dolorosa_12: (sokka)
(I'm going by dates in the month, not posts in the series, hence the jump from Day 1 to Day 4.)

Kathy (a friend who doesn't have an LJ/Dreamwidth account), asked me to talk about 'doing gymnastics.' Given we met when she was six and I was eight, while we were doing gymnastics, I think that's a very appropriate topic!

I started gymnastics when I was seven, when my mother noticed that I was spending more time on my hands than my feet, and seemed to be climbing to the tops of trees and playground equipment on every available opportunity. Her suspicion proved correct: I loved gymnastics, and continued to do gymnastics for the next ten years. I began in the 'recreational' group, which was a class of one hour a week, and slowly made my way from the lowest levels of regional competitive gymnastics (the kinds of competitions where hundreds of girls were packed into a tiny gymnasium and everyone got a ribbon) to state- and national-level competitions which involved months of arduous training, and, for some reason, industrial quantities of glittery hairspray holding beribboned french braided hair in place. At my peak, I was training for around twelve hours a week, and was strong enough to do fifty chin-ups, hundreds of push-ups and sit-ups without effort, and could climb a rope with weights tied around my ankles, using only my arms.

It was clear, pretty early on, that I was not destined for the Olympics, but I still worked incredibly hard, because it was important to me to do as well as I could at the level I was at, and I was the sort of child and teenager who had no problem with endless repetition and practice, as long as it led to a successful score, exam result, grade, or praise from authority figures. It also helped that I really, really loved doing gymnastics - learning the skills, though sometimes difficult and frustrating, was fun, and because they weren't skills that the average person could do without training, I always felt a real sense of achievement when I learnt to do something well. And, best of all, doing routines on my favourite apparatus - bars - felt like flying.

I'd like to talk about two other things I came to appreciate about being a gymnast. These were not apparent to me at the time, but as an adult, it's clear to me that there were two major benefits to being a gymnast beyond simply physical fitness and another arena in which to develop a good work ethic.

Firstly, precisely because I was not naturally very good at gymnastics - and indeed was not even the best gymnast in my group/team, let alone regionally or nationally - being a gymnast gave me the experience of a decade of working really, really hard at something in which I was never going to succeed. This meant, firstly, that I had to redefine how I understood 'success': success as a gymnast thus became learning new skills, and, after months of hard, repetitious work, performing them as well as I could, progressing to higher levels, and getting scores that I considered to be reasonable. Secondly, a lot of things came easily to me as a child, and I think it was helpful to have areas of my life, such as gymnastics (maths was a similar area, and piano, although I did well in exams, was not naturally easy to me and required hours of practice) in which I had to work very, very hard. I think this gave me a sense of perspective, and prepared me for times later in life in which persistent, repetitive, consistent work would be required.

The second reason I'm grateful for my decade doing gymnastics is that it spared me a lot of traumas and pains of adolescence, especially those common to being a teenage girl. Because I spent the years between the ages of seven and seventeen running around in a mixed-gender gym wearing very little clothing, I managed to avoid body-image issues, instead viewing my body purely as something powerful, something that could do extraordinary things. Because gymnastics took up so much of my spare time, I missed out on most of the house parties, underage nightclubbing, and drunken nights hanging out in the playgrounds of inner-south Canberra that were common to my cohort (and indeed attended by many of my friends). Although these often sounded like a lot of fun, they were also the site of a lot of heartbreak, dubiously consensual sexual activity - and occasionally, sexual assault and violence - none of which we were equipped to deal with. I can remember conversations with my female friends, when we were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen that worried me for reasons I couldn't then articulate, but which now fill me with sadness, as well as relief that I was spared those particular experiences during my teenage years. Of course, what ended up happening was that all the angst, and painful or mortifyingly embarrassing experiences that normally happen in your teens happened to me in my twenties! I might have been slightly more mature than I would've been as a teenager, but I was still ill-equipped to handle them, and my early-to-mid-twenties were really awful in lots of ways. I'm still glad I missed out on all that in my teens, though.

I had to give up gymnastics when I was seventeen, nearly eighteen, towards the end of my second-last year of secondary school, due to both the pressure of schoolwork and the fact that a decade of slamming with the full force of momentum, speed and gravity onto my narrow, flat feet had taken its toll. There's a reason you don't see many older gymnasts - Oksana Chusovitina notwithstanding - the body can't take it after a while. But I still keep vaguely in touch with the goings on at my old gymnastics club (which is now run by a former teammate of mine, and her husband, who was a fellow gymnast at our club), watch Olympic gymnastics, the World Championships, and other high-level competitions whenever they come around, and am still friends with people I met more than twenty years ago when we were little girls dressed in the best in lurid '90s lycra, dreaming of our very own puffy fringes.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
I am a former gymnast, so I've been watching the current women's gymnastics events in Rio with excitement and interest. Simone Biles, the US gymnast who has so far helped her team to win the gold team medal and last night won the individual all-around competition, is simply incredible to watch, and just because she's streets ahead of all her competitors it doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching them too! I've been gathering a bunch of links over the lead-up to the Olympics, as well as over the course of the competitions (about half of which were sent to me by my mum), and rather than simply throwing them out into the void on Twitter, I thought it might be best to keep them all in one place. This is more for my reference than anything else, although if anyone here shares my love of gymnastics, feel free to jump into the comments, especially if you have links I haven't included.

Why No One Can Understand What Gymnastics Scores Mean. Includes lots of clips of routines old and new, including Nadia Comaneci's iconic perfect 10 bar routine. This makes a nice pair with the following link.

A Comprehensive Video on Everything You Need to Know about Gymnastics Scoring.

How the U.S. Crushed the Competition in the Women's Gymnastics Team Final (spoiler: their difficulty scores are higher than everyone else's, and they normally score high on execution too). Frame-by-frame analysis of team members on different apparatus.

Frame by Frame, the Moves that Made Simone Biles Unbeatable. She's just amazing.

America's Painful Journey from Prejudice to Greatness in Women's Gymnastics. Three of the five-woman US team are women of colour, but their incredible success has been hard won in a sport that has traditionally been unwelcoming, especially to black women.

The New Yorker has had some of the best gymnastics coverage. Here are several articles from that magazine:

Women's Gymnastics Deserves Better TV Coverage. This is about the US coverage, which I obviously haven't watched, but the BBC coverage here isn't much better. It's got inane commentary, and tends to cut to irrelevant stuff like footage of gymnasts putting on hand-grips between apparatus, or struggling not to cry after getting bad scores, instead of actual routines. (For example, I still haven't seen Eythora Thorsdottir's incredible, melodramatic floor routine in a single BBC stream.)

The Mind-Blowing Athleticism of Simone Biles.

A final New Yorker link, a Simone Biles profile.

Gymnastics Hair: A Retrospective got a laugh out of me. I remember wearing at least three of these styles during my own years as a gymnast. My favourite was the era of french braids and helmets of glitter hairspray. Good times.

I follow a lot of gymnastics Tumblrs, and highly recommend the following:

[tumblr.com profile] gymternet
[tumblr.com profile] thegymnasticsnerd
[tumblr.com profile] marksmcmorris

I will add to this as I discover more links.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I was a competitive gymnast for the majority of my childhood and all of my adolescence. I was never naturally particularly good at it, but I trained at it for nine hours every week from the age of nine, and towards the end I was training twelve hours a week, and you don't train that long without becoming at least competent at something. I look back on my years as a gymnast with a great deal of affection and gratitude, because even though I never got good enough to make a career out of it, gymnastics taught me a lot of useful things about myself, and I find myself going back to it constantly whenever I want to understand important things about how I function. The same goes for a lot of the other things I did as a child and adolescent: piano exams and competitions, dance performances, drama productions, circus displays and even exams, class presentations and other public speaking. You'll notice that all these things have a strong performative element, and indeed necessitate performing well (in all sense of the word) in a public setting.

Looking back at all these things made me realise how productive an emotion fear has been in my life.

I want to be very clear here that this is a specific type of fear. It is not anxiety and it is not at all irrational. It may more correctly be understood as adrenaline, and the overall effect is to create a sort of calm clarity and certainty in my mind whenever I'm doing something that involves performing in public. I'll go back to gymnastics because it is the easiest to demonstrate.

Training in gymnastics involves a lot of different elements. Part of it is doing strength and flexibility exercises in order to increase those qualities (e.g. large numbers of situps, lifting weights, climbing up and down ropes without using your legs, or stretching). Part of it involves doing the actual gymnastics moves repetitively until you can do them consistently well, building up the degree of difficulty. For example, learning to do a backflip generally begins on a trampoline or soft mat with your coach helping you. Once you've mastered it there, you can move to the sprung floor, and from there you can learn to do it on the beam or in combination with other moves. Once you've built up enough skills, you train in putting them together into a routine and practice the routine repetitively until the routine as a whole is consistently performed well. So an average training session will involve strength and flexibility exercises, practicing routines, and learning new skills that are more difficult in order to work them into new routines. The point is that while doing all this, there's no pressure to perform publicly, except the knowledge that practice will make you perform better in competitions. The mental state is very different, and if you make mistakes, it's not a problem.

For me, once the competitive element was introduced, my mindset was entirely different. The best I can describe it is as a kind of fearful certainty: I got up on that beam, and knew I would not fall off, because my fear of doing so was greater than every other consideration. (Indeed, I very rarely fell in competitions.) In practice I occasionally 'baulked' at doing my vault routine (that is, I would run to the horse but stop before completing the exercise, usually because my run-up to the horse 'felt wrong'). I never baulked in competitions, even if the run-up 'felt wrong'. I know that some kinds of fear can be crippling, but this particular type produced in me a kind of clear certainty: I was so afraid of looking bad in public, of being scored badly, that I knew (in the same way that I knew my hair was brown or I lived in Canberra) I would not fall. That is not to say that I got amazing scores: like I said, I had no natural talent and was merely competent, the same way any able-bodied person would be if they trained for nine-twelve hours per week.

That is what I mean when I talk about 'productive fear', though. It worked the same in piano exams and competitions: I might've made mistakes in practice or occasionally lost my place in memorised pieces, but I wouldn't forget anything when it came to those competitive situations. Same goes for dance or drama performances: I was too afraid of looking bad to forget a move or a line. You might say that my prime motivation in all such situations was the intense fear of looking stupid or being thought badly of in public.

And the reason why I'm working so hard to draw a distinction between that kind of fear and other types is that it's actually quite a wonderful feeling. I never feel so much like myself, as if I'm in complete control of myself, as if I know myself completely, as when I feel that kind of fear.* It's as if the rest of the world around me is a blank space, within which I can move with confidence. It only lasts as long as the 'performance' (I've noticed, for example, that I feel it while giving conference papers, but not while answering questions afterwards). It makes my mind feel sharp and awake, and is the only time I feel truly alive.

I'm writing all this not to say 'be afraid more often! it's awesome!' but more for ongoing personal reference. A fearful nature is often viewed as being something of a hindrance, and I'm trying to articulate why this is not always something that needs criticism. It's clear to me that the type of fear I'm describing is almost indistinguishable from joy. It lasts as long as I need it to get where I need to go.

________________________
* Oddly enough, the same feeling arises when I do things which I have endeavoured to keep entirely non-competitive: ice-skating, rollerblading, skiing, jogging and swimming. My mind empties of everything except the certainty that I will not fall (in the case of skating or skiing), that I could run on forever (in the case of jogging) or that the ocean will hold me (in the case of swimming).
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
My right arm ached for all of Monday after I played cricket with my friends on Sunday. This on its own is insignificant, but then I realised that not only was it hurting on Monday, actually throwing the ball while playing was both excruciating and effortful. And that got me thinking about, well, how much things had changed.

I am not an unfit person. I run every day for up to an hour and no less than half an hour. I walk everywhere. Stairs do not leave me breathless, and I imagine if I swam laps, I would be able to do about 20 of a 50-metre pool before I really started to feel it.

But I am clumsy, oh so very clumsy. I walked into the sides of beds and tables, I trip over anything and everything, I whack my arms and shoulders against doorframes. My legs are covered in bruises. It's as if my body no longer knows its own dimensions.

And I am weak. My arms lack strength, and gone are the days when I could do 100 sit-ups without even feeling it. My hands and wrists are ruined by 10 years spent hunched over a computer.

None of this would matter, but I used to be a gymnast, and I notice the difference.

There was a time when I could do handstands and cartwheels and even backflips on a beam of wood only 10cm wide. I could tumble and flip across a sprung floor or over a vaulting horse and launch myself into the air as if I expected to fly. I could do 50 chin-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, walk around on my hands and even climb up a rope with weights strapped to my feet without using my legs. And, most importantly, I could fly around the uneven bars. I could do a glide kip (start from 6.20, the rest is all training), a long kip (at 0.08), and even giants (that girl's technique isn't great, by the way). I loved bars so much. The feeling of flying, leaping, circling around those two bars is incredible and I have never found anything remotely similar in any other sport.

I don't want to act like all this stuff came naturally, that it was easy. It was the result of 10 years of training, seven years of which consisted of 9-10 hours per week. Each of those skills was hard-won, and I fell over, stumbled, and struggled before I was able to do any of them. The strength I had took years to achieve. But once I had achieved it, it was amazing.

What gymnastics gave me was an incredible sense of control. I have never felt so secure in and comfortable with my body as when I was a gymnast. This was nothing to do with how my body looked, but rather because it did exactly what I wanted. I was balanced, I was supple, I was strong and agile and powerful. I never understood physics better than when I was doing a glide kip; I understood instinctively that if I held my head this way, that would happen, if I flicked my wrists just so, brought my toes to the bar at just that moment I would end up not under the bar but above it, poised to flow into the next move in my routine.

And now I am bruised and clumsy and my arms lack the strength to throw a cricket ball and although I can run fast I cannot launch myself into a somersault and above all I am earthbound. And sometimes that makes me kind of unhappy.*


___________________________
* I am aware that mine are the very definition of First World problems.
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
My right arm ached for all of Monday after I played cricket with my friends on Sunday. This on its own is insignificant, but then I realised that not only was it hurting on Monday, actually throwing the ball while playing was both excruciating and effortful. And that got me thinking about, well, how much things had changed.

I am not an unfit person. I run every day for up to an hour and no less than half an hour. I walk everywhere. Stairs do not leave me breathless, and I imagine if I swam laps, I would be able to do about 20 of a 50-metre pool before I really started to feel it.

But I am clumsy, oh so very clumsy. I walked into the sides of beds and tables, I trip over anything and everything, I whack my arms and shoulders against doorframes. My legs are covered in bruises. It's as if my body no longer knows its own dimensions.

And I am weak. My arms lack strength, and gone are the days when I could do 100 sit-ups without even feeling it. My hands and wrists are ruined by 10 years spent hunched over a computer.

None of this would matter, but I used to be a gymnast, and I notice the difference.

There was a time when I could do handstands and cartwheels and even backflips on a beam of wood only 10cm wide. I could tumble and flip across a sprung floor or over a vaulting horse and launch myself into the air as if I expected to fly. I could do 50 chin-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, walk around on my hands and even climb up a rope with weights strapped to my feet without using my legs. And, most importantly, I could fly around the uneven bars. I could do a glide kip (start from 6.20, the rest is all training), a long kip (at 0.08), and even giants (that girl's technique isn't great, by the way). I loved bars so much. The feeling of flying, leaping, circling around those two bars is incredible and I have never found anything remotely similar in any other sport.

I don't want to act like all this stuff came naturally, that it was easy. It was the result of 10 years of training, seven years of which consisted of 9-10 hours per week. Each of those skills was hard-won, and I fell over, stumbled, and struggled before I was able to do any of them. The strength I had took years to achieve. But once I had achieved it, it was amazing.

What gymnastics gave me was an incredible sense of control. I have never felt so secure in and comfortable with my body as when I was a gymnast. This was nothing to do with how my body looked, but rather because it did exactly what I wanted. I was balanced, I was supple, I was strong and agile and powerful. I never understood physics better than when I was doing a glide kip; I understood instinctively that if I held my head this way, that would happen, if I flicked my wrists just so, brought my toes to the bar at just that moment I would end up not under the bar but above it, poised to flow into the next move in my routine.

And now I am bruised and clumsy and my arms lack the strength to throw a cricket ball and although I can run fast I cannot launch myself into a somersault and above all I am earthbound. And sometimes that makes me kind of unhappy.*


___________________________
* I am aware that mine are the very definition of First World problems.

Profile

dolorosa_12: (Default)
rushes into my heart and my skull

September 2017

S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 22nd, 2017 03:17 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios