ELLE.com caught up with Walsh Jennings over the phone on Friday, just days before the Olympics had officially been moved, to find out how she’s navigating all the uncertainty.
Kerri Walsh Jennings is no stranger to preparing for the Olympics. She’s qualified for the Summer Games since 2000 and has brought home three gold medals and one bronze, making her the most decorated beach volleyball player in history. For the past few months, she’s been training hard to qualify for the 2020 Games in Tokyo—potentially her last Olympics ever—but due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Games have now reportedly been postponed, likely until 2021.
I was fired up for Tokyo. I keep living my life in quadrennials. This is my sixth Olympics that I'm striving for. In my mind, it was going to be my last. I'm 41, and I have three children who are getting older; I don't want to be missing their lives as much as this journey requires. So this was going to be my last run, and it makes me so happy, so proud, so excited. The bittersweetness hasn't really hit yet.
We started training the second week in January, and our first event was supposed to be this week. For beach volleyball, our qualification process began in October 2018, earlier than it's ever started. That could be a blessing because we've had a longer qualification period. Every event on the FIVB World Tour, the international tour where you qualify for the Olympics, counts toward your Olympic ranking. They take your best 12 finishes over the two-year period. We just had tournaments canceled, and we were told that all of May has been postponed, as well.
If the Olympics were to be held today, my partner and I would be the second team in for America. We keep receiving alerts, and conversations are starting about how we all think things should be adjusted moving forward, knowing that there are cancellations, knowing that people can't train the way they normally train. We're trying to find the most equitable, most integrity-filled process, if there are any changes moving forward.
Before all this started, my Olympics training consisted of being on the beach five days a week for two hours with my partner Brooke Sweat, and our two coaches, one of which is my husband. I do strength training twice a week, pilates three times a week, and I have a mobility specialist, as well as performance psychologist sessions. Every day, I wake up and I meditate. It's fully-loaded—body, mind, and spirit.
Last night, we got the call that Manhattan Beach, where we live, is shutting down. We're not supposed to leave, except for the essentials. For training, I have a pretty rad home gym, and we have a great backyard with turf and a mini volleyball court that we can set up. I live with my husband, obviously, and our other coach lives with me as well. In my mind, we’re a family, and we can go and train, and we don’t impact anyone else. I'm trying to get my conscience around that because I know some people don't have access to what I have. I want to be strong for my Olympic dreams, and I want to stay respectful of the current status.
My family really wants to be mindful of the responsibility that we have. We want to set a good example for the community, but staying inside and not letting the kids run free, not letting me run free, I think that's unhealthy. We want to stick to our family principles and our values and our way of life as much as possible, without impacting anyone else.
Ultimately, there's just so much excitement, so much potential that I believe is untapped within me and certainly within my team. I’m just excited to get out and perform on the world's greatest stage. That hasn't changed, even with all of this, with all the unknowns. My perspective and the enthusiasm, the high hopes and high expectations, have not changed. We're going to stay ready and be prepared for anything, whatever changes come our way, as tournaments get put on last minute. Whatever it is, we're going to be ready at the drop of a hat to go and to do our best. It's frustrating, the lack of clarity and the uncertainty. But it's almost a saving grace—nothing is happening right now, so we at least have that clarity. We have this break until May. What do we do with this break? What potential can we shuck out of this pause that we have no control over?
I don't know if the Olympic movement has every experienced anything like this. It's not World War III. It's not any of these things that have gotten in the way of the Olympics before.
My perspective and the enthusiasm, the high hopes and high expectations, have not changed.
Sport is life, in all its beauty and all its heartache. I think the important thing in life is to maintain a good, positive attitude and maintain connection to yourself and to your God, whatever that may be. Have these big dreams. You can't fulfill your Olympic dream today, right? So take care of today and take care of tomorrow and every step of the way, and that'll help you to arrive to your destination in a much more prepared place. You’ll have lived the journey and won’t have been so focused on the end result. My advice to other Olympic athletes is to have a lot of fun, to take it day by day, to focus on what you can control, and know that regardless of anything, you will be okay and you'll be made better by the efforts that you put forward mentally, spiritually, and physically throughout these uncertain times.