One door closes, but hundreds more open

Audrey Wong

Things always happen for a reason. While it might not seem so in the moment, they will help in the long run. Those were the words of wisdom from my mother that continuously resonated within me as I attempted to cope with my new circumstances. 

 

This journey started the summer before my seventh grade. I was stretching with my gymnastics coach, and she had asked one of my teammates to help me stretch. She ended up unintentionally over-stretching me, and I felt a jolt of pain. It was not the normal kind of stretching pain that I was used to, but I was used to the saying “no pain, no gain,” so I believed the pain was normal and brushed it aside.

 

Weeks went by and I still had this tearing pain, but I continued to ignore it. I thought that the area was just sensitive and the pain would eventually go away. I still practiced the same, conditioned the same and stretched the same. I told myself that I would get it checked after competition season. When I finally went to the doctor, they told me I had a stress fracture on my left pelvic and hip area. I was told it would take eight weeks to heal if I was resting. Being my stubborn self, I ignored this and still went to gymnastics practice, doing everything except hard landings. I thought since I wasn’t landing or putting pressure on my injury it I would be fine. I would sneak in a few handsprings on the tumble track here and there. I would perform everything except for skills that I thought would have any impact or put strain on the injury out of the deep sense of fear I felt at the thought of losing any of my skills. The countless hours that had gone into perfecting those skills would have been wasted, and I didn’t want to experience all the struggle again. 

 

A year later, competition season rolled around again, and although I relied heavily on painkillers, the pain was still overwhelming. Sometimes I would purposely fall because it would hurt too much to land properly. During regional championships, I remember not warming up my flight series (a series of connecting flips) on beam because of the sheer pain I was in. In the middle of my routine I was forced to decide whether I should even attempt the flight series. 

 

But I thought about how this was my final competition of the season and the regional championships. I had worked so hard to get to this point. I decided to go for it, because after all, it was regionals. Yes, I was in a lot of pain, but I knew that when I looked back, I would regret not going for it. If I didn’t do it, my starting value would drop, and I already knew that I wasn’t going to score that well due to the condition I was in. Furthermore, this could have potentially been my last competition I attended, so I wanted to give it my all. 

 

Beam was only my second event to compete in. I still had vault and floor left to compete in, which would require even more pounding and landing. My beam routine was not my best and I would have been surprised if I could even get a 9.00 out of 10. I think the judges took pity on me and gave me a 9.3, my highest score that season. I was a bit surprised when my score was posted because it felt like one of my worst routines I competed. Out of the 2405 gymnasts I was ranked 549, which in retrospect was not as bad as I had believed it to be.  

 

In August, I finally gave in and told my parents that I was hurting because after practice, I couldn’t even stand in the shower without feeling like my bones were cracking with every movement. That was my breaking point, I knew something was seriously wrong and that I needed to rest. From there, it took about a month to get my medical results from my MRI, so in the meantime, I would go to practice, only doing strength training and stretching. 

 

On Sept. 21, my results came in. My dad was driving me home from practice and before I got home he told me he had bad news. I froze and started getting anxious. I tried calculating how bad my injury could possibly be, and how long I would need to rest. He told me I had a stress fracture and that the doctors thought that I would never be able to go back to gymnastics. I asked if it was possible to compete in Xcel, another, less intensive, program that required less training hours after I was done healing. I thought it would take 10 weeks to heal, similar to the last time. 

 

At first I was in shock, because I didn’t think it was that severe, although the pain should have been an obvious indication that it would be. After the initial shock I tried to hold back my tears as much as I could, not wanting my dad to hear me cry. The moment I came home, I couldn’t hold it back anymore. Right when my mom opened the door I started sobbing and telling her that I had a stress fracture, scar tissue and inflammation. 

 

I asked her if it was possible to go back, hoping that she would say yes. She told me if I could completely heal, there was a small chance that I could compete, but most likely not since it would be too risky. I have never been a crier; even during the most intense stretch sessions and conditioning, But this was different. It felt like someone had robbed me of all my hardwork. The most frustrating thing was that I had worked countless hours to obtain and perfect skills for the next level but now would never be able to compete, let alone show my progress to my family. It felt unfair.

 

They could hear that I had been training my flight series, a handspring handspring, side aerials, front and back tucks and full twist dismounts for beam. They could hear that I was training bails (a release move), double back dismount, pirouettes and toe shoot. They could hear that I was training front handspring front layout front layout, one and a half back twist front tuck, whips, front fulls, and handspring front half tumbling passes. They could hear that I was training yurchenko layouts and tsukaharas, but they would never get to see it. 

 

Everything that I had worked for went down the drain. Just like that. It felt like this one injury had ruined everything that I worked for. Why had I bothered pushing myself, training 21 hours a week, sometimes more, being in the gym six or seven days a week, going on runs after conditioning in the summer, enduring the strength training and stretching and feeling sore the next day? 

 

I thought that I could continue pushing myself until I reached level 10, the highest level. But I couldn’t. My body would not let me. It forced me to stop. I was devastated that I had trained since I was five years-old and now had to quit, not by choice, but by force. These skills take years to master. All those previous years of training are the foundation for higher level skills. 

 

They are not skills that I can get back immediately. It took me eight years to get these skills, and two years to get these skills back is not attainable. All the pain that I went through — the bloodshed, the mental blocks and the feeling of exhaustion — was all for nothing. The worst part was that competition season was only a few months away.  If my injury had worsened after the season, I could have actually competed level eight and showcased the skills that I had been training. 

 

After quitting, I deleted all of my playlists for future floor routine music. I stopped following anyone who posted about gymnastics on Instagram. My leotards went into a basket that I never touched. My medals went from hanging in my room to boxes because I couldn’t look at them. I tried to make sure that I didn’t see anything related to gymnastics because it reminded me of what I had before the injury. I could have been at practice, I could have been doing flips. It was easier to try to forget what I lost when there were no traces left. 

 

Sometimes I would cry myself to sleep or cry in the shower because I didn’t want anyone to hear me. I always wondered about why it had to happen to me, out of everyone. What I had done wrong to deserve this “punishment”, and what could have been if my teammate did not over stretch me? I was angry at the injustice of my situation. Why now? Why couldn’t it be later after I completed level 10? 

 

Two years later and I wouldn’t say that I’ve fully gotten over it, but I’m able to talk about it more freely. Finally, it no longer seems like a punishment, but rather a sharp turn in my path. If I hadn’t quit gymnastics, I would have never been able to explore new hobbies or interests. I would have never gotten a job, or joined clubs and publications. I would never have discovered my interest in photography or journalism. If I continued gymnastics, I would never have been able to experience these things. I would be stuck in the gym, every single day. 

 

As with any “tragedy,” it takes time to heal. I now realize that quitting was for the better. Without quitting, I would not have been able to pursue my interests. I would be constantly sleep deprived — though I’m not saying that I am fully rested now either. Part of me regrets even doing gymnastics, but the other part of me thinks that maybe I would not be the same if I hadn’t. If I never started gymnastics, this whole event would have never happened and I could have started pursuing my other interests earlier. Another part of me thinks otherwise— maybe I wouldn’t have found these other activities if I didn’t quit. Quitting forced me to find my new passion and a new way to express myself, for which I will be forever thankful for.