If you’re considering a first gymnastics competition as an
adult, it helps to hear more about what other adult gymnasts experienced their
first time! Here is my story.
After getting a late start in the sport, I competed in gymnastics from ages 13 to 17. At age 18 I attempted
to make a college team as a walk-on, but I was denied that path. I didn’t do
gymnastics at all for a few months, and I missed it so much that I went back to
my club as a freshman in college with the hope of trying to make the
team again the next year.
When that didn’t pan out and finances were a concern,
I was forced to end my time in the sport. By the time I reached age 24, I had a better financial situation going
on and I came to realize that I truly missed having a hobby. At that point I got back into
training by approaching my old club and simply asking if I could train again with the team.
By age 25 I was ready to compete again at the level I had left
off at – level 8 (technically they had increased the difficulty level of
level 8 in that time so it still felt a little like I was “moving up.” But I was excited to feel like I was back to where I had left off, and at that time I also found a gym better suited to help me achieve my goals, so I switched clubs before resuming competition.
I had to approach the new club and explain that I wanted to train with their team and that I was used to training 18 hours per week in a team setting. I had to watch a practice to be sure it was what I was looking for, and I also had to commit to monthly tuition and following the meet schedule just like the kids did. Which was exactly what I wanted, so it was perfect!
Luckily, it turned out to be a pretty comfortable experience. I had trained really hard for the meet, and I was competing a level that I had competed before more or less. It was really nice having my usual coaches with me setting my equipment and helping it to feel more like practice. Once I started competing it didn't feel much different from what I remember when I competed in high school. Of course, I was competing in the same league, so that made sense. It also really helped that I had done "pressure sets" at practice where I would salute and perform in front of my coaches and teammates while they watched. This gave the added pressure of that routine being the one to count and really helped prepare me for the feeling of pressure when it’s finally your turn to present your routine at a meet.
Ultimately, I ended up placing, but what was weird is they put me in the wrong age group! Since I was listed as 25 according to my birth date, they assumed my birthdate was written wrong and they placed me in the 13-15-year-old age group rather than the 16 plus age group. But I placed 2nd on bars in that age group, which was actually a more competitive age group at that particular meet! I didn't figure it all out until it was too late to let them know. At any rate, I was happy just to be there and glad my nerves really weren't a huge problem. Knowing that I was ready, knowing that my coaches determined me to be ready, and knowing that I just had to go out there and simply show what I had been working on at practice gave me the boost of confidence I needed.
A couple years later, I went through some health problems and surgeries (not related to gymnastics) and I just wasn't up for competing USAG JO again. One reason was that the schedule consisted of more weekends in a row than I really was able to do in terms of competitions due to work and other commitments. The other is that I wasn't able to practice as much as I did before all the health stuff happened, and I didn't want to poorly represent my club in case I wasn't as prepared as their gymnasts tended to be. But the biggest reason was that I was curious about how it would feel to compete against other adults, so that sparked my interest to explore other competitive opportunities.
trying a nonaffiliated meet
At that point, I found a nonaffiliated meet (meaning that you don’t have to be a member of a particular league to enter) to try that was only about four hours away. I went to that meet with a totally relaxed feel since I knew my coaches wouldn't be there watching me expecting one thing or another in terms of my performance. Furthermore, knowing that it was all adults relaxed me as well since I figured it would be pretty laid back - and I was right!! I really enjoyed that meet and everything about it went great. They even gave us an option to use a pit bar for our bar routine, and the vault landed in a resi with stacked mats, which I loved. I also absolutely loved competing in the summer – something that I never got to do in JO. I always seem to feel at my best in summer, so that was a fun treat to have a summertime meet.
There were not too many of us competing at that event (It was the Empire State Games in NY in 2009) but we flip flopped on who won which event and it was just a really cool and fun experience. Since it was an all-adult meet and nonaffiliated with a league, they didn't require that we have a coach on the floor, and they gave us plenty of time to set our equipment ourselves. It was neat to me that you could wear any leotard and warm-ups you wanted too.
That meet was also special because there was a men’s meet being held at the same time, and...John Orozco as a little 16-year-old (well, he was jacked, so not exactly little...) was there competing!!! His coach wanted him to have extra practice in a competition setting, so even though he was not an adult they let him compete. I saw him sitting, talking with his parents during the meet who I later saw on national TV. Pretty neat! You never know what you will see at an adult meet!
As much as I liked that whole experience, the next year this meet didn't happen, so I had to find another alternative.
my first meet as an adult gymnast in usaigc
In 2010 I tried my first USAIGC meet since I could find some within driving distance, and the fees were not outrageous. I had so much fun at that meet too! I wasn't as nervous for USAIGC as I remember being for USAG as I had heard that it was a more laid-back league. My coach also knew a lot of the meet directors which gave it a homey feel. Another plus was that I had finally gotten over the fact that I was an adult gymnast and no longer wanted to "hide" it or try to blend in with the kids.
The one thing I was nervous about was that my coaches couldn't come along because they had other responsibilities at their job with the team kids. I wasn't paying into the coaches meet fees since I wasn't doing the same meets as them anymore, so finding a coach to come with me and help me set equipment and just for some support fell on my shoulders. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any adult teammates who would also be in the same competition (yet…that will come later).
Luckily for me, my husband who had coached recreational gymnastics before offered to help. I taught him how to set my bars and vault, and had him stand in during the coach's meeting which happened during warm-ups. Other than that, he was just there for moral support, which was really helpful! I could have gotten by without it, but having someone on the floor really made me feel more comfortable.
In USAIGC we warmed up a little differently than JO, but the format was easy for me to understand after I did it on the first event, and the other coaches from other teams were super nice and helpful when I was confused about something. The kids in the meet were also really great, offering for me to take extra turns during warm-ups if I wanted, which was not the case in any of the USAG JO meets I went to (during those, it felt to me like everyone was jostling to get the most time on the event that they could).
The other nice thing the USAIGC meet director did was they made a big deal about me being an adult gymnast when we marched in, and the whole crowd cheered for me just for being there! That was really fun and surprised me that as shy as I am it didn't bother me to be acknowledged in that way. I have heard of this happening with other adult gymnasts too in USAIGC.
venturing into aau ladies division
That same year, I also found myself drawn to try AAU. I heard about their nationals and Junior Olympics, and they all seemed to be in places I was curious to visit and finally had the time and the funds to go to. This would be the first time I would fly on a plane to a meet, which was a fun excuse to fly, but added a whole new stress level to packing! I am pretty stressed out by packing to begin with, so that was new to have to deal with bringing my gymnastics stuff along as well.
But my first meet of all things was the Junior Olympics which (unbeknownst to me) was a two-day competition!!! (Athletes in the ladies division don’t have to qualify like the kids do). I found out about that little bit of information during warm-ups on the first day (that I thought was the only day…). Luckily, I had 2 leos packed just in case! I also already had plans to be in the area (Virginia Beach) for several days, so that part wasn’t a problem. Anyway, I was panicking because I never practiced two days in a row - I was always too sore to do that. And since I'd be going all out with all four events and hard landings, I was worried.
I told myself, just do the first day, you can always pull out the second day. That helped calm my anxiety.
It helped a lot that the first day I was rotating with a super friendly adult gymnast and her boyfriend who was there as her "coach" (he had coaching experience) and that was really fun. I was a little more nervous than usual because it was in a pretty big arena with loudspeakers and fancy electronic scoreboards which I had never seen before. I also met Anya Hatch's then-husband Alan as he was coaching an athlete there. I knew that I recognized him from somewhere but wasn't totally sure it was him until after! That was a cool experience. I guess my husband knew it was him the whole time but I somehow missed the memo. Would not be the first time, haha.
I was pretty nervous when the meet commenced and I started on floor which was my least favorite rotation (floor makes me the most nervous for some reason, probably because I hate landing on the real floor! It's also the longest event.) I got through it and felt better as the meet went on. My nerves showed on beam somewhat, and my bars were a little iffy as my body felt kind of weird from flying the day before. But overall, it didn’t go terribly.
The meet ran quite smoothly. It was easy to understand how we rotated and stuff since they gave us a schedule at the beginning that was very detailed, and everyone who was there was very friendly, starting with the folks who give out the t-shirts at the beginning. I came to realize that AAU meets always are loaded with super friendly and helpful people!
I didn't feel too bad after day 1 and figured I should at least try day 2. During day 2 my legs were pretty sore, so I did have to water down a pass on floor and my vault wasn't quite as good. However, my body felt better on bars and I did a great routine, and my beam was loads better. The fatigue seemed to allow my legs to settle into the beam better and it was one of the most flawless beam routines I have ever done to this date! Day 2 also felt to me more like a "second chance" so it felt like less was at stake. That being said, I am not a huge fan of two-day competitions and this was the first and last I ever had to do. It was cool though to see that something I was afraid of (the two days in a row of competition) wasn't actually as bad as I thought and there were even certain benefits to it!
- Overall, if you can I would suggest watching a meet before signing up if you're really intimidated, even if it's just online or clips on YouTube. The unknown is the scariest thing, so by taking away some of that fear and uncertainly you will be ahead of the game.
- If you can take someone with you on the floor, even if they are not a "real" coach, do it. That will help with moral support and equipment logistics. The person will have to register with the organization to have access to the floor. If they can’t come on the floor, even having them in the arena should be super helpful.
- Finally, my suggestion is to try to think of it as just one meet in a series of many. That helps to take some of the pressure off. It's just a chance for you to go out there, have fun, and perform what you have been training! Don’t blow it too far out of proportion.
Need help getting started? Check out our One-Stop Guide to Competing as an Adult Gymnast.