This is a new series I decided to start. I’m not sure how many parts I will do, or how frequent or infrequent they may be. I’ve been dying to get this all off my chest for awhile, and given the rain and gloom of the past few days, what better time than now?
I like to say I have a sixth sense. I know when it’s about to rain without hearing a single weather forecast or glancing out a single window. It starts with a dull ache in my low back, and often progresses to the point where every step I take sends searing pain through my hips and resonates just above my tail bone. Then, I usually look out the window or ask the closest person to me if it’s supposed to rain soon, and I usually get my answer. Like an arthritic old lady, rain makes my back hurt. Finding myself on my couch unwilling to move for a few hours is not uncommon. If I need to get a glass of water, I have to slowly waddle to the kitchen because any other form of bipedal locomotion is too painful. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night. Over the counter pain medicine has little to no effect. I just wait it out until the rain stops and my back starts to feel better.
I have gymnastics to thank for this sixth sense of mine. I know what you’re thinking. “Oh great, this is what my daughter has to look forward to? Maybe she should pick a new sport….” But just hear me out.
I have always loved gymnastics. I started when I was 6, and I had big dreams for myself. At age 14, I was a level 9 gymnast when I started noticing that my back really really hurt. I would land a tumbling pass and just crumble to the floor. At age 15, a series of x-rays and bone scans on my spine revealed that I had fallen victim to the ominous “stress fracture” that is so common in gymnastics. Two doctors told me that I needed to quit gymnastics right away. I was devastated. Gymnastics was my life. I trained nearly 20 hours a week with a dream of one day being on a college team. I was referred to a spine specialist who told me that I didn’t need to quit, just take a break and be smart about my training. I was in a plaster back brace for 3 months (which was really fun to wear as a freshman in high school). I was out of gymnastics for 5 months. The spine specialist told me that my back would bother me for at least as long as I did gymnastics, but most likely for the rest of my life. But if that was the price I had to pay to keep doing what I loved, so be it.
Once I was cleared, I went back to the gym. I had to change some of my skills and routines to alleviate the stress on my back, but I didn’t care. A few years later, I found myself on a college team. College gymnastics was an amazing experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. But my body wasn’t getting any younger, and gymnastics becomes increasingly harder on the body as we age. Gymnasts in their twenties are anomalies. I developed more aches and pains, but I pushed my way through them because I wanted, no I needed to finish out my senior year.
At the end of my junior year, my college announced they would be eliminating the gymnastics program, effective immediately. For the second time, someone in an authoritative position was trying to take gymnastics away from me. I had worked so hard and overcome so much because I wanted to finish my gymnastics career as a senior in college. Hearing someone tell me that “gymnastics is a dying sport” when I knew it was very much alive and well in my heart was something I will never forget. However, long story short (the full story on how I resurrected my team can be found here on GymMomentum), we were able to get the decision reversed and I was able to have my senior year.
Despite a nagging shoulder injury that prevented me from doing bars for the majority of my senior year, and the ever-present lingering back pain from the then 6-year-old stress fractures, I had the best year of my career, and I credit it to smart training and sheer determination.
Gymnastics destroyed my body. That, I won’t sugarcoat. Sometimes I feel like I am 3 times as old as I actually am. But I wouldn’t change anything about it. I have no regrets about my time with gymnastics and I certainly welcome its repercussions. Gymnasts are masochists in that way.
When I’m feeling like someone is bludgeoning my lower back with a sledgehammer (sometimes brimming with tears), people usually ask me, “why did you do it if it hurt you?” or “look at you now, was it really worth it?” And my response is simple. I did it because I loved it. Because it gave me life. It gave me a sense of purpose. Because nothing on this earth can generate the same amount of passion in me that gymnastics can. Was it worth it? Yes. I would do it a thousand times over again if I could.
The pain I feel in my back is a reminder of how I persevered; how I beat the odds; how I proved doctors and college administrators wrong. It is a reminder that I achieved my goals; that I could defy gravity and push my body to its physical and emotional limits. It is a reminder of that feeling I got when my name was announced as a Division 3 Collegiate National qualifier. It is a reminder of how the last time I saluted a judge and competed was on a National stage. It is a reminder that I finished my gymnastics career the way I wanted to and my last routine was on my terms.
I wear my back pain like a badge of honor. It is a reminder that I’m alive.
Peace, love, and gymnastics,
Spectrum Gymnastics Academy
26 Buttrick Rd
About the Author
Coach Sarah is a former Rhode Island College gymnast, NCGA National qualifier, All-American, current gymnastics coach and judge, and contributor for the gymnastics news source, The Gymternet. Find out what's going on at Spectrum and learn more about the incredible sport of gymnastics!