Gymnastics was my whole life until I was 18. Coming into college I didn't know anything else but gymnastics. I had to start over and find other things that I was still passionate about. Even though I have found other important things in my life, I still have parts of it that I carry with me every day.
1. It taught me how to manage my time.
When you have four-hour practices and you're a straight-A student, you figure out how to manage your time really quickly. Whether it's between classes, in other classes, in the car (driving or passenger), or late at night when everyone else is asleep (and you fall asleep at the dining room table) you figure out when to get homework done.
2. My sisters… I mean teammates.
Not only did I spent 4 hours a day with my teammates, but we spent 4 hours a day encouraging each other and watching each other grow. We started as a bunch of 6 through 10-year-olds and watched each other grow all the way to age 18. Most of us are finishing up college now and some of us have drifted, but they will always be family to me. They saw me at my worst and at my best. During my worst, they're the ones that made me stop crying and made me keep pushing. Sometimes they didn't have to say anything. Watching each other succeed and achieve what we all believed to be perfection, was motivation in itself to keep pushing. I am so proud of each and every single one of them for where they are now and what they have made it through.
Ever felt a runner's high? For gymnasts it's like that but 10 times better. When you're moving through a bar routine and it's dead silent except for the cheers from your teammates (or maybe it's not dead silent but in your head that's all you hear) and you feel the blood pumping through your body, you get halfway through and you pause for half a second standing on the low bar jumping to the high bar. In that split second you know you can do it. You feel that same rush in the split second when you pause right before your final tumbling pass or beam dismount. It's a rush that makes you feel completely invincible.
4. It reminded me of the importance of hard work.
My mom always taught me that all you can do is try your hardest. As long as you're working hard that's almost always all that matters. But it was gymnastics that really taught me what it's like to work hard. Those nights when I missed dinner with my family because I kept practicing that one beam series over and over again until I was sent home or finally got it. Those nights when I did the same skill over and over again until I finally got it. Those are the nights that taught me the importance of hard work.
5. I learned how to tough it out.
I can think of multiple times when I learned that sometimes as much as it hurts, you need to tough it out to succeed. I specifically remember one day when I was so tired. I had a late night practice and I had a test that day and the next day. I was also in the process of applying to colleges and it was right smack in the middle of competition season. I was having a horrible practice day and I just broke down crying and one of the moms just told me to sit down and rest and I just cried harder. There was no time for that. I toughed it out for those tough days and they paid off when I qualified for state championships or even just got that one skill I struggled with for so long. Those nights when my hands ripped and bled and I taped up and kept going. Sometimes you just have to power through the short term pain for long term gain.
6. I learned how to dream big.
I remember being a little kid just starting to take gymnastics lessons and staring at the big kids and thinking "I want to be like them one day." I dreamed of doing everything they did and being just like them. Everything in me wanted to impress them. So I kept going. I looked up to them until I was them. They became my closest friends and teammates. One day when I was in junior or senior year of high school I was starting a floor routine and there was a little girl who was just starting the team standing next to the floor. Just before the music started, I heard her say, "I love her floor routine, it's so good!" I looked up and saw her smiling and blushing. That was a moment of realization to me that one of my dreams from when I was a little kid, had come true.
7. Getting back up.
I had so many injuries as a gymnast (just like every other competitive gymnast). When someone asked me how I broke my nose (the 2nd time) and I told them I fell on my face doing gymnastics that person said, "Well you must not have been a very good gymnast." What that person didn't understand is what you see on TV is not realistic. Gymnasts fall dozens of times a day in practice, more times than they land. If you don't fall then you're not improving. You're not trying new things. You're not trying to get to the next level or qualify for the next championship. So yes, I fell. A lot. But, I got back up. I got back up and kept flipping even after I broke my nose (mostly because I didn't know it was broken because I had so much adrenaline). I never would have made any progress if I never fell. What matters is that I get back up when I fall, in gymnastics and in life.
I go through days when I miss having gymnastics as my whole life more than anything. I slowly, without even knowing it, grew away from it. When I first started college I thought about it every single day. Even though it's not something I do every day, gymnastics will always be something that is apart of me. The lessons I learned, the people I met, and the feeling of flying through the air and landing a new skill for the first time. I have a collage of pictures of my teammates and I hanging on the wall in room at school that they gave me when I graduated from high school. The influences they had on me and the way they helped me grow will stay with me forever. I will always be a gymnast. It's in my blood, it's part of my identity.