Beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings: I was pregnant at the Olympics
When Kerri Walsh Jennings won her third Olympic gold in beach volleyball at the London Olympics, she was playing with a secret: She was five weeks pregnant.
Sitting hand-in-hand with her husband, Casey Jennings, Walsh Jennings shared the news exclusively on TODAY Monday.
“When I was throwing my body around fearlessly, and going for gold for our country, I was pregnant, and today I’m 11 weeks pregnant,” Walsh Jennings told Matt Lauer.
Their baby, due April 9, will join the couple’s sons, Joey, 3, and Sundance, 2.
Walsh Jennings, 34, told TODAY.com she and Casey started trying for a third before the Olympics. But she didn't expect it to happen so quickly. She said she felt "moody and touchy" in London -- more than could just be explained by competition stress -- and her period was four days late.
"You're probably pregnant," her beach volleyball partner, Misty May-Treanor, said. And sure enough, her teammate was right.
"It's just so exciting," Walsh Jennings told TODAY.com.
She told Lauer that her body started to feel different at the Olympics.
“I’m a pretty happy girl and I was unreasonably moody,” Walsh Jennings said, asking her husband if that was accurate, and he smartly demurred.
“I thought it could have been the stress of the games and travel kind of throws your schedule off, but I knew,” Walsh Jennings told Lauer. “At some point, you’re late and then you start feeling something. And I definitely started feeling something in London.”
Walsh Jennings, nearing the end of her first trimester, told TODAY.com she had a miscarriage before having her first son, and she knows the risks of miscarriage are greater early in the pregnancy, but said she just didn't want to wait to tell people. "I just can't keep my mouth shut. It's so exciting. It feels so great to tell people."
The pregnancy itself feels not-so-great, she said. "This little one is kicking my butt! The first two were pretty easy, but with this one, I'm sick every day, I've got some awesome acne, I just feel different."
Still, she said her pregnancy didn't throw off her game at all in London. "I gave everything I had," she said. In fact, the prospect of having baby was a big motivator throughout her training and competition -- her husband Casey, also a professional volleyball player, has joked that she gets a baby for every gold medal. "At the end of my tunnel was this next phase, expanding my family," Walsh Jennings said. "I wanted to earn that third."
Lauer asked whether the couple considered perhaps waiting to try to expand their family until after the Olympics. With a laugh, Walsh Jennings replied that restraint "only lasts so long.”
“I just felt like it would take me a while this time to get pregnant for some reason,” she said. “So a month before, we’re like, ‘Should we start trying?’ I had never experienced morning sickness. We were in Gstaad, Switzerland, one of my favorite places, our favorite places, in the world ... we decided just to get going on the process.”
“Apprently we’re very fertile,” she said before covering her eyes with embarrassment.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, says competing at the games did not increase Walsh Jennings’ risk of pregnancy complications.
“The risk that she put to herself and fetus was zero to none,” she said.
Five weeks into a pregnancy, fetuses are tiny, well protected and “very, very, very hearty,” Snyderman says.
“The embryo is microscopic. It’s just implanted in the lining of the uterus,” Snyderman says. “It would take an act of God to dislodge it, not a bump on the tummy, not a dive.”
At the London Games, Walsh Jennings’ five-week-old pregnancy was well protected within the muscular uterine wall and the layers of muscles around the abdomen, Snyderman says.
“Imagine taking the head of a pin and sticking it inside softball and then a kickball and then throwing something against it,” Snyderman said. “That’s about what Kerri’s pregnancy was like at the time.”
In London, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanorbecame the first women’s beach volleyball pair to win three consecutive gold medals. They won their first at the 2004 games in Athens, and with another win four years later in Beijing, they became the first team to win back-to-back golds in the event.
Walsh Jennings learned she was pregnant with her first child soon after the Beijing Olympics. She and her husband welcomed their second son, Sundance, on May 19, 2010, according to her NBC Olympic biography. She returned to the beach volleyball court within months after giving birth, and she again sported that ripped torso for the London Olympics.
If history repeats itself, she will get back into shape - and the bikini - to compete for her dream of another gold in Rio in 2016.
“I have to play in an itty bitty Oakley bikini and it’s very inspiring,” Walsh Jennings says in a Q & A on the NBC Olympic site. “My job is to be fit and I’m really blessed that I get to go and work out and live a really healthy lifestyle. And I have to in order to accomplish my goals. I want to be the best. I want to win a gold medal in London. And in order to do that, I need to be really fit regardless of my babies. My body has certainly changed. I love some of the changes. I hate others. But ultimately if I’m fit and strong, then I’m a happy girl."
Walsh Jennings told TODAY.com she feels like she came back stronger after having each of her children, so that's her plan for Rio in 2016. "I want it," she said of a fourth gold. "I feel like I have so much more to learn, so much more to accomplish. I'm planning on coming back stronger and smarter."
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TODAY.com editor Rebecca Dube contributed to this story.