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It took me a month to finally cry over gymnastics. It took that long for me to realize that I was no longer who I had been for ten years, that I had moved on to a new chapter in my life. Up until a month ago, if you had asked who I was, I would have told you proudly, "I'm Kayla, and I'm a gymnast." Gymnastics was my life, the core of my being, my identity. And I gave it up.
Gymnastics clubs have a certain atmosphere about them. Chalk dust reigns supreme in the gym, floating in the air, coming to rest on skin and in lungs. I can still bring to mind the sensation of the air: dusty, dry, and tasting a bit like, well, chalk. But it's more than that. Gyms have an air of...intensity. Gymnasts know what they're doing, they know how much work they'll have to put in, and they are willing offer themselves body and mind to the sport. This mentality permeates all of gymnastics. Even the sound that fills gyms is intense: the rhythmic thump-thump of tumbling, punctuated by the occasional dismount from beam or bars. The sound is like music to me, a rhythm and melody all its own.
I love gymnastics. I love the feeling of flying through the air, of seeing the world from upside down, of knowing the awe that you poor ground-bound people feel when you watch. I love all the emotions that go with gymnastics-the thrill of trying something new and a little scary, the joy when I hit a move perfectly, even the pain when I miss a skill but don't give up. And most of all, I love knowing that I alone can do it, that, while I may not be the best, not even close, it is my mind, my body, my willpower that is behind whatever I accomplish. No one could have ever done gymnastics for me.
From the moment I saw the amazing American gymnastics team in the Olympics in 1996, I knew gymnastics was what I wanted to do. Working up from once-a-week gymnastics classes at the age of five, I made it to the level of an optional gymnast, spending upwards of twenty hours a week in the gym. Needless to say, I didn't have much spare time. Yet, as I came home from gym every day, chalk dusting my hair and skin, I would be happy. True, I would almost always be hurting, but I would be sleepily proud of myself.
And gymnastics does hurt. I was always in pain, whether from the rigors of repetitive impact on my body, blisters and rips on my hands from chalky wooden bars, or sore, screaming muscles. But a main factor in gymnastics is learning to ignore pain, and I had become an expert at it.
At least, I thought I had. But then my back began to hurt. I didn't give it a second thought, at first, because pain was something I expected. But it continued, got worse, until one day at workout I was unable to tumble, could barely stand up without crying. My team was due to leave the next day for a competition, and my coach pressed, "Can't you just do one routine?"
I shook my head, holding back tears.
"Do you want to compete tomorrow?"
I nodded slowly, reluctantly. I knew what was coming.
"Then you are going to do this routine."
Gymnastics coaches are not much for sympathy.
I did the routine, biting my lip to try and ignore the throbbing in my back. Upon the end of the music, and thus my routine, I fell to the blue spring floor, and burst into tears. I had to be carried out of the gym, in too much pain to walk. Knowing what back injuries can do, I thought my gymnastics career might be done forever.
I ended up spending a year in physical therapy and out of competition. Finally pain-free, I jumped back in to full workouts, trying to make up for the time I had lost. I managed to catch back up with my teammates and compete a full season. But gymnastics didn't seem to make me as happy as it once had. I rubbed under the reign of my strict coaches, and gym just didn't seem to be worth quite as much time as it once had. But I still loved gymnastics, and it was the focus of my life. The next summer, I had begun training for the next level, hoping to learn new skills and become more advanced, when my back started to hurt again. I went back to therapy, but didn't back off of gymnastics, not wanting to lose any ground. While my friends were basking in the summer sun, I spent my summer in the chalk haze of the gym. By the end of vacation, I was asking myself, Is this really worth it? After all, as much as I love gymnastics, I have other interests. Gymnastics just doesn't leave any time for interests; it is too demanding and time consuming.
With the start of school came homework, increased gym workouts, and exhaustion. At the first day of school, I reminded myself that gym was my life, my home, my passion. But I started to think that I was ready to stop ignoring my pain and doing damage to my body. I didn't want to hurt at the end of every day. Trying to find the balance between going to workout, doing homework, and being able to sleep, I realized I wanted to do all the things normal high school students can do because they don't spend four hours a day at workout.
I wanted to have other passions.
That day, I stopped going to gymnastics.
I can't pretend I won't miss it: my home, my life, my obsession. I can't pretend I won't miss my teammates, or my skills, or my ability to fly. But it's time for me to let go.
I'm Kayla, and I'm a gymnast.
Can I really give up my identity?
I'm Kayla, and I...am me.
You can bet I'm going to try.
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32 articles 2 photos 329 comments
"There’s no such thing as true love, just spurts of insanity—falling over and over again, thinking that won’t happen to me"
6 articles 12 photos 17 comments
You give up your childhood. You miss proms and games and high-school events, and people say it's awful... I say it was a good trade. You miss something but I think I gained more than I lost. Mary Lou Retton.
Another quote by her: Each one of us ha"Each one of us has a fire in our heart for something. It's our goal in life to find it and keep it lit."