When you think of gymnastics, you may think of sparkly leotards and little girls doing flips. Most people compare gymnastics to cheerleading, but gymnastics is a whole different world. There are ten different competitive levels for Junior Olympics, but then there is a whole different aspect called elite gymnastics where there is the best of the best that try to earn a spot on the Olympic team. Outside of the gymnastics world, no one knows what really goes inside the training facility.
In my experience, I practiced thirty-five hours a week in our offseason from May to August. I had practice from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then a lunch break for an hour, and then back into the gym from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for five days a week. That schedule was my summer break for five straight years. During the school year, practices were from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week. Did I hate practicing? Yes, but did I love the sport? Yes.
Before USA Gymnastics created a code called Safe Sport to protect gymnasts from abusement, my coaches broke every rule. It wasn’t necessarily the coaches physically abusing us because it was more mentally and emotionally. However, the strenuous conditioning and criticizing words from the coaches made us the best team in the state.
The first of many harsh punishments that I encountered in gymnastics was at our first practice back from a competition in San Antonio. When we arrived to practice that following Monday, we had to climb a total of sixty-two rope climbs because our team had a total of thirty-one falls. The two white ropes that we climbed on were about sixteen feet high. While we would wait our turn to climb the rope, the thirty of us had to sit with our backs on the wall with our feet on the ground. We had to squat by creating an angle like we were sitting in a chair and had to stay in this position the whole time. My legs were trembling and my quadricep muscles were cramping up, but I held back the tears while everyone else around me bawled. I was not the strongest member of my group, especially in arm conditioning, but I pushed through the agony. After thirty rope climbs in about two hours, we had giant gashes in the skin on the bottom of our feet from rope burns. There was blood covering my feet, the mats, and the white rope. We would complete our round of climbing and then go to the coach to tape up our feet so we wouldn’t bleed all over the equipment. We repeated this process about five times. No water breaks. No bathroom breaks. No rest time. I didn’t understand why they were making us train this intensely because some of us were only ten years old. My coaches got so exhausted from taping our feet that they made us run twenty sprints instead of climbing the rope.
This repercussion was the first of many; however, I still loved the sport despite all the broken bones, mental blocks, and tears.