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2015-09-24 16:40:00 CET

A Mom Who Sides Out

Have you ever wondered how professional female athletes juggle motherhood and staying at the top of their game? We sat down with Olympic athlete, Jen Kessy, to find out what that life is really like.

After earning a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics, Jennifer Kessy decided to step away from the sport and start a family. In 2015, at the age of 38, she made the surprising decision to pick up young gun Emily Day and dive back onto the World Tour.  We caught up with Jen this past week and had an honest conversation about life on the World Tour as a professional athlete and new mother.

Q. You are a veteran pro beach athlete with 15 years in the sport. How has your experience been on the World Tour this year?

Jen:
“Before I took a year off to have a baby I played in the 2013 FIVB season. By the end of the year I was so disheartened by the state of the World Tour that I was ready to hang up my bikini even if I wasn't starting a family. I was nervous to attend the first FIVB of 2015 because of the feeling I had when I left. I was very happy to see the changes and open mindedness of the FIVB by allowing different promoters into the mix. Having the Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series in 2015 has changed mine and many others’ outlook on the future of the sport. The Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series is what beach volleyball should always be. This will hopefully bring beach volleyball to the heights we all know it can be.”

Q. Has it been an adjustment to come back this season to the sport after a year off - not only that but returning post-pregnancy and then adding a child to now care for on top of that?

Jen:
“An adjustment is an understatement. Having a baby and being a mom is a huge life changer and then add getting back in shape and trying to qualify for the Olympics … it‘s a total game changer. Before having a baby I was very serious about my sleep and recovery. Now it’s all about Aila and her needs. If I get a 10 minute nap, that's a great day. I'm not sure you can ever prepare yourself for how much of a change it is.”

Left to right: Jen & partner Emily Day. Jen’s husband, Andy and daughter Aila. Images courtesy of Jen KessyLeft to right: Jen & partner Emily Day. Jen’s husband, Andy and daughter Aila. Images courtesy of Jen Kessy

Q. Describe life on the road with your daughter, Aila? How does life as an athlete/mom work with the burden of both roles?

Jen:
“Life on the road with Aila is as crazy as it is at home except I'm expected to be both mom and pro athlete at the same time. I'm very lucky to have a husband/super dad that has a flexible schedule for these two years. He is also a retired French beach volleyball player who understands what it takes to compete. Aila only turned 1 in August but has a crazy amount of stamps in her passport already. She traveled with me to Stavanger, World Champs, and several domestic events on the west coast. She spent time with my husband’s family in France in between European events this summer. My husband Andy and I spent hours finding the right schedule for our family. Two weeks away from them is my limit. We did everything we could to make that happen.”

Q. How did you get back into playing shape so quickly? Do you have any fitness tips and words for other athlete moms out there? 

Jen:
“Honestly, it felt like an eternity to me. I've heard for years that breastfeeding burns so many calories that the weight just falls off. This was NOT the case for me. I actually gained weight. I worked very slowly with the trainers at USA volleyball. They made sure I was able to do body weight exercises correctly before I ever lifted a weight. In the beginning my cardio was walking with Aila in town for 30 minutes. I was so lucky to start slowly and let my body do its thing. As soon as I stopped breastfeeding it was game on. I started to lose weight and gain muscle very fast.

Fitness tips I can offer are to listen to your body. At 37 I needed to go slow and take my time. If I would've rushed I could've been injured. Also new moms should join a new mom workout group/bootcamp. Having moms around that know what you’re going through means everything. There is no judgement, just support.”

Left to right: Andy, Jen & Aila pose for a family photo. Jen in action on the beach. Life with daughter Aila on the road. Images courtesy of Jen KessyLeft to right: Andy, Jen & Aila pose for a family photo. Jen in action on the beach. Life with daughter Aila on the road. Images courtesy of Jen Kessy

Q. Are you and Emily poised to take a run at Rio in 2016? Is this your focus?

Jen:
“We are starting next season a little more behind in the Olympic race than we wanted to be. We are not too far behind to catch up and that's all that matters. We have a full off-season to learn and get better as a new team and we will be ready for the fight next year.”

Q. What are your plans beyond Rio in 2016?

Jen:
“Andy and I would love to have more children. I'm not ready to say I'm retiring after Rio. I'll let things fall into place the way the are supposed to.”

Jen Kessy and Emily Day can be seen competing from Sept. 29th to Oct 4th at the Swatch Beach Volleyball FIVB World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale, FL. General admission is free. VIP tickets are available. #SwatchWTFinalsUSA

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