Geriatric Gymnast

Geriatric Gymnastics 1

This is the first installment of my new blog series about adult gymnastics. Here, you’ll learn about how a middle-aged mind works with a middle-aged body to defy the odds.

Chapter 1: Flipping for all to see

Being an adult flipper, it has become very important to me to record my progress and publish it for the world to see, not because of burgeoning narcissism, but because I feel that not commemorating the event would mean that nobody would ever believe that I can do the things I can do.  Another reason: I fear that my sketchy memory won’t retain how and when I made that progress. When you work hard to make small gains, it’s nice to share that progress, enjoy some feedback, and edify your commitment to this crazy thing you have chosen to do. It’s also nice to look back and actually remember how much time and effort you have put into this endeavor.

Aside from my desire to share (and remember) this passion with the world, I also like the idea that I might be able to inspire someone “of a certain age” that they can do things that are not supposed to be in their wheelhouse. Just when I think I’m posting too much, someone tells me how much they love seeing the videos when I post them, so I wouldn’t want to take away a good source of entertainment. It’s one thing to see a teenager or twenty-something doing tumbling passes; it’s another when someone’s mom is flipping over things. 

I post both the successes as well as the myriad fails that are peppered throughout my training days. Sure, I love showing the polished version, but people looking at social media need to understand that the finished product doesn’t happen the first time, and it certainly is not a guarantee that it will happen every time. How many videos do we watch where a guy throws a ping pong ball that ricochets off of four walls, bounces off the dog’s head, then lands perfectly into the tiny neck of a milk bottle? If he didn’t use some sort of black magic or smoke and mirrors, then he got really lucky on the 98th try, after a million adjustments and practice shots. 

As I was nearing my 50th circle around the sun, I was trying to figure what what new hashtags I’d post with my gymnastics videos. (I still fail to understand the importance of the hashtag, but I comply dutifully in my posts.) These are the ones I’ve used regularly: 

  • #thisis49bitches (a regular since my mid-40s, I just changed the number with every birthday)
  • #progressisntlinear (my favorite, because it’s the truth – we don’t follow a straight line with skill acquisition)
  • #sisterswithsimonebiles (what gymnast doesn’t emulate the GOAT?) 
  • #gymnasticsismyclassroom (I learn something new in every single session at the gym.)

My friend Tammy is an adult gymnast with whom I’ve trained for many years. Not a natural social media acolyte, she decided to follow my lead, posting her progress videos on Instagram @theneotenyprinciple. (Check them out – she’s phenomenal.) She’s just a few years older than me and so much more skilled than I am, so she’s an incredible inspiration for me to keep going when I start losing a little steam. She used some of her own hashtags on her page, including one that caught my eye: #geriatricgymnastics. It was kind of perfect – since gymnasts typically age out in their early 20s, this label works well. I shortened it to #geriatricgymnast and BOOM, new hashtag. I also added #thisis50 – short, sweet, and to the point.  People need to know that middle age is not the end of play; it just requires a different kind of attention and care to ensure fun can be had without repercussions. 

I also ventured into the world of TikTok and posted a few clips for fun. Nothing viral to be sure, but I wanted to join in and see what all the fuss was about. One video got over 900 views, so that’s something I suppose. 

Why bother with all of this social media brouhaha? At heart, I’m a teacher. I want to show others that normal people can do extraordinary things. We can set our sights on things that are scary, or seemingly impossible.  I started this nutty gymnastics obsession at 36; before that, I had never even bounced on a trampoline. I started by bouncing on a trampoline and not getting nauseous. With each physical and mental adjustment,  my coaches would add another challenge to work through. Over time, progress would be made. 

 We have the tools to break things down into their components, study them, learn the required techniques and take the minuscule baby steps required to make progress happen. It’s not about the spit and polish of the finished product; it’s about the concerted effort it took to get there. That holds true for anyone learning anything new. 

By demonstrating the long and winding road to success, I hope to inspire others like me to do hard things to which they might never otherwise give half a thought; like doing back tucks off a tower of mats. Why would I do that? Because it’s scary and exhilarating and fun and I have great coaches that remind me that I have the skill and strength to pull it off and who will keep me from breaking my neck. When the only thing holding you back is the voice in your head that can freeze you in your tracks, it’s time to make a decision: play it safe and watch others do it, or take a deep breath and jump.

In that moment of mental breakthrough, you set, swing your arms back and vault yourself into the air. You are past the point of no return – you hug your knees and wait for gravity to bring your feet to the floor.  It’s a split second that changes some pathway in your brain, unlocking a door to embracing your courage, ability, and years of training. It’s trusting yourself to make it through something that would otherwise seem impossible. It’s looking at yourself in a different, brighter light. 

And when we actually arrive at that seemingly impossible skill that we can perform either once or with consistency, who wouldn’t want to share that with the world? 

To see some of my gymnastics videos, check out my TikTok page @stdancechick.

Read more about my Geriatric Gymnastics escapades in Chapter 2 of my blog series, The Road To Mastery

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