I ended my gymnastics career on top. I achieved my ultimate goal: I made the Olympics, hit 8 out of 8 routines, and won a bronze medal. I was proud of myself and our team, but my pride and happiness didn’t last long.
For fifteen years I trained in gymnastics, I lived gymnastics, I breathed gymnastics, and every cell in my body was gymnastics. I worked almost every day trying to perfect my passion. I had calloused hands, chalk in my lungs, and bruises on my legs. My schedule and life were the same every day, every week, every year. Then one day, it was over.
It was like climbing a mountain. The trek up the mountain was filled with challenges and moments of pure ecstasy. It was exhilarating to see how you could overcome challenges. There were times when you would think you could not go on any longer, but then something inside you kept pushing and pushing, until you reached the top. Then there you were standing on top of a mountain, looking out over the world, feeling a sense of accomplishment, soaking it all in, and feeling like everything was exactly how it is supposed to feel.
My gymnastic’s career ended with me on top of that mountain, and I know I was lucky. Many ended their careers without ever standing at the top. They had the same climb, they had the same challenges, they pushed and pushed, but ended short. Some were ripped off the mountain, some were told they couldn’t go on, some got injured, some tried their absolute best and didn’t make it.
I found that regardless of the result of our gymnastics experience, many of us have the same trek down off the mountain after our sport is over. I called this the dark years.
I was confused.
I was happy to retire. I was excited not to have to go to the gym every day. I relaxed, and I didn’t have to think about skills, drills, or routines. For the first time in my life, I could do what I wanted. I didn’t think about anything. At first, it was nice, but after about a month, it became boring and lonely. I thought I would enjoy retirement, but it wasn’t anything that I thought it would be.
I felt empty.
I didn’t have anything to think about at all; I had nothing to do, nothing to challenge myself, nothing to accomplish, and nothing to plan in the future. I had a hole in my soul as if my very core being was dead. Who was I without gymnastics? What was my purpose? What was I going to do with my life?
I was lost.
I no longer had gymnastics and was left to try new things. New things didn’t fill my soul. My gymnastics life was over, and I was left to find my way all by myself. I didn’t know what to do. What was I supposed to do? I was always told what to do, how to do it, and why to do it; without a coach, I didn’t know how to take my next step.
I felt abandoned.
Gymnastics left me. It left me standing by myself. I had given my life to gymnastics, and I was happy to do so. When gymnastics asked me to stay longer, I did. When it asked me to move to Orlando, I did. When it asked me to commit, I did. Then it left me, and it left me with nothing but a space inside of me that I couldn’t fill. I couldn’t fix. It took and took from me, and then it was gone.
I was angry.
I thought it was me. If I would have done better, worked harder, and possibly won gold, maybe I wouldn’t feel so empty. Maybe it was my fault. I felt if I could go back to gymnastics, everything would be okay. I could try to fill my pain with another medal, a better medal. I tried to make a comeback, but it didn’t work. I didn’t want to do gymnastics anymore, but I couldn’t live without it either.
I became bitter.
I was jealous of the girls still competing. They were still on their climb up the mountain. They were experiencing everything I desperately missed. I wanted to be back where my life made sense, where I still had passion, where my life still had meaning. It was painful to watch these gymnasts. They were thriving and living, and I was broken to pieces, crumbling and withering away.
I became jealous.
I couldn’t watch gymnastics anymore. It was too painful to see everyone’s success and accomplishments. I wanted to be them. I wanted to put my grips back on and feel the bars in my hands. I wanted to feel myself fly through the air and land on my feet. I wanted to hear the cheers from the crowd. I didn’t want them to be better than me. I didn’t want them to medal. I didn’t want them to get all the fame and fortune.
I wanted my gymnastics back.
I wanted to feel loved. I wanted to feel important and valued. I wanted to have passion in my life. Gymnastics had given me life. After I had retired, it wasn’t there to give me anything. When I watched gymnastics, it was a reminder that I was irrelevant and obsolete. When I lost gymnastics, I had lost myself.
I needed to find myself.
I had lived my life too long longing for a sport that I wasn’t going to get back, at least not the way it used to be. I need to come to terms with the fact the gymnastics was gone. I had grieved long enough and it was time for me to pull myself back on my feet. My walk down the mountain was rough, but I made it through because I was built on gymnastics. My foundation was strong and I knew that gymnastics gave me the tools to make it thorough. I needed to find a new love, fulfillment, and passion. Thankfully with age, came wisdom. Little by little I started to heal.
I found love.
My husband loved me because I was nice. My children loved me because I took care of them. My friends loved me because I made them laugh. I loved myself because I knew I had value. My value came because of the new relationships I was forming. I learned to love others as deeply as I loved gymnastics.
I found fulfillment.
I went back to college to study psychology. I loved learning and filling my brain with ideas and facts. I wanted to learn and found great satisfaction in working hard and seeing results. I pushed myself, and when I thought I couldn’t go on, something inside me told me to keep going. I found school to bring me the same types of emotions as gymnastics. I wanted to be the best and I worked at school just as hard as gymnastics.
I found passion.
I started my company working with athletes. I taught them the tricks that helped me get to the top. I understood that my journey was one that provided valuable information for others. Seeing others change; become empowered, confident, and unstoppable is more fulfilling than any gold medal, fans cheering, or fortune.
I loved gymnastics, again.
I couldn’t be mad at gymnastics anymore. It was the one thing that created me. Gymnastics made me: it is my blood, my oxygen, my soul. Gymnastics didn’t die; it can’t die. It just changed, and I needed to learn how to change with it. I was great at knowing how to get up the mountain. I knew what it was going to take, but I had no idea how to get down. I didn’t know I could get lost; I wasn’t prepared.
During the dark years, I missed out on a lot of amazing gymnasts. I avoided watching them on T.V, but the bright side is that now, I get to go back and watch videos and see the amazing gymnasts for the first time. I get to watch them with nothing but love in my heart. I can cheer for them and still feel complete. I am no longer jealous, angry, or empty. I was mad at gymnastics for way too long. I started gymnastics because it filled every need I desired and because of gymnastics, I know what it feels like to be truly alive. The dark years are over and I love gymnastics again. I have stepped out of the dark and into a place where my past and my future are friends. I use my gymnastics in every aspect of my life and I look forward to a bright future.
Make sure to like this article and follow my blog. For More information on Mental Toughness visit my site at www.psyched4sports.com
All I can say is that I am forever grateful that you are back in gymnastics.
Thank you so much for this post. I can relate – my case is dance. I had never heard another person speak of this kind of struggle until I came across your story. I’ve had dark years where I would cry while watching dance performances out of sadness and loss. Much of it has subsided but I haven’t made a full recovery yet. Thank you so, so, so, so much.
I think many of us don’t know why we struggle and what we struggle with, we just know we are in pain.
I feel so relieved that the article didn’t end up on the negative phase. I am SO glad you found your way through it and your whole experience is now transcending. Your gymnastics career is now transcending with all the learning that you got from it, using it now in other fields and helping others. You keep gymnastics alive within you!! And now that you got to join it with psychological studies you’ll do so much good to many. I would love to read from you what are the things that you learnt from gymnastics (in its whole) that you use now in other specific fields. Congratulations and keep the good work on sport/human field!! =)