So, I’m no ordinary therapist. I was once a gymnast under the now famous coach, Al Fong. Al has had several women compete in the Olympics and was there, waiting out the COVID time with his gymnasts Kara Eaker and Leanne Wong, until recently.
Gymnastics is an interesting sport. It’s focused on “perfection” but is impossible to do without a team. You learn tricks together, you struggle through conditioning, you compete, you cry, you laugh, you fight. You are together all. The. Time.
I saw my gymnastics “family” more than I saw my own family. They felt like sisters. Our head coach felt more like a dad than my own because I saw him for four hours, six days a week. He yelled at us, supported us, laughed with us, and was a very positive role model in my life.
As a psychologist now, I think back on those six extremely formative years in my life. I had a very bad fall during a trick on bars that knocked me out and changed the course of my physical and gymnastics career. I still suffer from the fall and have to have chiropractic care and stretch it on a daily basis.
I was NEVER meant for the Olympics. I didn’t have the drive to do it. I recall having that conversation with my coach:
Al: “Genie, do you see yourself as going to the Olympics?”
Me: “uhh…(getting sick to my stomach)…no. I don’t want to work that hard.”
Al: “Ok, I am looking to form my international team. Let me know if you change your mind.”
I knew as a 12-year-old that going that far was going to be so hard. So much work. So much sacrifice. I didn’t want to do that. I wasn’t made to be an Olympian, and I definitely made the right choice for myself.
What people don’t see when they watch the Olympics is the day-in, day-out process. It’s grueling. Rips, tears in your hands, bruises on your body from falling off beam, missing the bar, and twisting your ankles. Gymnastics is a BRUTAL sport. And more than being physical, it’s mental. You have to rehearse routines physically as well as mentally. Over. And over. And over. And over.
And so, if you aren’t in a good head space, and are at the Olympic level, it can be deadly.
Simone, I was never in your league. I applaud your perseverance and your dedication. However, if you needed to stop, pull out of that competition, and take care of yourself, BRAVO. It doesn’t matter the reason. You have just shown the world that you as a person are far more important than what you do. You have just shown the world that having boundaries – which protect yourself as much as the other person – is the key to being a leader, a role model, and a CHAMPION.
I will use your example to support my clients that struggle with eating disorders and trauma. In therapy, we teach our clients to have a voice. You have just shown the world how to have a voice. A voice that protects, perseveres, and says, “no, not today.”
Bravo, lady, bravo. I stand and applaud you.
Dr. Genie Burnett