Kerri Walsh Jennings Won’t Stop Believing

kwjPhoto Credit: Lululemon

After winning three consecutive Olympic gold medals, one might think that a beach volleyball player would be ready to hang up her bikini and retire at the top of her game. Not so with Kerri Walsh Jennings, who is quite possibly the world’s greatest living beach volleyball player. The athlete has competed in five different Olympics and has already set her sights on a sixth, Tokyo in 2020. Although she will be 41 years old, Walsh Jennings, who exuded a contagiously positive outlook on life when she chatted with Haute Living, says “I’m going to go and win. Yes.” The 6-foot-3-inch blonde continues, “I hope that doesn’t sound so arrogant. I do, I believe in putting it out there, that I want that. I believe I’m capable. I believe that if you want something in life, you focus on what you want, and then you resolve yourself to do what it takes to get there, despite setbacks and challenges.”

At the most recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last summer, Walsh Jennings experienced the biggest setback of her career. She and partner April Ross fell to the Brazilian team in the semi-final match. Walsh Jennings took the blame for the loss herself. She had a bad game, didn’t play well, and calls it “a total nightmare.” While she acknowledges that loss is a part of every athlete’s life, as it’s a part of the game, losing this semi-final was the biggest blunder of her career. “My heart was there, my head was there, and physically I wasn’t executing. That was hard on my ego, that was hard on my heart. I feel like I let my partner and my team down, and my family,” Walsh Jennings remembers. “I woke up the next day and I thankfully had another chance to fight, and not to save face but to really, to live by my principles and my values.” After losing, Walsh Jennings and Ross still had one more game to play, the battle for the bronze medal, also against a Brazilian team. This game, the Americans won. “I do always have another chance to make positive an error that I’ve made, and that’s why the bronze means so much to me,” Walsh Jennings says. “I literally went from heaven—it was an amazing tournament—to hell on earth, in about 24 hours, and then that’s what the power of teamwork and the power of the spirit and the power of positive thinking. I believe that that’s why we won that bronze medal, because we didn’t give up.”

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Giving up is not something that’s on Walsh Jenning’s agenda and self-discipline is one of her strongest qualities. Her ability to show up for herself caught the eye of athletic leisurewear powerhouse Lululemon. The brand recently named Walsh Jennings an elite ambassador and collaborator. She was also chosen as one of the seven people to spearhead Lululemon’s first global yoga campaign.

“This is Yoga” is the company’s push to turn yoga into a lifestyle. The idea is that the seven principles behind yoga practice—breath, letting go, meditation, non-violence, self-discovery, trust, and self-discipline—can be applied to any aspect of any life, including Walsh Jennings’ journey as a volleyball player, which has called for incredible self-discipline. “As an athlete who really wants to live an authentic, beautiful, honest life, because I feel like my off-the-court really supports my on-the-court life, I resonate with Lululemon through and through,” she says. “They’ve been getting better and more near and dear to my heart for all the values and the principles they stand by. As shown in the ‘This is Yoga’ campaign, I’m not necessarily a yogi. I believe in it with all my heart, but I have yoga in my life in different ways, and I believe in what they stand for.” Breath and being in the present moment are two other yoga elements that Walsh Jennings incorporates into her everyday workouts. “That is your point of power, is in the now, and I believe that breath takes you there,” she says with a smile. “I absolutely believe in creativity and in body movement and getting in touch with yourself through these things. Very simple but very profound principles that I try to live on a daily basis, and I believe it makes my life and my little world better, which in turn hopefully makes the world around me better.”

kwj2Photo Credit: Lululemon

Making the world a better place for those around her—including her husband and fellow beach volleyball player, Casey Jennings, and their three young children, Joseph, 7, Sundance, 6, and Scout, 3—is something that comes easy to the Santa Clara native. Her nickname is “Six Feet of Sunshine,” and it’s hard not to feel more positive when spending time with her. Like everything in her life, happiness is something that she practices on a regular basis. “Attitude is more than half the battle for me. It’s everything, especially when times are challenging. I had that modeled in my life. I’m surrounded by very positive people, and it’s not BS to me. Being happy and looking on the bright side, people might think that’s naïve,” she pauses. “To me, I really know there’s discipline to it and that there’s data and science that proves, the science of happiness, and that it’s a choice to a large extent. Not that it’s easy and not that people don’t have their own issues, but I believe in it. I believe it’s something that’s in my control, and I take ownership of my attitude.” She admits that living this sort of lifestyle is easier said than done—and acknowledges that she’s far from perfect. In fact, being perfect isn’t something she focuses on, instead she sets her intentions toward growth and consistency.

Having a daily routine helps Walsh Jennings stay grounded in both parts of her life—personal and professional. Getting enough sleep is crucial to her: “I really do believe in sleep as being the number one recovery tool and the number one tool that we can all have aside from a mindset to feeling good every day, and so I prioritize sleep as well.” As is finding peace and solitude at some point in each day: “15 minutes of meditation and just a little peace and quiet to start my day is a beautiful, beautiful gift to me.” She relishes in the chaos that is life with young children: “I signed up for this. I come from a very big family. I was very well aware of the noise and the craziness and the lack of peace that I would have having a family, and I just wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s such an enhancement to my life.”

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Then, Walsh Jennings spends anywhere from six to eight hours training. Her regime is extensive. “I generally train five days a week at volleyball on the beach. I do pilates three times a week. A lot of yoga is involved in my beach workout, my pilates workout. I do a backyard workout to make life easier, too. I lift weights twice a week. I work with a thoracic and hip mobility specialist. I do my mental training. I have physical therapy at least once a week, ideally.” If it sounds like a lot, to Walsh Jennings, it’s not. It’s just her life. “That’s about it,” she says with a laugh after running through her entire gritty routine.

One thing that makes Walsh Jennings unique is her ability to think of herself simply as a ball player—and not as female ball player. She credits the sport, saying that men and women have always received the same amount of money in prizes and thinks that “the men enhance the women and the women enhance the men and it’s a beautiful thing.” She’s also a feminist who is proud to show off her body and compete in a two-piece swimsuit. “It’s a sports performance bikini. I’m not in a string bikini. I’m not trying to show off what I got. I’m trying to perform!” she cries. “What I feel like I’m trying to promote is a healthy, active, fit, positive lifestyle and mentality.”

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She also actively promotes the sport of beach volleyball in general. She’s made it a goal to bring more exposure to the sport. “For me, I want to align myself and my sport with people who believe in us and want to take us to the next level, who believe in the opportunities, the business opportunities, the lifestyle opportunities, that go along with our sport, that are no-brainers—that’s why this partnership with Lululemon is a beautiful thing to me.”

Another thing Walsh Jennings does to help promote beach volleyball? She continues to play. Come 2020, she’ll be the oldest female athlete to compete in the games in beach volleyball. She’ll have a new partner, Nicole Branagh, with whom she played internationally in 2010. “I believe that we’ll do Tokyo even better and more meaningful because I have all that wisdom to fall back on, of five Olympics. What to do, what not to do, how I want it to feel, look, and taste like. We’re on a mission and I’m on a mission to be the best I’ve ever been, alongside my partner. I’m really, really excited.” Although it’s still three years away, Walsh Jennings has her eye on the prize, giving up isn’t an option for the optimist—and she won’t stop believing. “I’m not done yet, so it’s really fun to keep going.”