Winning an Olympic medal is an impressive accomplishment. Winning an Olympic medal while expecting is beyond fathomable to most of us. But for Kerri Walsh Jennings, it’s exactly what happened. Walsh Jennings was five weeks pregnant when she and teammate Misty May-Treanor won their third consecutive gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Having had relatively easy pregnancies with her two sons, Joseph, 4, and Sundance, 2, Walsh Jennings and her husband decided to start trying for their third this past July, right before the Olympics, with the blessing of her sports psychologist and teammate. The couple didn’t expect to get pregnant on their first try, but knew if they did, it wouldn’t likely affect the athlete’s performance. When she was a couple days late for her typically “like clockwork” cycle, Walsh Jennings initially attributed the delay to stress related to international travel and competition. But in an ice bath following a match early on in the games, Walsh Jennings nonchalantly mentioned to her husband that she was late, to which he replied, “That’s how we do it!” she recalls with a laugh. The mom-to-be clued in May-Treanor—“No secrets!” Walsh Jennings insists—but otherwise kept the news quiet. Says the volleyball star, “Aside from getting me really excited and hopeful, it didn’t change a single thing about what I was doing in London.”
Upon returning home with her third gold medal in hand, Walsh Jennings had an appointment with her doctor to verify the pregnancy. “The morning sickness literally happened the day I got it confirmed by my doctor,” she says. “That’s how mental I am.” Although grateful her bun in the oven waited until after the Olympics to give her any trouble, Walsh Jennings was surprised to experience morning sickness at all given her nausea-free history with her previous pregnancies.
Why was this time different? Perhaps because, as the expectant family found out live on NBC’s Today Show, they would be adding their first little lady to their brood. While raising a daughter brings its share of worries—“I don’t want to put any of my B.S. on her … I don’t want to make her crazy like her mama,” she says, confessing she’s harder on the women in her life—Walsh Jennings couldn’t be more excited and is glad to have shared such an intimate reveal with fans. “There are so many people who have gotten to know us through our journey with the Olympics, and we’ve had so much support and so much love. I don’t want that to stop. The way people reach out on Face-book and Twitter, they really appreciate being a part of not only the career journey but of the family journey,” she explains. “When I go with my heart and my gut, I really appreciate that we can share such wonderful news with everyone.”
The professional volleyball player worked to remain strong and flexible throughout her pregnancy, weightlifting twice a week, fitting in pilates whenever possible, and even meeting the girls on the beach once a week for a game. At seven months pregnant, “They were still inviting me,” she reports, “which I’m really grateful for because I was definitely a liability to have on their team.”
After welcoming her daughter in mid-April, Walsh Jennings plans to take about a month off before getting back into her regular fitness routine, under her doctor and trainer’s supervision, of course. “The mindset is to just get back in shape. I’m eager to do it, but I’m not going to sprint. I’m not worried about getting back to my prepregnancy body,” she assures. “I’ll get back on the beach, get my toes in the sand … and keep adding more things to my physical regimen with the intent of getting fit and strong, not going back to my prebaby weight.”
In the meantime, the gold medalist will continue to put the valuable skills she’s learned on the court into practice at home. The strategies and goals of team sports translate remarkably well to parenting: “You have to be able to take care of yourself, you have to be nimble and on your toes and ready for anything, you have to stay positive, you have to be a team player. All of these things that I’ve done my entire life because of sports play into being a good parent.”
Having a husband who’s a professional athlete—he’s also a volleyball player—helps too. “It doesn’t make it easier or less challenging, but I feel like we have a good mindset when it comes to a lot of things.” One of the most important lessons he’s taught her? “‘When you need help, just say you need help’ … Early in my life I used to see that as a weakness, but my husband has shown me that asking for help is a sign of strength. It’s really a gift to the other person to let them help you.”
What’s next for this all-star mom? “Hopefully more of the same,” she grins, “only better.” With the same number of gold medals and children to call her own, Walsh Jennings has already managed to become both the professional athlete and working mom she hoped as a little girl she’d grow up to be. But she has no intention of stopping there: “I want to win a gold medal in Rio [de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympics] …and my whole life I’ve pictured myself having four kids.” If her past is any indication, the exemplary athlete and dedicated mother will achieve the goals she sets out to accomplish – and her fan club will be rooting for her along the way.
Name: Kerri Walsh Jennings
Lives in: Los Angeles
Occupation: Professional beach volleyball player
Partner in crime: Casey Jennings
Favorite television show: Anything on Bravo
Strangest pregnancy craving: Lemonade
First thing she does in the morning: Procrastinates