With gyms closed and no end to quarantine in sight, Paul Juda initially found it challenging to motivate himself. Juda, a sophomore standout and reigning Big Ten Freshman of The Year on the Michigan men’s gymnastics team, decided to use the unexpected shut-down to take time off from his intense training regimen.
“Athletes are humans too, at least I am,” Juda said. “I let my body take a little bit of a break. You never know how stressed out you are until you take a break.”
But the time off, his first in a long while, gave Juda a new perspective on the sport he loves and trains for every single day.
“Staying at home for the first time without gymnastics for an extended period of time, and getting back in the gym that first day,” Juda said, “that makes you really remember why you fell in love with the sport to begin with.”
Juda conditioned throughout the quarantine through home workouts hosted over Zoom, but his first time back in the gym and being able to perform even basic gymnastics sets inspired him to take advantage of the break.
“I did a lot of cardio on my stationary bike at home,” Juda said. “Every hour that I spent on there sweating it out, I thought about how much closer I would be than the next guy who’s doing nothing during this break.
“That kind of pushed me the most, the thought that these hours that you don’t get back, I’m using them to get over the edge.”
That mentality is what propelled Juda even before coming to Michigan when he was competing against international gymnasts and placing in the top three against Olympians at the United States Senior Championship in 2019.
Still, the transition to Michigan and a Division I program wasn’t as easy as it would seem, even for someone as talented as Juda.
“It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” Juda said. “Adjusting to the academics and the amount of work it takes to compete at this level was tougher than I expected. I got homesick for sure, even though my parents were close by.”
But by his second semester, Juda set a goal to become a leader for the team in all aspects, even on a team primarily composed of upperclassmen. He pushed for an environment that only accepts excellence, which carries into the team’s dynamic this year and going forward.
“All that really changed for me this year is my class rank,” Juda said. “I’m still trying to achieve the same goals I set since I got here. It’s demanding excellence and being your best.”
The team has also changed with a lot of fresh faces, giving Juda a new perspective on the upcoming season.
“Having a younger team is really good for me because I like the idea of showing people the steps they should follow and guiding them towards using intelligent moves in the gym,” Juda said. “I can sense the hunger from the guys without having to motivate them too much.”
He and the team continue to have high expectations for their future and aim to bring Michigan the NCAA Championship that the team worked tirelessly for during last year before their season was canceled.
Amid adjusting to U-M academics, with his mentality pushing him, Juda was also selected for the United States Men’s Senior National Team in February, becoming its youngest member at just 19 years old. The day after, Juda was selected for the Pan American Games, one of the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics qualifier events for the U.S. But yet again, Juda looks at this temporary pause as a building block to his eventual goal.
“If anything, this postponement of the Olympics is only advantageous to someone in my particular situation,” he said. “It’s a whole year of development for me, and I focus on training through efficiency and not wasting the time I have. What’s most important for me going forward is my body, mind, and nutrition while being happy and staying close with my teammates.”
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