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"i did my first-ever gymnastics competition as an adult!"

read all about katherine han's first gymnastics competition

first ever competition gymnastics adult

I have always wanted to compete in gymnastics. Since my identical twin and I were babies we’ve been tumbling and climbing, though my mats were couch cushions and grass. It didn’t matter what sport my parents put us in - we were out in right field doing cartwheels. 

One year our grandparents helped pay for actual gymnastics lessons and we finally got to train in a real gym where we progressed through the first three levels in weeks. Then we were supposed to move up to team, level 5, and we couldn’t afford it. We spent the next four years in level 4, training only a couple of hours a week. Then we ran out of money and our parents told us we had to quit; I got a job, illegally, when I was 14 so I could keep training 90 minutes a week through the summer, but after that there were no more options. 

A few months later I was in a car accident that broke my back; doctors fused my L2-L4 vertebrae. I spent the following years healing from that and being told by my family that I could no longer do the sport I loved. I guess the dream of competing with a college team died when we didn’t move to level 5, but it felt more like the car accident that did it. I found other things for which I had some passion, but it still felt like something was missing. 

returning to the sport i love

Fifteen years later I realized that I could still do some gymnastics, but I’d have to approach it differently than I did as a kid. I started training in open gyms and in the classes at the university. I pretended I knew nothing just so I would go through the basics with my very differently-flexible 30-year-old body.  I joined a team with one other adult woman and trained with her and the coach for a year. We didn’t get to compete, but we made routines.

I moved to another state and found open gyms there, still trying hard to get on a team and be allowed to compete. My body felt pretty good, but I wasn’t progressing, so I joined a Crossfit gym to get into better shape, and finally I was able to learn new skills on bars, which takes so much strength.

Around this time the San Jose State University gymnastics club allowed me to join them to train and compete. It was a dream come true!  I met the team and loved them, loved all the hours in the gym, even though we trained 9-11pm on two weekdays. I was training with high level gymnasts for the first time ever. I was learning about gymnastics culture and how to make routines and all the details that young competitive gymnasts are surrounded by but I had never known. 

my first competition

adult first gymnastics competitionNAIGC sometimes has themed meets, such as this Halloween meet!

Our first competition was the Halloween meet at Berkeley as a part of NAIGC. I was 33 years old and dressed as Link from the Nintendo game Zelda. I learned to do a back handspring while holding a foam sword. My floor routine had a round-off, back handspring, back tuck tumbling pass and a front tuck for the other pass. I was nervous but the meet was so silly and fun and laid back that it felt ok; I realized that it didn’t matter if I messed up or if it wasn’t perfect because I knew there would be more meets in the future; I was just grateful to be there. 

Bars, beam, and vault were fine; my self esteem is not tied to my beam score, thank goodness. For floor, though, I was so nervous; the routines are so long and everyone is watching! But I got through it and I was really happy with it. That’s also when I learned to close my eyes and take three deep breaths before a routine; it really helps calm the nerves. I competed all around and managed to come in 5th place (because most people did not compete all around). I’d never been so proud as I was standing there on the smallest “podium” mat in my Link costume holding the dollar store 5th place gift. 

Most adult gymnasts have some sort of residual injury; my fused spine and arthritis are an extreme case but it doesn’t have to stop me from doing much of what I love. I learned quickly that as an adult I have to condition more, stretch more, warm up more than as a kid. I have to pick and choose my goals from skills that won’t damage my back further. With my injury I have to be stronger than the other gymnasts to do the same things. I have to be more focused. I have to want the skills more. I think about what I need to do to gain new skills every day.  I have had to make opportunities when I thought there were none.    

our non-profit was born

After SJSU had to close their team to non-students, my friends and I started a non-profit organization for adult gymnasts, the Silicon Valley Gymnastics Club. Now we rent gym space from a local gym and we are in control of our team, our goals, and our opportunities. Because we are a non-profit and everyone contributes to sharing gym costs, it costs less per hour to join our team than I paid in 1992 for level 4 in Oregon; for those of us who couldn’t afford gym as kids this gives us a second chance.

We have created a space for adult gymnasts to fall in love with the sport again; so many of our teammates have told us that they thought they would never do gymnastics again until they found our team; they say that the welcoming and supportive environment makes gymnastics fun again. Now we have a team of more than 30 people who train 6+ hours a week supporting and teaching one another to learn new skills, safely, in our older gymnast bodies. Gymnastics provides a fulfillment in all our teammates’ lives, and all of our hard work and training and time spent is summed up in the NAIGC motto “For the love of the sport.”

Now I am 39 years old and just last week I hit a major life goal; regularly making giants on a non-strap bar. I never got to train giants or casts as a kid.  I had dreamed that someday I would be able to do giants and after five years of conditioning for and practicing casts and giant attempts I can finally do them! It’s never too late.  

first ever gymnastics meet as adultNever put a time limit on your dreams!

Here is a resource for other adult gymnasts. For non-local gymnasts we have been helping provide information to others to start their own community teams: Silicon Valley Gymnastics Club

Disclaimer: Adult gymnasts and coaches give advice and suggestions on this page. By reading and implementing the information, you assume all liability for injury. The advice given is for educational purposes only. Please check with your in-person coach and ensure that you have the proper pit, mats and/or spot available before trying any suggestions. If you don't agree to these terms, do not attempt anything that you see on this page.

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