I recently had an unexpected thought of former gymnastics teammates of mine. I say teammates loosely—in the sport of gymnastics- you may be on the same team but you are essentially there for yourself it seems. This was a competitive private gymnastics club/team and really, if you are a gymnast growing up and spending your childhood in a gym, every girls goal is to be at the top of the podium. There is only one first place, and everyone is aiming for it. That being said, we were always of course super close with the teammates that we practiced hours each week together with. There is no way to not be. These are the girls that you sit on a mat with at the beginning of practice and begin warm ups with, you hold each other’s legs to stretch, you push each other’s legs to stretch further, you push their legs down, you hold them across the vault to do back strength and ask them to spot you on some things. You share tape, occasionally grips, beam shoes, know each other’s floor music, have seen each other fall, get hurt, be afraid, get new skills, have the best days and the worst days. We share chalk buckets, pass down leotards, know each other’s floor routines, go to meets together, try to not eat too much together😊 We have stayed in hotels before- doing back handsprings down hallways, trying to not go into the pool the night before meets lest we become “wet noodles” incapable of keeping tight bodies, jumping on the elevators going down to get more air.
And eventually, these are the teammates that we share our eventual dreams coming true… or in most cases, fall spectacularly short. And the season realizing our dreams truly won’t ever happen for us, are brutal. They come during difficult teenage years when not only are we experiencing changing bodies and experiences, we are found with a loss of identity, and new teammates “taking over our spot.” There is only one top girl. If you are on top, there is only one place to go if you don’t stay on top, and that is down. That is scary.
Needless to say, you become family. You understand frustrations at coaches who you may feel have abandoned you or let you down. You understand frustrations at our own bodies for failing to be what we want them to be or do. We stand next to each other while we find our places in the world.
So, even years later, it is heartbreaking to find that one is now gone.
I am unsure if gymnastics is different from other sports since it is so intensely focused during the growing adolescent years, but I talk with other former gymnasts that are now adults that seem stuck. We are 30 and 40 year olds still doing bar routines in our mind before we fall asleep (or while asleep). We still dream of new connections and routine ideas, we still cannot help but do handstands in places that we visit, we are adults who cannot stop leaping down the driveway after picking up the mail. Our sport was our love and is engrained in our muscles, souls, movement and hearts. Not only stuck continuing to walk on curbs and lines mimicking a balance beam, but stuck in some tough ways of thinking.
*stuck being a human acting as an efficient machine optimizing time management to an almost inhuman extent. We learned this through a childhood of moving fast, and we cannot imagine doing something without a purpose/goal/intent. We cannot imagine living without a goal. Sometimes to a fault.
*I personally am stuck being hard on myself. To a fault. Asking for a perfect 10 of myself, at all times, in all situations, and not knowing how to not be always reaching for the next thing, the next improvement.
*stuck with injuries….ohhhh how I have wished over the past year so many times that my back hadn’t had so much jolting/ I hadn’t had so many falls. My body is definitely “stuck” with some effects.
Sometimes I do wonder how to get RID of this stuck-ness that I live in, but I also am so passionate about the extraordinary benefits I received of sport during my growing years. If you asked me what I would do differently, for the most part, I wouldn’t change a THING. It was hard, but it was life. Sports are life. It was such an honor and privilege to spend my childhood doing the sport I loved.
I got to experience my greatest love, hobby, feeling in the world through my sport. I truly was and will never forget the PHYSICAL FEELING of my sport: flying, landing a solid jump on beam, attacking the runway on vault (when I wasn’t scared of the freaking thing), catching bars solid, swinging solid and strong. The memories of those physical sensations are priceless forever.
I have done more SINCE my gymnastics career than I ever would have had I not grown up in this sport. I would have never known how to never ever give up. I wouldn’t be stubborn, feisty, and all of the things that have allowed me to go through my college years as intensely as I did, worked to create my own business. I would never have had the stubborn fortitude to adopt a child, jump through hoops for the things I believed in, and stand again when my dreams have been crushed so many times.
I would have never learned the life lessons of: taking risks versus playing it safe, and when to do which. I would have never challenged myself to do the SCARIEST THING I COULD THINK OF. I remember things that really used to scare me in gymnastics (freaking vault) but also other things/landings/ that I had to learn to overcome. I had to learn to trust myself, to trust to let go and just try.
I would have never known how to challenge myself physically to run and then learn to do triathlons and accept the challenge of the race distances and intensities that I’ve done. I wouldn’t have had this inner “thing” in me that doesn’t allow me to quit. I would have never been told that my dream wouldn’t come true and be so fired up mad that I vowed, “ohhhhhh yes it will……” I probably never would have felt a need to prove myself (to both myself and others) so strong that I trained for and did an Ironman.
I would have never learned the beauty of coaching. I know things that have worked and didn’t work for me, and maybe those are different from everyone. I know it usually doesn’t work to poke a teenage girl in the stomach though and let her know that you can see that she has already eaten dinner. I know that it does work to stand back and watch with confidence, support, joy and pride. I know it doesn’t work when you fail and fall and disgust your own self to walk up to a coach asking you, “why did you do that” as if I wanted to bomb a routine or fall. I know that a knowing nod of the head and hand on the back mean, “I know you know that sucked and I’m so sorry, but it doesn’t diminish you as a person or athlete.” Those things don’t need to be spoken, they can be felt. I know the time for constructive criticism and time for quiet support.
But I’ve been reminded as I reminisce this past week, that I also would have never known so many beautiful friendships built with smiles, tears, chalk dust, stinky gym bags, exhausted muscles, ripped hands, hours, glory and defeat. When you experience it ALL together, you will always be family.
*I’m so sorry Christina. I loved you and remember you then and will always remember you. I remember your strong legs and arms, I remember your crazy flexibility. I remember your laugh. I remember your power and also your softness, sensitivity and your hard times. Your hard times coincided with my hard times and I think those last years together allowed me to see your heart and your wonderful being. I remember always being thankful when you were at a practice the same day as me. Those were good days, you comforted me to have someone so real around. I remember you at meets, pulling boards for each other, sharing beams and cheering each other on. I wish I had known you at the end. I wish I could have maybe been that comfort for you that you had been for me. I would have continued to cheer you and your beautiful heart on forever.