Danielle Pajak, Contributing Writer
The world of gymnastics is full of excitement and challenges. For young children, it is a place where they can be free to flip around and have fun. For others, it is a place of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. As a gymnast for ten years, I was one of those girls who spent countless hours having fun and training in the gym.
Because of my experience, I can say that gymnastics is one of the most demanding sports, both mentally and physically. It requires incredible strength, use of the entire body and great flexibility all at the same time. Every day at practice, a gymnast is pushed mentally to overcome challenges and fears. The skills and trust in oneself and one’s capabilities are developed slowly over years of training and conditioning. Gymnastics demands a year-round level of commitment in order to maintain and improve skill and ability.
As a sport, gymnastics is diverse and complex. There are four events for women: floor, vault, uneven bars and balance beam. Men compete in rings, pommel horse, parallel bars, high bar, floor and vault. Many gymnasts compete in all of the events they can, but some choose to focus on one or two as specialists. Each event has its own challenges, and balancing all the different events in training is difficult. It’s the diversity and difficulties of the sport, though, that make it so uniquely exciting to train and to observe.
Gymnasts who compete usually begin at a young age. The first few levels are set, compulsory routines that each gymnast must master and perform at meets. With more training and skill, gymnasts in higher levels are allowed to create their own unique routines within certain parameters, required skills and minimum difficulty. In these higher levels, gymnasts are allowed to be more creative with their routines.
The team aspect of gymnastics can be a bit complex. Gymnastics is highly competitive, and while each team wants to do well as a whole, gymnasts within the team are competitive among one another. The high degree of competition within a team can be difficult to balance. Despite this, the many hours of training and working together in the gym helps to create a strong bond between gymnasts, which often helps to overcome the tension of competitive spirits. A gymnast must learn to rely on herself, more than her teammates and coaches. Only she can control how she performs and competes and must trust herself and her abilities in order to be successful.
I trained and competed in gymnastics beginning as a young girl and continuing into my high school years. This experience shaped me and taught me many things. Through the years of practice, I learned to face my fears of injury and to trust myself and my coach when it came time to learn new skills and routines. Like many athletes, working through injuries and soreness is a daily task for any gymnast. Learning to ignore the blisters on my hands from the bars, or pushing through a sprained ankle on floor taught me what it takes to overcome hardship and setbacks outside of the gym. Years of work and commitment to training helped to instill in me a strong work ethic, confidence and determination. This has been the case with many other gymnasts as well. Without gymnastics in my life, I would have never had the opportunity to learn what it meant to be dedicated to something I love, to overcome hardship and pain and to trust myself and my abilities as an athlete.
Gymnastics demands perfection, and the journey to that level changes a gymnast in every aspect of her life. Gymnastics forces positive growth in a gymnast’s life – emotionally, mentally and physically. Gymnastics helped push me to become the individual I am today, and for that, I am extremely grateful.