When I was a competitive gymnast I had several deficits that I had to deal with. I was too tall, too weak, and too poor to afford training time. When I trained, I often did it at various open gyms or in the high school recreation program (that eventually I came to run). I trained more than the other guys who went to private gyms or had personal coaches. The only coach I had was myself or occasionally a friend who might train with me. When I finally was on a team I always did more than the coach asked. If he said do 20 I would do 30, if practice started at 3:30 I would arrive at 3:00, when it ended at 7pm, I usually stayed until 8; taking a few extra turns, trying to do more. In fact almost every open-gym got to know me and would just let me train myself off to the side. I was a competitor and I thrived on the stress that came with a meet. It was organic motivation and it was my fuel. I also knew that I trained harder, longer and smarter (at least I thought so at the time) than anyone else at a meet and I expected to be one step ahead in the end. I had a friend named Daryl that trained with me. We referred to ourselves as “soul-gymnasts” because for us it wasn’t about anything but doing gymnastics to live and living to do gymnastics and winning, we felt, was an inevitable byproduct.
My other friends thought I was nuts. I was a very solitary guy, pretty much kept to myself. In my own head I found a certain peace and doing gymnastics: solving my own errors was so fulfilling that I became confident when others felt unsure. That was comforting too. I felt fine at a time in life when boys feel awkward.
Then college came and I fractured my neck. I was braced for a few months and underwent long physical therapy. The whole time I was thinking, I have to get back in the gym or my grades will go down. The gym and gymnastics was my foundation. It was who I was. It was the place and the activity that helped me find my center. It gave me structure and kept my eyes on the horizon. But again, my friends thought I was a little weird.
Now I don’t compete anymore. I don’t do gymnastics anymore but I am still in the gym 300 hours a week. I love it. I cannot believe that I get to do this for a living. These days I run. I go out in the mornings before birds are awake and I put in a few miles. I’ve had friends ask if I want to run with them but I tell them my schedule and tell them that I prefer to run alone. Again they probably think I’m a bit weird for running at such ‘odd’ hours. I’ve tried to explain to them why I do it, and how it centers my mind. But often they can’t relate. Just another reason I am still ‘just a bit anti-social and strange’ in their eyes.
My friend Luke plays guitar endlessly. He plays to get into his head and to get out of the world. My brother used to do the same thing motorcycle racing and later surfing. I believe that sometimes we need some “head time”; a time to just focus on ourselves and find our balance in an off-balance world. When we return to reality we will find that we are much better suited to handle it.
When we try to understand people by personally trying to relate to the things they do, we will almost never can make sense of it. For most people it’s easier to label a persona as “strange” than it is to try to understand the reasoning behind their uniqueness. But if we take the time and make the effort to understand the motivation behind someone’s madness, we often see the true value in who they are, and that aint too crazy.