I was a gymnast for about 13 years of my childhood and young adult life; competitively for the last 7 years of that time. It hasn’t been until my older young adult life (i.e. late 20’s/fresh into my 30’s) that I’ve come to realize how great of an experience that was and how much my childhood athletic experience is now carrying into my adult life. I am most keenly aware of and grateful for two things that have come from this experience: that I can use and move my body in ways that only my imagination can limit; and that a community and a team supporting you, creates a synergy and magic in the atmosphere, and it’s blissfully infectious.
First, a little about gymnastics. I’m not sure there is any other sport that compares to gymnastics. For women there are 4 events, in Olympic order: vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Men have six events and I doubt there is anyone out there who will argue with me when I say that men’s gymnastics is super-human, so for the purpose of this post, when I say gymnastics, I’m referring to women’s gymnastics. Gymnastics requires more power, strength, precision and grace than any other sport. It requires a finely tuned athlete – both mentally and physically.
Vaulting requires the gymnast to run full-force sprint, down a 70-80 foot runway; launch onto a spring board with 4-6 iron springs, absorbing and then re-launching the gymnast, who then flies superwoman-like, head first, onto a semi-horizontal target about 5 feet off the ground, about 3 feet square; and then again launches herself, flipping and twisting 8+ feet in the air; knowing exactly where she is in the air, to then plant herself on the ground – feet first – and not move. Stuck landing. And then, she does it again about 2 minutes later. Requires: speed, force, power, amplitude.
The Uneven Bars beckons the gymnast to swing gracefully from fiberglass rail to fiberglass rail; one set at 5 feet off the ground, the other at about 8 feet; both sitting about 5 feet apart. If utilized correctly and timely, the fiberglass rails gives the gymnast both rebound and absorption from/to swings. The gymnast is required to fly from bar to bar, no less than one time, but it is more often multiples times. In addition to that, the gymnast is required to twirl and twist around each bar, with no other contact but the palm of her hands and the top half of her thighs. Requires: precision, extension, strength, power, flexibility and tightness.
Next is Balance Beam (my personal favorite and best event). Can you do a cartwheel? A “back flip” or a “front flip”? A handstand perhaps? Can you jump several feet into the air, fold your body in half (both front ways and back ways) and then gracefully land back on the ground, still standing on your feet? Now imagine doing all of those, several of them linked together in several different combinations (with no break between elements) on something the size of a 4×4 piece of wood (16 feet in length), 4 feet off the ground. Also imagine doing that after you’ve just gotten done ramping up your adrenaline up for the last 60 minutes. All you have to do now is calm yourself, focus, and visualize and perform perfection, while standing on something the width of your foot, 4 feet off the ground. It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. Requires: focus, grace, flexibility, power and amplitude, balance.
Lastly and collectively, Floor Exercise. Re-ramp that adrenaline, because now we do all of that all over again. Floor requires full force sprints, graceful dance and personality, jumping, flying, tumbling: a 2 minute all out, mass effort, metabolic challenge. And then it’s over. Requires: everything you’ve got.
Are you tired yet? But I haven’t even gotten to the best part: Your Team. The best part about gymnastics is the team camaraderie you develop with your teammates. You spend so many hours, days, months and years with the same group of people. In my experience, I spent 6 hours per day, 5 days per week, for 120 days straight, with the same 15 women. And that was just during season practice. That doesn’t include the other 8 months of off-season training. Your teammates see you at your best, worst; most broken down, beat up; ramped up and successful; and your ugliest and sweatiest. They become your family: your biggest cheerleaders and your biggest critics. You love them sometimes more than you love yourself.
And then you graduate. From school, into life; into some other existence. Some people are lucky to find a similar teams in other places, but I don’t think there’s anything closer and quite like a team of athletes performing at a level of excellence. For the next several years you find yourself running fruitlessly on treadmills, counting calories, stepping on and off 8 inch benches for 60 minutes at a time, doing 10# bicep curls…you find yourself not fulfilled. And then you find a light. Something called CrossFit and place called Jogo. And then your body’s motor-memory wakes up and it remembers the way it use to move. So many movements similar to what you used to do. A Tiger inside you stretches out, like it’s just woken up from a 10 year cat nap. And then you find your new team of people who are athletic, competitive; AND gracious, welcoming and friendly. They are all training for their 80’s: to have crisp minds, strong hearts; determined to be the best that they can be for themselves, their Jogo friends and family; their own families, the community and the environment. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?