“We’ll make you proud.” This is the salutation Kerri Walsh gave just before ending her recent interview with Volleyball magazine. And from what we can tell, she means it.
The two-time Olympic Gold medalist, three-time World Champion and now mother of two, recently reunited with her partner-in-crime Misty May-Treanor to attempt an unprecedented third beach volleyball gold medal, which would effectively cement their position as the best beach volleyball duo of all time.
But before Walsh can even start to think about being draped in that most precious of medals once again, she has a long and likely difficult road ahead of her. Much has changed in the professional beach volleyball landscape since her last Olympic victory in Bejing, China, in 2008, and perhaps more significantly, Walsh’s personal life has recently taken a turn into motherhood. The 6 foot beauty chatted with VBM about these topics and more on a recent Friday afternoon.
A Long Journey Ahead
“We know that we have some dog fights ahead of us and I’m really confident that we’re going to win that. We’re going to win the battles and the war,” Walsh said about the next 13 months leading up to her and May-Treanor’s ultimate goal, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England.
“There’s so much great competition and there’s a couple teams that we’ve been training against that I haven’t seen before: and they’re good,” Walsh said. “The game is so physical now and when there’s a lot of physicality in the game you really have to come prepared for battle every single time.”
Helping them in that preparation for their Olympic run is beach and indoor volleyball coach Marcio Sicoli. A native of Brazil, Sicoli is no stranger to the Olympic arena. Currently working as an assistant coach with the Pepperdine women’s volleyball team, Sicoli was an assistant coach for the Brazilian Olympic women’s beach volleyball team from 2000-2004, where hall-of-famers Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar earned a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens (behind Walsh and May-Treanor).
Although he is younger than both of his pupils, the two say they have an immense amount of respect for their coach and are looking to him to guide them in their quest for a third Olympic gold.
“His wisdom is well beyond his years,” Walsh said. “There’s also a youthfulness and enthusiasm that is really contagious. He makes practice every single day really fast, really challenging.”
Walsh, whose first comeback competition with May-Treanor was the FIVB opener in Brazil, and netted them silver behind Brazil's Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca, said she admired her coach for his patience, wisdom and big picture perspective.
“He is priceless,” Walsh said. “Not only is he a good man but he is also an amazing coach. I truly believe that he is a genius when it comes to…molding our game.”
Although Walsh has an intimate knowledge of the game and the competition process, she does have to grapple with one new and life-changing aspect since the last Olympic Games: she is now a mother of two young boys. Joseph and her youngest, Sundance, were born just one year apart, in May of 2009 and 2010 respectively. Although Walsh said her body feels strong, she acknowledged the significant physical and mental shift within.
“For a long time I felt kind of hollow,” Walsh said. “I don’t even really know how to explain it. You literally have something filling your body for so long and then you have the baby and you’re left with this kind of shell.
“So I’ve looked at this as a chance to rebuild. I feel like I have a new body,” Walsh continued. “But with that new body, my timing with volleyball is a little bit off because my shoulder is moving differently, my legs are moving differently. I need to get to know my body more and play a lot of volleyball.”
Since their official announcement together on March 6, Walsh and May-Treanor have started training with Sicoli on a regular basis, and Walsh notes his process of progression as an extremely effective training method. If the duo is working on setting, for example, they typically perform three drills per skill. The first is very basic, perhaps working on footwork, the second incorporates footwork and hand position, and the third is the complete skill, running to the ball and setting.
“I really love the way he does that because you get the elements of each skill and focus on it,” Walsh said. “You can see, ok, my feet are great but my hands are terrible. He’s talking you through every one...and it gives you the ability to auto correct yourself. Your coach is not on the court and he’s not going to be there with me all the time.”
Baby on Board
Someone who is going to be there all the time is Walsh’s husband, Casey Jennings, and their boys. Jennings is also hoping to qualify for London with partner Kevin Wong, and the two will travel together throughout Europe while they compete in the FIVB beach circuit, coming back stateside for competitions when necessary.
With the demise of the AVP last summer, competing abroad has become necessary for Walsh and many other American beach players. Walsh is a two-time AVP MVP (2003 and 2004) and was named the AVP’s Best Offensive Player in 2003, but is also no stranger to the FIVB circuit, where she was chosen as the FIVB’s Best Hitter, Best Blocker and Sportsperson along with MVP accolades in 2007.
As if training and competing overseas is not hard enough on the tour’s players, the logistical issues of traveling with two small and energetic children adds another layer to the mix.
“We’re going to be a traveling circus,” Walsh said with a laugh. “Misty’s on board and Kevin Wong’s on board and we’re going to use all the help and resources we have.” Walsh’s younger sister is going to travel with the group and serve as the nanny. “We wouldn’t be able to focus or accomplish any of our dreams if our boys weren’t there with us. We wouldn’t be able to breathe. They’re a big part of our team.”
Walsh acknowledged the fact that bringing her children around the world will be an exciting adventure, but is also an incredibly daunting task. She said the family has recently been flying short distances along the U.S. West Coast, and one hour flights are challenging, even if the boys behave perfectly.
“It’s really tough to ask a child that age to sit down and be still for one hour, let alone ten hours to Europe. We’re nervous,” Walsh said. “But once we’re over there we’re going to be over there. We’re going to be focused and my sister has so much love in her heart for these boys, so we’re going to be OK.”
Walsh also said that her fellow beach players have expressed excitement about the boys traveling with mom and dad, and have extended generous babysitting offers. “We’re definitely going to take [them] up on that!” Walsh exclaimed.
Although parenthood is still new to the couple, their relationship reached the decade mark this April, and Dec. 4 will mark six years of marriage.
“I don’t even know what to say about my husband. He’s beyond anything I ever could have imagined or dreamt of, as a husband, as a father,” Walsh said about Jennings. “And as an athlete, I’m his biggest fan. And not because I love him so much, but because I respect his game and his work ethic and his attitude.
“He’s affected me in every area of my life,” she continued. “He’s helped me become a woman, he gave me my children, and for that I’m just so blessed to have him. He’s just on my team. He’s fantastic.”
Can It Be Done?
No one knows what the Olympic future looks like for Walsh, and she has been outspoken in her dissatisfaction with the way the new qualification process is being handled (see page 36 for the full story). As of press time, nothing had been set in stone, and Walsh and several other players are trying to make their grievances known to officials.
“We were very vocal about what our viewpoint is on the trials and offered a compromise of what we think it could or should be,” Walsh said. “It’s really frustrating because we’re so close to season and it’s such a huge distraction and such a huge stress.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on and our conviction is something really special to witness. It’s certainly emotional but we speak from a lot of experience and wisdom and so we feel that we’re not wrong in this situation and we’re going to continue and do what’s best for our sport.”
Kerri Walsh says…
“I think simple is better. Get rid of as much processed food as you can and eat as many greens foods as you can. I also don’t think you should deprive yourself of every wonderful thing out there. Eat a rainbow of colors each day, and it really makes a difference. It’s the difference between driving a Pinto and driving a Ferrari.”
Notes from Marcio
In the August 2010 issue of VBM, Kerri Walsh’s coach Marcio Sicoli provided us with a setting drill. Here are some of the tips and insight he offered to our readers.
“If you take a look at beach volleyball since the first Olympic games in 1996 until today, you will see many significant changes. These changes range from the size of the court to the height of the players, and include the heightened athleticism and professionalism of the game and its players. Based on that, training and key points have also changed and might keep changing through the years with the continued growth of the sport. How many times have you heard your coach telling you that the key to success is to win the battle of serve/receive? The beach short courts made it really tough for teams to break the opponent’s pass and then create an on-system team more often. In other words, the difference-maker nowadays is setting. Not only in serve/receive but also the short court created more rallies and more transitions. Therefore it is doubly important to focus on creating a good quality swing for your teammate to score a point.”
≥ Refer back to the August 2010 issue of VBM to see the four drills Sicoli provided for setters.
Originally published in June 2011