LOS ANGELES -- Kerri Walsh, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball, has seen her life change significantly since the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
In 2009, she gave birth to her first son, Joey. Within a year, Walsh and her husband, Casey Jennings, welcomed a second son, Sundance.
Starting a family and preparing for the London 2012 Olympic Games has been a new experience for Walsh.
But she has plenty of energy for someone making a run at her fourth Olympic Games.
Walsh spent part of a recent Wednesday afternoon visiting with students from the Los Angeles Unified School District at Daniel Webster Middle School and running some volleyball drills. After high-fiving each of the students and hearing the chants of “U-S-A ... U-S-A” ring through the gym at the school, Walsh left to pick up her own boys, doing her best to balance the duties of being a mom and an Olympian.
With the backing and support of Procter & Gamble, Walsh will have some extra support as she prepares for a run at the Summer Games in London. She was selected as one of 28 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls to be sponsored by Procter & Gamble.
These athletes will represent 13 iconic Procter & Gamble brands, including Tide, Crest, Duracell, Gillette, Pampers and others at the London 2012 Games. These world-class athletes are part of the company's global campaign that includes sponsorship of more than 150 athletes around the world.
“It’s huge," Walsh said. "This partnership is special to me on a lot of levels. To be on their team and in their family, that’s, to me, my life. They’re helping me chase my dreams. I have their power and their heart behind me now. They’re allowing me not to have a 9-to-5 job. They’re allowing me to focus on becoming the best athlete, the best representative of Team USA that I can be and that to me is huge.”
Procter & Gamble also launched the Team USA Youth Sports Fund with a goal of raising $500,000 though the 2012 London Games. Procter & Gamble will donate $1 up to $100,000 for every new "like" of their "Thank you, Mom" page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thankyoumom).
“On behalf of the United States Olympic Committee, I’d like to thank P&G for supporting and promoting the incredible athletes of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun in a news release. “We are also grateful for P&G’s commitment to youth sports through the P&G Team USA Youth Sports Fund. Providing young people greater access to sports will help develop the next generation of athletes and spread the Olympic Values of excellence, friendship and respect.”
Walsh said, from her perspective of being a mom and an athlete, it made sense to partner with Procter & Gamble and Pampers.
“I’m a new mom," Walsh said. "I'm really proud to work with Pampers. It’s a good fit. My life has changed significantly since Beijing. With P&G’s commitment to moms and athletes and families, that’s exactly what I am now. That’s exactly what my priorities are."
Walsh and Misty May-Treanor won gold medals in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and repeated as Olympic champs four years later in Beijing. The pair has yet to lose a match in Olympic competition, but they might be challenged in London. They are ranked No. 2 in the FIVB beach volleyball world rankings in a sport that has seen tremendous gains in popularity and skill.
Walsh said she has changed her mental approach to the sport, something that has been holding her and May-Treanor back the past couple of years.
“The older I get, the more I am understanding the mental part of the game,” Walsh said. “Last year where I felt Misty and I were weak, when we finished No. 2 in the world, was not physical at all, but it was mental. We didn’t have that confidence that we had in the past. I think part of that was because we took a couple of years off. The world got better in those two years.”
Another change to women’s beach volleyball in the Olympic Games is the uniforms. Women will have the option to wear shorts and T-shirts or the traditional bikinis as in the past. Walsh and May-Treanor will continue to wear bikinis in competition. The uniform change was implemented to make the sport more inviting to countries and cultures that prefer female athletes to wear less-revealing attire.
“I think it’s great,” Walsh said. “It just makes it more inclusive for the entire world. There are people who have cultural limits [that are different] from my own. They would never feel comfortable going out and competing in a bikini.”
Walsh and May-Treanor won the gold medal in Beijing beating a team from China. Brazil, Italy and the Netherlands are expected to have strong teams in the London Games. The teams from Germany should also be in medal contention.
“Their consistency hasn’t been that great, but they’ve always been really good,” Walsh said about the beach volleyball teams from Germany. “They can be unbelievable or they can be so-so. They’re way more consistent now and they’ve always been a challenge for us.”
Walsh and May-Treanor have essentially locked up a spot on Team USA this summer as they are the top-ranked U.S. team in points standings and need to compete in one more meet before June 17 to fulfill qualifying procedures for London.
In addition to competing with May-Treanor in beach volleyball at the last two Games, Walsh was on the indoor volleyball team in 2000 for the Summer Games in Sydney. Walsh said she feels great and might have a couple more Olympic Games left in her.
“My heart is in it, which is the No. 1 sign to me that I have a long way to go,” Walsh said. “I’m 33. I’ve been in this sport for a long time, but I love it more than I did when I first started. I feel refreshed. Winning a gold medal in London will be a dream come true, knock on wood. Winning a gold medal in Rio would be unbelievable and I’m never going close that door.”