The following is a message I got from a former team gymnast who has come to the age of retiring from the sport. I removed any identifying text as I didn’t ask her if it was OK to use this for the journal here. I did feel that the topic and correspondence was relevant for two points: 1. because it makes a statement about growing up in this sport or just in general and 2. it shows clearly how some young athletes love this sport so dearly that it is sometimes hard to comprehend to non-gymnasts.
From her: How are you doing? How is summer at the gym treating you? I had a question for you, I was wondering if you could give me some advice on? I am having a really really hard time with being done with gymnastics and I was wondering if you had any tips on dealing with this? I can reason my way through it every way I want to determine that stopping when I did was the right thing I should have done, but that fact hasn’t made it any easier, and has not made me be able to let go of the feeling that I worked so hard only to fail in the end and I miss it to the point that its affecting other parts of my life. I also haven’t been able to adjust my life to a lifestyle where I do some other activity other than gymnastics. I have joined the diving team in School, but I definitely don’t care about it the same way I cared about gymnastics, and I have tried all sorts of other forms of exercising and I just can’t seem to make myself care enough to do them long-term so I can actually be benefiting from it, but at the same time, not having that active part of my life is taking its toll on me. I am not expecting anyone to have perfect answers for me, but I was hoping you might understand and might have some advice, suggestions, or words of wisdom to share with me? Either way, thanks for listening, and I hope everything is going well for you. Hopefully I’ll run into you sometime soon. Peace H.
From me: I hear ya. That is why many ex-gymnasts go into coaching. It allows us to keep the chalk dust we’ve become accustomed to breathing to still find a way into our lungs, it’s also a great way to stay a part of the sport. Or judging is always nice too. (added) Sometimes helping others to experience what we have experienced makes the time we spent some how more valid.
As for when or how to stop, There is no way to end on top. Even top Olympians have stated after they retire that they feel a sense of “what if”. “What if” I competed one more year? “What if” I just did one more season? Personally, I feel there is a lesson from the Rolling Stones that applies. More power to them for sticking around but at some point it just becomes self-indulgent. In gymnastics that indulgence can be detrimental in many ways. You know when it’s time to stop, and you’re right, it’s probably time. Gymnastics is not meant to go away completely, it’s meant to stick with you, in memories mental, physical and emotional. It’s still there to remind you that life moves on and, like the ocean, it ebbs and flows. We can’t curse or lament the ebb tide, it’s just a part of living. Change happens, and like all changes, it can be positive or negative depending on how you react to them.
Maybe it will help to remember how gymnastics played a part in forming you. Without it, where would you be? I know, without gymnastics, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today. Life is all good and you should not be sad or disappointed with where you are at today. You should rejoice in how you got to where you are. Whether you share your experience with others or choose to just keep it in your heart and memory, Gymnastics has been good to you. It has given you ups and downs. It has given you chances and second chances. It has provided failure and success, brought you new friends, shown you places that only a few people get to see and made you comfortable in your own skin. It has carried you when the world was on your shoulders and followed you when you blazed new trails. Gymnastics has been integral to making you into you. Cool?
When I retired from competition, I got into rock climbing. In gymnastics I never did high bar or rings since it required upper body strength which I didn’t have and quite honestly it hurt your hands (awww) . After retiring, I was climbing one morning and I topped out on a 150 foot climb. Before descending I realized how tired my arms were from pulling me up the face of this big rock. I was stronger then I thought I was. I looked at my callused hands and bleeding fingers and I laughed out loud. My climbing buddies thought I was losing it, but maybe I was finding it, so to speak. Honestly, at this point nothing appeals like the gym. It’s like there is no substitute but there are many great choices out there. You will find your next chapter. Mine was the antithesis of everything I thought I would get into, but I loved it. Now I run, another opposite, but I find great peace in the solitude of the long run. You too may bounce around several options to keep fit and sane but you will find your joy again when you become open to it.
Gymnastics too, it may be comforting to know, has been better for having you in it. All of your coaches will tell you that you have brought them to be better just by being their gymnast, it’s true. In closing, I’ll say that as you move forward, you should focus on the road ahead. But don’t forget to take a second and look back at the footprint you left on the road behind. Having an impact. Being valid. These are every person’s goals. Can you be comfortable knowing that you achieved them both and are ready for the next challenge? Of course you can.
Peace back at’cha J.