By: Amy Rolland
You read that right. Thirty. Seven.
(And who came up with term ‘gym rat?’ It’s awful. We really are the best kind of people though, in my totally biased opinion.)
I literally grew up in a gymnastics gym. It was more my home than my actual address. When I was born, my mother stopped teaching school and exclusively coached gymnastics. She put me in my car seat so I could sleep beside the vault, or she let her gymnasts take turns holding me (upside down) while she worked. By the time I was three, I was warming up classes, telling kids to straighten their knees during their straddle stretch, and if they couldn’t reach their toes like me, it was fine. They should just try their best. My mom loves telling that story.
While she was teaching, I taught myself a chin-up. Then, I taught myself a pullover. Then, I went ahead and taught myself a kip. I had nothing but time.
Years later, I practiced five days a week. If I stayed home sick from school, I still went to practice. I did my homework in the gym lobby. My best friends were my gym friends. When I was at home, I conditioned on my door bar or practiced on my beam. And I loved it. I was happily obsessed. I’d get off the bus on the last day of school and never thought about summer vacations. I thought about Woodward. I thought about harder skills and new routines.
Gymnastics was my first love, and first loves usually don’t work out. I quit halfway through high school. Growth spurts. Injuries. I was done. One final injury ended me. Honestly, I thought ‘thank you, God’ because I didn’t have to make the decision. My body did it for me. No more chalk-covered clothes. No more rips. No more beam bites.
They’re funny though, the things that build us. Life has a way of throwing them back when we toss them out. Building block boomerangs. There was a gymnastics gym across the highway from my dorm at college. All I had to do was walk in the door, and they knew me, hired me. I can’t say I was the best employee back then, but I was a great coach.
I became a high school English teacher, but years later, three weeks after I had my first son, my best friend called and said she was opening a gym. Would I like a job?
I didn’t want to go back to coaching. I spent so much of my childhood in a sweaty warehouse. Did I really want to spend my adult life there, too? Worrying about pointed toes and proper form?
But have you ever taught a skill and seen what happens when it clicks? The kid gets a different kind of smile. It’s like magic. And I’m pretty good at getting things to click. When I was competing, I never realized that a coach felt the same sense of pride and accomplishment during that moment. And they feel that smile in their soul.
When I was competing, I didn’t realize that my coaches might have loved me like they loved their own kids. I go to sleep worrying about my son’s social studies test and my daughter’s lingering cough, but I also worry about kips and casts, and twists and takeoffs. I worry about the kid who was out of sync. I worry about the kid whose wrist hurts.
Yes, gymnastics built me. The lessons it nailed into my being make me the person I am. I’ve had three children, and I’ve written six books. I’ve been a teacher, a freelance writer, and a tutor. I’ve failed so many times. Of the six books, only two have been published, and it’s a profession where people literally review my work publically. But gymnasts are used to that, aren’t they? I grew up being judged and scored. Because of gymnastics I can fail 26 times and succeed at 27. Or maybe 28. Maybe 98. I’ve been sucker punched in my professional life, and it’s no worse than falling off beam at nationals.
Thirty-seven years later, there’s chalk all over my clothes again, and getting knocked in the nose while spotting hurts worse than a beam bite. But I’m a better person because of coaching. Just like I was a better person because of competing.
Right now, I miss the hugs. I miss the looks from the girls when they know they’ve done something well. Something better. Something epic.
I miss you, girls.
Please quarantine end soon.
An Old Gym Rat
(Who in the world would have thought I’d miss being a gym rat?)