Kerri Walsh Jennings gets naked

Behind the scenes of Kerri Walsh Jennings' ESPN The Magazine Body Issue photo shoot.

What was it like to pose for the Body Issue?
KWJ: Scary as hell. 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. 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.

How has going through three pregnancies changed you as an athlete?
KWJ: It's made me better. I'm more focused, and I have perspective I never had before. I 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. I'm still hard on myself, but before kids I took it home. If we lost, I would be devastated for a week, and I would punish myself. I still hate losing more than anyone, but I'm not going to allow it to ruin my life. It's liberating -- that freedom to not be afraid to lose.

How have your pregnancies affected your body?
KWJ: My boobs went away; that's the saddest part. But I saw every pregnancy as a time to transform my body, because I was a clean slate. I'm basically a clump of clay, and I mold myself. Now I'm more symmetrical. I have new body awareness. I'm more conscious of my core; that's something I worked hard to get back after each pregnancy. But having babies -- literally delivering a baby -- makes me feel like Wonder Woman. Everything else seems minor compared to the soul-shaking thing that is labor. I'm still a critic of my body -- I'm still a woman -- but 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.

What was it like being pregnant during the London Olympics?
KWJ: It didn't slow me down. It was actually a buffer for me. The games are stressful and can weigh on you, and it allowed me to think about something else -- something positive and beautiful. Physically, I never had morning sickness in my first two pregnancies or in London, but literally, once I got home and took the test and it told me I was pregnant, I started feeling sick. That's how mental I am.

How did your training during pregnancy compare to your normal routine?
KWJ: I did all the same things, just with different intent and different pace. I did the same lifts, a lot of Pilates, played a lot; I just wasn't training for a gold medal. It was fun not feeling like I had to kick my butt all the time.

How much time did you take off after giving birth?
KWJ: The doctors said wait four weeks to allow my insides to heal. We might want more babies down the road, so I didn't want to mess with that. But after two weeks, I started cheating and doing little body weight squats. After a couple days my husband was like, "You have a little gym up here [in the bedroom]." I had a heavy ball, kettlebell, dumbbells, so it'd be 3 in the morning and I'm feeding my little girl and can't go back to bed, and that's what I'd do. I cheated a little, thinking of the Body Issue.

What sort of athlete were you as a kid?
KWJ: The same as I am now. I love sports and competing. I was a sore loser, but I had a smile the entire time because I was always around sports. My brother and I are 11 months apart, so I was his tagalong. I played on his Little League teams, his basketball teams; I was one of the guys, it was so much fun. I dreamt I was going to be the first female professional baseball player, then switched to the NBA, then I found volleyball.

What do you like about your body?
KWJ: It gave me three beautiful children. It got me a scholarship and degree from Stanford University. It has taken me around the world and to four Olympics and helped me achieve my dreams. Physically, I think my best asset is my tushy, but these days I'm frightened of what I see back there. I can't wait to be back to normal. I've been doing a lot of lunges and squats and step-ups. Seriously, the last month everything I've done has been focused on my buns.

If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
KWJ: I'd change my chest. And I might do that down the road, to tell you the truth. Other than that, I've come to terms with my body and I love it.

Have you always embraced your height?
KWJ: I love being tall, because I want to be like my dad. He was a tall, graceful, strong athlete. [Tim Walsh played baseball in the minor leagues.] When I was 9, my doctor said, "Kerri, you're going to be about 5-8, and Marte [my brother], you're going to be about 5-11." And we were devastated. "That cannot be! We want to be like our dad! He's a giant!" We were so bummed because our whole lives, we pictured being in the NBA. A couple months later, we both had microfractures in our feet, I think from growing, and we went to the doctor and they found new growth plates. "Toss that out the window. You guys are going to be gigantic."

What would you define as your edge, mentally?
KWJ: Faith that everything I do is going to translate on the court, and that makes me tough, because I don't care how far down we are, we're still going to beat you. Winning is up to me; regardless of a bad start or a bad run, it's a matter of tapping into myself.

What's the worst thing your body has been through?
KWJ: Labor is, by a million, the most painful, but it's also the most beautiful thing I've ever been part of, so I don't want to rag on that. My last shoulder surgery was the most pain I've had coming out of a surgery. I had a pretty significant tear in my shoulder. I had bone fragments, and they had to shave my bone. I played on my injured shoulder for three months to finish the season, and that made for a more intensive surgery and challenging recovery.

Rio will be my last Olympics. I had the most amazing pairing with Misty, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of becoming the best in the world with a new partner. `

What's the worst thing you've been through mentally?
KWJ: I had a little brother who passed away when I was 8, and he was 3 months old. That changed me forever, and I don't think I realized it at the time. Then when I was a freshman at Stanford, I lost my mother's mother, and it was devastating. Those things rocked me, but you go to your support system and ask for help and lean on people you trust. I have an amazing support system.

What about your body would surprise us?
KWJ: I have two hammertoes on each foot. Growing up, I wore socks to the beach because I was so ashamed, and now I'm a beach volleyball player; it's ironic. Also, I'm deceptively strong. In college, we'd put on plates to do squats, and I was so proud because I have little toothpick legs but could do more weight than most of the girls on my team.

What do you do for motivation?
KWJ: Growing up, my family mantra was "If you love something, go for it with all your heart." That's where the magic lies, when you put your whole self into it and commit to it fully, regardless of fear of failure. I've also collected quotes since I was a little girl. Movie quotes, song lyrics, historical quotes, I collect ones about having faith in yourself and perseverance and discipline. I've filled four or five journals.

What are your plans for 2016?
KWJ: To kick everyone's butt and win the gold medal. I have three and a half years to prepare, so I plan on improving every time I step onto the court, all the way to gold in Rio. And then I believe Rio will be my last Olympics. I don't think it will be an issue not having Misty [May-Treanor]; it's more of adapting. As athletes, that's what we do. I had the most amazing pairing with Misty, and I loved every year, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of becoming the best in the world with a new partner.

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