Last March I visited a gym in Colorado, and when I walked in, I was overwhelmed by the amount of talented gymnasts. There were 11 year olds doing skills that were in my routines in the Olympics, and they were doing them like it was no big deal. Most of them trained over 25 hours a week in the gym and were honor students in school. These little phenomenal athletes were absolutely delightful to watch. As I sat in awe and admired these young kids, I was brought back to memories of my childhood. With a sport that requires so much from a person, what was the reason I did it everyday, and why did I keep doing gymnastics?
Many people have asked me if my parents pushed me into the sport or if they forced me to do gymnastics, because they couldn’t imagine a child wanting to do a sport demands and consumes most of your life. Gymnastics takes a person who in curious about perfection, addicted to details, and persistent to see if they can make it right.
Gymnastics was a difficult sport, but it was the challenge that I was addicted to. It challenged me everyday. It wanted to see how I would handle pressure, overcome fears, and cope with mistakes. I wanted to see how I handled the challenges as well.
Sports can test a person. It asks; “Hey you, I am going to introduce you to fear, and I want to see how to respond.” Does the person rise up to the task, do they freeze, or do they run away?
Sports says; “Hey you, I am going to ask you to run until you can’t run anymore; until you can’t feel your legs and can’t breathe” Does the person say okay, bring it on, or do they whine and whimper and feel sorry for themselves?
Many athletes thrive on these challenges. It is the challenge that drives them. It’s what makes them come alive.
Have you ever wondered why someone would set out on a 26.2 mile run or surf a 50 ft wave? It’s the challenge. We do these things because we want to see how will will respond.
When a runner is on their 20th mile, their feet are blistered and bleeding, their knees are shooting with extreme pain, and they want to stop; what will they do? Will they keep running or will they stop? They may question why they are putting themselves through this quasi-tourture, but then they reach deep down and find the strength to go on, they show themselves that they are able of pushing through and even when everything is telling them to stop, they don’t listen. They know they want to feel the exhilaration of accomplishment, more than they want to stop because of pain. They learn how to fight through the pain and learn that pain is temporary. And because they pushed through, they know they are stronger than they once thought they were.
When a surfer decides to surf a 50 foot wave, they know they will be faced with fear. A fear to most other people, is unnecessary. This athlete wants to test themselves and see how they react when fear is shoved in their face. Once they make the decision to get dropped into the water, there is no turning back. There is not time to be careful or cautious. They must give themselves to the wave. They must throw fear aside and focus on power of the water and what an honor it is to be a part of nature. Their heart may beat out of their chest, but fear did not stop them because they have learned that fear is not real.
Athletes that feed on this challenge are hungry to find out if they can add one more turn to their flip. They want to see if they can lift one more kilogram, if they can jump higher, run faster, or throw longer then they did the day before. They crave the satisfaction of knowing their mind and body are being used to their fullest potential. They thrive on working hard to master their sport. They plan how they can be better and they will do what it takes, and more.
Many can not understand why a child wants to be in a gym 25 hours a week. Why they choose to swing bars with rips, tumble with sprained ankles, or get up off the floor after they have crashed on the beam and try their skill again and again without blinking an eye.
They do it because they love the challenge. When others would complain that something is too hard and shy away, they lean into the challenge. When others are fearful and want to stop, they find a way to knock down the fear and walk over it. They do it to feel pride, satisfaction, appreciation, accomplishment; they do it to feel alive.
Challenges are there to breakdown, push through, or climb over. Challenges don’t have to stop us, they are there to test us. Life’s challenges are nothing more than little tests. The next time you are faced with a challenge, stand up, lean in, and see what you are capable of. You may be surprised that you are stronger, smarter, faster, and more courageous than you thought you were.
Wendy Bruce Martin was a member of the 1992 Olympic team . She has been involved in gymnastics for 36 years and coaching for 22. She received a degree in psychology and is a certified mental toughness
coach. Wendy owns the Mental Toughness Company, GET PSYCHED! and is co-owner of Gold Medal Moms. You can visit Wendy at www.Psyched4sports.com or www.GoldMedalMoms.com email at firstname.lastname@example.org.