An open letter to the sport that built me

Subject: An open letter to the sport that built me
From: the luckiest girl alive
Date: 6 Aug 2015

Gymnastics is one of the hardest, toughest, and most rewarding sports in existence. It pushes you to your breaking point and tests your strength and willpower at all times.

Sometimes you emerge triumphant, other times you feel defeated. The feeling that you get when you finally land a skill you have been working on for weeks, or you nail a perfect routine, or even getting a compliment from your coach are what makes all of the bad days worth it. The feeling of triumph, of knowing that you have accomplished something, is what reminds you how far you have come and how much closer you are to accomplishing your goal.

I love gymnastics. Other than another gymnast, no other person can even begin to fathom the fierce, all-consuming love I feel for this sport. It's more than just a hobby, it's even more than a sport. Gymnastics has, and always will be, an integral part of my life and an inherent part of my identity.

I know everybody believes that their sport equipped them with essential virtues that can only be gained by participating in said sport, but this is especially true for gymnastics.

Although I have gained many values from gymnastics, there are two assets that I have acquired that stand out to me in particular, perseverance and courage.

There is a proverb I heard one time along the lines of "Fall down seven times, get up eight", but in gymnastics you can be absolutely sure that you are going to fall down more than seven times.

And it will hurt. A lot. But, every single time, you do it. You get up. You try again and, if necessary, you try again, and again until you cannot even remember a time where you could not do it perfectly.

Perseverance is a virtue that every gymnast possesses and is constantly being tested. Just today I was talking to one of my closest friends while we were waiting for our turn to vault (sorry, Coach Debbie!) and she was venting about how defeated she felt. She was attempting to do a Tsuk layout and was struggling to get it right. She said: "I flip and I go to land and all of a sudden I see the mat and somehow I'm on my face. I give it my all every time and don't understand why this is happening."

But, on our last vault of the day, she somehow managed to dig deep and pour every last ounce of remaining power and determination into one last vault. I could tell just by her sprint that this vault was going to be different. The smile on her face when she landed on her feet was priceless. We all cheered and enveloped her with high-fives and "good jobs!".

I hope that memory will stay with her forever. Courage is the other major virtue that I associate with any great gymnast.

Gymnastics is scary. Period. There is no way around it. There is a teammate that comes to mind in particular that perfectly embodies "Courage". After taking a few years off, she decided that she wanted to come back to the sport. As somebody that is currently doing the same thing myself, I can truly appreciate how difficult and scary this is. During the time you aren't inside the gym, your body changes. It doesn't quite move the same way you want it to and you can't execute simple skills you used to be able to perform in your sleep. All of a sudden, the bar looks higher, and the beam seems skinnier, and you begin to wonder why you thought you could do this in the first place.

I watch this friend of mine now and think about how far she has come just in the past year since returning to gymnastics. She's now training to compete level nine and it is as if she hasn't taken any time off at all. I watch her do a standing back tuck on the beam in awe and bask in her fearlessness. Not too long ago, our coach asked her to do something on the bar, which is the only thing she is fearful of. I could see that she was afraid, I saw her arms trembling as she hit her handstand, but she went for it. She overcame. I don't think that having courage means that you aren't afraid, that would be insanity. I think that true courage means that even though you're afraid, you do it anyway.

Growing up, I spent more time with my teammates than I did with my own family. I love each and every one of them so much. The group of girls that I train with now is composed of twelve other girls that are levels eight and up.

Each and every one of these wonderful young women enriches my life in their own way and I owe them all more than I could possibly express.

As I mentioned earlier, I took some time off of gymnastics, but I recently decided to return to the sport to compete for the club team at Texas A&M. My return back to this sport has not been easy, but it would not have been at all possible without the love and support of my teammates. Their constant encouragement and unwavering support fills me with strength, and courage, and an invincible-like quality that I cannot explain. Watching them succeed and grow as gymnasts and as people inspires me and encourages me to be better and to try harder, partly for myself, but to honor them as well.

Gymnastics is an individual sport, but no gymnast can succeed without her teammates by her side. Gymnastics has taught me more about the value of friendship than anything else could. I spend hours with these girls everyday, but at the end of practice, I always find myself wishing for more.

I used to try to go to sleep in my split. For the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, my mom let me host a viewing party at my house and invite the whole team. I invited my gymnastics coaches to every single one of my birthday parties.

To this day, <em>Stick It</em> is still one of my favorite movies. Gymnastics is something that will remain close to my heart for the rest of my life. Some of my fondest memories were made inside of my gym with some of my favorite people in the world. I owe everything to this wonderful, beautiful sport.

So, I would like to take a moment to thank the sport that built me, and all the people that helped make it possible.

First and foremost, thank you to Coach Debbie. You have always pushed me to be the best version of myself both inside of the gym and out and have refused to allow me to settle for anything less. You will always be one of my best friends and will always hold a strong presence in my heart.

Thank you, Coach Janna, for being the greatest older sister I could ever ask for. You have been a role model to me since I was six years old and I cannot express how much your love and friendship has impacted my life.

Thank you to Coach Tammy who has quickly become one of my favorite people in the world. You are one of the strongest, smartest people I know and I learn just as much about life from listening to you talk than I would in any classroom.

To Coach Anthony, thank you for always making me do things even though I'm scared. I may not understand it at the time, but I realize it is to make me a better person and a better gymnast. You all truly enrich my life in countless ways and I am extremely fortunate to have you in my life.

To Dezjah and Sentavia, I have not known either of you for long, but you both exhibit the qualities of a great gymnast and you constantly remind me what it takes to embody them.

To Juju, Lizzie, and Al pal, thank you for your constant support and kindness. You three bring so much joy into my life with your laughter and friendship.

To Sky and Marge, thank you for always giving everything you have at every single practice. Your hard work and enthusiasm sets an amazing example for everybody in the gym and motivates me to be the same way.

To Angelle and Jenna, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives and for maintaining a part in mine. I have loved watching the two of you grow into the beautiful gymnasts you are today and I am so proud of how far the two of you have come.

To Kay, your constant positive attitude is absolutely infectious. Thank you for motivating and inspiring me with your resilience and positivity.

To Maddie and Casey, thank you for being able to empathize with any struggle I face, inside or out of the gym and for helping me push through it, and for filling my life with laughter and love. Maddie, when I think of the word "leader", you immediately come to mind. You are one of the most dedicated, uplifting, and hardest-working people I know. Casey, thank you for being my rock. Thank you to for helping to pick me up after laughing at me when I fall.

Thank you, to all of you, for all that you've done, I couldn't brave this sport without each and every one of you. Thank you, for being a part of the sport that built me.


<strong>The luckiest girl alive</strong>