Geriatric Gymnast

Geriatric Gymnastics 8

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this series, so I’m excited to share something lovely that happened on my Mother’s Day workout.

Mental breakthroughs

There’s not a lot of things at the gym that freak me out. For the most part, I know all the skills that I think my body is capable of doing. Once in a while, I’ll pick up something new and it’s a lovely surprise, something to capture on video. If I think something is way beyond my skill level, I steer clear of it. I don’t have a death wish and I prefer to remain uninjured.

There are a few things however, that stick in my craw, especially when I had previously mastered them. The biggest offender is the standing back tuck, specifically on the red tumble track. That damn red tumble track. It has become the bane of my existence at the gym. A source of mental torture and self-doubt. Sometimes, it is my Everest.

Once upon a time, in the old gym where I trained several years ago, before it closed down, there was a red track and a yellow track. The yellow was tighter than the trampoline, but had more bounce than the red track. It was a good intermediate step for my aging joints (particularly my shoulders and lower back) for working on combinations of movement patterns and standing back tucks. At one point, I had even gotten good at a round-off, back handspring, back tuck combination on that yellow track. I had high hopes for more progress.

When I switched gyms, the equipment changed, I got older, and there was a significant period of time where I had to adapt to the new environment. The trampoline rebound was different, the red track was much newer and stiffer, and there was no yellow track. Alas, I committed myself to taking a step back if I needed to, to allow my body some time to readjust to the new environment. I was able to transfer the roundoff-back handspring to the new red track, minus the back tuck. Stepping back meant I would spend time working on building standing back handspring numbers, so I’d build strength and stamina in the interim. I’d occasionally work on the standing back tucks, but not with the frequency that was required for consistency.

Round off, back handspring on the new red track, 2019

Sometimes, injuries get in the way

About a year ago, I developed a shoulder impingement that I needed to rehab that made the back handsprings on the track quite painful. I had to back off the standing back handsprings there while I was healing. Whenever I thought I was feeling better I’d test it, but my shoulder flexibility and form had suffered and I was not landing them properly, or I’d feel the shoulder talking smack to me. The track bed was too tight for my body to comfortably absorb any problems with form. When I was off, I was really off.

I wrote about a hip injury I sustained while working on back tucks on the red track in Age is just a number and Keeping the bones strong. My proprioception failed me mid-air (I learned what the “twisties” were that day) and I landed in a mangled mess, atop the side pads of the red tumble track. I was having some bad luck going backwards on that apparatus and over time, I had less inclination to work there on those skills. From that unfortunate day, my brain went into protective shut-down mode and back tumbling on the red track became verboten.

The frustrating part of all of this is that I could do all of these skills easily on the bouncy trampoline, even roundoff-back handsprings. I could work on standing backs off of a tower, and on an air track with a hand spot. But for some reason, when I set myself to throw the moves on the red track, my heart started racing, my breath became shallow, and my brain would scream don’t do it!! The thought of not being able to progress, having to step away, knowing that my body really does know exactly what to do in these instances, was disappointing. Sadly, when there is a 10-foot mental block standing in your way, it feels like the only logical thing to do is take that step back and see if you can find a way to reset your mind.

A few days ago, I found a cute little video of Tammy and I standing face to face on the red track in the old gym. We reached up, set, and threw synchronous back tucks away from each other. It was a great little moment from 2017 that got me to thinking: there was something in me that knew exactly what to do. I knew how to do this. I had the strength, I had the power, I had the skill. What was actually stopping me, besides my brain?

Synchronous back tucks, 2017

As I watched the video, I wanted to recreate that moment from five years ago. I sent it to Tammy who immediately replied that we should do an updated version. I felt my heart rate increase and my ears got warm. I really wanted this to happen, but would my brain let go? What would it take to get it back?

On Mother’s Day Sunday’s workout, I had Tammy hand spot me for my first attempt. I normally don’t like hand spots since I am very tall, powerful, and if I throw something wrong, I can do some real damage to someone else. On the tumble track, there’s no belt option. It’s hand spot or nothing. I figured, I just had to trust what I already know and follow the skill pattern. I threw the standing tuck, no bounces, just to see where I was – I landed on all fours, unscathed, but annoyed.

It was time to go back to the basics.

When I first learned how to tumble on the trampoline, I’d follow the counting pattern “ready, and, 1, 2, 3” while bouncing, then throw the move. Literally, I did that hundreds of times to establish the neurological pathways that led to consistent success. The bouncing and counting also served as a distraction so I don’t ruminate over everything that can go wrong in the next few seconds. To get this skill back, I decided that I needed the calculated distraction. We also decided to put a squishy pit pillow behind me for a landing surface, just in case my takeoff or landing went awry.

Ready, and, 1, 2, 3, GO!

I landed on my feet. I also completely missed the pit pillow, which meant I had perfect elevation and rotation. I had this. Away went the pillow, and it was time for numbers. For each attempt, I landed right on target, and went straight into the next set. I felt the crippling anxiety dissipating and in its place, I had years of history emerging from my synapses. The 10-foot wall fell as I bounced and chucked back tucks. Over and over again.

So, sooner than expected, Tammy and I made our reboot video, and I think it was ever better than the original. We Geriatric Gymnasts have something that many of our younger counterparts don’t have: years of experience.

Synchronous back tucks, 2022

Someday, I will get that roundoff-back handspring back on that damn red track. When I do, expect to read about it.

Check it out: this blog series is featured on Feedspot’s Top 60 Gymnastics Blogs.
I’m on a “top” list!!

4 thoughts on “Geriatric Gymnastics 8

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