Kerri Walsh Jennings is considered one half of the best beach volleyball team in history. She's also a working mom who captured the Olympic gold when she was five weeks pregnant with her third child. She jumps, spikes, and dives in a minuscule bikini and say's it's "empowering." But still, the Amazonian athlete admits she was "sweating bullets" on the way to her nude portrait session for ESPN's annual Body Issue just nine weeks after giving birth.
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"I was really, really nervous," the 34-year-old told People magazine. "I felt exposed, not just physically, but with all of my insecurities." On June 25, the day of the shoot, she tweeted, "One of the scariest things I've ever done!"
She said, "For the first shoot, I was very pregnant, and that wasn't as scary. I thought it would be, because I was big and rotund when I'm usually the opposite, but it was really comfortable because I felt almost like I was in costume," in an interview with ESPN. "But for the second, I was two and a half months out from having a baby. I'm supposed to be tight and toned and strong, but I have a lot more work to do."
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Walsh had nothing to worry about. The Body Issue is usually an oogle-fest of sports hunks and babes. But Walsh Jennings's portrait (actually double portrait; it's a split image of her when she was pregnant and then postbirth holding her newborn girl, Scout Margery) presents her as maternal goddess-meets-superheroine. And that's exactly how she felt giving birth.
"Having babies — literally delivering a baby — makes me feel like Wonder Woman," she said. "Everything else seems minor compared to the soul-shaking thing that is labor." While she adds that she can be critical of her body and has been squatting and lunging like crazy to get her famously sculpted "tushy" back, becoming a mom made her love her body more than any win or medal. "I respect my body more than I have in my life. It's not perfect, but I can't tell you how proud I am of my body."
Becoming a mother also helped Walsh Jennings up her game. Before she had kids, she "would eat, breathe, sleep with my career in mind, and it was overkill. When you hold onto something too tightly, you can suffocate it. Now I enjoy my career more, which allows me to play better."
Being photographed for the Body Issue helped motivate Walsh to get back into shape quickly — although she didn't have far to go in terms of baby weight. She gained only 36 pounds — a healthy number for her tall, lean frame. Her doctor permitted her to start training after four weeks in order to allow her to heal fully, though she says she cheated and started light workouts at about two weeks. Being pregnant or a mom has never slowed Walsh down. She trained and competed through all three pregnancies (her two sons Joseph, 4, and Sundance, 3, were born in the interim between Beijing and London), so it's not surprising that she jumped the gun.
Walsh has more challenges ahead. She starts the tournament circuit at the end of July paired with two new players—first, Whitney Pavlik and then April Ross, since Misty May-Treanor retired after the London Olympics. And it wouldn't be a shocker if Walsh Jennings went on to have a fourth kid and still rule the sand in Rio 2016. "We might want babies down the road," she hinted to ESPN.