Updated: Sep 6, 2018
Hi, my name is Bethany and I spent 15 years with my first love: gymnastics. The reason I started this blog is because I believe in the power of story and being able to relate to one another. Whether that's reminiscing in the good times or connecting on the struggles, sports allow a piece of our soul to come alive. So although this is just maybe the first half of my outline, I plan to share all aspects of being an athlete and the transitions out of sport. If you are a former athlete, I invite you to reflect and then share your experiences. Not only will this pay-it-forward and resonate with current athletes, it will allow you to connect with other former athletes who are going through the same transitions of life! So I hope you can relate and pull from my story that journeys are truly journeys. There is no straight road to your dreams however, that's what keeps it interesting right?! Anyways, enjoy part I!
Once upon a time I was a competitive gymnast. Apparently it all started when I had a "watch me" moment for my mother at three years old. An aerial (cartwheel with no hands) which scared her half to death or so the story was told. I continued on this "throwing of skills" off park benches (I was doing parkour before it was "parkour"): running on retaining walls, flinging myself around bars (monkey bars guys... the monkey bars), doing more cartwheels, climbing on all things, shimmy-ing myself up to my bedroom ceiling (my closet had a ledge to sit on... so of course.... "CHALLENGE ACCEPTED"). Yes, it was possible... you can ask my mother. After these amazing attempts to continue to scare my mother, she signed me up for a gymnastics class at a gym called, "Aerials".... go figure!
So I started to get some proper foundation training for my "chucking of skills" for fun. However, there were definitely days that I wanted nothing to do with it. I would scream, have meltdowns, hang on to the seatbelt in the car whilst my mother attempted to pull me out. Clearly a charm of a child. But I do remember why I was scared to go... I was painfully shy. My child attitude of "I don't give two foxes what you all think" diminished as I grew out of my toddler stage. I started to become aware of how the other kids acted or responded to me. I became very uncomfortable in group and social settings. I do not know why this occurred but this was another reason my mother put me in gymnastics. I needed to be immersed in social settings in order to get "comfortable with being uncomfortable".
Too bad my shyness didn't completely subside until my junior year of high school, and I am still working on the "what other people think of me" thing. When you are in a sport all your life where you are judged against subjective perfection, this mindset kind of stays with you. It is actually a great asset, it just takes time to navigate and tame. And now I will deem myself as the "always work in progress" status. Still trying to figure it all out over here... anyways I digress.
Let's continue shall we. So I started gymnastics at age six. I would be in and at times out of the sport for the next 15 years. Some of my best childhood memories are of practices and traveling to competitions with teammates who are now life-long friends. In fact my happiest memories are because of my involvement in this sport. On the flipside, some of my hardest times were because of this sport. My journey was a roller coaster to say the least.
I struggled and it was no "easy" ride even though the perception may have been so for others looking in. I dealt with depression and fear issues. My mental game prevented me from my full potential. I let gymnastics determine my worth. If I had a bad practice, I had a bad life. I took everything to heart and took myself way too seriously. I had negative thought patterns that took years to somewhat master... and I believe that I am not the only one, as all athletes invested in their success were completely immersed in their sports. And although I don't look back and regret any part of my journey, I wish I had been exposed to resources and tools to develop my identity and learn to balance life outside of sport.
My struggles with mental wellness and some FOMO in high school (fear of missing out), led me to eventually quitting the sport. Not once.. but twice, and not in middle school, but in high school... twice! To my club coaches out there, I apologize for my teenage decision-making skills and dramatic approaches as in that part of my life I didn't know up from down. (Also, shout out to my club coaches: you all were the BEST coaches I ever had and played a huge role in shaping me throughout my sport journey). The first time I quit, was after competing at JO Nationals my sophomore year. I had made it to level 10, and had made the decision to say goodbye and try out for the cheer team at my high school.
My cheerleading stint included many life and high school experiences that I had imagined... paired with some other experiences I had never imagined. Cheerleading helped me out of my social anxiety shell and allowed me to feel a part of my high school. I was so shy in my first two years in high school that I barely talked to anyone. My social life existed at the gym and was non-existent at school. This was so much a fact that when I joined the cheer team, people asked where I moved from. I had lived in the area since birth and had been attending said high school for two years. Regardless, I enjoyed the positive parts of my cheerleading days and had a lot of fun!
Then, fortunately enough, college letters started flooding my parents' mailbox. This was something I had never really anticipated. I figured that once I "quit" the sport, I would be off the grid per se... yet needless to say that didn't happen. So I decided to go back for college gymnastics. I attempted to do both cheerleading and gymnastics and proceeded to burn the candle at both ends, until I ended up quitting both cheer and gymnastics (yes, gymnastics for a second time). By this point in time, I had turned down a full-ride scholarship and became to resent myself, my decisions, and my life. I wanted to escape, run away, start over. I was an emotional hurricane and impacted all of those around me.
When the emotional dust settled and I had time to process all of my decisions, I found myself extremely lonely and without purpose. After reflecting on my athletics journey and realizing that being recruited was a pretty awesome opportunity, I decided yet again to return to gymnastics however, this time it was back to the gym where I stared my competitive gymnastics career. I trained there for a handful of months before I put aside my pride and asked my prior club coaches if I could return. Thankfully, they said yes and in the midst of this I was graciously offered the same gymnastics college scholarship that I had turned down.
College athletics reignited my love for the sport and I am forever grateful for the path that led me to being a student-athlete. As not only did it come with many more life experiences, it prepared and directed me to starting a career post athlete-life.
Part II is on its way!