What's Kerri Walsh Jennings' Key to a Fourth Olympic Gold Medal? Her Family

Kerri Walsh Jennings Reveals the Key to Her Olympics Return in Rio
Kerri Walsh Jennings
Harry How/Getty

03/05/2016 AT 01:25 PM EST

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings knows a thing or two about the sacrifices and mental and physical toughness involved in making it to the Olympic games. Also, that it takes a team of people to help her get there.

"It takes a village to win a gold medal," Walsh Jennings tells PEOPLE, speaking on behalf of her partnership with DICK's Sporting Goods and their Contenders program. "I know it takes a village to do anything great in life and my family is also on the journey as my support system to winning gold in Rio."

Walsh Jennings, 37, considers her family – husband Casey Jennings, 40, sons Joey, 6, and Sundance, 5, and daughter Scout Margery, 2, – the key component to her getting back to the Games with new partner April Ross. Her former partner, Misty May-Traynor, retired after their third gold medal win at the 2012 games.

"My husband is the ultimate teammate," she says of Jennings, who is also a professional volleyball player. "His goal for me and for our family is for us to win a gold medal this summer in Rio and that's a big deal to me. It takes a man to do that and support a family so much. We look at everything like we're on the same team. He's chasing the same things, he wants to be great in volleyball court just as I do. We understand what we're going through and we talk. We work really hard to stay connected, we work through the tough times."



Walsh Jennings says her kids are equally invested in her success and refer to a potential fourth gold medal as a family affair.

"My kids talk about 'When we go to Rio,' 'When we win a gold medal,' 'What's it going to take?' and that's the joy of it all, our team figuring out a way."

It should come as no surprise to learn that the Jennings clan takes the concept of being active very seriously and that there might be a second generation of elite athletes in their midst.

"They're little competitors," the proud mother says of her kids. "They really are, I think it's in their bloodline, they came out that way, nature vs. nurture in our household. We're really physical people. We hug a lot, we dance a lot, my husband and our boys are out in our backyard playing soccer everyday. We're doing our thing and myself and my husband, we grew up in sports and learned so much about ourselves through sports. The mental side and life skills, character-building side is really important to sports, but it's also the confidence you get from using your body and the body awareness and everything that comes with it is really important. Whether our kids are athletic or not or want to play sports or not, we want them to live a great, full, healthy life you've got to use your body."



Walsh Jennings is currently using her body to train to win another gold medal, which naturally requires a grueling physical and mental training schedule, but also being able to schedule her own personal time in addition to mommy and family time.

"My normal day is crazy, even for me and I've been doing it my whole life," laughs Walsh Jennings. "I kept hearing myself complain about a lack of quiet time and me time and so this year I made a decision to get up early before my kids. I'm waking up between 4:45 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. and I'm making time for stillness. I'm starting to meditate and I'm really loving it. Now instead of waking up to a cry and my day being off to a sprint, now I'm having an hour or an hour and a half to myself to journal, to listen to something, to drink my coffee in silence."

"I'm a better mommy," she adds. "I am going to bed earlier because of it. So my day starts really early and there are probably between three to six hours of physical training, there's a lot of mental training going on. I'm addicted to podcasts right now. My training varies between six days a week on the sand, then I have twice a week weight lifting, three times a week Pilates and then I'm doing a program called Versus with SenseLabs where I'm training my brain, I did this prior to London as well. I'm training my brain like it's a muscle because the next frontier is that it's all in the brain and that's what separates the good from great is your mental ability and your mindset, and I'm training that everyday as well."

In addition to her drive, raw talent and training, getting to the Olympic Games requires steady income, which is where her partnership with DICK's and their newly-launched Contenders program comes in. The initiative employs nearly 200 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls in 32 states across the United States and provides the athletes with flexible work schedules and competitive wages so they can focus on their training.

"It's a big deal," Walsh Jennings says of the program. "I don't know if too many people know the backstory, but most of us fund ourselves to go to the Olympics. And sure there are subsidies here and there and I'm in a fortunate position where I have great partners, but for the vast majority of the athletes that's not the case. We literally pay to work."

So how is she feeling about Rio 2016?

"I'm feeling ready," says Walsh Jennings. "What I keep reminding myself is that it is a process. I would love to be further along in so many ways, in my life in general, but you're not ready until you're ready. I'm not content with where I'm at but I'm satisfied and that drives me every day whether it's being a better mom, a better wife, a better partner. I'm so driven to be my best self and it's a daily challenge. It's really wonderful. Life is so humbling in the best way and I'm enjoying it, but I feel ready. The plan is to just keep getting better until I'm not."
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