At WinForver’s most recent event last week in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to sit down with three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Playing with partner Misty May-Treanor, the duo lost just one set in Olympic competition, winning 21 consecutive Olympic matches. They also set one of the longest winning streaks in sports history at 89 games on the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour and international circuit. Walsh Jennings is a two-time AVP MVP and won the FIVB Best Blocker Award four consecutive years, from 2005 to 2008.
Q: You have three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Did you ever think that was possible?
A: You know, every time I re-signed up for another four years, I thought it was possible. I knew it was possible. Making it happen is another thing, but Misty and I have had a winning recipe. We knew what it took to get there and every four years we would shake things up and we’d keep growing — and that’s how you keep being successful, is evolving and getting out of your comfort zone, and we really did that.
Q: I know some people doubted you and Misty going into London, but you only dropped one set. What obstacles did you have to overcome and how did you overcome them?
A: The public perception of us, for sure. I’ve never been an underdog my whole life and that didn’t sit well with me. That being said, in our heads we knew when we got there that we weren’t going to be the underdogs anymore. But we have other things too … life. I have two kids now. Our responsibilities are so much more now than they had in the past. And the game had grown so much in the two years we took off, so just getting reacquainted with each other after a couple years off and getting reacquainted with beach volleyball. There were a lot of really big challenges.
Q: You and Misty have been unstoppable. What’s it like playing with her?
A: It’s really fun. Her skills made me better and I always wanted to be better because she always carried her weight and I wanted to make sure that I did that. It was a true joy to play with her for so long. We had an amazing ride together — not always pretty, not always effortless … never effortless really, but it was really fun to go to work with her and grow up with her really.
Q: Misty just retired. How much longer do you plan on playing?
A: My goal is to play in the 2016 Olympics and win a gold medal That’s my dream. I’m going to take a year off — I’m pregnant right now — have this beautiful baby and then I feel I have three years of really good volleyball in me. I just want to keep getting better and I feel I have so much more in me. So, once I find my partner in crime, we’ll go to work and we’ll hone our team and make sure we’re on task.
Q: You and Misty will go down as the best duo in beach volleyball, but maybe also the best in all sports. Have you taken the time to reflect on everything you guys have done?
A: No. I think that that’s something that will come maybe when I retire. I think that I’m just so in it right now and so present. I’m so grateful for what we had together and it’s so crazy to be talking in past tense about her. It was only two months ago that we did this together. I feel like we deserve to be in that conversation, and I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. I just know that we had something special. Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, Pippen and Jordan — all these amazing duos — we absolutely deserve to be in that conversation.
Q: I know you played indoor volleyball at Stanford. How did you get into beach volleyball?
A: Right when I finished college, after the Sydney Olympics, I needed a change. The options were to go to Europe and play or to try beach and Misty May-Treanor, one of the best players in the world, was looking for a partner. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I did a gut check, an ego check. I went through a lot of growing pains in the first year, but I stuck with it.
Q: I know you have a cousin in Taylor Formico at UCSB. Have you kept up with how she’s doing?
A: It’s been easy to keep up with her because she’s kicking butt apparently. I’m really proud of her. She’s a fighter and her dad is one of eight kids and he’s probably the most competitive of those eight and it’s really cool to see Taylor take so much after her father, and her mother and [to] see her excel where she’s worked so hard to get where she’s at.
Q: What’s it like being a professional athlete and mom?
A: It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a working mom like my mom. I’m passionate about both things. Obviously, my family is number one and to be able to combine it with something that I’m so passionate about in my career and the sport I love is truly a dream come true and I just want to keep the ride going as long as I can be the best me.