Column: More than just a sport

Emily Lundell
“While I’ve found a new passion in the newsroom and have cut down on my time in the gym, I’ll always be the little girl that fell in love with the sport and wore her team shirt with pride.”

I remember when I got my first team shirt. It was made out of scratchy black fabric and had red and blue flames on the front. The words “gym team” were written in huge white letters on the back. Looking back, I wouldn’t call it fashionable, but I was so proud when my coach handed it to me. I wore it to school the next day, making sure my hair was in front of my shoulders, and I sat up extra straight so the other kids in my third grade class could read the back of my shirt. Today, I still have it in the back of my closet.

I’ve been a gymnast for 14 years. In a way, I grew up in the gym. I went to camps during the summer and classes a few times a week. Eventually, I made the team in third grade and started going to practice almost every day after school.

I kept this up through elementary and middle school. Once I hit freshman year, it became impossible to attend three hour practices while balancing homework and the stress of AP classes. I joined newspaper my sophomore year, adding deadlines to the mix. I began to miss more practices and lost some of my skills.

This past summer, I knew that I had to stop competing. If I was only able to practice once or twice a week, I couldn’t expect to be ready by competition season.

However, as I stood on a low beam, I told my coach that I couldn’t compete next season and tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn’t like I dominated competitions. On some skills, I fell as often as I stuck the landing. I’m not going to get an athletic scholarship or have a career in gymnastics, but I would be giving up something that had been a constant in my life for so long that it felt like I would be losing a part of my identity.

However, I knew that even if I was in the gym less, everything that gymnastics taught me as I grew up would always be with me. I owe so much to the sport. It made me the person I am today.

Since I was little, I’ve competed in front of judges whose job is to pick apart everything I do and tell me every single way that I failed to reach perfection. I’ve spent countless hours with coaches that tell me every single thing that I do wrong so I can get better. I’m grateful for every  critique. With each one, I got stronger and better. With each one, I learned how to take criticism as a compliment rather than an insult. Like my coaches told me since I was young — if they didn’t care, if they didn’t believe in me, they would stay quiet.

Gymnastics, and really all sports, is a cycle of failing, getting up, trying again. The process repeats itself over and over until something finally clicks and in that moment, every minute spent getting to that point was worth it. I’ve been told that I’m driven and determined, and I truly believe that it’s because of gymnastics. I learned from the beginning that things won’t always come easy, and I’ll have to work hard, sometimes harder than others, to get where I want to be.

I’ll take what I learned in this beautiful sport and use it for the rest of my life in school, in work, in relationships. While I’ve found a new passion in the newsroom and have cut down on my time in the gym, I’ll always be the little girl that fell in love with the sport and wore her team shirt with pride.