By Rahul Lal
Jennifer Kessy, silver medalist at the 2012 London Olympic Games, is one of the most talented beach volleyball players in the world. Her success, up to that point and since, did not come easy.
“I actually was a gymnast to start… it really taught me how to jump, how to be powerful, how to be strong, I could do 40 pull ups,” she told JR. “I just grew way too tall.”
When she started to physically outgrow gymnastics, she looked at her other options. While swimming and softball were passions for a while, volleyball really stole her heart. She already had all the base skills to grow and develop into a player. And playing beach volleyball as a child in her hometown gave her some experience upon which to build.
“My mom would be like, ‘get out of the house and take your brothers,’ so we would ride our bikes to the beach, play volleyball, goof around all day and ride home when it was dark.”
Kessy played collegiately for four years at the University of Southern California and hoped to transition to the next level upon graduation. Despite her love and talent for the sport, that next step didn’t come easy. She had to support herself while chasing the dream.
“I came out of college, degree in hand, and was a waitress,” Kessy explained. “I would work from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and have practice at 10 a.m., go to lifting, then take a nap.”
Once she decided to go all-in on volleyball, Kessy’s rise to the top happened quickly. It only took her five years to go from cocktail waitress to Olympic silver medalist.
“I got a partner, I kept climbing the ladder and climbing the ladder and got a partner in the top five, started to get to a couple finals here and there. And that’s when I could start paying my rent with my checks.”
When Kessy arrived at the 2012 Olympics, it was something of a mission to make sure she got on TV during the opening ceremonies.
“I wanted to get on TV so my family could see me, and I said ‘let’s get by Lolo Jones,” Kessy said between laughs. “We’re just standing there waving, and my mom was so excited.”
Kessy still plays volleyball. She is currently on the AVP tour, the country’s premier volleyball tour which has had almost every Olympic medalist over the years.
She remembered thinking back over a decade, wondering how some people could play into their mid-30s and support themselves. These days she’s living that dream and knows other women look at her the same way.
To hear the full interview, you can listen to the latest episode of JR Sport Brief.
Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.