Gymnastics is my sport. It has always been my sport, and will always be my sport. Even when I am too old to continue competing, it will still be my sport (although at 22 I have no intentions of stopping).

How do I feel when I tell people I do gymnastics?

Proud, strong, unique, respected, grateful.

I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was about 7 years old. I'm 22 years old now, which is supposed to be way past retirement age for a gymnast... but I don't care.

I can assure you that the reason I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was 7, the reason why I competed for my club and high school teams at the same time, the reason why I continued in college, and the reason why I am now planning to compete with an adult gymnastics team is because the gymnastics experiences I’ve had have always been about the love for the sport. And yes, in case it wasn’t clear, I LOVE gymnastics. It is a hard sport, and without the undying love I have for it, I wouldn’t still be doing it.

I’m proud of the skills I have and for the fact that I do the sport at all, and couldn’t be happier with my overall experience. Yes, the Olympics are incredible and every so often I wish I could do those crazy skills Simone Biles does. But I’ve never had any intention of being that committed to the sport to reach that level. It’s not for me.

What is for me? Going to gymnastics where you can’t wait to see your coaches and teammates, because they are your best friends and the people you most enjoy spending time with. Laughing at practice because you’re having fun. Learning new skills where the process is just the right balance of challenging and gratifying. Competing at meets and showing off the skills you know how to do, the best you can do them.

I am thankful for the gyms I’ve attended and for the coaches I’ve had (who know who they are) who have cultivated a supportive and fun atmosphere surrounding gymnastics, and have allowed me to thrive in a sport which tears many down.

Gymnastics is not a sport you can sugar coat with adjectives that make it sound any less difficult than it is. There is of course the physical strength required to be successful in gymnastics (or even to be semi-successful). You will get nowhere without muscles that you may not even know you have. Take a break from gymnastics for a week or two, or even longer? You will feel those muscles the next time you are back in the gym. You’ll feel where they are lacking, and you will absolutely feel the soreness afterwards. And don’t even get me started on the calluses on your hands…

No one can deny the physical aspect of gymnastics. But I would argue, as I believe many others would, that the mental aspect of gymnastics is even more important. You could have all the strength and fitness in the world, but without mental toughness, you will not be able to do 99% of the skills in gymnastics. Gymnasts who make it to the Olympics have minds of steel…they are able to get up on that beam in front of the world and throw flips in all directions like they are on the ground. (I can’t even do those flips on the ground…)

If even for a minute you let yourself think how crazy a skill is, or how things could go wrong, you’re screwed. I know from experience that the mind will shut down, and there will literally be a wall between you and the skill. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it a million times or if you have the strength and flexibility for it. Once your mind says no, you’ve fallen to the bottom of a hill, and you’ve got a long climb in front of you.

Throughout my gymnastics career, I’ve had many mental blocks, which, at any other gym, might’ve irreversibly hurt my progress and burnt me out mentally. Fortunately, with the coaches I’ve had, I’ve been able to slowly work through those blocks, and as I got older and my gymnastics career became more independent, I was able to move on to other skills that I wasn’t afraid of.

This is not to say that my mental blocks weren't incredibly difficult to deal with, but their existence did not become the one thing standing in the way of me continuing in gymnastics.

Gaining mental toughness isn’t easy, but it has benefits in all facets of life. I’ve faced so many challenges, physical and mental, had to push myself through grueling conditioning, searing pain on my hands while on bars, tears when my mind wouldn’t allow me to do a skill, feelings of accomplishment when finishing a beam routine without a fall, unrestrained joy when doing a skill for the first time, and on and on. The ups and downs inherent to gymnastics teach you how to roll with the punches, and fly high when something goes well.

With all the tough physical and mental challenges gymnastics brings, you’ve got to have people going through it with you…

I have made many lifelong friends from the sport of gymnastics, several of whom I would consider to be my best friends. These are the people I trust, the people I go to, the people I laugh with, the people I cheer for, the people I cry with.

Gymnastics has been my free time activity my whole life, so it is inevitable that I am going to spend lots and lots of time with my teammates. In college, I spent so many hours with my friends on the UVM Gymnastics Team, they were the hardest goodbyes (but actually see-you-laters) at graduation.

And I believe that the people I have met along the way are the reason why I am still in this sport. I love gymnastics in part because of them. Practicing gymnastics alone does not sound fun at all…but practicing with my closest friends who understand just how hard the sport we’re doing is? There’s nothing else I’d rather do.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that gymnastics defines me, but I would say that I have been shaped and developed for the better because of the sport.

Check in with me in 5 years to see if I’m still competing… odds are, I will be. :)