My gymnastics career ended after Christmas break during my junior year on the Air Force Academy’s collegiate team. I knew the day would come eventually because in this demanding sport, every athlete has an expiration date. Although I chose to leave the sport, I never expected it to be that hard. To be honest, I don’t actually know what I expected. My life had revolved so entirely around gymnastics that until the time came that my body was done and I had to stop, I did not realize what life could be in its absence.
Life is different; it is without a doubt utterly and completely different but really, not much has changed. I still love to veg out with my friends and family. I still love to cook new recipes and bake hundreds of cookies. I still drink coffee obsessively and binge-watch Survivor. Yet, there is a part of me that never made it out of my past life.
I didn’t think I would miss the five hour practices from hell. But I do. I never thought I would miss hours of conditioning until I couldn’t breathe, until I was nauseous. But I do. I didn’t think I would miss those Saturday morning practices, when the gym is freezing and no one is awake yet. But I do.
Those long, draining practices? They left me feeling accomplished. Those hours of conditioning? They left me feeling strong. Those early mornings in the gym? I left knowing that I accomplished more than some people would do all day, before most people are even awake.
Gymnastics is mesmerizing; it’s beautiful. People see glittery leotards, toned bodies, flips, twists, and pretty smiles. What they don’t see are the bloody hands, aching bodies, tears, frustration, and the thousands of times I fell flat on my face. Looking back, these are the things that I am grateful for. I learned at an early age to smile through broken feet, dislocated fingers, sprained ankles, and a fractured back. To get up after falling and failing, over and over again, and try it again. Just one more time.
Gymnastics made me as tough as nails; it taught me the value of hard work and showed me what it meant to be committed, focused, and invested in something I truly cared about. Although that part of my life ended more than four years ago, it will always be a part of who I am. Life goes on. I no longer get to use gymnastics as my only identity, and for better or for worse I’ve had to figure out who I am without it
Thanks to gymnastics, I’ll always be an adrenaline junkie. I will forever miss the feeling of flipping in the air, five feet above a four inch balance beam, and the butterflies in my stomach before doing a double backflip, and the rush of catching a Gienger on the bars. But letting go of gymnastics has opened the opportunities for new adventures and experiences.
Since my gymnastics career has ended, I have dabbled in all kinds of athletic adventures and discovered a new love for the outdoors. I learned how to ski down and rock climb up the mountains of Colorado. I completed a marathon with a fifty-pound ruck on my back (without training. Not recommended). I have jumped out of planes and ridden UTVs in Utah, cliff jumped in Nevada. I learned how much I love to hike, and now try to climb mountains every weekend.
I discovered the beauty of sleeping in on the weekends and eating ice cream on a hot day because it is delicious and no one was looking at me in a leotard later. I finally had the energy to have a real social life, something I sacrificed for years of Friday night practices. I am still learning about days that I don’t have to work out because I am tired or because I want to go to the movies or take a cooking class (some days go better than others). Gymnastics has given me more than I could ever ask for and I will always have a hole in my heart that only flips and splits and leotards could fill. But losing it showed me more about the person that I am and is helping me discover the person that I can be. Once a gymnast, always an athlete. #EVERYlete