Former Pro Volleyball Player & Soon-to-be Mom

Jess Clausen 


Maintaining a consistently healthy and active lifestyle can be hard for anyone, but throw in being pregnant as a professional athlete and you face a whole new set of challenges. Throughout my career as a volleyball player at USC, I dealt with several serious injuries along the way—a blowout ankle injury, ACL and abdominal tears, planters fasciitis, and many other daily aches and pains. Recovering from each of these setbacks took a lot of time and patience to overcome, but I knew what to expect in terms of getting my body back to where it needed to be. As an athlete accustomed to challenges, being pregnant while competing at a high level was completely new and unfamiliar territory though—I had no idea what it would be like continuing my training as a pro beach volleyball player.


My husband and I had been wanting to start a family for quite a while, and were thrilled to find out the news that we were expecting. He was in his off-season as an NFL player, but I was just about to start my season competing on the AVP professional beach volleyball tour. My first tournament was in New York City and I wasn’t sure what to expect—How would I feel? Would I be exhausted and starving the whole time? Would I be able to dive on my stomach to play defense? I had so many unanswered questions, so I called my doctor to make sure I was OK to play. She gave me the go-ahead and said that I could compete for as long as I felt comfortable. (I didn’t mention that this would involve me diving on my stomach, but I knew in the early stages that the baby is perfectly protected). I finished my tournament in New York and to my surprise, I felt great.


That feeling would change very quickly in the weeks to come. The next tournament I was set to compete in was the San Francisco Open the following week, so I continued my training as I normally would. I started feeling a little more sluggish in the mornings, and my legs starting feeling a little heavier during my training sessions. I chalked it up to my body being fatigued from my previous tournament, but I knew that wasn’t the only factor. I got through the tournament but I knew I definitely wasn’t feeling my best. There were still a handful of tournaments left after San Francisco, including the biggest tournament of the year, the Manhattan Beach Open. I knew I wanted to play, but I wasn’t sure how I would keep up with my training, especially as the first trimester fatigue set in.


The hardest part about training during pregnancy can be trusting your own judgment. I didn’t know if it was ok to push myself as hard as I normally would. Was it OK for my heartrate to get really high? Could I play in the hot sun, where your body has a chance of overheating? If I believed everything I read online, I wouldn’t be doing much of anything, let alone training and competing for a pro tour on a daily basis. Several of my close friends and former teammates who also play on the AVP Tour continued to play throughout their pregnancies, so I knew that I would be just fine. What I didn’t know is that I would have zero energy all day long and only be able to eat bread to fuel my training sessions.


I always knew that pregnancy took a lot of energy but the first trimester fatigue is no joke—something I wasn’t prepared for at all. It made getting out of bed in the morning seem nearly impossible and my lack of appetite for healthy foods made it hard to maintain a balanced diet—a critical part of being an athlete. Protein, vegetables, salads and almost anything healthy that used to be the foundation of my diet sounded repulsive. Pass the bagels and cream cheese please! Pushing through my days in the first trimester was hard, but I realized the best way to get through them was to skip the thinking part—I just had to get up and go. If I thought about how exhausted I was, I would never get anything done. I trained up until the Manhattan Beach Open and played in the tournament (with an Olympic Bronze medalist as my partner!) at nine weeks pregnant. I felt OK while playing—not terrible, but definitely not my best. With the next tournament five weeks away because of the Olympic break, I knew that I was done with my season. There was no way I felt like I could continue training for five weeks straight and then play a tournament at 14 weeks along. It was time to sit back, relax, and enjoy my pregnancy, while eating as many bagels as I wanted.


Life is definitely changing for my husband and I as we prepare to start our family together, and we couldn’t be more excited. We both want a big family so it’s been fun getting ready to welcome our first addition—a baby boy who will be here at the end of February. The athletes in us are already talking about what sports we think he will play. The current debate is either golf or following in his dad’s footsteps and playing football. I would personally like the safer option, which is golf, but we definitely have the football program pretty dialed, considering my husband comes from a family full of quarterbacks. But, as we all know, you can’t control what your kids end up falling in love with and we will support whatever he wants to do. Maybe he won’t even be into sports at all, although I find that hard to believe considering who he has as parents. As long as he is a USC Trojan and not a Notre Dame Golden Domer like his dad, mom will be happy!



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