7 Ways Kerri Walsh Jennings Plans To Be Back In Top Form -- Fast
The news spread quickly across the sand.
On July 10, Kerri Walsh Jennings was going for a kill in the quarterfinals of a beach volleyball tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland, when her right shoulder dislocated. She won the point -- and the match -- with her partner, April Ross, but it was the second time in 44 days the shoulder had popped out during a game.
Walsh Jennings has been sidelined ever since. But that doesn't mean the three-time Olympic champion is standing still. She already has a recovery plan and, at 36, it's certainly not her first setback.
"I've had shoulder issues my whole career, even before I was in high school," Walsh Jennings told espnW at the AVP stop in New York City, where she was cheering on her husband, Casey Jennings (who also competes on the pro tour), and Ross (who placed fifth with Jennifer Fopma as her partner). "It's just the way I'm built," said the 6-foot-2 star.
Already, her shoulder has endured more than a quarter-century of serving, setting and spiking. It also has survived four surgeries: two for instability and two for injury repair. The most recent was in September 2011 before the London Olympics, where Walsh Jennings won her third consecutive gold medal with Misty May-Treanor.
Now, however, healing is more urgent than ever. Walsh Jennings and Ross still have to qualify for the 2016 Rio Games. Eligibility alone requires competing in 12 FIVB tournaments between Jan. 1 of this year and June 12, 2016. So far, they've tallied four. If Walsh Jennings sits out all season, there may not be enough opportunities left to meet the minimum.
As of Friday, Walsh Jennings said she was hoping to avoid immediate surgery and play again in four weeks. With that it mind, she shared a few of her healing essentials.
Picture it Happening
"I literally visualize these little workers in my shoulder getting rid of the inflammation on my tendons and fortifying them," she said.
It's a trick she learned long ago, when she was competing in indoor volleyball and was about to help the U.S. team place fourth at the Sydney Games.
"Before my first Olympics, in 2000, I blew out my ankle and my physical therapist was like: 'Kerri, you need to visualize. You need to picture this healing.' So I do. I visualize a white light surrounding my shoulder and healing it. It sounds hokey, but it helps. I think the mental part of healing is really important."
Be Patient at the Start
"Giving yourself time to heal is really important -- especially with instability. You think you'd want to go to work right away, getting everything stronger. But you need to let it heal, otherwise it's diminishing rewards."
Work on Strength -- Everywhere
"I work on head-to-toe healing -- not just at the source of the injury -- because it's all connected and I need everything to be healthy to make my shoulder work. So my core is getting worked right now, my legs and everything else."
As for that pesky shoulder, though? One week after the tournament in Gstaad, the joint was surrounded by stripes of "KT" tape, the ubiquitous and colorful adhesive that Walsh Jennings started using at the 2008 Beijing Olympics following rotator cuff surgery.
"I'm going to live in this stuff to get my proprioception [body awareness] back, to get my function back and to remind my cuff muscles to keep working," she said in New York.
At first, the reality of the situation is sometimes the toughest to swallow. Whatever the diagnosis is, get a plan of attack, and attack it with positivity. Because you have a choice.Kerri Walsh Jennings
For Week 2, her plan included exercises "like pushing against the wall in six different directions for my shoulder, to get my [rotator] cuff strong.
"I'll also work on getting both of my shoulder blades back and down. To do that, I literally just retract them, pull them down and back. That I can do every day for my whole life -- and I will.
"Eventually, I'll start getting into [elastic] band work and exercises against a wall with a ball," she said.
Maintain the Brain
"To keep mentally strong, I'm doing a lot of brain work. I'm working on my neuro-agility and my reaction to stress. Generally, when you hit a tough situation, or -- like in volleyball, if I make an error -- my brain reacts," she said. "I want to get to a point where if I mess up, it's gone, it's in the past, I move forward and it doesn't distract me. So I work on focus endurance: being able to focus as long as I can, as hard as I can."
To do that, Walsh Jennings uses a Versus app (by SenseLabs) on her iPad. It also requires wearing what the company calls a "brain sensing" headset that gives immediate feedback while she plays cognitive games designed to increase impulse control, regulate emotions and aid focus.
"I work on these things for my sport, but they also help me in life," she said.
"Nutrition is hugely important. The cleaner the better, as far as I'm concerned. If I'm eating processed foods, fried foods and sugar, that's just going to keep me inflamed and not give my body what it needs. So I'm eating really clean food."
Love the Ice
"I don't take medication; I use ice. Ice is one of my best friends right now."
Ideally, it's not dripping out of a leaky Baggie. "I use a Hyperice shoulder wrap," she said. "It's my favorite ice bag, ever. There's a button you push that gets all the excess air out so it can be as customized as possible, per use. When I first got hurt, I would ice 20 minutes on, 40 minutes off, and do that repeatedly. Now, I'm kind of 10 minutes on. And I'll do that a couple times a day."
Force a Positive Mindset
"At first, the reality of the situation is sometimes the toughest to swallow. Whatever the diagnosis is, get a plan of attack, and attack it with positivity. Because you have a choice. And pessimism, I don't think serves anyone very well, ever."