Six Feet of Sunshine

Kerri Walsh Jennings balances sport and family.

For three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, coming home at the end of the day may mean turning the key to a door in Athens, as she did while competing in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Or perhaps Beijing, as she did during the 2008 games. Or London in 2012. Or Rio, where she will be competing next.

But it is when she and her husband and fellow professional volleyball player, Casey Jennings, open the door to their Manhattan Beach residence that they are truly home. Warm and vibrant with a beach-ready style, Kerri exemplifies the sunny, laid-back disposition of the ideal West Coast inhabitant.

Kerri Walsh Terranea LifeQuick to smile, her enthusiasm is contagious. Her athletic build is a testament to her healthy, active lifestyle—a way of life that’s become synonymous with California.

As a Northern California native and Stanford graduate, Kerri’s decision to make Manhattan Beach her home was first initiated by an opportunity to partner with Misty May-Treanor—but solidified by her quick adaptation to the South Bay and an introduction to her soon-to-be-husband. “The sense of community here made me feel comfortable, Misty made me feel comfortable, and I was in love,” Kerri shares.

Contributing to that sense of community is a team of supporters focused on keeping Kerri geared up for gold. “A lot of people have helped me get to where I am,” she explains. “It takes time to find your team; I have my village.”

Included in that village is Kerri’s coach, Marcio Sicoli, whom the athlete is quick to call “the best trainer in the world.” Also in her close family of support: Contrologie Pilates instructor Kerry Wachtfogel in Manhattan Beach and trainer/performance chiropractic specialist Tommy Knox at OC Fast-Twitch Training Center. Keeping Kerri’s head in the game is sports psychologist Mike Gervais, PhD.

This perfect pairing of unwavering support and Kerri’s own powerhouse of athletic ability, passion and drive has led her to an extraordinary series of victories that includes winning the 2005, 2007 and 2009 FIVB World Championships and taking home the gold in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Kerri’s athletic resume was already stacked, however, well before she made her move to Southern California.

At Stanford Kerri was a four-time First-Team All-American for women’s indoor volleyball and is now an inductee in the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame. In fact it was on the court, not the sand, that Kerri had her first Olympic experience, competing on the Women’s Indoor National Team during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

In addition to making history as a professional volleyball player, Kerri devotes herself fully to another role: mom. At the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Kerri and Casey learned they were expecting. In May 2009 they welcomed their first son, Joseph Michael.

Eleven months later the family of three became a family of four with the birth of son Sundance Thomas. Next came a baby girl, Scout Margery, born in 2013. Kerri was in the early stages of her pregnancy with Scout during the 2012 Olympics in London. “I’ve been blessed with the timing of my pregnancies,” she says.

True to her nickname “Six Feet of Sunshine,” Kerri approached motherhood with exuberance and positivity.

Throughout her pregnancies, Kerri remained active and incredibly healthy. “I was born to be a mom,” she says. “I never felt more empowered than when I was pregnant.”

Like any mom balancing family and career, Kerri’s days start early, sleep is all-too-often elusive, and the calendar is always full. However, she maintains an impressive combination of focus and zen-like composure. She appears driven but not consumed, relaying a calm assurance that she can do it all.

But luckily she doesn’t have to. As part of another winning team, Kerri’s greatest source of support, both in life and on the sand, is Casey. The two met on the beach during Kerri’s early stages of training with Misty. Their first encounter was brief, Kerri notes, “but it all clicked.”

After dating for 3½ weeks, the couple moved into what Kerri describes as “the tiniest little place on Rosecrans Avenue.” In December 2005 they were married. After nearly 10 years of marriage, three beautiful children and countless hours on the sand, Casey and Kerri continue to remain succinct in their ambitions.

kerri-walsh-01“Our goal is for us both to win gold,” explains Kerri—a goal that is motivated both by their individual aspirations and support of one another. “He’s my favorite player,” she says. “He elevates everyone to play better.”

Today Kerri is working on her path to gold with a new partner on the sand: April Ross. And true to her optimistic nature, Kerri exudes confidence and positivity when talking about the duo and their upcoming trip to Rio. “We are very excited,” she says. “We have all the tools to win.”

When Kerri talks about the limitless possibilities ahead, it’s hard not to share in the excitement—and not just for her current quest for gold. There’s an undeniable sincerity in her voice as she talks about the things she’s passionate about. And while her passion to compete is undeniable, even more evident is her focus toward family.

Her face lights up as she talks about her day-to-day and the many tasks that come with being a mother of three. With refreshing honesty, she discusses the hurdles she’s overcome—both personally and professionally—to get where she is today … a genuine reminder that even with immense talent, the greatest achievements come with hard work and dedication.

When asked how Kerri envisions her life after competing professionally, she smiles and says, “I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but right now I’m really enjoying the tunnel. I wouldn’t play if my heart wasn’t in it, but it is.”

Considering the level of success she’s had in the past with a heart full of determination, a fourth gold medal seems well within reach.

Written by Amber Klinck | Photographed by Kat Monk