FORT WAYNE – Gold medal-winning trips to Athens, Beijing and London helped bring Kerri Walsh Jennings to Fort Wayne on Thursday.
The three-time Olympic beach volleyball champion made a stop in the Summit City at the SportONE/Parkview Fieldhouse to speak with prospective volleyball players as part of a clinic put on by the Pineapple Volleyball Club.
"You become a little more relevant," Jennings said of being an Olympic champion. "You don't really think about sand volleyball in Fort Wayne, but I am here because of volleyball, indoor and beach. I would never be here if I hadn't got to the Olympics and made a name for myself."
Jennings, 34, teamed with Misty May-Treanor to win gold medals in three Olympics – Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and this past summer in London. On Thursday, she teamed with fellow beach volleyball gold medalist Todd Rogers as part ambassador and part cheerleader for those attending the clinic.
"This is where it all begins," Jennings said of the youth volleyball players. "It is important to plant seeds in little kids' heads because that's where the dreams sprout, and there are so many more opportunities open to them.
"We are here to provide inspiration, but it is so cute to see these kids and parents and siblings. I receive so much inspiration from them."
Rogers, 37, won a gold medal in beach volleyball in 2008 in Beijing with Phil Dalhausser.
"I realized you are in an exclusive club and people recognize you," Rogers said of life after the gold medal. "It is beach volleyball, and we aren't recognized a lot, but you have to carry yourself the right way. People are looking at you."
Rogers and Jennings got off a plane in Fort Wayne at 4:30 p.m. and headed right over to the 2-month-old volleyball/basketball facility to spend some with the young players.
"We want to encourage them to keep playing the sport, that's the No. 1 reason we are here," Rogers said. "But also, we want them to follow their dreams and give them some focus.
"So much of it is the mental part of the game. There are so many good coaches out here, and in the sport itself, that they are going to give you the right way to do something, and then you hone that down. Everybody is going to be good at something, and you have to find that and what interests you, then you can get serious. It's all different paths of life, and it isn't just athletics."
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