Kerri Walsh-Jennings. Photos courtesy of WIN for KC
“It’s so powerful to sit here in this room and realize that each and everyone of us are so similar,” a teary-eyed Kerri Walsh-Jennings told the over 1400 people in attendance at the 19th Annual WIN for KC Women’s Sports Awards luncheon, making us truly feel for a moment that we were just like her, a three-time Olympic Champion. “We are all passionate about something, and we are using that passion to grow ourselves and the world around us.”
Walsh-Jennings was clearly moved by the stories of WIN for KC‘s award winners, as we all were – from middle schooler and YMCA volunteer Mikaela Kerr, who hosted a cheer clinic for children with special needs as part of the Y’s Challenger program, to KC police officer and former boxer Shawnie Nix, who now coaches boxing and specifically works with young girls to develop boxing skills in the ring and life skills outside of it.
“Live in discomfort. It’s where true growth happens,” she told the crowd, after opening with a stunning highlight video her husband Casey Jennings had made for her and her partner Misty May-Treanor before the Summer Olympics in London. The beach volleyball duo had struggled in the year leading up to the Games and needed every bit of motivation and positive affirmation they could find.
“Starting in 2012, Misty and I were having our worst season,” Walsh-Jennings told us Thursday night at WIN’s VIP reception, when we asked about handling the pressure of going for a third straight gold medal. “We thought, ‘What is going on? We felt physically fit, but mentally we were holding on too tight.”
Walsh-Jennings and May-Treanor finally admitted they needed help, and turned to sports psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais.
“He started working with us in June and things started changing right away,” remembered Walsh-Jennings, “We had to figure out the right amount of tension and let go of fear – our fear of letting each other down. We came out of it so strong and empowered. I think we had to go through that to get the greatness out of us.”
Indeed, growth had come from their discomfort. When you are a two-time gold medalist, it might be easy to think, “I can only go down from here,” but the duo found a way to go higher, winning again and ending their career as partners with a bang.
May-Treanor has decided to retire from playing volleyball and focus on starting a family.
Walsh-Jennings is excited to “get really uncomfortable” and find a new partner.
“Obviously there are a lot of bittersweet emotions because I love and adore Misty. With that being said, I couldn’t be happier with how we ended our journey together. So now I’m just fired up to find someone new, and I have a couple ladies in mind. I’m just excited to grow. I will never compare my new partner to Misty. We will have our own synergy, it will be fun.”
In the meantime, she will give birth to her third child and first daughter in April. Walsh-Jennings was four or five weeks pregnant at the Games in London.
“We didn’t do the [pregnancy] test, but I just knew. And I was late, so… For some reason, I’d had a feeling I was going to have a hard time getting pregnant this time around, and we knew we wanted to have another right after London. So I thought, ‘Let me try a month early just in case.’”
With her doctor’s full approval to ‘Go for it,’ that’s what she and husband Casey, also a professional beach volleyball player, did. When she started to notice signs of pregnancy at the Games, Walsh-Jennings said it was a stress relief.
“With any big event, there’s pressure and so much stress, so it was so nice to have something totally separate just to have in the back of your mind to calm you and cut the tension. And the fact that we were working on fulfilling another dream, which is growing our family, and that was happening too, it was just really exciting.”
After the couple has their third child in April, Walsh-Jennings will begin working on her comeback, with the goal of finding a new partner and achieving gold yet again in Rio. She will also be working on the one goal that has eluded her thus far: defeating her hubby in a one-on-one match.
“I have yet to win. I’ve won a game but never a whole match. It just upsets me, so I’m going to keep trying until I get him. And I will get him. I will announce it to the world when it happens!” she laughed.
“He is the athlete I want to be. He is so grounded and I’m a little bit crazy. I want to be like him, so I gotta keep playing him.”
There she goes again, looking for the next challenge, with excitement, passion, determination and hope.
Congratulations to Kerri Walsh-Jennings on her growing family, her third gold, and the work she is doing to be a positive influence on others. Thank you for coming to Kansas City and sharing your wisdom!
You can follow Walsh-Jennings on Twitter at @kerrileewalsh
Check out the videos of the 2013 WIN for KC Award Winners:
BKD WOW Award: Barbara Nelson – Barbara has been a long standing Board member for the Kansas City Sports Commission, serving on its Executive Committee and working on many bid and process projects. She co-chaired, with Mayor Kay Barnes, the 1998 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship host committee. She is also the founding member of the WIN for KC Honorary Coaches Program, along with Jean McDonnell and Adele Hall. She took this program over from the NAIA many years ago and brought the program to Women’s Sports and as support for the NCAA Women’s Sports events in Kansas City. The Honorary Coaches Program is still a crucial part of WIN for KC annual fundraising and programming. Barbara is a tireless and tenacious advocate for WIN for KC.
DST Systems Resiliency Award: Ellen Bell – Ellen Bell was literally born to overcome, achieve, survive and be resilient. Born prematurely in 1947 to a poverty stricken family, Ellen was physically and emotionally abused to the point that she lost hearing in her left ear at a young age. Although she faced many obstacles, none deterred her from becoming the person she is today. By working two jobs throughout junior high and high school, she was able to afford her tuition for school, resulting in a college scholarship. She was the first girl in her family to go to college and she received her degree from DePaul University in psychology. Ellen went on to teach for 37 years. In 2008, Ellen was in a car accident that nearly took her life. She sustained life threatening injurires and burns, and spent four months in intensive care. She had to learn to walk, talk and even eat again. Most would not be able to overcome these adversities, but Ellen is the epitome of resilient.
Hallmark Cards Leadership Award: Shawnie Nix – As a member of the Police Athletic League (PAL) of the Kansas City Police Department, Officer Shawnie Nix is transforming the lives of young people. She volunteers her time outside of her responsibilities as a KCPD to enrich the lives of underprivileged youth in Kansas City. Shawnie is a well-respected boxing coach. She works with young girls to develop their skills and talents both in and out of the ring. Besides her support in the boxing ring, Shawnie is a constant figure in the girls’ lives by attending school concerts, dropping them off at home and sometimes staying for dinner.
HCA Midwest Health Systems Youth Sports Girl Award: Makaela Kerr – Makaela Kerr wears many hats. She is a student-athlete, cheerleader, volunteer and role model. At the YMCA, she is a leader for participants in the Y Club with encouragement and guidance. Makaela was also instrumental in developing the Y Challengers Cheer Clinic. Makaela arranged her middle school’s cheerleading squad to host a cheer clinic for children with special needs as part of the Y’s Challenger program. She even hosted practice sessions at her house for volunteers and choreographed dances to allow participants to dance no matter their age or ability.
Sprint Teamwork Award: Terry Mann – Many would say Terry Mann is the face of Kansas City Express, a local women’s running and walking club. Because of her efforts, Kansas City Express has reached far beyond its initial scope when it started 30 years ago. Terry has helped bring sponsorship to the organization which has allowed it to flourish year after year. She has been incremental in the growth of the Mother’s Day 5K Walk/Run which had over 3,000 participants in 2012. Besides her physical presence at Kansas City Express events, behind the scenes she is updating the website and promoting events to get as many women as possible to participate. Her passion for women’s health drives her to volunteer her time. Her continuous volunteer efforts speak volumes about how passionate she is about advocating a healthy lifestyle for others.
UMB Senior Sportswoman Award: Jo Ann Herd – Jo Ann Herd is not your typical grandmother. At 72, she actively participates in Okinawa Kenpo, a type of karate. In the four years she has been practicing, she has become an accomplished martial artist. She has her black belt and is currently training for her First Dan (pronounced Don). She practices up to 10 hours a week, not including the time spent mentoring other students. Her family also attributes their successes to her. Jo Ann helped her son and grandson excel in Boy Scouts and is an official Boy Scout herself.
More about WIN for KC: