Meet season is ending up and it always leaves me pensive. Did we do ok? Could we do better? Should I have done more of this? Less of that? But one thing I am thinking this year is about how people, in general, often don’t get gymnastics, or maybe it’s that they don’t get gymnasts.
I think it’s difficult to appreciate what some of these kids (after all, they are still children) go through to be able to do this sport, let alone do it as well as they do. People who see gymnastics often are amazed at the young girls who flip and fly, defyin
g gravity and demonstrating such great strength. But there is another level of appreciation that most people miss.
A lot of the kids in gymnastics live parallel lives with their school and neighborhood peers. Gymnastics kids make many sacrifices. School dances, weekend hangouts, or afterschool clubs often don’t get a lot of gymnast participation because most of it happens on weekends when we compete, or at night when we train. Yes, the small girl doing loopty loo’s and flippy flews is amazing, but does the average gymnastics fan see what they had to do to be able to fly so high?
In the television coverage of the Olympics we don’t see only the sport played or the contest carried out. In the breaks or slower periods the networks do “human interest” pieces; video of the athlete at home, with their family, or maybe the clip of the person training, usually at ungodly early hours or with great strain. They show the human side to let us warm up to the athlete. When we feel closer, like we somehow understand their story, the viewing becomes more fun. We root for the ones we love, the ones who move us, the one’s that we can identify with. I often joke with friends that if everyone had a “human interest reel” that people could see before interacting that the world would be a nicer place, to be sure, but we don’t.
I believe that it is hard to appreciate the beauty, the irony, or the justice of the performance when we don’t have the understanding of what went into arriving at that moment. If we are given the opportunity to see the champion being made, to see the morning training, or the ups and downs of a warm up, we have difficulty in identifying the great value in what we see before us.
As former athletes it may be somewhat easier to identify with what is happening then those who have never done the sport, but there is still often a disconnect. Some of us have experienced the struggle to attain success in a sport, and some have not. Granted, everyone’s journey is different, but there is still something to be felt, a kinship, that makes us care and makes the performances more valuable. We know that they work so hard, overcome such struggle, grow (complete with growing pains), sacrifice, laugh, cry, try again and again. They do homework in the car on the way to the gym, or eat dinner while mom drives. They study while their friends are asleep because practice ended at 9pm. They can tell you about great restaurants in far-away cities because they travel more during their gym years than most people travel in a lifetime. They review the pictures in their phones and rattle off cities they have been to, that other kids may never get to see. They meet friends from other gyms, other cities, and they stay in touch like long lost sisters through their whole lives. They sweat and sometimes their hands bleed from that one extra bar routine they did last night. They love their team mates and offer them support and attention at meets, yet they always find where mom and dad are sitting so they can visually check in from across the gym for a smile or a thumbs up. They tremble; sometimes with anticipation, sometimes from nerve and in either case regardless of the reason, they step up when the judge salutes. When it’s their turn, you won’t see all that, but you will see the performance they trained to show you and the judges.
Maybe with a little peek behind the curtain, you can understand everything that went into making this moment, this opportunity to share their glory with you, the fan. Maybe, with a little empathy, your heart can race, like theirs. Maybe you can feel the importance of this one moment, this one chance to shine. Even without the video background, maybe you can feel the spirit and the love of what they are about to do. Maybe.