Well, it’s official. The gymnastics season is over for all gymnasts in the JO and NCAA Programs.
Given the situation with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, I completely understand the decision, and I fully support it. We must take care not to unknowingly infect others, especially those who are the most vulnerable, to a potentially deadly virus.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a very difficult situation for everyone in the gymnastics community.
As a judge, I’m disappointed. One of the best parts of the season, for me, is judging the championship meets, and hoping that the gymnasts can all put in their best performances on the day that it really counts. It’s thrilling to get a chance to judge some of the best in the state, region, or country at their level. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun to see friends from other cities, whom I don’t often get to visit.
As a former coach, I can only imagine the anguish that all of the coaches are experiencing. You’ve been training your athletes all season, some of them for many seasons or for a lifetime. This was supposed to be their shining moment, the one that you were all working toward.
But as sad as it is for the judges and coaches, as well as gym owners and parents, I’m even more sad for the athletes. In particular, the seniors. The class of 2020. Both the high school seniors and the college seniors who put their entire lives into the sport. These dedicated gymnasts who looked forward to finishing their careers with a bang.
It doesn’t matter whether they were destined for NCAA Nationals, JO Nationals, Level 9 Easterns/Westerns, or the Level 6 State Meet. These gymnasts have worked so hard for so long. That final meet as a senior is such an emotional time, and it’s upsetting to know that these gymnasts won’t get to have that experience.
Thinking about all of this led me to recall my senior season in gymnastics. I wasn’t a good enough gymnast to get a scholarship, so I knew that my gymnastics career would be over when the season was over. Like many gymnasts, I envisioned competing a perfect meet to finish out my final season, and to feel like I had accomplished all that I could in the sport.
However, when I was training for my last championship meet, I sustained a shoulder injury about three weeks prior to the meet. Luckily, it wasn’t a severe injury, and I was still able to compete. But I didn’t get to perform all the difficult skills I had planned. I was forced to water down my routines, and my shoulder caused me to make a mistake during my floor routine. After the meet, I was inconsolable. Gymnastics was over, forever, and it had not ended the way I had imagined. It just wasn’t fair.
I picked myself up and went to the awards ceremony. I went out to dinner with my teammates. We had time to do some sightseeing before our trip was over. Maybe the meet hadn’t gone as planned, but at least I was able to have a little fun.
After returning home, I had to figure out what to do with my time when I didn’t have gymnastics practice to attend. I had already been coaching a few hours a week at my gym, so I started coaching a little more. I helped with the gym’s summer day camps. I got a part-time job. I lifted weights at the local YMCA. I studied for, took, and passed my first judging test.
In the fall, I went away to college, with a coaching job already lined up and the name of the State Judging Director in my wallet. I already had a pretty good idea of what my new life might look like. Then, on my way to class one day, I passed a sign.
It read: “Gymnastics Club Practice 6-8pm.”
Gymnastics Club? That was a thing?
Maybe my gymnastics career wasn’t over after all. I decided to go and check it out. (Did I really bring a leotard with me to college, just in case?)
I was a little rusty, as one would expect after not training for a few months. But the club members were very welcoming, and I found that there were gymnasts of all skill levels. We had men who liked to do men’s and women’s events. Everyone was there simply because they loved gymnastics!
I went on to compete with the club team for about a year and a half. We had a lot of fun, made some great memories, and learned some new skills. This time, when I stopped doing gymnastics, it was on my terms. I was busy with coaching, judging, applying to physical therapy school, and keeping up with an active social life. I didn’t really have time for competing in gymnastics anymore, and it was no longer a priority for me. My competitive career was over, and I was happy to move on, while staying involved in the sport through coaching and judging.
Fast forward twenty years, and I found myself judging at NAIGC Nationals, the college club national meet. I judged many young men and women who were doing gymnastics “For the Love of the Sport”, which is the motto of the NAIGC. Three of my college teammates were still competing, and I was able to have a wonderful reunion with them, along with many other college club athletes from different years. Looking back at my 17-year-old high school self, I could never have imagined the path my life would take, all of the incredible people I would meet, and the unforgettable experiences I would have along the way.
To all of the gymnasts: obviously, my situation is different than yours. But it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes life throws us a curveball at the worst possible moment. And it’s up to us to make the best of a tough situation.
Yes, the 2020 gymnastics season may be over. Your gymnastics career, as you know it, may be over. But when one door closes, another one opens. You may not even be able to see that door yet. But it is there, waiting for you, for when the time is right. And time can only tell what will be on the other side.