The past 16 months, especially the last two weeks, have been extremely emotional, confusing, and heart-wrenching for all past and present gymnasts and their families. As of now, I would think every living person in the United States has heard about the life sentence that former Team USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, has been ordered. Of equal attention, are the ongoing investigations happening at several other organizations that comprised his involvement.
I have not spoken about this publicly, and still will not. If you are here to read my story, turn back now. Yes, I was a gymnast. Yes, I had a relationship with Larry Nassar. No, I will not be sharing my personal story.
I want to talk about what gymnastics gave me. Like most girls and women who have shared their stories, gymnastics was my life. I know I am not alone in this. I know I am nothing special and I was not a “special” gymnast. However, I do still love the sport and always will. Gymnastics taught me some of life’s most fundamental lessons and made me into the person that I am today. Even after all the negativity, shame, and black eye fog that has settled over the sport, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. I am forever grateful for the opportunities I was given as an athlete and for the wonderful relationships I formed along the way. I know every gymnasts’ experience is different; below I am sharing mine.
- Gymnastics set me up with an unparalleled work ethic. To this day, I can pick a gymnast out of a crowd. Not because of body type or stature, but due to how hard they are willing to work to succeed. All my fellow teammates are extremely successful – business owners, moms, corporate lawyers, and even coaches themselves. We all know life is not rainbows and unicorns, as much as we want it to be. Life is hard, and it requires constant tough work; which is instilled into all gymnasts at a very young age.
- Gymnastics helped me learn time management. I think we can agree that most sports teach young athletes this skill. However, due to very long practices; most young gymnasts are changing in the car after school on their way to the gym, scarfing down dinner on the way home, and finishing up homework at 9:30 at night before bed (or in the morning before school). When I became a collegiate athlete, having this skill already ingrained in me was extremely helpful. My adult life is not far off the mark either.
- Gymnastics taught me mental toughness. Again, life is hard. It will continually knock you down. Just when you think things are going great; something awful happens. A gymnastics example: a young gymnast has perfected her beam routine to the point that she sticks 10 routines in a row at practice. First meet, what happens? She falls. Next meet, she falls. This is extremely mentally taxing for any gymnast. These small setbacks in the gym prepared me for what was to come. Better yet, it taught me how to react to life’s ups and downs; and most importantly, gymnastics taught me to always get up and try again.
- Gymnastics helped me deal with physical pain. I truly believe gymnasts are some of the toughest creatures out there. Most gymnasts I know have an extremely high pain tolerance and have dealt with some kind of pain for most of their lives. I understand that every single person will go through severe pain at some point in their lives. How people react to that pain is the important part. Will they give up and give in to opioid abuse? Or will they continue to look for ways to improve the pain through physical therapy, swimming, or changing their diets?
- Gymnastics taught me how to be part of a team. My favorite time as a gymnast was during my high school career, when I was part of one of the best high school gymnastics teams in history. These wonderful memories are focused around competing and winning as a team, not individually. To this day, I focus on we; not me. I am always looking for ways to collaborate, to make things better at work, at home, at church, etc. Gymnastics taught me how to apply the team strategy into my life outside of the athletic realm.
Most of my favorite childhood, adolescent, and teenage memories involve my teammates from gymnastics and diving, from level 5 to college. My teammates are some of my nearest and dearest friends. I am forever grateful gymnastics brought these wonderful people, relationships, and experiences into my life.