Hispanic Heritage Month In Focus: Jackie Guerra

    This is part of The Shadow League’s Hispanic Heritage Month In Focus series celebrating Latino excellence in sports and culture.

    Hermosa Beach, California is the type of place that most people dream about. Extending 15 blocks to the east and west and 40 blocks to the north and south, it seems to encompass the very definition of the California Dream, existing alongside its neighboring communities of Manhattan and Redondo to offer a seemingly carefree lifestyle that most would be envious of. 

    With its majestic scenery, hip bars, surfing and paddle board culture, sand, scenic piers and preponderance of lithe, tanned bodies skilled in beach volleyball, its the perfect backdrop for a relaxing lifestyle.

    But if you pop into 307 Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa, youll see a different type of California Dream, one that was formulated by an elite soccer player from Puerto Rico whose parents had settled in Dallas, Texas prior to her being born. 

    Over a decade ago, she first laid eyes on Southern California. The beauty, vibe and rhythms of the locale spoke to her when she was still in high school. She knew back then that athletics would be a defining engine toward propelling her to the future. And she knew that she wanted her future, which would involve sports somehow, some way, to be here. She didnt know how, what or when, but she believed in her inner voice.

    And now today, there are hundreds of others listening to the punctilious, studied and grounded voice in the pursuit of their own dreams.

    ***

    Jackie Guerras parents were high school sweethearts in Puerto Rico. A former collegiate wrestler at Boston University, her father moved her mother to Dallas after he graduated and secured a job in his field of engineering.

    As an athlete who believed in the merits of preparation and competition, he enrolled his children at an early age in whatever sport was in session that season.

    My brother was a good athlete, so all the sports that he played, I played with him because we were so competitive, said Guerra. We played everything – basketball, baseball, soccer, football, hockey and we also did some surfing when wed go and visit Puerto Rico.

    As she got older, she blossomed into an accomplished club soccer and AAU basketball player by middle school. As the competition got more intense, with national showcases approaching that would be littered with college coaches, her father, who stands 5-foot-6,  sat her down for a discussion.

    Listen, I know you love basketball, but I think that given me and your mothers height and your goal to play sports at the highest level, you might want to pursue soccer full time, he told her.

    By the time she was 16, Guerra was participating in Puerto Ricos Olympic soccer development program and competing for one of Americas elite club programs. She was being recruited by a bevy of Division I colleges, including SMU, Texas, the University of Southern California, some Big 10 schools and others.

    During one summer, she visited a friend in San Diego and fell in love with California. Soon her yearnings and visions drifted there.

    She was enamored with the thought of attending U.S.C. and playing soccer there. But the coaching staff that shed built a rapport with during the recruiting process was fired prior to her junior year in high school. Her heart had been set on being in Los Angeles.

    I was like, Oh my god! Where am I going to go now?, said Guerra. At the time, I was being most heavily recruited by the University of Illinois.

    Lets go out there and check it out, her father advised.

    Her response was not an enthusiastic one.

    Whats in Illinois!? shed answer in exasperation.

    But Guerra has always been one to do her research. The more she inquired about Illinois coach Janet Rayfield, the schools winningest soccer coach who was in the process of building the Fighting Illini into one of the nations premier programs, the more she liked.

    We went for a visit, I fell in love with the school, the coach and the program, and I committed during my junior year in high school, said Guerra.

    On the prep and club level, Guerra was an intense competitor whod accomplished every goal that shed established. Prior to reporting for preseason camp in Illinois, her club squad had advanced to the national finals. Shed already completed everything that was required in her freshman fitness packet in terms of times that she needed to run for certain distances.

    I thought I was going to have a ton of playing time as a freshman, said Guerra.

    But she was soon in for a rude awakening. 

    I passed my fitness test, but not with flying colors, she continued. My teammates literally had to push me across the finish line.

    Rayfield, her new head coach, sat her down for an honest conversation.

    Jackie, we have a really high standard for fitness here, and youre not going to play if you dont get to that next level, Guerra was told. 

    The freshman asked her coach, Janet, how do I do that? How do I get there?  

    Jackie, thats part of your journey, she was told. Youll figure it out.

    ***

    As a freshman at Illinois in 2008, Guerra only appeared in one game. As a sophomore and junior, she only appeared in 13 games combined. 

    Determined to exert her mental energies as much as her physical exertions on improving her performance, the Business Management major began exploring sports science, taking classes in Kinesiology and Physiology, among others. She utilized the library and databases to do her own research, and began formulating her own theories on the human body and sports performance.

    Numbers dont lie, and I was asking myself, How can I track my progress?’ said Guerra. Fitness is often measured with a speed equation – distance over time – how fast you run a mile, etc. But what I realized was that if Jessica and I are running a 300-shuttle alongside one another and my heart rate is 145 afterwards and hers is at her max, its a much different story. I can sprint again quicker than she can. So I began to put together a methodology where I could track my rate of recovery and my speed. And I wound up transforming my own physiological profile.

    She also transformed herself as an athlete with what she learned and applied. As a senior, she started 23 out of her teams 24 games and was a big contributor on a squad that won the Big 10 championship.

    Her coach noticed her metamorphosis and how she kept every minute piece of data and biometric statistics to understand her individual relationship and the interactions of speed, distance and heart rate as it applied to her own personal profile. 

    Rayfield casually mentioned to Guerra, We need a whole new curriculum of how to build athletes according to their own specific needs.

    Janet, Id love to implement this with the team, Guerra told her.

    Rayfield gave Guerra the green light to conduct an independent study for the full team after her senior campaign in the fall of 2011. 

    I did it for the whole team in the spring and summer of 2012 and tested it again in the fall to track personal records and so forth, said Guerra. 

    A few years prior, shed dreamed of playing pro soccer either in America or abroad. But when she began to see her proprietary methodology come into place, knowing how powerful her own alteration had been in terms of her fitness and performance on the field, a different vision emerged. 

    I knew that other athletes could use this, Guerra said.

    And she set her sights on accomplishing her next mission in the place that shed long wanted to live. She conducted a study around where athletes, specifically soccer players, were condensed and found that the South Bay area had over 48,000 registered soccer players, three-fourths of which were women and young females.

    I was called and led to this space, she said.

    She moved to California in the summer of 2012, four days after she graduated from Illinois. She initially lived with a good friend whod played on the Illinois softball team, sleeping in the kitchen area of a studio apartment in West Hollywood. 

    Playing pickup soccer games, she came into contact with young athletes that she began training and established an initial client base. She would train them early in the morning before going to work. After completing an internship, she was offered a full-time job at a local training facility.

    I thought about going the conventional route and working for someone else, said Guerra. Or I could do something on my own that has never been done before.

    She established a limited liability corporation and started Game Ready Performance, leasing a 600 square foot space at the L.A. Galaxy Soccer Center. One of her first official clients was going into her senior year at Harvard who hadnt played many minutes over the prior three years with the Crimson soccer squad.

    Listen, I promise if you follow me, well get you on the field playing a lot of minutes, Guerra told her.

    And sure enough, after an intensive summer of training, her client not only increased her playing time, but she was ultimately named the MVP of a team that won the Ivy League title. Another client was entering her freshman year at Notre Dame who was eventually selected to play for the Mexican national team. Another was a high schooler who eventually went on to have an impressive career at SMU and is now playing pro in Italy.

    Word soon spread and in 2014, she was introduced to Robbie Davis, the current Medical Director for the Los Angeles Clippers. Davis was impressed with Guerras energy, methodology and results, and she soon found herself working with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, along with other NBA players who call Los Angeles home like 2018 league MVP James Harden.

    I started to see that my methodology worked with the NBA players as well, helping them build faster capacities and quicker recovery rates, said Guerra. I felt like I was really onto something in terms of being able to positively impact athletes. It wasnt just about performance, but longevity as well, along with injury prevention and being able to provide a complete systematic approach to really profiling energy systems for an athlete within their specific sport. 

    “And not just that, but at their specific position as well, because guys like DeAndre Jordan and James Harden, their profiles are so different because they play different positions that each have different demands.

    She soon outgrew her initial space at the Galaxys soccer facility. She sub-leased a larger space at another location after two-and-a-half years and was not only acquiring more individual athletes, but also entire teams and clubs.

    In late June, she officially opened her own brick and mortar facility for Game Ready Performance at 307 Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach, providing services to professional athletes, college athletes of all levels, and elite youth athletes serious about taking their games to the next level.  

    Empowering athletes with the tools to pursue their dreams without limits, is what my work at Game Ready Performance is about, said Guerra. 

    Her empirically based methodology that focuses on heart rate variability, rate of recovery, positive daily affirmations, neurokenetic training and strength conditioning has proven to help elite athletes increase their stamina, prevent injuries and foster another level of  mental toughness.

     

    I remain exponentially passionate about advancing methodologies that not just produce results, but represent a holistic and scientific approach to athletic and player development, said her business partner and mentor Curt Onalfo, the first MLS coach to bring heart rate monitors to the soccer field in 2007, who officially partnered with Guerra in 2017. Jackie is a beacon whose light shines throughout and beyond the South Bay soccer community. Her reputation precedes her as an inspiring role model for our youth, and a young professional who cares deeply for the physical, emotional and informed development of youth, collegiate and professional athletes of all sports.

    The official symbol for Game Ready Performance is the Flower of Life, an ancient and global symbol of interconnectedness, balance and harmony. 

    The biggest service I can provide is to spur athletes to develop, said Guerra. The goals moving forward are to provide a new level of understanding and awareness of what fitness represents. Now, its about acquiring more youth clubs and instituting programs that are going to serve larger communities while at the same time focusing on developing and expanding our work with the pro athletes and being a part of their success. As we grow and expand, another goal is to team up with someone like LeBron James, someone who cares about youth and young athletes, to build and identify niche opportunities for young athletes to continuously get better and have new metrics of success to bring about a whole new level of playing.

    Guerra is also looking to make an impact in her familys native land, Puerto Rico. Shes currently on the island for a few days, working with the group Taino Warriors to identify and train Puerto Rican athletes with the hope of getting them ready to compete for scholarships at Division I universities. The selected athletes will spend the summer of 2019 training at the Game Ready Performance facility in Hermosa Beach, alongside the current elite college athletes and pros that train there.

    As we grow, were standing at the forefront of a lot of change in the athletic world, said Guerra. We have a unique way of performance training. Four of the athletes that weve been working with have just turned pro. Were just being a vessel, not only to provide the physiological part, but the mental part as well. Our mantra is Break Through, Speak Life, Manifest Gold.

    That sounds appropriate for someone who slept in the kitchen area of a studio apartment a few short years ago armed with little more than a vision, belief and a purpose, to use what she learned breaking through towards her own dreams, and using that to help others.