Beach volleyball? In her younger days, Stanford grad Kerri Walsh Jennings regarded it as something to avoid, a non-sport.
Four Olympics and three gold medals later, Walsh Jennings has become beach volleyball's biggest ambassador and its most recognizable female figure.
Walsh Jennings and teammate April Ross were officially named to the United States Olympic beach volleyball team recently and will be appearing at next week's San Francisco AVP Open, which begins next Thursday with qualifying rounds on Piers 30 and 32, and continues through Sunday.
With the Olympics just over a month away, Walsh Jennings and Ross are using the Open to fine tune some things in preparation for their quest of gold.
"It has always been my dream to get the AVP back to San Francisco," Walsh Jennings said during a telephone interview Thursday. "This is a special year because of the Olympics and to be able to go home and compete in front of family and friends. April and I are determined to grow our sport."
No one has done a better job of creating world-wide interest in beach volleyball than Walsh Jennings, a four-time All-American, a National Freshman of the year and a national co-Player of the Year while at Stanford, felt like an idiot even thinking about beach volleyball as she joined the U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball team to train for the 2000 Sydney Olympics in 2000.
"Once the time came for a change, I sucked it up and went through the growing pains," Walsh Jennings said. "And there were growing pains."
Misty May-Treanor teamed with Walsh Jennings for the first three gold medals. Ross has a silver medal, won in conjunction with Jennifer Kessy.
Based on the 2015-16 FIVB World Tour, eight athletes, two teams in each gender, earned the right to join the American team that will help comprise the field of 96 athletes (48 men, 48 women; 24 teams) on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"The lifestyle is insane but it's a dream come true," Walsh said. "I'm loving it so much I don't know if I will give it up after Rio. If I didn't love it, I would walk away."
Walsh Jennings manages to remain at a high level in the sport despite being a full-time wife and mother. It helps that Casey Jennings, a professional beach volleyball player in his own right, understands everything she's going through.
"There are not enough amazing words for him," Walsh Jennings said. "He's a champion and he makes it all work. The biggest challenge is leaving the family. There is so much heart and love required to do this job and I would not be able to do it without the love and support of my family. I never lack for motivation. With my family it's more profound."
Each Olympic quad also brings something new for Walsh Jennings, who considers beach volleyball the vehicle for her to become the person she is.
"It gets deeper," she said. "Personal growth happens every quad. There are different challenges and you have to make choices."
Walsh Jennings has inspired generations of volleyball players, a role she takes seriously. She often hears from youngsters and parents of how she has made an impact on them.
"It makes me proud and humbled," she said. "It makes me want to be better, to be as good as I can be. I'm grateful and the feedback is important."
San Francisco is hosting an AVP event for the first time in seven years. General admission is free and no tickets are required. Premium seating ranges between $45.00 and $400.00, though the most expensive seats are already sold out.
"It's going to be an amazing event," Walsh Jennings said. "We want to make it a huge event."