Gymnastic Heroics

Sandra was a 13 year old Army brat when she got her first taste of gymnastics. Her older sister had made the high school cheerleading squad and they had a gymnastics summer camp at the local gymnastics school. The competitive gymnastics team practiced at the same time on the other side of the gym. Sandra accompanied her sister to the first day of camp and after only a few hours of watching gymnastics up close, knew she had found her sport.

The next day she sought out the head coach and told him she wanted to be on the team. Although coaches hear this time and again, the coach was struck by her determination and sincerity. There were no beginner classes with girls her age on the summer schedule, but the coach told her she could come to a two time per week intermediate class. She also could sign up for a six week series of gymnastics camps that ran the rest of the summer.

The next problem was to convince her parents that they should spend the money for all this gymnastics. Conventional wisdom said that thirteen was too old to start a serious gymnastics career and her parents also knew they only had two more years left before their assignment would be changed and they would be moving overseas. Sandra lobbied for four days straight and finally they agreed to let her participate for at least the summer and then they would decide about her gymnastics future.

Talking to her parents and the coach made Sandra very aware that she was behind the normal gymnasts of her age and had a great deal of catching up to do. In addition to the gymnastics classes and camps, she set out to train on her own in whatever ways she could. She sought advice from the coach and then proceeded to do double of everything he told her to do.

Sandra started a running program six days a week to reduce her body fat. During the summer, she started with twenty minute walks and increased to running four to six miles per day. She got special permission to join the base gym and began a weightlifting program four days per week. She wrote down every strength and conditioning exercise they did at the gym and did them everyday at home. She did fifteen minutes of splits and other flexibility exercises at home every night. She even did splits while watching TV and did conditioning exercises during the commercials.

By the end of the summer, she had proven herself to both the coach and her parents. These were the days when coaches were allowed to place gymnasts at the level they deemed appropriate and Sandra was allowed to practice with the optional team. Sandra’s parents agreed to pay the bills and let her stay in the program as long as she maintained her ‘A’ average in her advanced school program. This was a promise she kept throughout her gymnastics career.

Sandra’s first year was marked by great progress, but little competitive success because of her relative lack of experience compared with the other gymnasts. Sandra became a leader in the gym during that year by virtue of her work ethic, her care and concern for her teammates and her support of each of the girls on the team. Sandra was a natural mediator – between the coaches and the gymnasts, between individual gymnasts and the inevitable gymnastics cliques.

During Sandra’s second summer in the gym, she doubled the amount of time she spent in the gym, working out 9:00 – 5:00 five days per week. In spite of the added burdens of school and extra practice, Sandra maintained her schedule of home workouts and still lifted weights on weekends.

Her next season was marked by increasing competitive success, capped by her winning the 12-14 year old, Class II (her skills were equivalent to today’s Level 8’s) Optional State Championships, a little more than a year and a half after she started in the sport. She and her parents moved to Germany in the middle of the next summer.

Sandra, despite her short time in the sport, was a true gymnastics champion. She had a love of the sport, gave 100 percent to her coaches, teammates and the sport. She not only always did what her coach told her to do, but always did extra. Her career, although probably impossible under today’s rules, set a standard for every other gymnast in her gym and, now, for all of you.

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