do in my life and my career.  It’s fun to watch and to learn from everyone.

Now, you’ve played all over the world.  How perfect of an Olympic location is Rio for beach volleyball?

It’s like a dream come true.  Aside from playing in Manhattan Beach, California, Copacabana is where I want to be playing and fighting for a gold medal.  

It’s a Mecca of beach volleyball down there and they love the sport with all their hearts.  There’s a huge love/hate relationship between the Brazilians and Americans.  

The level of play for beach volleyball for men and women is insanely high.  In order to win this gold medal, April and I need to be extraordinary and that’s what we plan to do.  

We need to qualify first.  That’s what this year’s all about.  

Taking a look at the expected field, which other countries are you looking for to offer up the best competition in Rio?

In the past it used to be the US and Brazil and maybe China, and the list is very, very long.  The primary opponents other than the Brazilians would be the Germans, the Chinese, the Italians, the Swiss, the Australians…it really is a long list.  The world has embraced out sport.

There are no easy matches.  There are twenty-four teams and every one is going to be capable. 

I’m a firm believer in that if April and I have all the tools, and we do our jobs, we can make it happen.

With this to be your fifth time, what it is that you look forward to most in Olympic competition?

I want to say winning, but you know, it’s just the whole Olympic spirit.  The Olympics are such a unifier.  Anything that brings our country together.  Anything that brings the world together.

I know there’s always politics involved, but I think the Olympics are a pretty pure movement and it’s really a fun thing to be a part of.  Fighting for a gold medal for the best country in the world is one of the most humbling and inspired things I’ve ever done.  And I hope to do it again.

The whole experience is just priceless, and I’m there for one reason.  That’s to win.