Friday, June 22, 2012

Guest post from ALP- The Gymnast

Note from the momma- We have often been asked how we feel about sports and specifically why we allowed our oldest to walk away from the life of a gymnast.  Here is part one of the story- from ALP.  Please know our hearts- we are not judging.  We are just sharing our familys' experience.  We must each choose what is best for our lives, with the Lord's guidance.

I started gymnastics early. Some of my earliest memories are of doing gymnastics about 13 years ago when I was about 5 years old. When I was 8 I, (with my family’s support and encouragement) took my hobby to the next level. Enter competitive gymnastics. A few years later, at the height of my gymnastics “career” I lived a gymnastics centered life. Just to give you an idea of what that can look like, I’ll lead you through what my typical day was, at only Levels 5 and 6. After waking up I would put on a leotard, throw on a shirt and pair of pants and put my hair in a pony tail. Then, after eating breakfast I would get as much school done as possible, eat something small, and get my gym bag. Mom would then drive me to the gym where I stretched, conditioned, practiced, and sweated for three hours. (And when I say sweated, I mean it, as we lived in Alabama for a while!)Then mom or dad would pick me up. When we got home I would shower, eat again, (Usually a hot pocket. Or two…) and finish whatever school I still had left. After that I usually had an hour or so of free time before dinner, which was closely followed by bed. Then the day started all over again. I failed to mention that I did this five days a week. Weekends usually found me in the gym again for extra practices and weekends with Gymnastics meets found us on the road for the entire day, if not the weekend. During this time I had a team of Russian husband and wife coaches who were incredible. They barely spoke English, had been gymnasts themselves and were legends (although I did not find that out until recently); having coached in four countries. (Rita actually choreographed the opening ceremony of the 1988 Olympics and Vladimir trained Olympic gold medalist Vladimir Novkov as well as Valeri Liukin. Yes, that Valeri Liukin, Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin’s father. Exactly.) Anyway, that was where I was coming from. When I was twelve, we moved again and I started at a new gym, the only gym within several hours of us. Almost immediately things did not go well. In other words, they did not go as I planned them. Suffice it to say, after a few months I began to see that something had to change. After conversation after conversation with my parents, crying hour after hour, and praying “Why, God?!?”, I made the decision to give up gymnastics. I felt like I was throwing away my life, not to mention all the money and hours my parents and I had put into Gymnastics.

 I can honestly tell you that it was the hardest decision that I have made in my 18 year life. It broke my heart. I spent the next week (month, really. Sorry, mom!) crying and began to go through withdrawal. Let me tell you that if you go through withdrawal when you give up something, you have been a slave to it. I would think about gymnastics most of the day and dream about gymnastics just about every night, as if my body said “Fine, I can’t do Gymnastics I will re-live it”. I had terrible growing pains in my legs and arms, so bad that we finally went to see the doctor about it. As the months and then years went on it got better, but I still dream about gymnastics about once or twice a month, even now, six years later. The difference is that now I see God’s plan. My entire life had been Gymnastics. Gymnastics was what I did, and a Gymnast was who I was. My entire identity was wrapped up Gymnastics, and when that was taken away so was my identity. As Shawn Johnson, a former Olympic gymnast who just had to retire from a knee injury recently said, “It's hard to accept that the one thing you had your entire life is no longer there.” I think that quote sums it up perfectly. I was a slave to Gymnastics. I now see that while God was a big part of my life, He was not my life, not my identity. God desired my heart so much that He took away what I had placed before Him. Losing Gymnastics and, consequently, myself, forced me to change my identity to one that was in God, and to trust His plan. Looking back now I see that I would not be where I am today If I was still a gymnast.

 I have often been asked the question, “If given the chance, would you do it over again?” The answer is no. While I do not regret doing what I loved for years and I certainly do not blame my parents for anything, if given the choice to do my life over again I would not do gymnastics. (Or at the very least would not compete in the sport.) Besides giving God the leftovers in my life, there were other strong negatives; such as learning to respect my coaches more than my parents, and spending more time away from home than in it. Looking back, the negatives far outweighed the positives and it was not worth having my heart broken in the end.

Today you probably wouldn’t know from looking at me that I was a gymnast (besides the fact that I stand and sit with my shoulders rolled forward, a combination of years at the gym and sitting at a piano). Most of my flexibility is gone and I certainly don’t have six pack abs anymore. =)  However, certain things haven’t gone away. I can still do a headstand, back bend, and the worm both forwards and backwards. I can over-extend my knees and tell you the skills and connections in my last bar and floor routines. Just don’t necessarily ask me to do any of that in public. =) Honestly though, all of that will eventually pass away, and all I will have is what is most important; eternity with the Lord. I couldn’t see His plan then, but I can now. God is the center of my life, and I am so thankful that He broke my heart, only to fix it with Him at the center.  -A

Stay tuned for Part Two- The Dancer on Monday!

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