Like is the case with many others, I had my first encounter with gymnastics when I was very young. In the early 2000s, Nickelodeon would give its stars a chance to talk to the audience about their hobbies. This was the commercial I was watching when I discovered the sport that would change my life forever.
I wondered what gymnastics was. What did it even mean? The word “gymnastics” alone intrigued me.
I gasped with awe as I watched a little girl tumble across the screen, claiming she had taught herself to do a cartwheel. “I can do that,” I thought to myself. “It can't be that hard.”
So, I did it. I taught myself how to do a cartwheel in my backyard. My mother put me in gymnastics classes in order to prevent serious injury. It was inevitable. So, it began.
No matter how far you may have made it in the gymnastics world, all gymnasts can agree the sport instilled four very important traits in us:
“Hey, want to hang out?”
“I can't. I have practice.”
“Can't you just skip it for once?”
Practicing five days a week was never enough. I always craved more days in the week because that would mean more gymnastics.
Not only did I dedicate three hours a day to training, but I also dedicated all of my spare time to the sport as well. I would spend my time studying YouTube videos of old-school gymnasts, or even videos from the latest Olympics.
Kind of lame, I know. But I was always trying to improve, both physically and mentally.
This passion and dedication has never left me. When you have to pick between hanging out with your friends and going to practice, you know, deep down, which one you would rather pick. Even though friends are fun and exciting, your sport matters more.
“Don't get me wrong; her performance today was alright. But I think she could've done way better, don't you?”
One of the worst feelings was when your teammate performed a wonderful routine, and you didn’t know whether you should be happy or jealous. For those of you who played more team-centered sports, this feeling is similar to the one you would’ve felt if someone else scored the winning goal, basket or touchdown. You’re happy for this person, but you’re also low-key planning his or her demise.
Gymnastics created a sense of competitiveness within me that I can’t control. This characteristic can either be a blessing or a curse. It allows me to give my all to whatever I'm doing, but it also allows me to piss everyone off in the process. No one likes a girl who takes a challenge too seriously.
No matter whether it was chasing after the love of my life for seven months — even when he wasn't remotely interested — or insisting to all of my history teachers that they should bump up my 89 to a 90, I was never a quitter. Playing sports teaches you that even if you dread doing something — like conditioning, ugh — it only makes you stronger.
Gymnastics doesn't produce quitters. Even though there are some of us who didn't make it to the Olympics, the World Cup or even an NCAA team, we all tried. There comes a point when you realize that all the sacrifices you made were somehow worth it at the end.
“Don't be so hard on yourself.”
“But I have to be. I’m a gymnast.”
Gymnastics is difficult, but the training is what makes it look so effortless. As a child, I would always cheat during conditioning. If my coach said to do 10 pull ups, I would try to see if I could do six. I would just make them last long enough so that my coach believed I had actually done all 10.
After a couple of months of not improving, I said to my reflection, “If you cheat, you do not get better.” This is something I say to the athletes I coach on a regular basis. Cheating on anything not only gets you in trouble, but it also makes you kind of a crappy person. (As does lying.)
If you want to be one of the greats, you must do whatever it takes to be great. Unfortunately, I never made it to the Olympics like I had aspired to. But all the lessons I learned from my countless hours of practice stuck with me forever.
Gymnastics demands a lot from your body and mind. Even if you spent your entire young life stressing about a sport you can't do anymore, the time you spent dedicating yourself to the craft is always worth it in the end.
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