In March, we heard about marketing guru Sheila Shaw’s work/volleyball/life balance. And though March feels like six years ago, today we’re continuing with our series and highlighting Personal Trainer and AVP player Jess Sykora.
Jess is one of the first people I trained with in California. She’s 6’4” and one of the strangest personalities I’ve come across. She used to smear tomatoes on her face as a natural sunscreen; she once whipped my face with my own ponytail and then said, “That’s your fault for having long hair”; she says outrageous comments and then laughs at herself, along with everyone else in the vicinity. Even with her eccentricities, she’s one of my favorite people on tour.
Jess is unabashedly herself, which I’m realizing fewer people are these days. It’s refreshing. Though she’s weird (and I say this with all my affection), she’s also business-savvy and impressively knowledgeable in her craft. Her abs didn’t just appear; this girl knows fitness. She’s been a trainer for a decade, and in the last few years, she’s started her own in-home personal training business. Last year, she wrote an article for my local Manhattan Beach magazine, and she blew me away with her research and insight into pre and postnatal fitness.
JS – I started working in the fitness industry shortly after college. It truly is a passion of mine, and I love how it coincides with beach volleyball. I found my joy in the beach volleyball game in 2012 when I lived in the Bay Area. Up there, I was an intern for the Oakland Raiders and was working at a gym, but wasn’t sure where my passion lay. That is until I started playing beach. Shortly after, in 2013, I moved to Hermosa Beach, CA, to pursue the sport. I started training with the USA Elite Development Program while also working as a full-time personal trainer at a gym in Marina Del Rey. For a few years, I balanced both beach volleyball and personal training. I found my footing in both, and began to see the life I was creating was one I was proud of and happy with. In 2017, my clientele was large enough to venture on my own. I started my own private personal training business specializing in Pre/Postnatal Personal Training. My in-home personal training clients range from Brentwood to the South Bay. I adore my job, and I am convinced I have the most wonderful clients anyone could ask for.
There are many reasons I founded my own business that offers in-home personal training vs. staying at my cushy gym. Working for myself offers the flexibility I need to practice and play on tour. During the season, I front-load my clients Sunday-Wednesday so I can hop on a flight Wednesday afternoon to be ready for Thursday’s qualifier. Yes, I have to admit, it is exhausting at times, but I find it very rewarding. I’m also proud to be my own boss with no one to answer to or conform my nutrition and training beliefs to.
My schedule during a regular week of training is quite hectic, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I practice three days a week, which is low for an AVP player, but any more practices just exhaust my body. Anyone that knows me knows I’m usually scurrying up to practice right at 9 am. By then, I’ve already taken two clients. Frankly, I’m usually five minutes late with half-eaten Whole Foods hot bar food in my hand. Maybe I’ve forgotten a hair tie or even a water bottle, and I’m often scrambling to manage. But once I settle in and get warm, it’s all business. I am busting my butt to get better. With only three days to train, I prioritize reps and quality to maximize my time.
Practicing three times a week seems infrequent, but, for me, any more decreases my motivation and quality of play. If I know I only have three days to work really hard, I am more focused and excited to be there. I also play in a USTA tennis league two times per week to keep a little variety in my life. This helps my body cross-train to work other muscles, and it helps my mind not to burn out on beach volleyball.
Having a full-time job while looking for sponsors and playing on the AVP Tour is immensely challenging but also immensely rewarding. Balancing the two brought to the surface what I love most, and that’s my clients. While I adore beach volleyball and plan to play for a while, I also find so much fulfillment in the relationships I have forged through personal training. Not to mention the progress I’ve seen in my clients. It’s hard to manage two things at once while giving 100% in both; actually it’s impossible. We only have 100% to give.
So for now, my work trumps volleyball. Unfortunately, I can’t give my all to this sport. But that’s why I love the AVP so much. It’s accessible and inclusive. If investing more into my job means grinding through qualifiers for each tournament, I’ve accepted it. I’m used to it. If I didn’t have to stress about the qualifier during tournament week, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. And it makes the Main Draw that much better having to slug through the single-elimination Thursday. Plus, the real beauty of an AVP tournament is that if you don’t qualify, you’re still in a cool city with cool people always down for a consolation adventure.