Nicknamed “Six Feet of Sunshine,” 6-foot-3-inch Walsh Jennings grew up in northern California with an athletic father, a minor league baseball player, and mother, a two-time MVP in volleyball at Santa Clara University. Walsh Jennings eventually followed in her mother’s footsteps. She earned a volleyball scholarship to Stanford University and became the second player in NCAA history to receive a First-Team All-American title in every season that she played, from 1996 to 1999. That alone secured her reputation as one of the best all-around volleyball players in college history.
After Stanford, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American studies, Walsh Jennings joined the U.S. National Team for indoor volleyball and competed at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, finishing fourth with the U.S. Olympic Team. She switched things up in 2001 and turned to beach volleyball, pairing up with Misty May-Treanor, an athlete whose autograph she once received as an aspiring player. Together, they were nearly invincible. In 2002, they were both named Federation Internationale de Volleyball Tour Champions and in 2003 "Team of the Year." Walsh Jennings was also named the Association of Volleyball Players' Best Offensive Player and MVP (the first of two MVP titles) in 2003, the same year she joined Team Visa, a group of world-class Olympic and Paralympic Games athletes who embody Visa’s values of acceptance, partnership and innovation. Through the Team Visa program, Visa has supported more than 1,000 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls by providing them with financial and marketing support in the run up to and during the Olympic Games.
Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor entered the Athens 2004 Olympic Games following an 89-game winning streak and beat the Brazil team to win their first Olympic gold and the first women's beach volleyball gold medal in U.S. history. A year later, Walsh Jennings married U.S. men’s beach volleyball player Casey Jennings. Today, they live in southern California with their two sons Joseph and Sundance and youngest Scout, now 3 years old.
Walsh Jennings joined her partner in sport May-Treanor at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and won Olympic gold again. They continued to dominate and in 2011 earned a gold medal at the Beijing Grand Slam, first place finishes at the Moscow Grand Slam and A1 Grand Slam, a silver medal in the FIVB season opener and a second place finish at the World Championship. The following year, they clinched their third consecutive Olympic gold medal in London. May-Treanor retired soon after.
Walsh Jennings heads to Copacabana beach for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a new partner and fresh outlook. “I’m doing this for a very clear reason,” she continued to tell Sports Illustrated about her fifth Olympic Games return, “and that’s because I have more and better inside me and I’m curious to see what that looks like…we’re in it to win it."
Theresa Gonzalez is a senior writer for Visa and the author of two Chronicle Books titles. She lives in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @theresagonzalez.
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