Can I As a Blind Person Start to Learn and Train to be a Gymnast?

Subject: Can I, as a blind person, start to learn and train to be a gymnast?

Sex: female
Age: 14
Gymnastics Level:

Hi,
I am 14 years old and live in Virginia. I was wondering if you knew anything about blind gymnasts? I have always wanted to do gymnastics but gave up the dream when I was little because of my blindness. Recently, I read a book called Little Girls in Pretty Boxes by Joan Ryan and although it was sad it brought back my dream to be a gymnast. When I told my mom a few days ago she said that I could do it if I wanted to. I told her that I was too old and that no one would be willing to teach a blind 14 year old. I was wondering if you knew anything about blind gymnasts? Also, could you tell me what I could do at home to practice? I’ve been trying to do a handstand but I’m not strong enough to do it and I think the fact that I’m 115 pounds and a little fat (in my opinion not anyone else’s) is the reason. I want to improve my flexibility and strength but I don’t know how. Can you please give me some tips? I really hope you can help. I really want to do gymnastics because it looks fun, challenging and I would be able to show my friends I can do sports too.
Sincerely,
Ixchel

While I have never personally coached a blind gymnast yet, one of my teaching stories is about a blind female gymnast, who competed all of the events, including vault, which we had decided was the most difficult for a blind person (since you would have to not only count your steps, but do them exactly the same way every time). As part of my training for normal gymnasts, I would, from time to time, have my gymnasts practice various events with their eyes closed. I never did it enough to have the effect of allowing my gymnasts to use their other senses significantly better, at least not enough to really improve. We did it enough, though, to know that having music on in the gym, especially during floor exercises, gave them a knowledge of where in the gym they were, in relation to the music. This would be a good training technique for you to use as well, I think.

I worked with a gymnast who was almost totally deaf. We had to put the speakers on the floor exercise mat when she went so she could feel the start, the beat and the finish of the music. She read lips, so it was fairly easy to coach her in the normal manner, but it was still something I am proud of. It would surprise me if there were not some coach in your area, who would be willing to work with you and proud to train you to be a gymnast.

There are many gymnasts, who are primarily kinesthetic gymnasts, which means they do skills, including very difficult skills, almost all by feel. Many of them actually close their eyes (though often they are not aware they are doing so) while they are doing their most difficult skills. Closing their eyes allows them to concentrate on the feeling of the skill better.  Many kinesthetic gymnasts are quite successful and at a very high level in the sport.

Another training technique, that worked for our “blind” gymnastics practices, was that I would spot (assist) them, while they were doing skills at first, with their eyes closed, so they could get the feeling of the skill. Even skills they had done before felt different, especially for the girls, who were not kinesthetics. You would be a natural kinesthetic gymnast and spotting is a very normal method of learning gymnastics skills. It seems likely that extra practice on mounts and dismounts, where you are not in contact with the equipment, would require the most extra practice. Tumbling would also fall into that category.

Below are some videos and articles that talk about blind, legally blind and partially blind gymnasts. Many of them show the benefits, to the rest of the team, of having a blind gymnast training with them. One of the gyms got an incredible amount of national media coverage about legally blind 11-year-old Lola Walters and the article about Aimee Young at BYU tells about how much positive influence she had on their college gymnastics team.

Video story about legally blind 11-year-old Lola Walters.

Video story about Aimee Walker Pond, totally deaf and blind in one eye BYU college gymnast.

Article about Julia Rose Goldstein, an 11 year old gymnast, who is blind in one eye.

An article about Katie Niclas, who is blind in one eye, yet competed at the National level in gymnastics.

A story about David Wright, a blind gymnast who was especially successful by specializing on events.

While I don’t personally buy into the vegetarian lifestyle, this article has some interesting information about a blind gymnast.

There is also a movie “Breaking Free” about a gymnast who is blinded and then learns equestrian show jumping, that I have never seen and have now ordered.

I have a very good friend, from the Netherlands, who was a highly ranked competitor in Olympic martial arts, and he has many stories of the abilities of blind masters of martial arts, who do simply incredible things, in spite of (or perhaps, because of) their blindness. As with most people in life, those who are blessed in one area, are often not gifted in other areas. You already, likely have superior hearing and listening abilities, a highly developed kinesthetic sense of balance and other capabilities I don’t even know or understand. You also seem to have a desire and drive to prove yourself physically to your friends which can be a great motivator. You should do just fine in gymnastics.

Just like all gymnasts, you should begin your training by getting strong and flexible. At your age, lifting weights for a minimum of 6 weeks to 3 months, to get strong efficiently, and to strengthen your ligaments and tendons to get them strong enough to be injury proof, would be the first thing you should do. For ligament and tendon strengthening, a normal weight lifting strength training program is sufficient. Later on, to build maximum strength quickly and efficiently, I will send you my Hour Strength Training for Gymnasts program.

Flexibility training is often, primarily, about the amount of time spent doing it. You could have all your splits down in one day (24 hours in your splits), but it would be much wiser to break up the training and do it over a period of time, since you might not be able to walk too well after 24 hours in a split – lol. But the point is that stretching takes time devoted to it, and the more time, the more flexible you become, and the more quickly you become flexible. The primary areas for flexibility training are all three splits and your shoulders. After you have developed your shoulder flexibility, you can work on improving your lower back flexibility, but that time is off in the future.

You should listen to everyone else, when it comes to how your body looks, but since you are untrained, you could and should be doing aerobic exercise as well. The best, but toughest, way to do aerobics is to run/go all out for 60 – 90 seconds and then rest and do it again in 3 – 4 minutes, six to eight more times. I currently personally do 2 -3 weightlifting exercises, and then do either those highly intense running (or cycling or elliptical) sets, or run the equivalent of a lap around the track, in between the weightlifting, as fast as I can go. The lap around the track is actually less intense than the other workout and may be a good way to go to start.

If you tell me where you live in Virginia, I can give you some suggestions for the best gyms in your area. You will need (as do all gymnasts) a gym that has gymnastics safety pits to train in and coaches who really know what they are doing. I would be honored to give you any further help and assistance that I can. Welcome to the gymnastics community.

Shout Out to the Gymnastics Community in Virginia
I don’t know exactly where she lives yet, but anyone interested and willing to help train our new friend, please contact me through the web site.

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5 Responses to “Can I As a Blind Person Start to Learn and Train to be a Gymnast?”

  1. Angie March 4, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    To the original questioner:
    I’m a totally blind adult who began doing gymnastics a year ago for physical fitness only, so I will not be competing routines or winning medals, but I have some advice for you.

    There’s a misconception that you need to see to do gymnastics, which is not true, but everybody thinks it’s true because having sight makes working on the apparatus significantly easier than if you didn’t have any, and also because people *think* they wouldn’t be able to do it if they didn’t have their sight. They can’t imagine how they’d be able to do it, so how can anyone expect *you* to? That’s where that line of thinking comes from.

    I’ll admit I’d far rather have even partial sight for vault, because I really do think it’s much, much easier than with none, even if you do count steps. If all gymnasts were required to close their eyes when practicing or competing vaults frequently, it would be proven that you really don’t need to see to vault. But injuries are prevented with vision than without, so I don’t think that’ll happen.

    I highly reccomend taking private lessons before you decide to join a team. You get more individual attention that way. I just take one once a week. I love it. I know that significant accommodations must be made if you’re in team practice with other girls. The pacing might not be as fast as if you hadn’t been there, more time might need to be taken out for you to learn something, maybe some girls will need to be requested to come over and physically show you the skills, etc.

    You will probably fall more than most, which could cause you to feel embarrassed, that you’re not different, or you could just not care. Also be prepared for a lot of “you’re amazing, you inspire me” comments.

    Coach Howard is quite correct that for vault, you’d need to count steps and do it correctly every time, so trying out podium equipment might be a bit of a challenge without the luxury of sight. Floor and bars, it’s all about your feeling in the air anyway. I’m not sure what they’d do with floor music because they use CD players and sound systems now, not tape players. But something would be worked out. As for beam, yes, if you can walk across both ways and sideways on it, you’re golden. But I admit I have trouble with balance, so that might be a bit of a struggle.

    Like I said, I’m doing it strictly for fitness, so I’ll bypass many of the issues you’re likely to face, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up and a realistic portrayal of what you’ll be getting into. A lot of people in the disability community give the too-positive “you can do anything” line, but fail to mention that yes, it may be significantly harder because you do not have the luxury of what would make it easy for everyone else. Gymnastics is scary with sight, and it’s scarier without. There are plenty of kenesthetic learners, but lots of them can see, so whether they believe it or not, their eyes might play just a tiny part in how they compete, even if they refuse to admit it. Feeling in the air is 90 percent of it, but I think some sight would be beneficial, even a little. If you don’t have any, that’s fine.

    In closing, I’d say that you’d need to find the right gym, the right coach, and they’d need to be on board with offering accommodations for you. If you can find that, you’ll do great.

    The very best of luck to you,
    Sincerely,
    Angie

    • Gymnastics Zone March 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

      Angie, thanks for the real “insight” into this questioner’s world. I am sure Ixchel appreciates the “real” information and that you shared your experience – experience that almost no one else might be able to share. I know I appreciate your help.

  2. Tiri Hughes August 31, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    Hi!
    I myself am a blind (and also mildly physically disabled-I have Ehlers danlos syndrome) gymnast.
    I compete at national level in disability gymnastics in the UK and I am currently third in the UK for disability gymnastics.
    If you(or anyone else)wants to talk to me about this feel free to contact me at t.hughes7@virgin.net
    Hope you are doing well!!

  3. Saadia Sutton July 31, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    Hi

    I am from South Africa, my daughter is 12 yrs old and blind (ROP5) . she started gymnastics yesterday. She loves it

  4. faith October 22, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    i hihnk that you can as long as u have feeling in your body and know where things are and what you have to do

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