Kerri Walsh Jennings has many secrets to her athletic success. Eating almonds for protein and other nutrients is one of them.
“Almonds have been a go-to since my high school days,” she said, adding that she’s long been a believer in the benefits of a healthy diet. “Two of my three kids eat almonds. They drink almond milk.”
Walsh Jennings will spend the next six months encouraging others to make the nut part of their daily snacking routine or use it as an ingredient.
The almond industry will tap Walsh Jennings, 41, the most decorated beach volleyball Olympian, to be the face of the prolific California tree nut as she aims to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo games.
GOING FOR GOLD
Walsh Jennings won bronze in 2016 to add to the gold medals she won in 2004, 2008 and 2012. The five-time Olympian and mother of three will be shooting to make her sixth Olympics next summer, and almonds will be a key part of her push.
Starting in February and continuing through the Tokyo games July 24-Aug. 9, she will promote California almonds through social media, print advertising and personal appearances, said Richard Waycott, the Almond Board of California’s president and chief executive officer.
“It ‘s so good in so many different ways,” Walsh Jennings told a luncheon audience Dec. 10 at the 47th Almond Conference in Sacramento. “I’m just proud to be on your team now.”
With the nickname “Six Feet of Sunshine,” the Santa Clara, Calif., native and former Stanford University All-American was the beach volleyball career leader in victories at 133 as of 2016 while racking up more than $2.5 million in winnings on the pro circuit, according to a beach volleyball database.
In addition to her Olympic success, Walsh Jennings and then-teammate Misty May-Treanor won Beach Volleyball World Championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
In her appearance at the conference, Walsh Jennings was interviewed by 2004 U.S. Olympic rowing team member Ali Cox, who owns an agricultural marketing company in Turlock, Calif.
Walsh Jennings equated the ups and downs she has experienced in sports with the travails of industry, noting the importance of visualizing a goal, working with teammates and persevering to the end.
One of five children, she grew up in “the most competitive atmosphere,” with her mother excelling in three sports at the University of Santa Clara and her dad also involved in sports, she said.
“I was taught to relish competition and the joy of competing,” Walsh Jennings said. “Love sustains me – love of the game, love of the challenge, the love of processes, the love of personal growth. It makes me a better person and shows me what’s important.”
Walsh Jennings has spent her life as part of teams, starting with traditional 6-on-6 indoor volleyball and then moving to beach volleyball, which is 2-on-2. She played basketball for a time to improve her volleyball skills, she said.
“It’s just been a journey to get to know myself through my partners,” she said. Teammates have helped her refocus when she wasn’t playing well, she said.
LOSING AND LEARNING
“I’ve been an athlete my whole life, and every loss is still with me,” she said. “My most recent visible heartbreak was to get to the semifinals in Rio (de Janerio in 2016) and lose. It taught me that I really defined myself by my results.”
Walsh Jennings and teammate April Ross lost to Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas in Rio before defeating Brazillians Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes to win bronze.
“I always wanted to act as a champion even when we lost,” Walsh Jennings said. “What I came away with is that I needed some humble pie.”
Walsh Jennings would have retired if she’d won gold, she said. But during her flight home, she saw an advertisement in her seat pocket that read, “Either win or learn.”
“I thought ‘I’m going back,’” she said. “I’m just a deeper, more compassionate human because of the challenges in my life.”
In entrepreneurship as well as in sports, Walsh Jennings said partnerships are important. “You often hear there’s strength in numbers, but actually there’s strength in alignment,” she said.
She urged people to think about their goal, “don’t ignore the bad but think about where you want to be.
“Our mind is a garden,” she said. “We either become a flower or a weed.”
Walsh Jennings isn’t the first Olympian to be enlisted as the pitch-person for a California commodity. Swimmer Natalie Coughlin, who tied the all-time record for medals won by a female U.S. athlete, handled promotions for what was then the California Dried Plum Board for several years beginning in 2010. The board has since reverted to the California Prune Board.
Coughlin touted the nutrition and energy-boosting quality of prunes in women’s magazines and used them in cooking demonstrations online.
For its part, the Almond Board last year enlisted Julie Ertz of the U.S. women’s national soccer team to help with promotions.