I never went to prom, I never went on spring break, I never went to Friday night football games, and I never had the summer off for family vacations. Gymnastics is a year-round sport, and the offseason was exponentially worse than season. But man did I love it.
I grew up in the gym. From age 6 I spent every waking minute in one. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I loved it. I have never felt that kind of love for anyone or anything in my life. For a sport to consume your entire life, you have to love it to commit to it. I didn’t even know what I was feeling was love until much later.
I always used the gym as an escape. A 4-6 hour a day, 25-35 hours a week escape. It was a mental vacation, a sanctuary. A chance to forget about everything going on, and focus solely on the moment I was in. It understood me and I understood it.
It was ugly inside that gym.
We were little girls being pushed to our physical, mental, and emotional limits. We never took the easy way out, we never cheated (if you did you wish you hadn’t), we couldn’t cry, we couldn’t talk, we did what we were told when we were told to do it. Follow the rules and work hard and you’ll be great. If you break, you’ll be done.
We were strong.
We were strong in a sense of physical strength but also mental strength. To succeed we had to be mentally prepared. The conditioning was so brutal that many of us would cry silent tears but keep going because if we stopped we would be scolded, and have to start over. Not to mention you would piss off every one of your teammates and that was the worst consequence.
We were crazy.
You have to be crazy to get up on a 4-inch beam that’s 4 feet off the ground (that at one point was taller than me), and enjoy it.
We were tough.
I wasn’t strong enough, flexible enough, lean enough, fast enough, or confident enough. I had to learn to accept the criticism and use it as fuel to become better; rather than have it destroy me. As a girl striving for perfection and being told the way you look is not good enough, you develop the toughest kind of skin.
I’ve landed on my head, neck, back, and face countless times. I’ve thrown my body into a stationary object, and been in physical fights with pieces of equipment, and lost every single time (I don’t recommend kicking a beam). My pain tolerance has since gone down, but back then I didn’t even know half the bones I broke were actually broken until much later. Literally, I fractured my “first rib” (Picture) and didn’t confirm it until almost 2 years later after it calloused over. To this day I still feel the repercussions of all the injuries, hard landings, and incredible wipeouts.
Why in the world did we do it?
Insanity? Love? The things we do for the ones we love, that’s what gymnasts do for the sport. It gave me some of the best moments of my life. I traveled to really cool places, I met my best friends, I learned what love is, I learned how to persevere through unbearable adversity and when people thought I would quit, I kept going. My coaches throughout the years became my gym parents, and were there every step of the way. I made it through to the very end.
A lot of people ask me why the hell I went to Eastern Michigan for college. Well, I went to college for an education; I went to EMU for the opportunity to be a student-athlete at a Division 1 school. I wouldn’t change that for anything.
There’s an expiration date.
Inevitably all good things must come to an end. My expiration date for gymnastics was March 10, 2012 after hyperextending my knee so badly they thought I fractured a bone in my leg, two weeks before my very last meet. I finished out my career hobbling around on crutches in a massive knee brace and rehabbing every day. At the time it was a tough pill to swallow because I wanted one more chance to compete, and it was an ending to a collegiate career full of injuries. In hindsight, I made it all the way to the end. I didn’t quit when I had hip surgery, when I realized I wasn’t living a normal teenage life, or when I wasn’t having a normal college experience. I wanted to reach the retirement finish line.
It’s hard to continue.
Gymnastics was a huge part of my life for many years. It essentially was my life. I don’t think people understand the massive identity crisis that comes when you’re finally retired from the sport. Imagine, 5 hours a day doing one thing and all of a sudden there’s a void when you’re 22 years old. You wake up and the one thing you’ve identified with is no longer there. It’s not only a void, but there’s pressure to fill that void the moment you graduate. My job doesn’t fill it, working out at LA Fitness doesn’t fill it, and writing doesn’t even fill it. To replace the sport is unrealistic, but to find something else I’m passionate about is crucial in moving on. I continue to struggle to find it, almost 4 years after retirement.
I still give back.
I coached for years, and now I find myself donating money to EMU Gymnastics. To see the program doing great things is rewarding as an alumni. Check out the Website
To succeed in such a demanding sport was worth the pain. There was no better feeling than to overcome something I didn’t even think I could do. I credit a lot of my success as an adult to the time I put into the gym as a kid. I credit the coaches I hated on some days and loved on others, the teammates who stuck by me through the worst of days, and continue to do so, and my family who sacrificed so much for me. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be who I am today.
I have aspirations as big as the sky, and I fully anticipate achieving them. I had them as a young girl with gymnastics, and I have them as an adult with my career. Sometimes I have to adjust my dreams just like I did as a little girl, but I will never quit.