For most of us, rolling out of bed at 6 a.m. is work enough, much less going on a 40-minute run or powering through a one-on-one training session at that hour. But for three young athletes, the early-morning grind is the foundation of their success. Goalkeeper Janine Gordon, gymnast Nastasya Generalova, and tennis wunderkind Sophia Weiland are primed for bright futures in their fields, and nothing is going to stand in their way — especially not the snooze button.
“I just don’t think about it,” Gordon says. “If I think about the workout, I won’t want to do it, but if I just shut my brain off, I’ll make it happen.” For Gordon, the morning sweat sessions are meant to get the work out of the way; for Generalova and Weiland, it’s just the beginning of a long day of training.
In partnership with Under Armour, we rode along with these three young sports superstars as they went about their workout routines. Here, each girl shares just what it takes, mentally and physically, to chase greatness when the rest of the world is still sleeping.
Janine Gordon, Soccer
When Janine Gordon, 22, went to play college soccer, she quickly learned that the sport was not for the faint of heart. “My freshman year…I got such bad shin splints, they turned into stress fractures. In pre-season, if one of us didn’t pass our fitness test, we’d all have to run the field 20 times.”For Gordon and her teammates, spring training meant reporting to the school gym for weightlifting at 6 a.m. to beat the south Florida heat. During pre-season, they’d do two-a-days, practicing in the morning, then again at 8 p.m. And beyond the physical, there were restrictions to ensure they would be functioning at max capacity come game day. “There was a 48-hour rule,” she says. “No [partying] for 48 hours before a game, and the night before, we had a 10 p.m. curfew. If someone violated the rule, coach would say, ‘If you want to fly with the owls at night, you better be able to soar with the eagles in the morning.'”
Gordon recently graduated from college — she’s preparing to take the LSAT — which has changed her training routine, but her drive is as sharp as ever, as tryouts for a professional women’s soccer league also approach. “I’ve always been persistent and held myself accountable,” she says of her mindset when transitioning from college to the real world. “My main fear was not having that family structure anymore.”
Even without a built-in network, Gordon remains committed as ever to staying in fighting shape. “I don’t like running. I never did,” she says of her search for a heart-rate-raising alternative. So five days a week, she shows up to class for a cardio, kickboxing, and weightlifting rotation. “I like it because there’s still a team mentality to it,” she says. “The trainers are always pushing everyone, which is an environment that I’m used to. They know I’m an athlete, so they push me even harder.”
It took some getting used to, but Gordon says she’s grateful for the mental toughness she honed from her college training. “It was pure survival mode,” she admits. “The only way to get through it was to just not think about it, and get it done.” Today, this mentality has informed other parts of her life. “My coach used to say, ‘Find a way,'” Gordon says, explaining that when she’s struggling with adversity or feeling like she can’t do something, she recalls this mantra. “I just tell myself, ‘Shake it off. You have to find a way.'”
Sophia Weiland, Tennis
“I’ve always been very disciplined,” says 16-year-old Sophia Weiland, who has been playing tennis since she was 5 years old. “Starting when I was 8, I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to play tennis for an hour and a half before going to school.”Now, Monday through Friday, the teen tennis champ wakes up at 6 a.m. and starts her morning with a 40-minute run. Next, she tends to schoolwork, heads to her tennis academy, and works out for another hour. Then two hours of tennis, lunch break, more schoolwork, and back to the court for another hour and a half. There, she practices footwork and agility, sprints, and quick movements. Even on Saturdays, she does what she calls “light fitness,” which entails about 45 minutes of bodyweight exercises, core work, and light weightlifting.
Though Weiland is receiving attention as an all-star up-and-comer in the sport, her motivation is internal. “I feel a lot better if I do something on my own that’s good for me, instead of having my coach tell me to show up 9 a.m. and train for two hours. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that, on my own, I got up and did the workout.”
But the work doesn’t come without compromises. “It’s tough when I see everyone else having fun,” she says. “Some of my friends who don’t play sports might go out and have a sleepover, and I have to go home. Or I leave the sleepover at 6 a.m. I still do normal teenage things, but I don’t have as much time.” Even still, she says she’s grateful for the experience, citing opportunities to travel and learn about different cultures.
When she’s not touring the globe or taking cuts on the court, Weiland is mentoring young girls, an idea she had after volunteering at a local garden when she was 13. “That’s when I knew I wanted to give back to the community,” she says. “I wanted to spread my love of tennis with the girls who don’t get the opportunity to train, the ones who don’t have coaches or parents to take them to practice.” So she founded Girls Empowering Girls, which has hosted clinics for 20 young people this summer through sponsorship and volunteer academies.
But for all her satellite projects and interests, Weiland’s top priority at the moment is on school so that she can get into her choice college playing tennis. And after? A future in the pros sounds nice.
Nastasya Generalova, Gymnastics
“There really isn’t an off-season for gymnastics,” says Nastasya Generalova, who is ranked #3 in the nation. “Maybe I get two weeks off?”Generalova began gymnastics at age 4 and continued pursuing it at the encouragement of her Russian mother. “Gymnastics is very popular in Europe, especially in Russia,” she says. “[My mother] wanted me involved in a sport that was feminine and elegant, and something that’s closely tied to my heritage.”
But even if launching oneself through the air is meant to look graceful and undemanding, the getting-there requires tons of strength, endurance, and preparation. Aside from days she has ballet at 8 a.m., Generalova’s mornings kick off at 9:30 a.m. with one-on-one training with her coach until 1 p.m. Then, from 4 to 9 p.m., she’s running her routine, stretching, or doing light conditioning. “Pain is temporary,” Generalova says she tells herself when the going gets tough. “Sometimes you want to give up. You feel like you’re always in pain — from school, gymnastics, whatever it is — but it only lasts for so long.”
The grueling days have paid off, however: Generalova has been on the national team for the last seven years. In her 15-year career, she’s medaled more times than one can count. She’s competed on every continent except Africa, traveling alone to Europe since she was 11. And while she says she’s proud, this kind of life doesn’t come without sacrifices.
“I basically have no social life,” she says. “I never went to birthday parties or hung out with friends…I didn’t have a celebration on my own birthday; that happens every year because I either have practice or I’m at a tournament. My first party — ever in my whole life — was prom.”
While trophies, rankings, and accolades are nice validation for all her hard work and sacrifice, Generalova says she’s focused on another goal, too. “I want to leave my mark as being that gymnast of color who helped pave the way for other gymnasts,” she says. “When I started out, there was no one I could look up to. Most rhythmic gymnasts are tall and slim, and the sport is predominantly white and Asian. It can be difficult at times, when you’re on the carpet and no one else looks like you. It’s an honor to be someone little girls can look up to.”
And with her latest achievement, she’s closer than ever to unlocking global-role-model status: Generalova just graduated from high school and is headed to a top university, an accomplishment she says is thanks to her mom for constantly pushing her to work harder. “She can be strict because that’s the Russian thing. But she did an amazing job because she got me to where I am. She’s always the one saying, ‘Yes, you can.'”
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