As a former USAGymnastics National Team Member, I am thrilled to see the launch of OUR Alumni. This is something that I, along with many others, have been lobbying for. Although I have had many who have wanted me to start my own Athlete’s Alumni, I always knew that it would mean more if it came from USAGymnastics.
So why is this important for gymnasts? Why should we join? What’s the big deal?
It takes years and years of emotional and physical training to become one of the best in the United States. All gymnasts share the same training, have similar fears, endure the pressure, and understand the process to becoming the best. Once making the National Team, we go from competing for our personal local gym programs to competing for the United States of America. We go from representing our city to representing our Country, our gymnastics means more, and the stakes are higher.
National Team Members receive International Assignments. We receive National Team appeal, and we are a part of an exclusive club. The National Team is a big deal. The honor to wear the USA Flag on our uniforms comes with a sense of respect and pride for our country. We compete with passion. We train with purpose. We devote our lives to represent USAGymnastics to the best of our ability. We sacrifice our families, bodies, and time to better ourselves for our sport.
Throughout the years every gymnast along the way has made USAGymnastics what it is today. All the skills, techniques, conditioning, mental training, equipment, and leotards are because of the work of the past. These gymnasts worked, influenced, and created everything that is done today. The past created the present.
Yet that past feels forgotten.
Once we finished our gymnastic’s careers, there was nothing. Even if we were loved, appreciated, or respected for our contribution to USAGymnastics, we may not have always felt that way. Many of us felt hated, used, and thrown away.
We had spent our lives training gymnastics and it was our family. Then one day, we were done and our family was gone. It wasn’t that we were actually thrown away, but we would see the next set of gymnasts step into our place, we would see them living our lives, competing and training in our spots, and we knew there was no need for “us” anymore.
So many of us walked away. We walked away because we felt unneeded and unwanted. We didn’t know our place in USAGymnastics if we weren’t gymnasts. We felt our family had turned its back on us. Even if we wanted to come back, we stayed away because we didn’t know how or what to come back to.
One day we are competing for our country and the next we are alone at home. In the absence of communication we will tend to create our own stories. Many of us thought USAGymnastics hated us. In our minds, that would be the only reason for them to stop talking to us. Did we do something wrong? Did I not do enough? Am I not worthy to be in the family? Why don’t they want me? Was my gymnastics career worth nothing? Did I waste my childhood? Did I sacrifice my life for USAGymnastics and get nothing in return?
Many of us grew bitter. Many of felt used.
I was bitter. I felt used, I felt inferior, and I decided to do something. After talking to many USAGymnasts, Judges, Coaches, Board Members, and Office Staff they convinced me that my thoughts weren’t true. They had loved and respected me. They love and respected all their former gymnasts. Yes, ALL. They appreciated everyone’s contribution, they knew that every single gymnast of the past was the reason for the success of today. They knew it, why didn’t we?
We needed to know this. We could have created our own group, but we needed to know this from USAGymnastics. We needed an Alumni.
Over the past 30 years, I have realized that our effort in gymnastics are not measured by fame or fortune. They are measured by appreciation and respect. We do not want money for our contribution, we want recognition and to know our work was valued. We wanted to feel the love and respect from the Federation that we had devoted our childhoods to. It needed to come from USAGymnastics. Even though the “players” ( CEO, Board, Coaches, Judges, and Gymnasts) had changed, we needed to feel, hear, and see it from the source.
The USAGymnastics Alumni Network is the bridge needed to come back. It is the road back to our family. When we retire, we no longer will feel lost and forgotten. We will not have to worry about losing our community and family. We will not lose touch and make our own stories, we will walk back into the house and see for ourselves.
This Alumni Network is the first step.
- Community: We now will have a place to feel accepted. We will be able to feel a part of gymnastics long after our careers are over. From simple meet ups at competitions, to meeting more National Team Members from the past and present, to really knowing everyone and their families. We should know everyone!
- Appreciation: The implementation of the Alumni shows that USAGymnastics does care about us. The leaders do want us to know that our careers are valued and appreciated. They want us to know that we matter.
- Opportunity: Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a dream of growing this Alumni. There are many opportunities for us to use our families and connections to do great things and help one another. It must start small and we must take one step at a time, but I do think we can make this something great.
I encourage all of my former National Team Members to join. Let’s us all come back together and walk back into gymnastics feeling loved. We are the Athletes. We have a connection to each other regardless of year, outcome, or discipline. We KNOW what it takes because we were the ones who put in the work, tears, time, and ideas. We KNOW our stories and we must join to claim our history.
Once a Gymnast, always a Gymnast.
What we were able to accomplish is not forgotten. We can continue to spread our love for our sport and our family.
Thank you to Luan Roberts Peszek, Ron Galimore, and all the people who conintued to listen to me and read my letters. Thank you to the staff who were able to put it all together. Thank you to USAGymnastics for recognizing how important this is for the athletes. I have been lobbying for an Alumni for a while and although we knew it was needed, it wasn’t hight on the list of things to implement. Thank you for brining it to the top of the list! I look forward to working with USAGymnastics and helping to heal, promote, empower, and protect in anyway I can.
Wendy Bruce is a 1992 Olympian and Bronze Medalist. She is the Author of Breaking Through a Mental Block. Wendy is the Owner of Get Psyched, Peak Performance Training. For more information on on Mental Training, camps, clinics, or workshops, visit www.psyched4sports.com