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why i returned to gymnastics as an adult

For me, adult gymnastics was all about making right what I didn’t get to do as a kid in gymnastics - on my own terms.

My gymnastics story was one that was not without its share of ups and downs. I got a later start in gymnastics compared to many. I vaguely remember getting to do an “acrobatics” class that was held in conjunction with a dance class when I was 5. It was at a dance studio and in the 80s so obviously the equipment was lacking. I liked that well enough and they taught me splits and bridges (although the splits were not my friend). I ended up figuring out handstands on my own at home. Like most kids, I got to play around with gymnastics in gym class, but it wasn’t until I was 9 that my gym teacher told my parents that he thought I might enjoy taking some formal classes at a real gymnastics club.

My parents weren’t putting a hop on it, so I decided, at age 9, to open up the yellow pages and find a gym myself. I scanned the listings until I found one that said it offered “competitive levels.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but I figured that, if I were to start at a gym, I wanted one that could help me reach the highest levels without having to switch. I was a shy kid and the thought of having to start over somewhere was off putting. My parents still weren’t too keen on dealing with getting it set up, so I asked if I could call and inquire myself. They said yes! I mean, I had already started babysitting so this wasn’t technically as hard as that. It was just a phone call. The woman who answered the phone must have been surprised that a child was asking about classes, but she went ahead and answered my questions.

gina_nicole_2012_wisconsin_aau_nationals.jpgSince I don't have many photos of myself doing gymnastics as a kid, here is one of me after I returned to competition with my friend Nicole, fellow admin of the Just Like Fine Wine Facebook Group!

and so my gymnastics career began

I gathered the information I needed and I was off to the races. I told my parents when to bring me and the day finally came. I had never done such an adult thing before, but I was so excited I didn’t even think much about how odd it was that I set the whole thing up myself. 

The place was huge! They had a trampoline and a pit, both things that seemed utterly magical to me. I saw these incredibly fit, perfectly poised gymnasts, many of them around my age, doing side aerials in synchronization across the floor. That was it - I was sold. I wanted to be just like them. I couldn’t wait for my once a week class to roll around, and I practiced what I could in the yard and in the living room in between. We set up a carpool with some “big girls” and I could not believe that I got to ride in the car with them to and from.

Eventually my once a week class turned into twice a week, and then the classes got longer. I started making friends at the gym. I was often the tallest and oldest girl in the group, but I was happy to be there and let my self consciousness of being one of the oldest go enough to keep showing up. I needed to get my back handspring by myself to be invited onto preteam, but I couldn’t do it yet. I was upset because I was one of the only gymnasts in my class who had a front handspring, but there they were requiring a back handpspring! No fair! Undeterred, I taught my mother how to spot me on an old mattress at home, and I finally got it! 

Did you know I have an Adult Gymnastics Camp? Check it out.

Being on preteam was great because we got even more access to the gym. The training became more rigorous, which I loved. Back then level 4 was considered preteam. I wanted desperately to make team, but it was by invitation only. I began to notice that other girls with lesser skills were getting chosen and I was not. It felt frustrating but I continued to work. We were required to have all 3 splits to make team and I stretched for hours at home. I knew I was one of the tallest girls and I got teased for that often by the coaches. I thought that maybe my height was the issue, or my age, but I couldn’t do anything about either of those things. All I could do was outwork everyone else to hopefully get noticed. Back in the early 90s, there was still a huge stigma on height and age in terms of competing certain levels, especially at a competitive club like mine was.

There was a special camp offered one week during our school winter break that year. It was held 5 days per week for most of the day. Only one other girl showed up! It was exhausting and I was sore the entire time, but I absolutely loved it. I thrived off of it. One day the optional coach happened to be watching as I tumbled across the floor doing my series of back handsprings. He said to my coach one simple line that changed my life, “Why isn’t that girl on team?” Sure enough, the very  next month I was invited to level 5 which was our entry level competitive level.

I thrived on the longer hours. I remember being dropped off early to practice due to carpooling or my brother’s sports. I spent the extra time sitting on the bleachers doing homework at first. Eventually the coaches came up with an idea that all team girls could work out on their own before our practice officially began. I loved that! 

gina courtney gymnasticsI enjoyed making friends with the older team girls once I returned to competing as an adult.

it's all about the hair

At the time, I was a teenager and like other teenagers concerned about my hair and how it looked. I didn’t want to mess it up. I found that bars messed it up the most, but I decided that getting better at my worst event was more important than my hair, and I forced myself to work bars during the extra hours. Soon, bars became my best event 🙂 I would rip but learned to tape my hands and keep going. At that point I learned a very valuable lesson - what we put our attention on grows and that hard work pays off. 

I was starting to score higher and higher as the season went on. I was hoping to move up to level 6 the following year. Everything felt perfect in my world. As I started freshman year I was officially training level 6. It was fall in Massachusetts and naturally it starts to get colder and colder into the fall. In prior years I didn’t notice that the temperature at the gym changed much, but this year I did. We were always freezing in training and the coaches were allowing us to wear leggings, something that we never needed to do before. I wouldn’t find out until a month or two later why it had gotten so cold in there.

We pulled up to the gym one day only to see a sign on the door that the gym was permanently closed. It felt surreal. I couldn’t make any sense of it. We had just paid for our whole year of meets and our competition gear. All my friends were there. I didn’t have anyone’s phone number. There was no Instagram. There was nothing. That was it. The feeling I had when I learned all of this started as shock and then settled into gloom. The last time I felt that way was when my parents separated a few years before. We had prepaid for all of our meets for the season as well as our competitive gear. All that money was gone.

I begged my parents to take me to another gym. I couldn’t live without gymnastics!I knew there was a really strong gym named Atlantic about 20 minutes away, but sadly the distance and the tolls on the highway proved to be a deal breaker for them. As an adult myself now, I get it. At the time I was frustrated and felt helpless.

It turned out that some of the coaches from my old gym were opening up another gym nearby. They were coaches I hadn’t had personally, but they were familiar faces nonetheless in a sea of unfamiliarity. I tried out there. I got to see some of my friends on that day. I liked it well enough, but it seemed a stricter than I was used to. They also charged $10 per person to try out which my mother didn’t like. That was it for that gym. 

We tried another gym as well, and that is one that most of my friends chose to go to. For mainly social reasons I was drawn toward it as well. I was 14 after all. We signed up. It turned out the instruction was not good. The woman running the place was doing it for the money and because she had no other skills, not from passion. I fell into depression as the training wasn’t the same, the coaching style was not good for me in the least, and the coach didn’t believe in me. I was now entering sophomore year and I was drifting away from my gym friends but I also hadn’t made many school friends. I didn’t feel comfortable dating - that whole world felt foreign to me. Pressure to think about college started ramping up. 

I injured my ankle and really felt like an outcast everywhere by that point. I had to be on crutches for a bit. I never had been so grounded, literally and figuratively, from being active as I was in that moment. My parent’s relationship was still on the rocks. I started facing pressure about grades like never before. I was starting to face the reality that college gymnastics might not be in the cards for me and I was scared at how I would cope with life without the outlet of gymnastics. I began to seek solace in overeating junk food to soothe myself. That didn’t help my gymnastics either. There were moments where I was happy during those couple of years at that gym, but they were few and far between.

I am not one to go down without a fight, so I decided to look once again for another gym, even though upon last check there really weren’t a lot of options. We found one that had the tiniest facility you could imagine. No full floor, no vault runway. The high bar was a mere couple of feet from the ceiling and to do a flyaway you went up into a hole that had been cut there. I kid you not! There was a Chinese restaurant underneath and the smell of soy sauce and oil permeated the building at all hours. I was the oldest and tallest still. However, this coach was so much better than any I had had before. He was actually tall enough to spot me and he conditioned the crap out of us. I started learning faster and faster. 

However, there were hard parts too. I was asked to compete a back handspring on high beam after never having trained it on a high beam in practice - the ceiling was too short. It was so stressful and uncomfortable. My coach made fun of me for being afraid and said that the low beam was no different than the high beam. Clearly he never had to do it! That situation didn’t help me at all as someone who was already nervous to compete. My coach began to call me a choker which really upset me. I tried to prove him wrong, but the pressure I placed on myself backfired. I tended to win all the competitions that he didn’t attend (he coached boys too and sometimes had to go to their meets instead). For the ones he watched me I would always mess up.

gina beam end poseBeam was never my favorite event, but nailing a beam routine in competition is immensely satisfying!

the universe started aligning...sort of

My coach had to petition the town where he wanted to build a new gym to let him open a facility there. That process took forever, but we finally got it! I was elated that I would finally have a great coach plus a great facility, all in one. At this point I was a junior in high school and time was running short for me to earn a college scholarship, but I was going to fight till the end to achieve that if I could. I knew of no other way to continue doing my favorite sport and my outlet, and I wanted to do it forever.

My overeating segwayed into undereating in a misguided effort to maximize my gymnastics ability. I was abusing food now in a different way. I am sure this limited my gymnastics and it certainly limited my mental state. However, I continued on and managed to learn some skills. I enrolled in UNH and didn’t end up making the UNH gymnastics team, even after they said anyone would be welcome as a walk on. The sense of depression was crushing. I finished out the semester at school but decided to transfer to UMass where I had a full ride waiting for me - the reason I had not enrolled there was because they didn’t have gymnastics. I couldn’t stand staying at UNH after what happened. Everything there reminded me of the pain I was in.

I went a few months without doing gymnastics and tried to be a “normal college student.” But I stink at being normal 😂 so I returned to the gym I had gone to in high school even though I was a college student. I was able to commute to school and still make it to the gym for practices. I even was able to have a part time job on the side. But at this point my eating had worsened and I was really not going to be able to learn much with that type of lack of nutrition. I ended up retiring at age 20. I will always be grateful that my coach allowed me to train with the kids. At the time, I had never heard of anyone else being permitted to do that.

gina_brace_bars_giantBars wasn't always my best event, but it was always my favorite! I really learned to excel on bars as an adult once I was able to build my strength up through smartly designed conditioning plans.

I spent about 4 years gymnastics free in all ways - I didn’t even watch much on TV in spite of having been a huge fan my whole career. It was too painful. Life started improving for me outside of the gym over those years, thankfully. It wasn’t a straight path but I slowly began to find my way. I decided to venture back into gymnastics at age 24 after I noticed that I felt like I was lacking fun in my life. I didn’t really have a plan since I still had never heard of an adult doing gymnastics before, but I felt this urge that I couldn’t stifle.

I returned to my high school gym at first to train with the team. Unfortunately the training environment had shifted to more of a rec feel. We spent a couple of months learning a group dance at the end of season to give you an idea of the practice itinerary. Those months would have been valuable upgrading time! I trained for about a year there regaining my skills, but as the time to compete approached it was clear to me that I wasn’t satisfied with the training style or the facility. My aging body and fearful mind needed foam pits! I decided to try out at Atlantic, the gym that I always wanted to go to as a kid. I had to do one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life - tell my beloved coach I was leaving to go to another gym. He took it horribly, but I stuck to my guns. I knew what my goals were, and he would not be able to bring me there.

gina floor exercise meetCompeting is one of the funnest things (but also the most nerve racking) anyone can do. I loved/hated competing, but I must have loved it enough because I always went back for more!

I went out on a limb and walked into Atlantic Gymnastics one day, the gym I had wanted to train at as a kid. I was lucky enough that the head coach was there and I could talk to him. I was able to start training at Atlantic at age 25. It was a dream come true.

It was an easy process to join the team - I was asked to watch an entire practice, and then I was allowed to try it for a day. I absolutely, positively loved it there! Finally I had access to appropriate conditioning programs that helped me maximize my ability to both learn new skills and perfect old ones. I also had wonderful training plans created for me that made improving in gymnastics feel automatic. I was fortunate enough to be able to work out with the team girls so that I had others at the same level as me (USAG level 8 at the time). Socially it wasn’t ideal, but athletically it was a perfect fit. I was able to come to practice 3-4 times per week rather than the 5 times most of the girls came, but that was ideal for me and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have found such a fit. It was exhausting working full time and practicing upwards of 15 hours a week, but it was a pleasant exhaustion. 😂

My first order of the day when returning to compete as an adult was to take ownership of my routines. Working with the coaches I had worked with growing up, I always felt pressure to do the skills they wanted me to do that maybe I wasn’t as comfortable with. At Atlantic I was able to let the coaches know the skills I was interested in keeping into my routines and the ones I didn’t want to compete. The cool thing was that the kids who trained there got the same choice and control as I did! Watching such a healthy gym function helped me realize the flaws of some of my prior gyms. On the side of working my simpler routines I always trained a huge variety of skills, which Atlantic encouraged. However it really helped my confidence to be able to compete routines that I was comfortable with so that I could build up my confidence, something that I always lacked as a child.

I was able to utilize their great Tumbltrak into a loose foam fit setup, something that I never had access to before. I was able to try my first double back and double front there as well as my first double back flyaway. I was able to compete a Tsuk for the first time! I was able to finally get comfortable (well, if there is such a thing) with my back handspring on beam. I learned a front full on floor. I competed a layout ½, which was an element (back twisting) that I always had a huge mental struggle with.

Funny story - I had always tried twisting righty but a coach at Atlantic realized that I actually was a lefty twister! 

I got my clear hip handstand and my ½ pirouette. I was able to train stalders, blind changes and front giants. My dream in gymnastics was always to see just how far I could go. It wasn’t necessarily about what I competed - it’s about what I could try. I wanted to see what I could learn when all systems were firing in my favor. And I was able to do that from age 25 through 36, which are ages when, for most, gymnastics is a distant memory.

I am actually glad that I got a late start in gymnastics looking back because I am not so sure I would have appreciated the sport the way I did if I had grown up with it. I also believe getting a late start may have helped me keep my serious injury list a bit shorter. I had physical things that I worked though, of course, the most notable being an ankle surgery and a compression fracture in my back, but for the most part I was healthy throughout my adult gymnastics career. I’m also proud to say that I never had to scratch a gymnastics meet that I signed up for due to injury! And that is saying a lot, especially as an older athlete. I attribute all of the great conditioning that my gym provided to what helped keep me healthy, in addition to much improved nutrition from when I was a kid. My career as a personal trainer was helpful too, because I was able to use the weight training and interval cardio knowledge I had for my benefit in the sport.

Whether you do adult gymnastics to put a fun spin on a sport that wore you down in the past, or you are using it to reach new athletic heights for yourself, I am so glad that you are in our adult gymnastics world and I hope you get just as much out of it as I did 🙂

Need help accessing adult gymnastics resources for yourself? Poke around on this site, and if that doesn't do it, contact me.

floor dance ginaPerforming on floor at competitions is always a treat!

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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