I was a competitive gymnast for several years. I wasn’t Olympic level or anything, but I was learning some super difficult skills by the time I “retired” at 14.
Officially, my retirement after 10 years in the sport was because of a chronic bad back. Something the doctors told me wouldn’t get better, just worse, the longer I kept at it. Plus, I was entering my freshman year and I wanted to have a high school life beyond the confines of the classroom — an impossibility when competing in a sport that meant at least 25 hours of practice per week.
But, unofficially? I honestly wouldn’t have made it much further than I did.
Why? Because I was old enough to have fully developed, adult-style fear.
It was the kind of fear that crept into my mind, whispering all the things that could go wrong if I fell/lost control/missed my mark by a centimeter.
Gymnastics is a very precise dance in physics. One that can turn very ugly very quickly.
When you’re 10 and a gymnast, what drives you is not what could go wrong, but how freaking cool it could be if things went right. But when you’re 14 and already have a crappy back and have seen far too many examples of what can happen when things go wrong — a dislocated knee cap, head injury, broken collarbone — it becomes a tad bit terrifying to throw yourself into a new, cool, and totally insane new trick.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym again because my preschooler is getting really involved in gymnastics. He’s no longer doing little kiddie balance drills, but learning actual skills.
His class meets at the same time as competitive gymnasts who are learning really high-level skills. Girls who are just a notch above where I retired. They’re probably between 12 to 14 and throw themselves about joyfully — no fear in sight.
These girls have me thinking a lot about what would’ve happened if I’d taken gymnastics more seriously early on. If I hadn’t waited until I was 10 to compete. Would I have bypassed the fear enough to beat my back troubles to the punch and get up to the level where I could’ve gotten a college scholarship? Gone to nationals? Learned enough to coach?
I’ll never know.
What do you wish fear hadn’t kept you from doing?