Geriatric Gymnast

Geriatric Gymnastics 13

Tammy Goedken, part 3

We love telling stories about our gymnastics escapades. In part 3, Tammy and I talk about dealing with injuries, building bone strength, balance, and positive self-concept, and our thoughts on progress (which is never linear).

Sustaining injuries

Tammy and I have both had our fair share of boo-boos from the gym. Many are overuse injuries, some are from careless or less-planned activities. Sometime, you can sprain an ankle or stub a toe while getting on and off an apparatus and not paying close enough attention to where you are stepping. It’s a good reminder to stay focused always be mindful of your surroundings, especially when you are not flipping. We do our best planning when we are getting ready to do the hard stuff. We tend to get in trouble walking across the gym to our next apparatus.

Part three opens with my story of the time when I busted my hip from about a year and a half ago. I went into greater detail about this in Chapter 4: Keeping the Bones Strong if you want to read the whole story. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t break anything, except maybe my pride.)

The short version of the story is that I chucked a standing back tuck on the tumble track, lost my way, and landed face down, splayed out with my leg bent backwards more than it was supposed to bend. I hurt my hip enough to warrant a trip to urgent care to make sure I didn’t, literally, break a hip. I didn’t want to go to the orthopedist, as I had done in the past for a different injury, because that visit led to the doctor questioning my life choices, and I was not taking part in that kind of discussion again.

I hobbled in on crutches, since it hurt enough for me to need support, and got the x-ray done. When I saw the doc, I showed her a few of my flipping videos for “medical research purposes.” I wanted her to see the type of surface that I landed on and how I did it. Fortunately, she confirmed that the hip was just sprained, and shared a very different message from the orthopedist I’d seen in the past. It was something like, “with all of that bouncing you must have the strongest bones EVER. You’ll never get osteoporosis!” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. When your life choices are validated like that by a medical professional, it makes you want to pursue them that much more.

Bone-building and balance

As I told this part of the story, Tammy just kept smiling, because we both are actually looking forward to the time when we get a bone-density test. She told me a story from when she was in PT school and the students each got a Dexa scan, which measures just that. “My bone density was 2 full standard deviations above the mean for women my age, which was shocking. It was almost off the graph.” Remember – Tammy doesn’t go to the gym to lift weights or run the roads. At that time (in her 20s), she had maintained her fitness through gymnastics training.

In addition to the amazing bone-building effects that gymnastics has on our aging bodies, it also trains balance like no other activity can, something that older people tend to lose when they stop moving as much. Gymnasts have to navigate a balance beam, stand and walk on the unstable surface of the trampoline, and it is constantly challenging our stabilizing muscles all over our bodies.

So many older people are at risk of slip-fall injuries; their balance reactions end up being a little bit delayed because they just don’t practice. Sometimes they’ll do yoga, which is great, but it’s a lot of 2-foot stance, half the class is sitting, it’s not the same dynamics as you have with gymnastics. When you’re walking across an icy street, you’re going to have a foot slip out from you and how can you recover it? Gymnastics is really great for training that. It also has to be practiced on a regular basis.

Tammy Goedken

Building a positive self-concept

It is incredibly satisfying to watch someone who is entering the gym for the first time, taking their first wobbly steps on the trampoline, and 20 minutes later they are gleefully bounding and expertly navigating that springy surface. We see the joy of success when they take an enormous leap forward, doing something they had never done before. It’s so satisfying because we know that feeling. We live that feeling every time we workout, and helping others to have that feeling unlocks the happy hormones in everyone. Whenever someone succeeds, the whole group cheers. I talk more about this in Chapter 5: Maintaining a Positive Self-Concept at the Gym. Bottom line, the gym is the place to enjoy your own personal cheer squad.

Progress isn’t linear

I think, write, or say this phrase every day. It is a fundamental principal of life and of gymnastics in particular. In the gym, “wiping out” is just the normal outcome of most of our attempts to learn new skills. What is actually the oddity is when we do land on our feet during those early attempts, almost like a shocking moment of serendipity, and often on the very next attempt, another wipeout ensues.

Knowing this, when new students enter the gym, Tammy and I encourage people to bring their phones with them. They usually look at us like we have three heads when we say that, but it’s to be able to record their wipeouts and successes as they learn. Video evidence serves two main purposes:

  • Capturing the successes serves as a reminder that their body is capable of putting all of the pieces together, even if they are not yet consistent in their execution. Maybe it was a happy accident, but if it can happen once, it can happen again.
  • Capturing the early failures shows them how far they have come since they started. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of that when we are getting frustrated with ourselves. Then we can say to them progress isn’t linear and get them to move on.

At the gym, we work to normalize failure…

You don’t think of it as failing anymore, it’s just another step in the progression. It’s normal not to land on your feet. That is more normal sometimes than landing on your feet. “Fail” has a whole new meaning now.

Tammy Goedken

Having done this for so long and wiping out so many times, I can attest that fails are part of the fun when you know how to do it safely.  Planning for fails is even more fun, since you can crash land on squishy mats or bounce out of it. For your entertainment pleasure, I present a little compilation of some of my favorite fails, crash and burns (including one with Tammy).

One thought on “Geriatric Gymnastics 13

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