Memoirs of a gymnast.....Entering the squad. Chapter Two. | jenni855's Blog

So there I was, about to start my time as an elite sports acrobatic gymnast. I have so many early memories of this time, it was such a shock to the system. We were pushed so hard right from the start. At the beginning, I had pulled muscles in my back due to the excessive strain on my body. I was told right away that I was not blessed with flexibility. Some of the other gymnasts were extremely flexible and yet it was something I struggled with. However, I was still picking up skills quickly. 
At the start of every session, we had to run round the field next to the gym, we would then have to come back into the gym, stand in height order and then get weighed. Myself and Katie were the oldest of the group at 8 years old. The other girls ranged from 5-7 years. It seems unbelievable to me now and wrong on so many levels that our weight was scrutinized as much as it was. It chills me now to think of it especially as the youngest girl was five years old. That isn't much younger then some of the kids I look after in my creche. 
Our weight used to get recorded in a black book. Some of us got shouted at if we had put on weight. I don't remember this happening to me but I am sure it did at some point. I always used to feel really nervous about stepping on the scales as I think we all did. Once the weighing was done, it was onto warm-ups. This was when I was introduced to the notion of stretching. For all of you who don't know, it is when someone applies force to a position that another person is in. For example, we used to have to sit in the splits and one of the coaches would come along and either sit on the back of our leg or push it down. It was during one of those earlier warm up stretching sessions that resulted in
Katie leaving. She cried when she got stretched in the splits and Alison looked at her disa about pprovingly and said she would have to get used to it as there was no gain without pain. Katie left that night and so it was just me.
When Katie left, I ended up forming friendships with some of the other girls and we would go round each others houses. By now, I was completely obsessed with gymnastics and also starting to get obsessed with weight. Even when not at the gym, I would be practicing at home in my bedroom. I remember we had family friends round once and I spent the whole time on my gym mat outside practicing stretches and tumbles. When at other gymnasts houses, I never wanted to play schools or any of the games that little girls play, all I wanted to do was practice, practice, practice. I took dedication to another level and more then anything, I really wanted to please my coach, Alison. I was frightened of her, I think we all were. She must have been in her thirties at the time and had a baby daughter of her own. She had cold brown eyes which I can still remember to this day. She herself had been a professional sports acrobat as part of a womans pair and she was determined to create champions at whatever cost. I remember one warm up stretching sesion very well. We were all attempting a move where you lie down and then sort of flip your legs over so they are in front of your head, touching the floor. Almost like a forward crab. Due to me being the least flexible, Alison probably knew there was no hope of me achieving the move, let alone stretching me whilst in it. I remember sitting back and watching Alison go over to Kerry one of my team-mates. Kerry was very friendly and chatty and used to get on Alison's nerves as she was always chatting. Anyway, she pushed Kerry into the position and then I watched in horror as Kerry's eyes rolled back and she passed out. She came to very quickly and in typical Kerry fashion, laughed it off but it was very frightening to watch and even Alison seemed panicky. I remember straight away, we then had to rehearse for a show we were going to be doing. I was very shaken up.
Alison was so strict with us and she used to get an assistant coach to help out called Carol. Carol was a mum of two and I liked her a lot more then Alison and was always relieved when she took our group. One time, both coaches were working together with us and we had to attempt five handstands into crab positions to stand. I fell on one of them. At the end, we were asked how many we had attempted. One of my team-mates said two. Alison went crazy and startedshouting at how bad it was. Yet despite being terrified of the outburst, I lied when it came to my turn and said 
I had completed them all. Carol looked confused and I could see in her face that she knew I was lying but Alison was full of praise. I still don't know why I lied that day. Saying I had completed four of the skills would have been fine but in my mind, nothing less then perfect was good enough.
As well as all of this, we were also being paired up with older team-mates to form sports acrobatic teams. In sports acro, you either have a mens four, womens pair, womens trio or mixed pair. Up until this point, I was still unaware of the sport and what it entailed. My first pairing was with a 13 year old girl called Jo. On the first day, I managed to headbutt her attempting a move, not the greatest of starts! We got along ok though and in a way she was and would become a role model and big sister type figure. She herself had competed in womens pairs as a top professionally and did very well so I was in good company. We didn't work long together as a pair though as Alison was concerned that I was getting on a bit. At the grand old age of nine, she was panicking about my age. With this in mind, she decided to put myself and Jo with a girl called Alex to form a trio. Alex was only a bit older then me at 11 years old and I remember her as being quite calm and sweet. I remember one memory of her quite vividly. It was warm up stretching time and she was stretching me. She could have taken advantage of that like some of the other gymnasts would have done but she didn't. Looking back now, it seems unbelievable (and very poor practice) that gymnasts were allowed to stretch us younger ones. They had no idea about muscle and the way ligaments and tendons are formed for example. They had no idea of the damage they could cause and it was also, a perfect example of some gymnasts using this as power which I found out later on. Anyway, Alex asked if she was hurting me and I said she was so she just stopped. I appreciated that because as I say, she could have taken advantage of the power she had. Rarely was my body treated with any respect or kindness so that stands out in my mind.

Myself, Jo and Alex were now rehearsing heavily for our first competition and the pressure was on, Alison expected perfection and we worked flat out to achieve that.

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Posted on 07:14PM on Feb 5th, 2013
I don't know why they insist on pushing little kids that way. Just because it's "elite" gymnastics, they think that anything and everything that they do is justified, including physically harming children, sometime for life. I'm sorry that you had to be subject to that and too young to really know that it was wrong so that you didn't speak up.
Posted on 01:34AM on Feb 6th, 2013
Thanks Jeremy, unfortunately it gets worse but you will read that as time goes on. Thank you for commenting. x
Posted on 03:28PM on Feb 7th, 2013
Read, enjoyed. It terrifies me how young girls are pushed into things in gymnastics. I always watched competitions with awe, wondering how such young girls were so disciplined. :( Sad for you, but this is a very interesting story Jen. xx
Posted on 03:30PM on Feb 7th, 2013
Thank you xx I cannot express how grateful I am that you and my circle are all following this story xx
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Gymnastics..., posted December 2nd, 2013, 5 comments
Letter to M....., posted August 19th, 2013
Memoirs of a gymnast......Caroline.......Chapter 7., posted February 10th, 2013, 3 comments
Memoirs of a gymnast.....I want to leave......Chapter 6., posted February 9th, 2013
Memoirs of a gymnast.....Weight issues.....Chapter 5., posted February 8th, 2013, 4 comments
Memoirs of a gymnast......Camp and food....Chapter 4., posted February 7th, 2013, 4 comments
Memoirs of a gymnast.....The trio and our first competition...Chapter 3., posted February 6th, 2013, 2 comments
Memoirs of a gymnast.....Entering the squad. Chapter Two., posted February 5th, 2013, 4 comments
Memoirs of a gymnast....Introduction and chapter 1., posted February 4th, 2013, 6 comments
A letter to my mother......, posted July 22nd, 2012, 1 comment
A lettter to Kirsty......, posted July 22nd, 2012
Tuesday, 20th March 2012....An open letter to my circle...., posted March 20th, 2012, 9 comments

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