Kerri Walsh Jennings has won three straight gold medals in beach volleyball. She and her partner, Misty May-Treanor, are considered the greatest team in the history of the sport. May-Treanor retired after the London games. Walsh Jennings was in Louisville to help promote the 2012 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Final Four which will be played at the KFC Yum! Center Dec. 13-15. After the Olympics she revealed on the “Today” show that while she was competing in London, she was pregnant with her third child.
KENT TAYLOR: You have won three gold medals and two national championships at Stanford. What did that experience in college mean to your career?
KERRI WALSH JENNINGS: It was the start. My time at Stanford paved the way for my three Olympic gold medals, without a doubt. They showed me how to get things done. To be a collegiate student-athlete you have to be on the ball, you have to know how to balance, you have to be a great team player.
All these things, I have taken with me in my career since I’ve left indoor. I enjoyed my time at Stanford and playing in the Final Four. It was some the best times in my life. I have vivid memories of the Final Four teams going out and going to dinner, and you’re checking each other out, just sizing each other up. It’s really a fantastic time and it’s something that you take with you for the rest of your life. You worked so hard as a unit to get to this point and you’re taking on the best in the country.
In December when these girls show up, it’ll be interesting to see how they stand up to that pressure, how they live up to the spotlight, and I think they’re going to thrive.
TAYLOR: Is that Final Four atmosphere unique?
WALSH JENNINGS: Absolutely. My most recent experience in big events has been the Olympics. You have your patriotic pride. When you play for your college, and for your university, and for your region, that’s a huge amount of pressure and excitement.
When you fill up a place like the KFC Yum! Center, it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be factions against each other, and that’s the fun part of this. People wear their colors very proudly and so that’s a really big part of it.
That’s why I think, bring your kids, show them that there is life after grammar school and high school. This is what they should be aspiring for, this is the environment that you can go into and thrive in, it’s really empowering above all.
TAYLOR: Who do you see yourself winning that next gold medal with in Rio in 2016?
WALSH JENNINGS: Mum is the word. I have got myself some time. There are so many great athletes and I definitely have a short list that I would be honored to play with these girls. I need to have this baby and get back in shape so they’ll say yes to me when I ask them.
TAYLOR: How long will it take for you to get back to playing once you have the baby?
WALSH JENNINGS: Get back to playing and playing good are two different things. I’ll probably take a month off after I have the baby, per doctor’s orders, and assuming everything goes well, and then I’ll go back to work. Last time it took me three months before I could play in a tournament, or about 2 1/2 months, so I just don’t know if I’ll be sprinting this time to come back.
TAYLOR: What was your reaction when you found out that you were pregnant while you were playing in London?
WALSH JENNINGS: I was so happily floored. I thought for some reason that it was going to take us months and months, but it happened on the first try and it happened before the Olympics. That was a dream come true. The morning sickness hit after I got home, thank goodness.
TAYLOR: Does it get sweeter every time you win a gold medal?
WALSH JENNINGS: Athens was awesome, Beijing was all work, London was beyond expectations. Rio, let’s talk in 4 years. I plan on making it sweeter, absolutely. It’s kind of how you approach it. It gets harder every time, which it should, the level I hope would grow by a tenth in the next four years, I want to be a part of that.
The challenges make it fun. It’s kind of how you approach the journey. Before I have put my head down and not smelled the roses, not enjoyed this lifestyle that I have and that didn’t make for a fun time. I didn’t really enjoy my time. I loved winning – winning is awesome, but that is so fleeting. You really want to have those memories made and so in London we did it right and I plan on doing it even better in Rio.
TAYLOR: Whenever you bring out a gold medal, everybody lights up, wants to hold it, to touch it; how do you use those to inspire kids?
WALSH JENNINGS: My favorite thing to do with them is to share them, absolutely – not a lot of people have seen gold medals. My first one, I gave to my parents, so they have that, they earned that way more than I did. My second one, I literally have no idea where it is, it’s in my house, I know that. This one I bring around and I’ll share with whoever wants to see it.
I swear to you, everyone who cheered for us has a part in it. It’s sounds so cheesy to say it out loud, but I felt that in London and so to share it and say thank you a little bit is really fun. I think it’s always fun to give somebody something tangible to look it and to feel and to aspire to.
TAYLOR: Is it important for not just the college kids, but the little kids to have someone to look up to, to show them that their dreams and goals are attainable?
WALSH JENNINGS: It’s huge, I think it’s one of the biggest things in life and as a parent, I want to raise my kids to so many levels of inspiration. They are 2 1/2 and 3 1/2, and I want to take them to play with the 5-year-olds, and to say, you’re going to be doing this next.
My parents did such a great job of introducing me and taking me to Stanford when I was in high school and grade school and saying, “Look, this could be next,” and then explaining to me what it’s going to take to get there. That’s why I think having the tournament here in Louisville is so exciting because people can come from so many places and get inspired.
I don’t care if you’re a volleyball player or not, you’re going to find inspiration coming here and you’re going to find the reason why you’re working hard everyday and why passion is so important. I think that is something that is huge in life.
TAYLOR: When is the baby due?
WALSH JENNINGS: April ninth is the due date.
TAYLOR: Boy or girl?
WALSH JENNINGS: We’re going to find out Christmas morning what we’re having.