People often come up to me and ask me if I am upset about sacrificing my entire childhood for gymnastics. Spending over 14,000 hours of my youth in a gym could seem like huge sacrifice to many, and at first I bought into that idea. After all, it made my athletic story better when it is full of drama and sacrifices.
“Oh poor Wendy, she wasn’t able to be a “normal” child. She spent her entire young age trapped in a gym. She wasn’t able to do all the things her classmates were doing, she couldn’t have fun, and all she did was train.”
After really pondering these types of comments I began to ask, what things did I really miss out on? What “normal” childhood things were so spectacular that my entire childhood was a sacrifice? I really had quite a difficult time coming up with a list of sacrifices. My childhood was amazing and to me and many of the thousands of other gymnasts out there, we were blessed to be given the sport of gymnastics and we didn’t want to be “normal” or else we would have been.
In elementary school I loved that I did gymnastics. I could out run the boys, show off my flips during recess, and pass my Presidential Physical Fitness Test with ease. I always had a routine for the talent show and yes, yes, I always won. After school I would go to the gym to play. I loved to flip and fly. If I had a chance to be on my hands rather than my feet, I would flip my self around and live up side down. I had a passion and a love for gymnastics that I was able to excel in and finding a combination of love and talent is very rare.
Gymnastics did take over my life. Not because I was forced or pressured, but because I couldn’t stop flipping. My room became a gym. My bed wasn’t were I slept, but where I learned my front flip. When my coach asked if I could spend more time in the gym, I gladly accepted. I would even spend more time in the gym than was expected; I went to open gyms, sleep overs, and extra classes. When I wasn’t in the gym, I was still flipping at home, in stores, schools, grass, and the beach.
Gymnastics was my first choice and I chose it over everything. When I was in the second grade I was in Brownies. Once a week I dressed up in my little Brownie outfit and met with the other girls in our group. We would do crafts, sing songs, and talk about things that would make little girls successful. I would miss meetings sometimes because if it interfered with gymnastics. After I missed more meetings than I attended, my troop leader told me that I had to choose between Brownies or gymnastics. So I chose gymnastics. I didn’t sacrifice being a Brownie. To me, it wasn’t as important as gymnastics and certainly not as exciting and fun so the decision to stop being a Brownie was an easy one.
Middle school was a little different. I did miss out on having school friends. After school when the kids would go over someone’s house to hang out, I would go to the gym. I did miss out on relationships with the friends I did have, but I also had amazing friends in the gym.
My school friends would brag to me about parties I missed. There was one party I missed that was the best party of the year. This party was a high school party, which meant no parents, and it had high school boys. My friend told me all about her new outfit. She wore tight Sassoon Jeans and a Motley Crew off the shoulder half shirt. She told me all about the boys she met and how one boy asked her to be his girlfriend. The party lasted past midnight and all the kids were talking about it for days when they got back to school.
I wasn’t able to go to the party because I was in Hawaii competing in the Aloha Gymfest gymnastics meet. I won the meet and received a cool trophy made out of a lava rock and seashell. After the competition we stayed in Hawaii for a couple days and surfed, toured the island, and got an amazing tan. I tried to brag to my friend about our team trip, but she was too excited about her upcoming date to the mall and she didn’t really care.
As my childhood continued I did miss out on childhood things. I missed almost all late night T.V shows and movies. I missed hanging out at the mall. I missed staying out until the streetlights came on. I missed summers filled with boredom and sitting at home waiting for something fun to do.
Seriously though, I did miss out on some pivotal moments in a teens childhood. I did miss out on Friday night football games, after school activities, school groups and clubs, and Senior Prom. I understood that these once in a lifetime teen activities are almost a rite of passage into the adult world. Most of the time I didn’t mind that I missed out on those things. Of course there were times that I did wonder what it would be like to be a “normal” kid. When times were very tough in the gym, I did sometimes question my sport and when I was 16 I did quit. I wanted to do what regular high schoolers were doing, so I got a job and hung out with my friends at the mall. After two weeks I realized “normal” life stunk and I wanted to be back in the gym. I wanted to feel my muscles get sore, my hands rip, and my body ache. I wanted to feel myself fly and fall and so I quickly decided that being a regular kid was not all that everyone made it out to be.
People tell stories about their high school life years and years after they graduate high school. I can’t tell a lot of stories about my life in high school. I missed a lot of those same experiences. Yet, I can tell stories about how I traveled and competed amongst the best athletes in the world. I competed in the Orange Bowl in Miami and won a trophy bigger than me, I went to Belgium and got to ride bicycles through the center of town, and when I went to Colorado Springs and got to ride horses in the mountains.
I can tell stories about the huge successes and experiences I had in the gym. How I overcame my fear of vaulting, how it felt to get a skill for the first time, the excitement of catching my first Tkachev, how I once had a rip covering my entire hand, the emotional ups and downs of mastering my skills, the excitement of learning an optional floor routine for the first time, and the amazing feeling of flying through the air and landing perfectly on my feet. I can also tell stories about what it feels like to compete in front of 15,000 people, be on national T.V., and how it felt when my Olympic medal was draped around my neck signifying the pinnacle of my youth.
Everyone gets to go to Prom, see football games, or go to the mall. Not everyone can accomplish big goals. I was able to do something that not many people are able to do. I am not only talking about winning an Olympic medal. I am talking about practicing a sport I absolutely loved. I was able to find a burning passion inside me and work until I had it mastered. Not many people are lucky enough to have an opportunity like mine. Everyone is given an opportunity to be normal, but why be normal? Why be like everyone else simply because that is “normal”.
Because of gymnastics I was able to experience and learn things that only sports was able to teach me. I was able to be better than normal, I was able to be extraordinary.
I learned how to be on time.
I learned how to be dependable.
I learned how to de disciplined.
I learned how to travel.
I learned how to be mentally strong.
I learned how to take criticism.
I learned how to fix mistakes.
I learned how to work hard.
I learned how to be independent.
I learned how to compete.
Sacrificing is giving up or losing something that you wish to have. When gymnastics is what you wish to have, then there is no sacrifice. Gymnasts that train 25 hours a week do not sacrifice their childhood. They have a childhood, and it is an amazing childhood filled with amazing experiences that only sports can bring them. And my stories about my childhood are far more interesting, inspiring, and entertaining because they aren’t well, “normal.”
Wendy Bruce Martin was a member of the 1992 Olympic team and 5x national team member. She has been involved in gymnastics for 36 years and coaching for 22. She received a degree in psychology and is a certified mental toughness coach. Wendy owns the Mental Toughness Company, GET PSYCHED! She is co-owner of Gold Medal Moms and an Ambassador for Gymnastics News Network. You can visit Wendy at www.Psyched4sports.com , www.WendyBruceMartin.com , or www.GoldMedalMoms.com email at [email protected]