Geriatric Gymnast · Self Care

I am a gymnastics addict.

I like spending time upside-down.

This article was written in my early 40’s as I was really gathering steam in my training. During the COVID lockdown, where gyms were closed, I had to take a 3 month hiatus from bouncing and flipping. Thankfully, we have moved into the next phase of living, and I am back at it.

I am a gymnastics addict.  Not the watching of gymnastics kind, but the doing kind.  The kind where, if I don’t get at least one weekly workout in, I feel atrophy, weakness, and a general sense of blah.

You’d think I’ve been doing this all of my life.  Right now, I say, “I wish.”  I wish my mother had put me in gymnastics when I was a kid (and I tell her this regularly).  But as a small kid, I went to Hebrew school, then as a teenager I got involved with dance classes and the after school theatre programs, so sports and athletics were really not an option for me.

So how did I get involved with gymnastics as an adult?  It all started when my youngest daughter was about 2 years old.  I was taking my older daughter (then 5) to her kiddie class and I was there, sitting with all of the other parents, watching.  Being a dance teacher and a generally active sort, it was killing me, seeing my daughter bouncing on the trampoline, laughing giddily and doing somersaults and attempting cartwheels.  So much so that I asked the owner if he had any designs on an adult class, a sort of active “mommy and me” experience where the mommies giddily jump and tumble at the same time the kiddies do the same.  He actually said that he was thinking of it and if he got enough names for a full class, he’d let me know.  Excited by the prospect of living out my childhood fantasy (and the possibility of shedding some of that stubborn baby weight that was 2 years lingering), I waited patiently.  Finally, that January, the adult class began.  At 36, I would be starting gymnastics.  Little did I know, this would be the start of something life-changing.

In that first year (6 months, really), it was all about fitting my body and brain into this new movement medium, which bore many similarities and even more differences to the way I had been trained as a dancer.  I got to jump on this huge trampoline, and for the first time in a long time, I felt this heart-fluttering, giddy satisfaction that I was undertaking something that I had longed for since my childhood!  I was also frightened that I might jump at the wrong angle, bound clear off the tramp, and break my neck.  That was the “Mommy” part of my brain screaming, What are you doing?  Are you crazy? You have a great job as a dance teacher in a high school and you are risking your neck doing THIS?!?  But the child in me somehow screamed louder, YES!  YES I AM!  AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!!!  It was the most liberating thing I had done for myself, because it was the first time in a long time I had broken away from the “norm” and taken on a physical challenge that pushed the edge of possibility.  And I liked it.

At first, I had to hide my overwhelming joy.  Oh, we’re just conditioning, really.  It’s not too crazy – it’s a great workout, I would explain to my husband and my mom.  I didn’t want anyone to try to talk me out of this endeavor.  It gave me an adrenaline rush like nothing I’d ever experienced.  I am typically the type who plays it safe – I don’t invest in the stock market, I’m not a mountain climber, I’ve never taken a drug that wasn’t prescribed by my doctor – because I am afraid of what I might lose.  And with a loving family, home, health, career, etc, I have a lot to lose.  But this new experience was more of a measured risk – one that the cautious part of my brain was ready and willing to take, slowly.

Throughout the first year and a half, I learned that there was a whole “cult” of adults who took class at this gym, but I never knew about it because they took classes during the week when I was working.  But once in a while, an angel, a mentor, my rock-solid guide would come and help teach the adults while the coach would flitter off and check out the kiddie classes.  Her name was Lisetta, she was about 8 years older than me, had also taken up gymnastics as an adult, and she was doing all sorts of crazy stuff.  Front flips, back flips, handsprings – and she did them with such grace, strength, and smarts.  Seeing her work, I knew that this was something I could learn – I could do this – I HAD to do this.  And even if it took me until I was 60, I would learn how to tumble.

And then, the skills started to come. Slowly but surely, I learned how to do back drops on the trampoline. And a front flip. And a handstand roll. And a cartwheel on one arm! And later, a front handspring on the trampoline, and a back tuck (which I lost for about a year when I landed poorly and went careening to the edge of the trampoline, wedging my shin between the tramp and the wall – ouch). But then I learned the back handspring on the tramp and progressed to the tumble track. Every year, I’d plug away at these skills – sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing miserably. On a regular basis, faced that heart-fluttering fear head on (you want me to hurtle my body backwards and land on my FEET? HOW???). The adventurer in me got stronger and helped me to overcome the burgeoning “safe me” – the one that my mom reinforced when she was so lovingly omitted risky activities like skiing from my repertoire, in an effort to look out for my safety and well-being (love you, Mom).

I was eventually invited to train with some of the women during the summers, which gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  They trusted my skill and sensibility not to kill myself when the coach wasn’t there.  There, I made enormous progress, since the ladies whom I admired most all became my mentors – gently making small corrections when my form was poor, praising and applauding me when I did something well.  It was a personal growth that I don’t think I could have gained anywhere else at any other time, because here, I was ready for the challenge.  My adult self was craving this activity at this time in my life. 

Every year, the women commented on how strong I was (as a dancer, I have legs of steel, apparently) and how impressive it was that I’ve come so far in such a short time. As impressed as they seemed, I was even more impressed with myself for taking the leap to answer this call from within.  In my mind, I was on the fast track, because I was not just making up for lost time, but also trying to beat the clock.  I know this fantasy can’t last forever, so I’m trying to get in as much as I possibly can while I am young and healthy enough to do it.  It is a crazy endeavor.  I don’t have any plans on the Olympics (although my friends who see my little gym videos always say I could take on Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles – HA!), but I do plan on seeing what this “older” body has in it.  I want to be flipping at 50.  Or 60.  If I could bottle the joy I feel when I do something right, I would make a fortune, because the world would have access to ride a constant high in life, in possibility, in adrenaline.

I am stronger now than I ever was in my 20’s.  I have opened up new pathways in my brain that never existed.  I have awakened muscles that I didn’t know I could use.  My arms are now pretty fabulous (GO INVERSIONS!!) and the baby weight is long gone.  And though the journey hasn’t been without injuries (sprained ankles, painful shoulders, bruised shins), the healing capacity it has opened to my soul is worth any ouchie that I might sustain.  Sadly, both my daughters have long since given up the love for the gym, but this has become my passion, “Mom’s thing,” and they are definitely as proud of me as I am of them.

Though I will never be Elite athlete or an Olympian, I have found an athletic spirit that will carry me much further in my life.  I guess I can say that I have my Mom to thank for this, because if she had put me in gymnastics as a kid, perhaps I wouldn’t have discovered it as an adult.  There’s a time for everything in this life – now is my time to do a front handspring-straddle toe touch-front tuck combination.  And every time I land it, I feel like Gabby and Simone, gold medals dangling from their neck.  And I like it. 

#sisterswithsimonebiles #gymnasticsismycrack #thisis48bitches #momsfliptoo #workinprogress #flippingismysuperpower

Read more about my Geriatric Gymnastics escapades in my next post, Age Is Just a Number

7 thoughts on “I am a gymnastics addict.

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