Gymnastics was all I knew growing up — that and boy bands — and it played a part in my road to becoming an adult. I’ve written before about how over a decade of competing in the sport taught me to embrace imperfection. It also taught me discipline — how to block out the rest of the world and focus on one event. One routine. It’s safe to say that, since quitting right before college, I miss it every day — I’m reminded of it when I’m working out, rewatching Katelyn Ohashi videos, even dodging commuter traffic on the sidewalk in NYC. So I jumped at the chance to take a gymnastics class with Olympian Laurie Hernandez, associated with her Eye Can, Eye Will Alcon campaign, at Chelsea Piers.
Stepping onto the floor gave me that familiar jolt of adrenaline. My body felt the need to flip. The group, though, stuck to the basics because it was a beginner class. We walked around on tip-toe and on our heels, practiced stretches for our splits with Laurie, and did drills for handstands and cartwheels. Sure, this stuff was easy, but it was a good reminder that having a solid foundation of skills will help you progress toward bigger goals.
The Chelsea Piers coaches teaching with Laurie could tell I had a background in gymnastics — they might have also heard her tell me during our warmup that my “inner gymnast” was showing. So with the little time we had left, I mentioned that I wanted to work on a back handspring and a standing back tuck (essentially a backflip on the floor without momentum from a tumbling pass). One of the coaches assured me he’d be there to help.
Laurie’s mantra at the 2016 Olympics was “I got this” (which is, not surprisingly, the title of her memoir). I never had a mantra, but I used to talk myself down when I was scared of dismounting off bars or landing my last tumbling pass in my floor routine. I’d take one final breath in through my nose, out through my mouth, and I’d fix my eyes on a stationary spot in front of me. Then, I’d go for it. Before I did my back handsprings and back tucks at this class, I took a breath. I paused. And I let muscle memory guide me.
Of course I was nervous, but I remembered exactly how to quell my state of fear into a state of determination. As Laurie reminded me during our interview together, “Training is definitely physical, but a majority of it is mental.” It’s no wonder Simone Biles and Laurie herself sought the expertise of a mental toughness coach leading up to the Rio Olympics. It’s easy to lose confidence in your abilities even if you have the capacity to land on your feet every time. Now, that’s not to say you should try whatever makes you scared — but with a little push, and a reminder to trust yourself and those helping you, you’ve got the option to.
I told the coach who led me through my flips that he’d made my year. It’s true — doing skills I once did with ease was thrilling. Half a decade away from the sport and I still had the same form and prepared for these flips the same exact way. I still smiled when I (almost) stuck the landing. Ahead, check out how I did — and hopefully you’ll find your way back to old passions, too. The familiar thrill, the joy, is worth it.