The Associated Press
In addition to practicing her serve, set and spike, Kerri Walsh Jennings has been getting ready for her next beach volleyball tournament by sitting in on brand meetings, recruiting other players and lining up musical acts.
The five-time Olympian and triple Summer Games gold medalist is a founder of the p1440 tour, a sports and lifestyle festival that will hold its first event in San Jose, California, this weekend. Besides competing for a share of the $300,000 purse — and learning to play with a new partner — Walsh Jennings is also running the event.
“I’m expecting to be nervous and stressed in different ways,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m looking forward to seeing this dream and this vision we’ve been working on so diligently come to life. This is literally my baby, and I want to kick ass.”
The most successful beach volleyball player in history and the sport’s biggest draw in the United States, if not the world, Walsh Jennings had a fallout with the domestic AVP tour over competing visions to grow the sport. She formed her own circuit, naming it “p1440” for her desire to live each minute of the day with purpose.
The beach volleyball tournament on the home grounds of the MLS San Jose Earthquakes this weekend is the centerpiece of an entertainment and wellness festival that will include appropriately named musical acts like Grouplove and Foster the People. Chefs will demonstrate healthy cooking; fitness experts will discuss training methods, yoga and recovery at a health and wellness village.
Walsh Jennings vowed to take some time to enjoy the experience — whether she is competing in the tournament finals, or disappointed with an early loss.
“Oh, hell yes,” she said. “We’re p1440 for a reason. It’s all about living for the moment, and I want to practice what I preach. I want to feel the love and feel all the hard work. This has been gnarly in an amazing way.”
The tour also has stops planned in Las Vegas, San Diego and Huntington Beach, California, with four stops in 2019 planned, including Chicago. Walsh Jennings has been involved in organizing the events, asking out of just one duty: “I’ve told my team I don’t want to be involved in seeding. When I’m at the event, I’m just an athlete. So please treat me that way.”
It’s all keeping her very busy.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
When asked if the planning was distracting her from her beach volleyball career and a chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo , Walsh Jennings said she considered the tour like her fourth child.
“My children don’t interfere. They add another layer to life,” she said, adding that she always has additional responsibilities at events as an endorser and an ambassador for the sport. “This is times 10, but it’s familiar territory in many ways.”
Adding another layer to Walsh Jennings’ life right now: Because she isn’t playing on the AVP tour, she has split with April Ross, her partner when they won the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro; Walsh Jennings won gold medals with Misty May-Treanor at the previous three Summer Games.
For this weekend, Walsh Jennings will be playing with Anouk Verge-Depre , a 2016 Olympian from Switzerland who is without a partner because Joana Heidrich is injured. The two practiced together for the first time last Monday, playing for “an hour and a half of amazingness.”
“Everything I knew about her from being her competitor for so long, it’s so awesome to be on the same side as her,” Walsh Jennings said.
But it’s not a long-term solution, because teammates need to be from the same country to compete in the Olympics together, and the FIVB world tour is where players will earn points to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
“I have no points in the qualification” system, she said. “It’s a new situation for me, which I don’t like.”
Still, Walsh Jennings managed to find something positive in that — like almost everything else.
“We’re outside of the Olympic system. You don’t have the stress that this is do or die. We’re taking off those burdens,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to learn and grow.”