The airport convenience store itself was rather mundane.
Nothing unusual about the ordinary magazine rack near the register, one of likely hundreds that Greg Jennings has passed by throughout his career.
But on this particular trip and at this particular store, a men's health-and-fitness magazine caught Jennings' eye.
"I was like, 'You know what? I want to be on the cover of one of those magazines,' " Jennings told Vikings.com in a recent phone interview.
The revelation answered a question Jennings had been asking himself: What are you doing to really challenge yourself?
The former NFL receiver posed that self-challenge after watching his wife, Nicole, set out to run a half-marathon … and then ended up doubling it when she mistakenly registered for the full.
"She just ran it. She trained for less than four months, she ran it, got her medal," Jennings said. "She wasn't a runner, had never been a runner, actually did not enjoy running whatsoever. So for her to do that, I thought to myself, 'Whoa. Dude. What are you doing?"
And so after a trip through the airport – and consulting a couple of personal trainers back home in Minnesota – he made a decision: he would become a bodybuilder.
Jennings began training on Nov. 4, 2019, for his first competition, Mr. and Mrs. Natural Minnesota. Originally scheduled for May 23, the event was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduled for late June.
He dove headfirst into research, met with personal trainers, became certified as a trainer himself and stuck to a very specific diet.
"It just turned into a lifestyle," Jennings said.
Photos of WR Greg Jennings from Vikings-Packers matchup at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 23, 2014.
Those familiar with Jennings' NFL journey know he's plenty familiar with fitness.
Drafted by Green Bay in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, he spent seven seasons with the Packers and racked up 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. He then crossed the border and signed with the Vikings for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Jennings played 31 games in Minnesota, totaling 1,546 yards and 10 touchdowns before finishing his career in 2015 with Miami.
The two-time Pro Bowler knows what it takes to excel athletically. And yet, his experiences training to be an NFL receiver and training to be a bodybuilder looked vastly different.
"The weight training and all of that, I was accustomed to a majority of it, but the mentality that goes behind it and the 'Why,' I was not," Jennings explained. "That was something that I had to learn, and I had to really come to appreciate those who had been doing it."
He acknowledged the presence of "preconceived notions" about the world of bodybuilding.
Until he finally exposed himself to the sport, Jennings noted, he couldn't fully understand that space and all that it entailed.
"These guys work. They put in work, and they understand what they're trying to accomplish," he said. "Being healthy is the number-one priority. If you're not healthy, if you're injured, you can't train."
Asked about his own 'Why' behind this newest journey, Jennings said his primary goal it stay fit and healthy while continuing to engage his competitive nature – whether that's on a stage before judges or simply striving for personal bests.
"You spend most of your year competing against yourself – to better yourself – from yesterday, from the month before," Jennings said. "So for me, it gave me that daily competitive drive and that ability to lock in those mental disciplines that I'd always had since being introduced to sports.
"That's what continues to inspire me and drive me and keep me as passionate about it as I am," he added.
Always in his corner
Jennings also is driven by his family.
He and Nicole have four children – three daughters, Amya, Alea and Ayva; and a son, Aice – who have been their dad's biggest fan section.
Jennings, who often shares snapshots of family time on Instagram, said Nicole and the kids have been vital to his success. He's especially proud that his children have watched their parents set goals and strive to reach them.
"We didn't know what the end result was going to be, but we were going to accomplish the goal," Jennings said. "It was a journey for them to see and ask, 'Daddy, are you tired of eating the same thing every day? Are you getting tired of getting up and going to work out every day?' And it's like, you do – but when your 'why' is big enough, you really don't.
"[They witnessed] me going through this journey and experiencing all these different levels of emotions and prep – high calories, low calories – they saw it all," he continued. "But they also saw me still being Dad, still being present, not just dismissing my role and what it needed to look like for them. That was the number-one thing for me."
Due to guidelines put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, each contestant in the Mr. & Mrs. Natural competition was allowed just one guest on-site. But Amya, Alea, Ayva and Aice all were glued to the television, as was depicted in a photo Jennings later posted.
The image perfectly captured a level of attentiveness they paid throughout the process. He even received extra coaching from 9-year-old Ayva, who gave Jennings pointers and critiques while he practiced his poses at the family's Twin Cities home.
"They were just as invested because they had seen the process," he said. "They had experienced enough of the process to where it had become kind of a part of what they were living out. So now my desires had become theirs."
Camaraderie in competition
On the eve of the competition, Jennings arrived for the traditional tanning process at the same time as fellow novice contestant Jason Shallenberger. When Shallenberger checked in, Jennings recognized his name from the show's lineup and introduced himself.
More of a casual football fan, Shallenberger hadn't been previously familiar with Jennings but discovered his NFL résumé when researching whom he'd face on-stage in his first show.
So when he met the former receiver in-person, Shallenberger was struck by Jennings' genuine friendliness and interest in others.
"He was just really kind and polite," Shallenberger recalled. "He was asking me questions about who I was bringing, what I was doing to prepare, how nervous I was. He was initiating the conversation, which was really fun."
Upon hearing that Shallenberger's wife, Allie, would not be attending the event because she was pregnant with the couple's first child, a girl, Jennings shared from his own parenting experiences and emphasized what a blessing fatherhood is.
"He's so happy he's a girl dad," Shallenberger said. "He explained how humbling it is but how rewarding it is at the same time.
"He's charismatic, he's fun, he was curious about me as a person and what I was doing outside of the show," Shallenberger added. "The day of, we were getting prepped together and just kind of amping each other up a little bit before we had to go on stage. He's just a normal, fun dude."
Jennings and Shallenberger competed in the Novice Men's Physique Short and Novice Men's Physique Tall categories, respectively, with Jennings taking first place in his class.
He also topped the Men's Physique Open to become the overall novice winner. As a result, he earned his IPE Pro Card, making him eligible to compete for monetary winnings as a professional bodybuilder.
Jennings is looking forward to contending in his first pro show, Minnesota Mayhem, on Oct. 10.
And while he certainly hopes to continue winning and one day make it to that cover of a men's magazine, it's truly all about the camaraderie for Jennings.
In reflecting on his interactions with Shallenberger, Jennings shared the following:
"I was just talking about this with my kids – you always want to be who people think and believe you to be," he said. "I don't want anyone to interact with me and be like, 'Oh man, he's a jerk. He's nothing like he is on social media or how he is on television.' I want them to walk away feeling like, 'He's a much better guy in person.'
"Anytime I compete now or have an interaction with another competitor – or anyone that desires to continue or advance their healthy journey or any walk of life – I want to be able to give them something of substance," Jennings added. "I don't want it to be all about me. It's not all about me. It's really about us."
Finding common ground
Jennings applies this focus far beyond the walls of a gym or a show stage.
Especially during a time of increased unrest and social injustices, Jennings hopes his mindset and message carry extra weight.
"As a country, to say that's who we are – 'liberty and justice for all' – and to not consider someone else, it's devastating," Jennings said. "It's disappointing. It's, quite honestly, disgusting."
He has shared an analogy, he explained, with his neighborhood to convey that humanity at its core is designed to care for others.
"If we were to hear somebody scream for help, we don't know who that individual is, and we don't [need to]," Jennings said. "In that moment, when we hear that word 'help,' instinctively, every one of us has been programmed to be become more alert and aware of, 'Oh shoot, somebody's in trouble.' Your first reaction is to find out how you can assist whomever it is that is in need.
"And then what happens is, you come into contact with the situation, and now your life experiences start to take over," he continued. "If you've ever had any interaction with a different race or a different [gender], it's like, 'Oh, it's a male; oh, it's a female. Oh, it's a Black man; oh, it's a white woman.' It's like, now barriers start to come into play."
It is imperative for our society, Jennings emphasized, to treat others with love that is unconditional.
"I have to consider someone else's views. I don't have to agree with them. But I've gotta consider them. I don't care who they are, what they look like, what their experiences are – I have to, for the sake of all of us, if we truly want equality, if we truly want what's best, not only for ourselves but for the next person and for our children and for our future – then I have to consider outside of myself."
What Jennings and Shallenberger both appreciate about the world of bodybuilding is that they're able to meet and connect with fellow athletes from all different backgrounds and walks of life.
Even their experience with bodybuilding likely will not be identical. Different exercises. Different diets. Different amounts of training time and different support systems in the stands.
But when Jennings stands with an opponent backstage, he knows that there's a "commonality" that allowed them to each reach that point.
"And whatever that commonality is, that's what I gravitate to. I don't try to pick and find out what's so different and why I'm going to beat this guy," Jennings said. "No – this platform is definitely allowing me the opportunity to come into contact with some beautiful people who just want to be better."
On stage and in the booth
Jennings hopes to use his platforms for good, whether on stage or in the broadcast booth.
As he continues his bodybuilding journey, he also is taking major steps in his post-playing career.
Jennings joined FOX Sports as an NFL analyst in 2018, during which he contributed to FOX Sports studio shows and filled in an as analyst for two games.
The 2020 season, however, will mark Jennings' first full season calling games – and which better to start with than Sunday's Border Battle at U.S. Bank Stadium. Jennings called the opportunity "extremely exciting," particularly to be kicking off the season calling a game between two organizations he's been a part of.
"Because I get it. I know these clubs inside and out," Jennings said. "I'm around these guys, I know these guys, and it's going to be exciting because I know the makeup of a lot of individuals in both organizations, and I have a lot of respect for both."
Asked if he gets more pre-game jitters as a player or an analyst, the former receiver thought for a moment.
"When it came to football, I took the field and knew exactly who I was and what I was. … A dropped ball wasn't going to change what I believed in myself," Jennings said. "But you're coming in with [a level] of experience – even college and high school, it prepared me for the NFL.
"I've called three or four games, and now it's like, 'OK, you've got a full season,' " he added with a laugh. "There is a level of nerves, but then there's a confidence you've got to have – 'I know this game. I have to call it and talk it and walk it out the way that I would walk it out.' Not like Troy [Aikman] and [Joe] Buck, or not like anyone else, but this is my color. And that's what I'm going to bring."
Just remember … don't ask him to pick a side. Trust me – he won't do it.
"The reality of it is … when you've gone through something and you've experienced something, it all means just as much in its own space. Every experience is just as important," Jennings said. "Being with the Packers in the seasons that I was there, there was a time and a necessity for me to be there. And being here, there was a time and a necessity for me to be here.
"They'll always want me to choose sides, and even some will think that it's a bias, but I have no bias. I respect both organizations equally," he continued. "I'm so elated to be able to call this game and have this be the start of my broadcast career, if you will."