guest post by Danielle Soucy Mills:
I can distinctly remember my last college home meet and the sinking feeling in my chest that gymnastics was almost over for good.
One of my coaches expressed her consolation: “I know it’s tough to finish something you’ve been doing your whole life, but there are so many other exciting life events that follow,” she said. Finding your career, getting married, having kids—it was something along those lines, and as great as they sounded, in that moment, I could not imagine my life without gymnastics in the years to come.
As much of a relief as it would be on my body, the thought of no longer being able to do what once came so easy plagued me. And so when I graduated college and moved 3,000 miles away from my family and friends to pursue graduate school in creative writing, I found a side job doing something that felt like home to me—coaching gymnastics. After all, it was pretty much the only job I’d had since I was 16 years old.
But after I was forced to quit the daily workouts due to “gymnastics old age,” I realized very quickly that although we no longer slave over skills four hours a day, five days a week, gymnastics never really goes away. Many things that I had learned throughout my time in gymnastics stuck with me—things that did not just involve flipping.
First, I had learned so many self-sufficient strength exercises during conditioning that I found myself doing them around my house when I no longer had a coach to push me. To this day, I continue to work out on the floor in my home office with only a few accessories—an exercise ball, some free weights, a pull-up bar, and a list in my head.
I found more inspiration upon meeting a woman in her 50’s at open gym, still doing back tucks on floor, giants on bars, and even doing timers for Geingers. The myth that gymnastics skills disappeared after 23 years slowly dissolved in my mind. Somewhere in between the constant workouts, occasional open gyms, muscle memory, and hard-earned confidence, could our skills really remain with us indefinitely? I began to believe it was true. They were never really lost, out the door, or left at home like we always assumed as kids.
It was all about self-discipline, another important life skill we were taught in gymnastics with having so little time to balance everything. I think back to the endless hours of school, work, practice, homework before finally fitting in a good night’s sleep and I wonder how I actually did it all while pleasing my parents with good grades. I knew that my work had to be done well, or there would be no gymnastics. I remember working so hard to finish my homework, only to lose myself in the gym, where the world’s woes disappeared around me.
Even with its revitalizing escape, practice sometimes brought with it its own woes. No matter how hard I wanted to work, exhaustion, mental blocks, and fears set in; potential left untouched. But all of the awful things I wanted so badly to forget, or go back in time and do over again, actually pushed me harder, inspired me more. As a coach, I sought to find ways to eliminate these troubles for my gymnasts; to somehow teach them that our mind does not have a mind of its own; that our fears belong to us. They can be gone and filled with inspiration if we can release them, focusing on each skill one single moment at a time; that our goals truly sit in the palms of our hands, within reach, so long as we work hard and believe in them.
Then came my favorite inspiration of all: writing my love for this sport into a book. I loved it so much that practicing it and coaching it was not enough. So I put my two favorite things together—writing and gymnastics—and my picture book, Tina Tumbles, was born. The inspiration came first and foremost from my mom. I would always ask her why she started me in gymnastics and the number one answer was always: so you didn’t hurt yourself on the furniture. It seemed like this was 99.9% of the reason why most parents signed their children up; that somewhere in most gymnasts’ childhood stories existed the energy-bursting kid who tore apart their bed doing flips, or bounced from one couch to another until Mom and Dad couldn’t take it anymore.
I also continued to receive the same feedback from parents: there were just not enough storybooks out there for young gymnasts. I took my inspiration and ran with it. And then I took a tumble. After a small publisher picked up Tina Tumbles and the illustrations were done, things did not work out. I parted ways with my publisher. But Tina still had very important lessons to teach her author, and many young gymnasts, too. Work hard. Set your goals high and release your fears. Reach until you cannot reach any further. Never give up. Giving up was not an option.
My illustrator and I boldly chose to take the path of independent publication. A few days after we were introduced to Kickstarter, a website dedicated to bringing creative projects to life through crowdfunding, I found another inspirational gymnastics picture book called Kika the Upside Down Girl which had just recently been funded via the website. I immediately contacted the author, 1984 Canadian Olympic gymnast, Jessica Tudos, who supportively advised me on how to put together a successful, heartfelt Kickstarter campaign. Jessica’s adorable book about upside-down Kika following her heart, went on to be printed and published—and with our book completed, the same Canada based printer selected, and pre-orders currently being accepted, we are now well on our way to reaching this goal for Tina Tumbles, too!
Through my book, I hope to extend a lifetime of inspiration on to children for generations to come. And even when I someday choose to put my grips away for the very last time, I will know that it is never over. Our love for this sport lasts forever.
Learn more about Tina Tumbles and pass this inspiration on to your children by February 10th!
Please visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/tinatumbles/tina-tumbles. We thank you greatly for your support!