When you compete on a worldwide stage in the skimpiest of bathing suits, how shy can you be?
For beach volleyball Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, the answer came crashingly clear just before her second of two nude photo shoots for ESPN The Magazine.
The first time she stripped down while pregnant; the second was a follow-up session posing in the altogether with her new baby last month, about nine weeks after giving birth.
“Driving there I was sweating bullets,” says Walsh Jennings, 34. “I was really, really nervous. I felt exposed, not just physically, but with all of my insecurities.”
The side-by-side results appear in the magazine’s fifth annual Body Issue, on newsstands Friday, along with nude photos of male and female athletes. The sports range from pro football to golf to tennis.
“When I was offered this opportunity it wasn’t an automatic yes. I had to think about it. I’m my parents’ daughter. I have my husband,” she said. “When I came down to it, I had the opportunity to do something uncomfortable. I think that’s an important part of life. It’s something new. I looked at it as a challenge.”
Walsh Jennings says she gained 36 lbs. on her 6 , 2″ frame while pregnant with her third child, daughter Scout Margery. She’s lost most of it, but is trying for 12 lbs. more.
“I have been working my butt off literally every single day,” she says, preparing for her first post-baby tournament in Switzerland later this month. “I’ve come a long way from April when I had my baby. But I’m definitely not where I would normally be going into my first tournament of the season.”
She’ll also have to adjust to competing without longtime partner Misty May-Treanor, who retired after the pair won their third gold at the London Olympics. After joining interim partner Whitney Pavlik in Switzerland and later in Long Beach, she’ll team with new partner April Ross.
Which means the next few weeks will bring one more temporary tinge of self-consciousness. “Before I get my tan,” she says, “I feel naked.”
– Mike Fleeman