s Anastasiya Chevtechenko (Soccer, C’17), Lauren O’Mara (Lacrosse, C’19) and Jess Davis (Squash, C’20) take us behind the scenes of their winning attitudes, fitness regime and fashion choices, The WALK uncovers the fast-paced, thrilling and bittersweet life of an average Penn collegiate athlete.
You have 5 am getups, 4 hours of training 3-4 times a week, take 4-5 classes, have games every weekend and manage a social life with friends, family and clubs. What is your number one lifestyle tip on how to juggle all your responsibilities and strike the right balance?
AC: So I would say that from my experience, it’s really just about persevering and your mindset. It looks and sounds like a lot and you do have a lot to tackle during the day but the most important thing is to just take one thing at a time and not let the grand scheme of things overwhelm you. So on really busy days, I would just focus on practice and once that is over I’ll be like “Okay boom, next step – I have to go to class and I have a presentation to do. Oh yeah it’s my friend’s birthday, I can’t ignore that either.” So it seems like a lot, but it also builds character, I think, because it teaches you to really stay organized, both mentally and in the ways in which you perform tasks day-to-day. And then it’s kind of thrilling, like once you look back on everything you’ve accomplished, even at the end of the day, you’re like “Wow I can’t believe I made it through this day!” That really gives you a kick for the future, and it trains you and prepares you well.
JD: Add get enough sleep to that list, because that’s important. Without enough sleep, your performance in all the other things becomes so much harder and it’s difficult to find the time to sleep with it all going on, but it’s crucial.
LO: I’d say manage your time, but also set your priorities. I guess in terms of importance, school and family always come first for me, and then obviously athletics. Keeping your priority while also, going out, being social and staying a part of different clubs is important. I don’t like getting too bogged down by just one thing, but at the same time you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. I like to get my work done efficiently and then reward myself different things, whether it be something as simple as watching a Netflix show or getting to go out that night. I try not to procrastinate. If you procrastinate too much, then it’s hard to have fun on top of it all.
How do you feel that being a collegiate athlete has improved your attitude towards other dimensions of your life?
AC: I think that it helps with if you’re dealing with challenges throughout your life. I think that being on a team especially helps a lot because you’re not in control. Like, soccer is very much a team sport and it’s not up to me if someone has a bad attitude, and we’re punished for it, and we have to do extra fitness or get up earlier the next day. That’s part of the team’s consequences, so you have to deal with that. I think it’s a great parallel to life because you know, things don’t always work out in life the way you want them to. You know someone cancels on you, someone sends you a last minute emailing saying “Hey can you do this?” and things just don’t line up that nicely. So I think being part of a team sport very much prepared me for other aspects in the world. Like even if something isn’t going according to plan, I’m prepared and I’m like “It’s okay, I’m expecting this and I’m prepared for this.” So yeah, you just kind of have to push through.
JD: It has built resilience and my drive to achieve better. But it has also made me realistic in your expectations of what I can achieve. It has improved my time management skills, which was something that I was never good at before coming to Penn. Now I can finally add that to my CV.
LO: It’s definitely made me grateful for free time and all the friends and family that I have. They support me through it all even when I’m super busy and they’re pretty understanding when I can’t go to certain things or am too busy to talk to them or hang out with them a lot. I guess it helps me not take things for granted as much, because I am so busy and time is so limited when I do get to spend it with my family and friends.
Some things you just have to experience to understand. What is one thing you wish your peers understood what it’s like to be a college athlete?
AC: I think pushing yourself beyond the limit. Like when you really want to give up, but you can’t because your coach is like “Get back on the line. You have 10 more sprints to do”. You know what I mean? It’s like, if you’re not an athlete and you’re just kind of doing homework, you have a lot more freedom. You can decide when you want to stop homework, or if you want to take a nap. You could theoretically skip practice, but you’d be kicked off the team. I’ll never forget this instance in sophomore year when we were training in the winter, our coach was like “Okay get on the line, you have 10 sprints” and it was a hard series of sprints that we did and then after that we thought we were done. We gave it our all, like our 100%, and then our coach was like “Okay, get back on the line, you have 10 more with the ball now”. And we were like “What, are you kidding?” but we all ended up finishing it and that’s just something that really pushes you beyond your limits. And I think a lot of people who’ve never had anything to do with sports or something similar that requires such intensity don’t really know what it feels like to go beyond what you think you can do. It’s both a challenge, but it’s also very rewarding in the sense that you don’t know that you can do certain things but you manage to do them and you’re like “Wow I’ve actually done it and I’m like, proud of myself.”
JD: How tired you are. Especially like when people want to socialize, and sometimes it’s nice to get the invitation, and you really, really, really want to be social. I think there’s the expectation from a Penn student that you have to keep up with the pace, and keep pushing yourself.
LO: I guess when I committed to play lacrosse here, everyone said “Oh you’re playing a D1 sport, it’s going to be so hard, you’re going to have to really manage your time”, but you don’t really know what that’s like until you experience it. All the time in my classes, I always hear regular students talk about how tired they are and I’m like trying to bite my tongue because I’m just exhausted after practice. I wish people understood how much it takes. People always say that they’re busy and that they have no time but as athletes, we really don’t have much time and you have to be really efficient with all the free time that you have.
What are some changes you made to your health regime once you started training in college?
AC: Well my case is very specific because I’ve also had a lot of injuries, like muscular and bone injuries, but also head injuries, like concussions, which is a whole new dimension. So I’ve had to make quite a few changes because, like, if you’re injured, you really have to be careful about your diet. There are certain foods that you should avoid with concussions, like foods with a lot of sugar, which was hard for me because I have a big sweet tooth. I’ve really paid attention to what I fuel my body with. So I have a good mix between what you should eat, like lean proteins, fish, greens, veggies, fruits and complex carbs, but then I also occasionally treat myself to things that I would want like desserts and things that aren’t necessarily healthy but are more for the sanity of my mind. And I think that being student athlete, it’s important to have both – a diet for physical abilities but also, a mental diet.
JD: I guess as a freshman on a dining plan, what I eat became more important because I guess you’ve got that option of all you can eat, and you think you’re burning the calories so much and you’ve kind of got to replace them. Drinking more water is another one, and probably consuming less caffeine. It’s important not to drink too much caffeine, because I think a lot of us think that because we’re juggling a schedule, we need those stimulants to keep us awake and keep us performing. But really like the best option is more sleep. As a team, we also had to be smart about when we went out and socialized. In squash we have a 72-hour rule before competition, which means no drinking for 3 days before a competition and just generally being clever and careful about what we put into our bodies.
LO: I definitely paid more attention to eating healthier. Not necessarily like being on a diet anything, but making sure that I am fuelling my body in the right way. Eating healthily so I can have my best performance in Lacrosse. In the fall we have a lot of run tests and if you don’t eat a lot of food you won’t pass the them as easily. Also, trying to get more sleep – that’s a big one, but I’m not as good at that. It’s hard for me. I think that’s something that goes by the wayside is my sleep, but I should try to sleep more.
What are the top three superfoods that get you through your hectic week?
AC: Eggs for sure. Yogurt is a great little snack – it’s filling and just makes me happy. This might be strange but I really love zucchini. I’ve incorporated it into all my meals, I eat for breakfast too sometimes with my eggs.
JD: Spinach, bananas and oats.
LO: I love apple and peanut butter – it’s one of my go-to snacks. Eggs are always good for breakfast. Definitely chicken or pasta for dinner.
Most people at Penn can drink beer while eating a whole pizza to themselves, and miss class the next day because they are hungover. For the most part, having an unhealthy lifestyle is not on the cards for athletes. How do you manage to get your healthy dose of ‘cheat days’ for personal indulgence?
AC: So both during in season and off season, we have one off day, so before that off day, that’s when we try to squeeze in events and it’s usually sadly on Sundays. Not a lot of people go out but we’ll organize fun events within our team and go out, and that’s when we can really squeeze in our doses of alcohol and cheat days and try to pretend to be like a normal college student. But we usually have a 48-hour alcohol policy rule before an event. We can’t drink 48 hours before a game, and that’s just so your mind is in the right place and your body is physically prepared. So we all respect that. It’s just something you have to deal with being part of a team and an athlete in general. But yeah, we try to squeeze it in whenever we can, even during the week. So we’ll probably go out more during non-conventional times and people are like “Why are they out on a Sunday?” But you just make the most of the time you have.
JD: So we have practice 5 times a week, but on the weekends we have no practice, so the structure of our team is already set up for that. I think it’s the same for a lot of the other teams as well. So we’ll get our rest days and then a few cheat days then. But it’s just important to keep being aware of not going too crazy. Just take that time off to enjoy yourself and use that day as a release of stress where you don’t have to stick to the athlete code.
LO: Definitely weekends. We have fun on the weekends when we can, especially in the fall because we don’t have games at that often. We just have a few tournaments, so we’ll definitely treat ourselves more. Like we’ll have run tests Friday morning in the fall so once we get thorugh the run tests and practice on Friday, you kinda take the weekend to have fun and have what you call ‘cheat days’ off. Whereas in the spring, because we’re in season and we have games, we definitely go out and celebrate the night after a game. So if we have a game on Saturday, we’ll go out that night, eat what we want, and then use Sunday to relax and recover because we usually don’t have practice that day.
Many a time, the life of an athlete is more fast-paced and demanding than the lives of people around you. What makes this experience worth it for you?
AC: I think you start bonding with people that have the same type of lifestyle as you, and it’s really cool to be part of something where you feel like others are in the same boat as you. And you kind of start to get your own fun out of it. Like as hard as it is, when you’re on away trips, you stay in hotels, you’re on the bus trying to do homework, but you share all these moments with people who’ve become like your family. I think that that’s really rewarding. And even though it’s a fast paced life, it’s just cool to be a part of because you share all these experiences that not everyone else share and then you know, looking back, you’re going to realize how many memories you made with these people. Not to take away from any of my other Penn friends, but it’s just that people in my team are all in the same boat as me. We’re kind of like soldiers you know, like, going through this tough regimen all together. And then you all make it and graduate together.
JD: The positive effects on your personality, and the positive feelings you get from that. The feeling of community. Winning is nice but it’s not everything. I especially like being in a team setting, because you have that immediate support network.
LO: Honestly, I’ve played sports my whole life. In high school I played 3 sports: soccer, swimming and lacrosse. I do miss playing other sports because now it’s just all lacrosse, which sometimes makes it feel like a job. But sometimes I don’t know what I would do with with all the extra time. Lacrosse keeps me on top of everything, and makes me really efficient in my studying and every other activity that I do I guess. In the fall during finals time, we’re off for lacrosse, because we’re out of season so not allowed to be practicing, and I always find it sometimes a little bit harder to make myself study and really buckle down because I feel like I have so much time. So I think it’s worth it to me, because it gives me that extra motivation and push to be efficient and not to procrastinate, and use my time wisely.
What is your favorite way to de-stress?
AC: My favourite way to de-stress doesn’t necessarily exist at Penn, but my ideal is just to lay in a hot tub as I can mentally de-stress and it physically relaxes me too. But what I do at Penn is I usually just take a rest day, lay on the couch, hang out with friends, watch a movie, go see a play and go out to eat. Very much just social but also lowkey, so not necessarily like going out and partying, but just like hanging out with friends in a lowkey environment. I also really enjoy going for walks, whether it’s on my own or with a friend, and just kind of listening to music. It’s very therapeutic and especially now that the weather is getting better, I love basking in the sun and just being outside.
JD: Talking to my family – that actually de-stresses me. In fact that really does de-stress me, because I literally release everything I’m thinking about to them, especially things you can’t necessarily say to your coaches. Your family gets the brunt of it. I know my dad has had to put up with it a few times.
LO: Definitely to eat a good meal and watch a Netflix show at the same time, just to get some me time.
How do you explore your personal fashion style when your routine demands that you wear workout clothes for the most part of your week?
AC: It is tough, because I am often caught wearing athletic clothes because you have to jump from class to practice and back, but I think my style is very much what you guys would call ‘athleisure’. Like I try to look cute wearing my athletic clothes because it’s kind of like a shortcut – I don’t want to change too much about my outfit going to practice or just like going to work out afterwards, but at the same time, I kind of look like I put a little bit of effort in. But then, there are definitely days where I want to dress up more, especially if I don’t have practice or if we have more time to get ready. In terms of fashion, I’m pretty trendy. I do stick to what’s in fashion. Like if I notice people wearing certain brands or certain cuts of clothing that I really like, I’ll check those out on Amazon or go to Urban or something. I’ll try to find something that will suit my body and look flattering on me. I do really love shopping and investing in clothing, it’s just a matter of how convenient is it for me to really change that quickly when I’m in school and going to practice.
JD: Workout clothes are comfortable and as you said, they’re what I wear for the large majority of my time. So comfort is automatically the biggest determiner of my personal fashion style – whether that’s when I’m selecting an outfit from my wardrobe or deciding what items I’ll by from the store. After that I probably think about the setting I’m going to be in and what fashion style will best match it, so like the weather, temperature, color coordination etc.
LO: I probably won’t have the best answer for you, because I’m not the most fashionable. I really kind of use my status as an athlete as an excuse to always wear athletic clothes and not really dress up. I think the weather plays a big part in that too. In the winter, I’m totally guilty of wearing sweatpants all the time, but as it gets warmer outside, I’ll definitely try to wear shorts and some dresses. It’s definitely weather-dependent, but when you’re going to and from practice, it’s really hard to motivate yourself to dress really nicely.
Do you feel that your self-expression is suppressed as an athlete? Or do you feel more inclined to dress fashionably when you are not wearing a uniform?
AC: I definitely think that especially for morning practices, there’s no point in dressing cutely or even bringing cute stuff with you because you’re running to practice, it’s early, you’re about to sweat, you’re about to put on your workout stuff, so there’s no point in putting on cute stuff. Afterwards you’re totally sweaty, your hair is messed up, you want to shower first before you wear anything cute. I would often compromise between dressing the way I would want to and the way I actually did, just because of my actual schedule. As soon as the weather starts getting warmer in the summer, I immediately start incorporating more dresses and rompers into my wardrobe because my mood lifts. I’m very much a person who loves summer and spring, and in the winter I just don’t have the desire to put on so many cute layers. I think my mood has an effect on the way I dress, unfortunately, and that’s something I want to work on. In the summer I definitely see myself putting more time into being who I really want to be fashion-wise.
JD: Yes, definitely the second one. Purely because you wear your uniform and Penn gear so often, you kind of want to get away from it. It’s kind of an escape. It’s not like we don’t want to be reminded that we’re athletes but it’s nice to be able to wear something different. But a lot of the time people will say that it’s more comfortable to wear athletic clothes and in ways, I know that there are days where I could be wearing something different but you just resort back to your athlete’s clothes, and that is purely for the comfort.
LO: I wouldn’t say my fashion is suppressed. I’m really not, as I said, a super-fashionable person. So I enjoy wearing athletic clothes and lounge clothes and not worrying about dressing up. I like that aspect about being an athlete. I think it helps that I’m an athlete when I dress like that, because it makes more sense to people. And to me, I guess it’s an excuse not to dress up as much. But I think that some people in my classes wouldn’t recognize me in class as to how I look when I go out because I never really dress that nice in class.
Images courtesy of Joy Lee. Styled by Jessica Sulima and Marie Wesley McFalls.