Over and over, Jenny Hammond kicks into gear and takes off on a sprint. She never gives herself extra rest. There is no authority barking orders at her--internal drive at its highest level.
It's a grueling sprint workout, the 60-part opening act of a six-hour day of training. The distances vary from 30 to 70 yards, but it matters little: Hammond pushes through them all, stopping as planned after 30 sprints to catch her breath and get a swig of water before tackling the final 30.
All for a dream that came true at long last.
Hammond was drafted in the fourth round of the Women's Professional Soccer league general draft, and soon after signed a contract to play for Sky Blue FC of New Jersey. She felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment upon hearing the news--her adversity suggests she should've given up long ago--but she immediately realized the work had only just begun.It was on her to show up to preseason camp in shape and ready to compete, so she left her home in Illinois during the winter and spent several weeks in Southern California training in warm weather. On this day, she will grind through 60 wind sprints, work on ball skills by herself, then head to a trainer in Orange County who will set her up with more work that totals up to four hours. She will then find a pickup game to round out her day.
"Sunday is my only day off," Hammond said. "Sometimes I don't even take that day off. I end up playing pickup with some people."
Hammond's not taking her new job for granted. How could she? She finally made it to professional soccer at the age of 25, after five knee surgeries and years of waiting for a pro league to get back on its feet. The roadblocks never fazed her. If there was any sort of chance, she kept reaching for it.
Truth was, Hammond had no interest in leaving soccer behind. After an ACL tear knocked her down in high school, she vowed to never let it get the best of her. She went on to play four years at Clemson University, where she tore her other ACL. More injuries resulted in a total of five knee surgeries--more than enough to conquer most athletes.
"There were times where rehab was very difficult," Hammond said. "But I think the mental side is what really picked me up--to mentally get through anything that might be physically bothering me."
It was during her sophomore year at Clemson that the professional league she aspired to play in, the WUSA, suspended operations due to lack of funds. But even that devastating news came with a catch--there was chatter soon after that professional women's soccer could make a comeback. No immediate timetable, no further information.
It was all Hammond needed to hear.
"I was hearing it was going to come back," Hammond said, "and I just kept myself in shape to give myself a shot at playing in the league."
She played on semi-pro teams during the summers to keep her skills sharp. She played pickup games wherever she could, whenever she could. She started coaching at the collegiate level--first as a graduate assistant at Kansas, then as a full-time assistant at Eastern Illinois--and would frequently work hands-on with the players she was leading.
In the summer of 2008, Hammond played for the Chicago Gaels of the semipro W-League. Soon after, she received an invitation to attend a scouting combine in Florida for the new WPS, the seven-team pro league she was waiting for.
Women's professional soccer was returning the following spring. Hammond would get her chance.
Hammond felt prepared in Florida, and tried to stay within her game. It paid off. She caught the eye of Sky Blue FC general manager Ian Sawyers, who drafted her in the fourth round of the league's inaugural draft. She projects to be an outside defender for New Jersey.
"It's kind of surreal for me to call myself a professional athlete," Hammond said. "But I think all the years of preparing and training and really pushing myself have helped me accomplish this goal."
It's now time to work. Hammond goes on a long run on Mondays, which gets her body ready for the exhausting week that will follow.
Hammond realizes what other professionals found out on their rise to the top. It was legendary basketball player Pete Maravich who summed it up best, after explaining that he too would spend up to eight hours a day doing individual work to become one of the best.
"You don't get here," Maravich famously said, "by wishing."
With that, Hammond takes off for another workout. There's more to be done.