When I think about, it doesn’t make much sense to stay in a sport like gymnastics. If I’m looking at it from a professional standpoint, unless you are an Olympic hopeful, gymnastics is a go-nowhere sport.
We train and we train, six hours a day and six days a week, for a large majority of our childhood and teenage years. But what do we get? The lucky ones get college gymnastics, while the rest get retirement from the sport at age 18 or younger. Regardless of the circumstance, one thing is certain: there is a definite expiration date to every gymnastics career.
At about 13-years-old I was painfully aware that I would never fulfill my dreams of competing in the Olympics. Besides the fact that I was plagued with injury after injury, the reality was that I was far behind where I needed to be at that age. Once a young talent with aspiring dreams, now I was simply a gymnast for the sake of not knowing what else to be.
Fast forward to present day, and I am still a gymnast, just for more complicated reasons.
I’m a University of Arizona gymnast about to enter her fourth and final year as a GymCat and her 17th and final year as a gymnast. I am both terrified and ready.
So, let’s address the scary emotion first. No, I’m not terrified of the gymnastics part; I’ve been flipping and flying around since the age of four. My fears extend far past the width of a four inch balance beam. What terrifies me about entering my last season as a competitive gymnast is that in about five months, I will be losing a part of who I am.
“Hi, my name is Shelby and I’m a gymnast.”
This has been my introduction line for as long as I can remember. It’s a personal identifier. It’s my go-to adjective for individual descriptions. In a few short months, I will no longer be “Shelby, the gymnast”, but instead, just Shelby. And “Just Shelby” has always sounded a little empty to me.
In terms of gymnastics, when considering the “why” behind choosing to stay in such a dead-end sport, I believe the answer is fairly simple: I love it. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have spent thousands of hours doing a sport that does nothing to further my professional future or career path if it wasn’t something that I absolutely loved doing, something that I couldn’t imagine life without. It’s very apparent the love I have for gymnastics. What I’ve struggled with explaining to people is why it love it.
I can talk all day about how physically, emotionally and mentally demanding gymnastics is. I can talk about how gymnastics helps develop life skills, such as hard work, passion, determination, perseverance, team-oriented mindsets, positive self-talk, and much more. I can drone on and on about how gymnastics has taught me to set goals and push myself past my limits. However, none of these things really encompass what it’s like to be in love with the sport.
Gymnastics was my first relationship, my first true love. It’s been there for me through problems at home to teenage angst. It’s been there through all my boy drama and all my friend drama. From emotional breakdowns to age 20-something life crisises to the struggles of college algebra, gymnastics has always been the one constant. When I walk into the gym, all my troubles, worries, and concerns are left at the door. I was safe inside those four walls, just me and my best friend.
In five months, I will be graduating. In five months, I will be transitioning from a college adult to a real adult, and unfortunately there is no room for a relationship with gymnastics in the life of a real adult. Though this break up has been planned and expected for years now, that doesn’t make the process any easier.
Gymnasts, at a young age, know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into. The break up is inevitable. We know there’s no professional pay off, we know there’s no future for us in the sport past the age of 22, and we know that after all the hard work we’ve put in we will ultimately have nothing in our hands to show for it. That, however, is what makes a gymnast, a gymnast.
This beautifully demanding sport has given me grit. It has taught me how to work for something worth more than just a gold medal and a spot on the podium. Gymnastics might be temporary, but what I have taken away from these 17 years is perpetual. We do what we do because of who we are made through the sport. Though it has taken me a while to realize, gymnastics isn’t who I am, yet through gymnastics I have grown into the person I am today.
So, when these five months come to an end, I guess I won’t really be losing a part of who I am. Thanks to gymnastics, I know that my worth is found in much more than what sport I do. Though I am saying goodbye to my first true love, I know that this relationship has prepared me for life after college in a way that no other experience could have. There is no other person like a gymnast, because a gymnast does what she does out of love.
“Hi, my name is Shelby and I’m ready to move on.”
Shelby Edwards is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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