New mom Walsh fit, set to return to beach volleyball tour |

New mom Walsh fit, set to return to beach volleyball tour

Jimmy Golen, The Associated Press

Her 7-week-old son cooed in the background, and Kerri Walsh could barely stifle a yawn as she explained why she is abandoning plans for a yearlong maternity leave to get back on the pro beach volleyball tour.

“Why?” she said Thursday. “Because I can hopefully have it all.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist said this week that she will return for the AVP tour stop in Hermosa Beach, Calif., on Aug. 6 – about 2 1/2 months after the birth of her son, Joseph.

“I love my sport, and I want to play,” she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I think it will make me a better mom to have some balance. It (volleyball) makes me feel empowered and strong.”

Walsh and Misty May-Treanor won the Olympic gold medal in 2004 in Athens and again in ’08 in Beijing. In China, they both said that they would take the 2009 season off to start a family; May-Treanor was subsequently injured while practicing for “Dancing with the Stars.”

Walsh, who is married to fellow beach volleyball pro Casey Jennings, gave birth to Joseph Michael Jennings on May 22. The baby has started to smile, reach for things and roll over.

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“He’s definitely getting more engaged every day,” Walsh said. “I thought I was going to be able to take a full year off. I thought I would enjoy the downtime, and I have. But I found some really good help that I trust. We’re going to be able to hang out with Joey and hopefully have it all.”

Though she continued to train through her pregnancy, Walsh took four weeks off after the baby was born. She got back on the beach about three weeks ago to hit the ball around and said it “felt like I was playing in quicksand.”

“It was really humbling,” she said. “The skills are there, but there’s no strength. I had touch and could pass the ball, but I couldn’t really put it all together. It was pretty bottom-rung.”

Holly McPeak, a three-time Olympian who practiced with her, said Walsh didn’t struggle all that much.

“She had a huge smile on her face the whole practice!” McPeak wrote in an e-mail. “It was obvious she was happy to be out on the court again. She was only a half-a-step slow, but her ball control was great, and her jump was coming back quick. Her speed improved dramatically the first week of playing. She will be ready to win a tournament really soon!”

Because May-Treanor isn’t ready to come back, Walsh will team with Rachel Wacholder, who had also been taking time off after having a baby. The pair won two international Grand Slam events in 2004 when May-Treanor was recovering from an injury in 2004.

“I think she’s a really, really good player – defensive and really scrappy. The fact that we have a history together helps,” Walsh said. “We went through this pregnancy and new mommy thing together. But it’s also that this season’s midway through, and who wants to break up another team?”

Walsh, 30, missed the first nine events of the season. The next two are in California, where she lives, but the tour then travels to Michigan, Chicago, Ohio, Las Vegas and Arizona.

To balance the needs of the tour and those of her baby, Walsh has two sisters and a mother willing to come along. Jennings’ family also has offered to help out.

“I’m not going to leave Joey anywhere,” Walsh said. “When we travel, I want to keep it in the family. My whole dream is just to share the world and share my job with our kids. It’s all starting now.”