When I was younger, I loved gymnastics. My heart loved it but my knees never did. They have always been weak. Even when I was eight, my doctor told me not to practice for a month to see if my knee pain would get better. The only thing my coach would let me do was bounce on the trampoline while everyone else got to run screaming down the vault runway, springing onto the board and propelling their bodies through the air. When I got to go back to tumbling, I started out on a safety mat. It felt great for the first week or two, but eventually the pain returned. Not wanting to miss anymore practices with the team, I pretended I was better and didn’t complain again until it got much worse.
As a pre-teen, the pain increased with added swelling and tenderness. Not even icing during practice seemed to give it relief. The doctor diagnosed me with Osgood-Schlatter’s and Water on the Knee. I guess for an active kid like me, these are common overuse injuries that require more R.I.C.E. – rest, ice, compression and elevation. But who tells a kid to slow down when life can’t seem to come fast enough? Running around and going to gymnastics brought me happiness. My coaches let us play as much as we worked. School was always serious, but at the gym we could be monkeys and everyone was cool with that.
I never wanted to back down from pain. In my mind, I could control pain with my thoughts. Instead of stopping, I tried out different knee braces. In high school, I learned about Advil and loaded up on that every practice. When that didn’t work, I taped up body parts. Even now, three knee surgeries and an Achilles tendon repair later, injuries are the only thing that stops me from trying to push myself. I may not be doing running tumbling that involves double back tucks anymore, but nothing feels worse than not being able to sweat a little and burn off some energy.
When I was no longer able to do the sports I loved, I had nothing to fill the void. Frankly, I was a bit depressed and had no way of channeling my pent up energy into something positive. So, when I finally turned twenty-one, I took full advantage of ladies night, two-for-ones and dancing until closing time. I thought I should live for the moment and enjoy being young since my plan of being the world’s best cheerleader didn’t pan out so well.
With that also came hangovers, mood swings, making careless and reckless decisions and doing and saying things I would later regret. What made me slow down and stop drinking all together was having night terrors, seeing a demon watching me sleep and being frozen, unable to move while in bed. With the strength of my husband, we both gave up alcohol for good when I began to compete. At first it was awkward turning down invites to kick some back and go out on the weekends. But looking back, it was the best decision we ever made together.
Competing in fitness shows has given me a second life. It not only keeps me physically active, but it has taught me so much more about nutrition and recovery. I would have never learned about those things if I hadn’t discovered this sport and gave it a shot. I look forward to eating healthy foods because I know how it makes my body feel. My skin and allergies are so much better when I eat the right foods. I don’t cramp up or get severe knots that won’t go away either. I now know how to create balance in my life. Even if I never stepped on a stage again, I can be confident that I can make good choices that will ensure that I’ll be able to enjoy my family, my son and the daily activities that are essential to being a good wife, mother and daughter for a long time to come. I have had lots of bumps along the way and don’t expect them to ever stop. Even if a hitch starts as a weakness it can become one of the strongest reasons to never give up and to never stop.