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Thank You to My Gymnastics Team for Encouraging Me Through Pain

A team is a group of people who come together to achieve a common goal. Defining the word “team” seems simple and easy. However, there is usually so much more to a team. Each member on a team has to have certain qualities for everyone to succeed. Once that team is created, it becomes a family.

Now you are probably wondering where I am going with this. I am a member of the club gymnastics team on my campus. I have been for over a year now. However, this year was my first time competing with them. In the past year, I have grown closer to my team and have even managed to step out of my comfort zone multiple times. But being a part of a gymnastics team isn’t easy for me. I have a chronic pain disorder called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSD)/complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Everything in gymnastics is hard for me. Running, jumping, dancing, tumbling – everything is a challenge. I try my best to do what I can but it never gets easier. After almost every practice, I am left unable to walk without help and need my coaches to take me home. Growing up, I was a gymnast but an injury that lead to my RSD forced me to quit. I decided this would be my comeback year and I no longer wanted my RSD to be in control of what I do. Now I’m not going to lie, this year was tough. It seemed like I just had setback after setback. Between a broken thumb, a sprained ankle and more flare-ups than I can count, I wasn’t sure I would reach my goal of competing at Nationals.

My team competes under NAIGC, the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs. Nationals this year was in Columbus, Ohio. When we arrived at the convention center, I was completely overwhelmed by everything I saw. After practicing on floor for a short time, my nerves got to me and I had a flare-up. As I left the competition room and sat in the hallway, I was scared. But my teammates sat with me and kept me laughing. The next day was when we competed. I had never been so nervous to step foot on the floor. My pain level was pretty high that day. As I walked from one event to the next, all I could think about was the burning pain in my feet. Right before it was my turn to do my floor routine, a bunch of my teammates came up to me to give me a pep talk. Each one of them looked me in the eyes and told me I could do this. My captain finished it off with “you got this” and a hug.

To know so many people are rooting for you is an amazing feeling. I went from feeling nervous to simply wanting to make my team proud. As I looked around the convention center and saw other teams competing, I realized that nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter whether I landed on my feet or straight to my back. It didn’t matter whether I got a 10 or a two. The only thing that mattered is that I have fun with my team who cares so much about me. So I took a deep breath and began my routine. Even in the middle of my routine when I thought I was in too much pain to continue, I looked up and saw my teammate just smile at me and give me a head nod. That simple motion kept me from walking off the floor. These girls push me to do my best. They bring so much energy to the floor with their constant cheering. When I finished my routine and walked off, I was greeted with attack hugs from everyone and teammates telling me how proud they are of me. And that is the only thing I could think of in that moment. I forgot about my pain, I forgot about all the flare-ups, frustration and tears. All I could think of was how much this team meant to me and how proud I was to be representing my school with them.

college student participating in gymnastics competition

NAIGC’s slogan is “For the Love of the Sport.” Anyone can be a part of NAIGC. On my team, we have girls who have been doing gymnastics for their whole life and we have girls who just started and compete forward rolls. The thing I love about NAIGC is how accepting they are. At Nationals, everyone was cheering on everyone. People cheered just as loud for the girls doing cartwheels as they were for the girls doing fulls. It is honestly one of the most exciting things to witness and be a part of. I knew I would be accepted despite my chronic illness. So I don’t have extremely hard skills, who cares? I do what I am able to do and NAIGC recognizes that, and so does my team. My RSD is a huge part of my life; it is never going away. I have always tried to hide it, but now I can start working my way to embracing it. I didn’t feel like I was any different than the other gymnasts competing at Nationals. Nobody but my team knew about my RSD and other teams still cheered me on.

NAIGC and my club team have done so much for me without even thinking. I can’t thank them both enough for everything they stand for. Allowing people of all skill levels to find or keep their love of gymnastics. Allowing people like me to be a part of a team that is so encouraging no matter what. Knowing that even when I can’t move after practice, my coaches will sit with me to make sure I am not alone. I may have to live with pain every day, but knowing I will always have my team means the world to me and makes dealing with RSD easier.

Thank you NAIGC and RUCG for accepting me despite my disorder. Thank you for allowing me to rediscover my love of the sport. Thank you for letting me teach others about my chronic illness. Thank you for creating such an amazing environment for people to come together and share their love of gymnastics. Thank you for giving me a reason to keep pushing and staying strong. Thank you for all the friendships I have made and people I have met.

A team is a group of people who come together to achieve a common goal, and that is exactly what we did. We went out there, had fun, left our hearts on the floor and became an even closer family.

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