An athlete with the strength of a linebacker and the grace and beauty of a ballerina ... that is a gymnast.
Gymnastics is one of the most dangerous sports in the world and I love it. It takes the body to a whole new level but requires great mental and physical discipline.
I was about six when I started doing gymnastics. I remember going into the school’s gymnasium full of equipment, with the other kids rushing in, eager to learn, and the scent of feet in the air.
I realized I wanted to get serious with gymnastics when I watched the Olympics. When I saw those athletes use their bodies to gracefully throw themselves up in the air, I was in awe. It seemed that they could fly and I imagined myself flying like them. I imagined myself pulling off giants, swinging until I was ready to let go and take off. And when I finally tried, the feeling I got for that one second in the air was freedom, freedom from everything. It was a high, and it was addicting.
I was crazy when I was little. I was the boy parents didn’t want their kids around for fear their child would copy what I did and get hurt. Parents thought I was crazy because I would try tricks that others my age wouldn’t. Some of my coaches said kids my age don’t have the mentality and body discipline to achieve the tricks I could. What most people didn’t realize were the hours I put into learning those tricks. I rehearsed every step over and over until I put them together and my hard work would turn into something great.
This hard work and dedication to be a better gymnast stopped when I moved, and started at a new school. Everything was different, but the biggest change was the absence of a gymnastics gym.
Through that time of settling in, I had to learn a new way of being myself. Like zombies, some classmates dedicated themselves to turning into everyone else, while I really wanted to be, well, me. Gymnastics defined me. At times I felt sucked into being just like everyone else, but I saw that the struggle to be like everyone else makes you forget what makes you unique.
Now I’ve resumed my gymnastics training and am part of a team I can learn from. It’s giving me opportunities to become a better gymnast and more myself. What I have gone through has been tough, but some things stayed the same. I still walk into a gym with 50 foot ceilings. There are still other kids like me ready to learn about this sport, and yes, there’s still the smell of stinky feet. As a little kid I could only watch entranced as the gymnast flew high in the air. Now that I’m older, it’s my time to fly.
The strength of a linebacker, and the grace and beauty of a ballerina ... this is what makes me a gymnast.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.