Seven Years Retired

Part three of "Learning, Losing, and Low Reward"

Emphasis on the learning and losing.

  As I've mentioned before, I grew up a competitive gymnast, and if there's one thing that years of high-pressure athletic competition doesn't prepare you for, it's being over-the-hill and retired by age fifteen.

Good thing I've never been great at doing what I'm told.

  It's not that anyone told me I got too old for the sport, but the messages were there, lined up in rows like the neon billboards against a dark highway at night. Gymnastics, they said, is a sport for small, pretty girls, and I was neither.

  In fact, I'm still neither, but I'm also still not great at doing what I'm told.

  At 22-years-old, I came out of retirement, and returned to competitive gymnastics after seven years away from the sport.

  The months leading up to the competition were hard and painful and sometimes ugly. I'd forgotten what it felt like to be in a gym for 10 hours each week; to walk in each day sore and bruised and ready to work; to look at my ripped and bloody hands and say, "I can do one more."

  And I'd forgotten how much I loved it, how freeing it feels. I train with young, pretty girls who at 10 and 12 and 16 are far better gymnasts than I can ever dream of being, and yet somehow, I am in love with my mediocre gymnastics.

  When I compete, I compete only against myself—there's no one else in the 19+ age division—and though I am awarded five first-place medals each meet, every other competitor demolishes my scores. They run faster, swing farther, tumble higher, and yet somehow, I am proud.

  It's rare to be a better gymnast at 22 than you were at 15 (though let's face it, I was never a great gymnast), and yet somehow, losing at 22 means so much more than winning at 15 ever did.

  And that's why I push myself to keep learning and to keep losing. Dammit, it's hard to be a mediocre gymnast, and if nothing else, I love working hard for the things I want.