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by Kimberly Decker
At age 37, I started light training in an adult recreational class at my local gym. Initially, I scoffed at the idea of training to compete as an adult. That all changed when a friend of mine suggested that we make a New Year’s commitment to compete at least one gymnastics meet together as adults. We did a considerable amount of research and landed upon the NAIGC Alumni program, which allowed us to compete with college club gymnastics teams despite not being affiliated with a particular college or university. This made it a little easier for us, since at least we were competing among other adults (even if they were in their late teens and early twenties!).
Every day in training felt like an uphill battle against old age, sore muscles and those tiny thoughts in the back of my head that kept asking me why a 37-year old mother of two was training to compete GYMNASTICS, of all sports. Despite all of this, I loved every minute of my journey to competition. I remembered how great the sport of gymnastics made me feel as a young teen. At 37, I viewed every day in the gym as a gift and I relished every minute of it. Every “new” skill that I re-learned after a 20-year gymnastics hiatus was an absolute victory to me. As the only adult training with the competitive team, I received so much encouragement from the coaches and the other girls in the gym. I also had the good fortune of connecting online with other “older” gymnasts who planned to compete in the same meet. Their good humor and inspiration kept me motivated to follow through with my plans to compete.
Did you know there is a Gymnastics Camp just for adults? Go here to learn more about it.
My first meet was at James Madison University. During registration, my friend and I met up with two other adult gymnasts who were competing with the NAIGC Alumni program. We quickly figured out that we could join forces and form an official team. Every score would count, but we had just enough athletes to put up a team score and compete against colleges with gymnasts (literally) half our age. We figured “we’re here, why not go all in?”
The first thing I noticed about competing in an NAIGC meet was the friendliness, comradery and humor that permeated the gym. Our tiny team of Alumni women linked up with a larger group of Alumni men who seemed to be the life of the party. They didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously, and even made up a group spirit cheer about being “old.” Despite all of the good-natured joking, when they stepped on the mat, they performed some very serious gymnastics.
The motto of NAIGC is “For the Love of the Sport,” and this sentiment absolutely permeated every aspect of this meet. College students volunteered their time and energy to coordinate this meet, which gave us all the space to enjoy the sport of gymnastics together. There were gymnasts gathered at every level. The athletes cheered for gymnasts on other teams whether performing a cartwheel or a double-back. Some appeared to have been giving gymnastics a try for the first time, while others threw level 9 skills as if they were just warming up. Regardless of level, the energy in the gym was palpable. The kindness I witnessed among fellow athletes made me decide that this would NOT be my last adult gymnastics meet.
The thing I remember most about this meet was how it felt to salute the judge for my first event (vault) in my first competition, in over 20 years. In the back of my mind I wondered how in the world I ended up at that particular moment- standing in a gym full of people, sporting a competition leotard I found on a clearance rack for $20, and competing gymnastics. Despite this minor apprehension, I had the time of my life at that meet. I didn’t perform perfect routines and I didn’t receive perfect scores. I didn’t have a perfect body and I couldn’t meet all of the skill requirements for the level of the meet (level 9). But I was there. I was having fun. I was meeting people. I was taking care of my body. I was feeling positive. That was all that mattered to me, and by the end of the day I was hooked on competing again.
That first year I went on to compete in two USAG meets plus NAIGC regionals. I particularly like NAIGC because the atmosphere is a little more laid back and the competitions are all adults. The individuals who run these meets are mostly volunteers who participate because they have a passion for the sport. There seems to be a lot of respect, sportsmanship and outright fun at these meets. This is a great option for anyone who may be apprehensive about competing as an adult.
This article by Lori Vollkommer covers AAU and USAIGC!
This article by Gina Paulhus covers USAG, USAIGC and AAU!
Find the rules for NAIGC and other leagues here.
For another NAIGC meet report, go here.
For information about NAIGC's FlipFest Retreat go here.
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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