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5 Simple Things I Learned From 12 Years of Gymnastics

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

A few months ago, I made the difficult decision to end my gymnastics career while competing for a Division 1 university. As I know I will always miss the sport, I know that a new part of me is growing into the adult I am meant to be.

My parents never wanted me to be a gymnast. They put in me in every sport possible before gymnastics, from soccer to ballet and even figure skating. But, it seemed like nothing could stop my love for tumbling in the living room and flipping at recess. They eventually gave up and let me sign up for a class when I was seven, and from there, I continued with the sport until my sophomore year of college. Gymnastics was my first love, but a part of me wishes they had never signed me up. Here are five simple things I learned from twelve years of competing in the hardest sport in the world.

  1. Your emotions are valid

Throughout all of my childhood training, I spent five hours a day at practice, six days a week. During the summer, training bumped up to eight hours a day, six days a week. Some days were definitely harder than others, and sometimes practices were affected by schoolwork, family troubles, or just not getting a skill down exactly the way I wanted it.

Every time I cried, I was sent home. Or to the bathroom. Or yelled at. Crying and emotion were seen as a sign of weakness. It wasn't until I went to college that I realized and learned that showing emotion wasn't bad; it was just a natural human thing. This is something I still continue to struggle with and grow on.

2. Speak up when something hurts

If I was hurting emotionally or physically, speaking out against any abusive behavior in practice would have ego-hurting consequences. I could have gotten kicked off the team and severely guilt-tripped, which would have stripped my worth as a person at the time. There was nothing worse than that feeling: feeling like you don't have value as a person when you can't catch the bar on a release move that day.

I have had broken six bones, torn four muscles, had surgery twice, and hit my head so hard I went unconscious once.

Now, it's a constant struggle to speak up to my friends, parents, teachers, and even classmates when something they do or say feels uncomfortable. But, as I am aware of it now, it's one step toward fixing the issue. I am proud of how far I have come with this today.

3. Your body is beautiful

While training for elite, I developed an ongoing eating disorder throughout middle school. A lot of my childhood was so full of being concerned about food and the way my body looked while simultaneously expecting to be powerful at my skills and alert during practice. Because of this, I can't remember a lot of my pre-teen years.

On days I looked "fat," my coach would take away my food and make me run around the gym with a back brace on. We would do conditioning and strength training until we threw up.

I am now vegetarian, eating nourishing foods that give me fuel throughout the day. I now know that carbs are not the enemy and that they give me the energy and stamina to go throughout my busy school day full of classes and extracurriculars. I have learned to appreciate the way my body naturally looks and am most proud of myself for growing in this area.

4. What you feel is okay

You do not need a reason for feeling what you are feeling. Whatever emotion and feeling it is, it is correct, it is valid, and it is worth speaking out about.

5. It's a learning experience

All of these things I've experienced and been through are parts of what makes up who I am today. And I am grateful for that because I love the person I've become and have grown into from this. Gymnastics has given me life-long lessons at a very young age, and I am not letting these learning opportunities go to waste.

Kaylee Sugimoto

Illinois State '24

A Washington/Oregon local trying to figure the midwest out. Illinois State University journalism major. The Vidette, WZND Radio, sometimes on TV-10, co-creator, editor, and music journalist for White Noise Zine. Beatles maniac, coffee enthusiast, and lover of a good romance novel.
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