I started writing this at 4:18am because it was about 40 degrees in Florence and I couldn’t sleep. And what do you do when you can’t sleep? You remember that weird period of your life when you were a gymnast and would spend more time walking on your hands than on your feet.
When I was 14, I quit competitive gymnastics. Sometimes, when I look at myself in the mirror, I can still see the parts of my body that were shaped by those awkward early adolescent years. My thick and weirdly muscular thighs, the abs that never really went away and my shoulders that get GINORMOUS (YEAH IT’S A WORD) the second I start working out.
At the time, leaving gymnastics was a big deal. Everyone kept asking me “but why are you quitting?” As if quitting the sport I grew to hate was a bad thing. “But you have so much potential! You’re so strong!”
I quit anyway.
My old gym was an ex-theater-turned-gymnastics-empire on Décarie Boulevard in Montreal. The original theater opened in the 1930s, screening Charlie Chaplin movies and X-Rated content before turning into a gymnastics studio. If I close my eyes, I can still see the ceiling art and crown molding. Damn was that art deco crown molding GORGEOUS.
On the back wall of the gym—where I can only assume the movie screen used to be—was a huge sign written in colourful paint on a white bedsheet. It said, “NO CAN’TS NO WON’TS NO NEVERS. BELIEVE IN THE ATHLETE WITHIN.” I could never get those dumb words out of my head. What do you mean I can’t say no? It felt so extreme. Maybe a little irrational? I should be allowed to say I can’t do something, right? Or that I won’t do something…no?
As a gymnast, I was always striving for perfection because that’s what the sport wanted from me.
Point your toes.
Bum tucked in.
STICK YOUR LANDING.
Fight through the pain.
Fight through the sore body and the hand blisters.
Stop leaning to the left on your back tuck.
One summer, I was sent to a gymnastics sleepaway camp in the QUÉBEC WILDERNESS for a week. WHO SENDS AN AWKWARD INTROVERT TO GYMNASTICS SLEEPAWAY CAMP WHERE YOU HAVE TO DO GYM FOR 6 HOURS EVERY SINGLE DAY AND SOCIALIZE WITH FRENCH GIRLS YOU DON’T KNOW?! I called my parents on the first night from a payphone and begged them to come get me. They said if it didn’t get any better, they would. What ended up happening is I only hate Twix chocolate bars the entire time I was there because I didn’t like the cafeteria food and I lost 10 pounds (probably because I was doing 6 hours of gymnastics every day and eating Twix bars from the vending machine). I was sent to the doctor when I got home.
I wasn’t even doing gymnastics at a high level and it was SO ROUGH on my mental health. I started to hate Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings. (If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while, I think you could assume that my high sensitivity probably wasn’t the best fit for angry gym coaches, harsh criticism and tough gymnastics.)
A little bit before I officially quit, I remember feeling so guilty about weighing 105 pounds. I was SO embarrassed because I needed two coaches to spot me on bars. I was the heaviest girl on my team. 5’1 and 105 pounds. Everyone else weighed under 100 except me.
And do you know what happened when I left gymnastics? I gained 35 pounds and grew 6 inches almost overnight. But that’s a WHOLE OTHER BLOG POST about learning to love the body I have now.
I hope this didn’t come across as an I HATE GYMNASTICS rant. I want this to be a reminder to you that even if the entire world is telling you NO CAN’TS, NO WON’TS, NO NEVERS, you don’t have to listen. You never have to listen. You can wake up every morning and say, “YOU KNOW WHAT? TODAY, I CAN’T. TODAY, I WON’T. THAT THING YOU WANT FROM ME? YEAH, I’LL NEVER DO THAT FOR YOU.” Maybe tomorrow you can and will, but not today.
It’s okay to quit something that doesn’t feel right for you. It’s okay to quit something that doesn’t feel right for you even if it feels right for other people. You can quit sports, you can quit places, you can quit relationships—you can quit everything that isn’t serving you anymore.
YES CAN’TS. YES WON’TS. YES NEVERS. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. That’s what it should’ve said on that back wall.
I hope you’re having a healthy summer and taking care of yourself.
ps. that gymnastics studio was demolished a few years ago and is being replaced by condominiums.