Kerri Walsh Jennings and a Lesson in Grace

If there was a sure thing going into the Rio Olympics, it was that Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross would win gold in beach volleyball. The sports pundits told us all about it: she would be the first American woman to win gold in four straight Olympic games, she’d never been defeated in Olympic competition, she and Ross had already beaten every other team coming to the games. Even playing with Ross instead of Misty May-Treanor, the partner she won gold with at the last three games, she was about as close to unbeatable as it was possible to be.

Until Tuesday night, when Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas of Brazil beat them in straight sets. Brazil advanced to play Germany in the final, winning the silver last night, and Walsh Jennings and Ross beat the other Brazilian team to win bronze.

It was her first defeat in 27 Olympic matches.

I can’t imagine how she felt. I don’t think I’ve ever won 26 straight at anything.

But we can all take a lesson from her grace in defeat.

Because in her post-match interview, with the shock and the disappointment and the grief of loss still fresh in her heart, she took all the blame on herself. I played poorly, she said, and they did exactly what they should have done and took advantage of it.

She did not blame her opponents for targeting her when they saw her struggling. She praised them for it.

She did not blame Ross.

She did not blame the judges.

She did not blame the loud and boisterous crowd, or the glaring lights, or the schedule that had her and Ross playing at midnight several days in a row.

She stood before the media and the public and her family and all those who have come to admire her over the last twelve years and said I am responsible.

Because when you are the one in the arena, when you are the one who stands to receive the credit for victory, you get to accept the responsibility for defeat. How you do that, especially when everyone expected you to win, tells much about the kind of person you are.

On Tuesday night, Kerri Walsh Jennings showed herself to be the kind of person she wants her kids to become. Let’s salute her for that.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.