Daughter of famous Olympic star made her own mark, upheld by faith


By Roxy Photenhauer —

“You would have had to put a dagger in her heart to stop,” her coach said of Jenny Johnson Jordan, team captain of the under-manned UCLA volleyball squad that triumphed in semi-finals against Penn State in 1994.

With only nine healthy players, the team had to fight for every single victory in their second place finish nationally.

Jenny never left her faith on the bench.

“The culture is trying to say, ‘Hey, you leave your faith over there and now you can come play your sport. Pick it up when you’re done. We don’t want to see it,’” Jenny says. “I was like, ‘How can you be super competitive and fiery (which I was) and also honor the Lord. I learned very quickly that me and my fire and desire to win and to honor the Lord came when I would do it the right way. “

That zeal led Jenny and her team to a national championship and two runner-ups in 1992 and 1994. She won All-Tournament Team honors in 1994.

Later, she won the silver medal at the 1999 Beach Volleyball World Championships in Marseille with her partner.

The daughter of 1960 decathlete gold-medal winner Rafer Johnson, Jenny grew up in the world of sports. Naturally, she wanted to join a highly competitive college program, so she went to UCLA.

“When I made it to the collegiate level I was just learning how to own my faith and what it means to have God in my sport, that they’re not separate things because that’s how I saw it,” she told Gospel Light Society.

Even in the locker room, she says, you’re pressured to listen to certain pump-up music. “These are places we can take stands as believers, which I know is not always comfortable or easy,” she says. “But it’s important.”

She had one coach at UCLA who was a Christian and encouraged her to keep up her Christian testimony. As she accepted the challenge, she got even better at volleyball and became the team captain.

Upon graduation, she transitioned to beach volleyball, where she made an even bigger name for herself.

Married to Kevin Jordan, a former UCLA wide receiver, she got pregnant with Jaylen when she was still training. Her daughter was born in 2001, followed by Kory, born in 2005.

As a semi professional athlete, it was hard to juggle being a mom with being a star player. She had the support of her husband, who understood her dedication as a former athlete himself.

“It was hard on us, we didn’t want to leave our kids,” she says. “Our parents were also very helpful in helping out and caring for the kids, really making the dream of the Olympics a possibility for us.”

A Christian athlete friend also had a daughter and helped her through the journey in an understanding way.

“We prayed before we played in tournaments together. We were able to connect with other athletes who are also believers and encourage them in their faith,” Jenny says, “and lead Bible studies on the road with the different tours that we were on. In that way we’ve been able to stay connected and really weave our relationship with the Lord into everything that we do.”

Jenny now is an assistant coach where her journey began, at UCLA, and also has a spot in the UCLA Hall of Fame.

Volleyball “has taught me many valuable life lessons about integrity, hard work and perseverance,” Jenny says. “But my athletic experiences and lessons learned pale in comparison to my greatest passion, living a life committed to the person of Jesus Christ.”

Roxy Photenhauer studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.