With three Olympic Gold Medals, former AVP MVP Kerri Walsh Jennings is the most recognizable name in the sport of beach volleyball since the retirement of her former partner Misty May-Treanor. Recently the world-renowned athlete, wife and mother of three took time out from her busy schedule preparing for the upcoming AVP 2013 Tour to talk with me about the Olympics, returning to the AVP and how she feels like she’s “just scratching the surface” in terms of her development as a professional beach volleyball player.
How did you get started in beach volleyball?
Oh goodness, when I was 22 I had just competed in the Sydney Olympics. It was the year 2000 and I met a girl named Misty May there. I grew up knowing Misty but anyhow, long story short, she was looking for a partner, I was looking for something new and we got together on the suggestion of our parents and in early 2001, I flew down or drove down to SoCal and had a little tryout with Misty and the rest is history.
Did you guys start out on the AVP tour?
No, our first two years together we were exclusively on the FIVB and then we decided to make the jump to the domestic tour and we were so stoked.
When was that?
2003 was our first year in the AVP and that changed everything for us.
What was it like after traveling and playing in different countries to come home and compete on the AVP?
It was . . . stressful! (Laughs) It was crazy, you know when you play overseas it’s a lot more calm and it’s just business. But on the AVP, it’s all your friends and your family and national media that likes to criticize and pump you up and all these things. So coming home was amazing, it was the best thing ever, it opened up so many opportunities for us, but . . . it was a whole other level of anxiety and stress that I had not experienced before in my career.
But it was a good thing, yes?
Ultimately I feel like we found our comfort zone and our rhythm with it and it made us so much better! The AVP from the start has always made my life so much better and richer, more exciting and again, opened up so many doors.
How important is the AVP for athletes like you who go and compete at the highest level in the Olympics?
The AVP is huge to international success, to Olympic success. We’ve been so fortunate, for me at least for the past three Olympics, to have a strong AVP tour. When you have a strong AVP, you’re getting challenged every single weekend.
Can’t you find that challenge on the international tour?
You can go overseas and play in international competition but when you’re home, again, it’s that higher level of anxiety and stress. Plus you’re playing the best teams in the country, which equate to the best teams in the world. So it’s just this lightning in a bottle where it just puts you under the fire, under the gun. You’re feeling all these things and you have to perform every single weekend, so your level of play rises, your level of consistency rises, and with that comes greatness.
What are you looking forward to accomplishing on the upcoming AVP tour?
We have seven stops in 2013 on the AVP Tour; I want to win seven stops on the 2013 AVP tour, that’s my goal. I want to get better every single time I step onto the court. I want to step up to every challenge and hit home runs and just enjoy every step of the way.
Is beach volleyball something that you’re always improving at or are you like, “I’m Kerri Walsh Jennings, I got this?”
No I feel like I’m just scratching the surface! I’ve been playing the sport for 11 years and I feel like I’m just getting going as far as how much more room I have for improvement.
So you always strive to get better?
My love for the sport is unwavering and one of my goals in life is just to always improve and always challenge myself and you know, just be balanced. And I feel like in my career, my skill level I feel like I have so much more room to grow and I can’t wait to be challenged. The AVP is going to give me challenges every single time I step on the court and so it’s up to me to kind of tap into myself and add some tools to my toolkit and make my dreams happen.