A longtime evangelist for outdoor and active lifestyles, beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings knew the national stay-at-home orders would be especially hard on young athletes and others trying to stay fit.
With her own quest for a sixth Olympics on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, Walsh Jennings held video chats with dozens of volleyball clubs and teams — more than 4,500 people in all. Part pep talks, part skills clinics, the calls convinced her people are struggling to remain active when it’s much easier to just binge on TV.
“There was a consistent theme to every call: 'Kerri, we are so sad. We don’t want to lose what we’ve earned. We want to stay sharp and inspired,” Walsh Jennings said in announcing the creation of “Virtual Summer Camps” for aspiring volleyball players and others just trying to stay active.
“This is hard on everybody. But there’s so many resources out there," she told The Associated Press. “There’s no excuse to be a slave to your couch. We all have a little bit of space. We can go outside and be free. And we just want to encourage people to do that.”
Through her volleyball and lifestyle platform p1440, Walsh Jennings put together an online program mixing skills, fitness and mindset training. The four-week pilot called “The Fundamentals” sold out in six days with 250 men, women, boys and girls of all ages, volleyball rookies up to semipro level.
“Imagine this: We have a 13-year-old girl who is going through this and she is just devastated that her season was taken away. And she is thriving and she’s sharing her experience,” Walsh Jennings said. “And then we have a 50-year-old man who’s gained 20 pounds in COVID and just loves volleyball, never played before, but wants to get better. He’s lost 15 pounds and he’s engaged with this program, sharing in the safe community that we created.”
Now, p1440 is gearing up for two “ Virtual Summer Camps ” that offer the chance to “Train with an Olympian” — one focused on fundamentals and a more intense version called “Unleashed.” Campers will have access to Walsh Jennings; her husband, beach volleyball pro Casey Jennings; UCLA beach volleyball coach and 2004 Olympian Stein Metzger; and trainer Tommy Knox.
“The materials were put together fast, but the wisdom and the knowledge is literally 30 years of my life," Walsh Jennings said.
“The fundamental philosophy is ‘doing things right.’ And it’s going to meet you where you are," she said. "For me, an athlete working to go to my sixth Olympics, win my fourth gold, this is making me better. A 9-year-old who is just getting started in the game, it’s making her better. And everyone in between.”
The camps are virtual. The workouts are real.
Campers will receive videos by email every weekday with their exercises for the day -- they can also log onto Walsh Jennings’ p1440 website. Strength training is twice a week, volleyball is four times a week, and mindfulness training is every day. The workouts are self-guided and should take about two hours.
“There’s a lot of interaction, and we want people to be felt and heard,” Walsh Jennings said. “Even though this is virtual, it’s very engaging and it’s still very connected. And so we don’t want to minimize that part of it.”
Twelve-year-old Phia Neilson said the Fundamentals camp helped her grow as a volleyball player, but it was the journaling that was a highlight. One entry included a drawing of a girl playing volleyball, a quote from actor Will Smith and “3 ways to Optimize": “Go to bed earlier, start a food log and raise my energy level.”
“I like that I am learning to be more patient with myself, to stay positive and to never give up,” she wrote.
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