Column: The things I wish I knew before I did gymnastics

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By Audrey Fisher, Sports managing editor

Gymnastics is a high impact and rigorous sport. But beyond the physical demands while
participating in the sport there comes an endless amount of long term demands, including both
mental and physical.

I started gymnastics when I was two years old. I participated in Mommy and Me classes once a
week and from that point on I was in love. My mom tried to enroll me in other sports, she knew
what gymnastics could do to the body and mind in the short term, but not the long lasting
effects. Although family members tried multiple times to pull me out and I did try other sports it
could not break my love for intense and competitive atmosphere of the gym.

Through gymnastics I learned body control, coordination, organization, self discipline, and so
much more. I have also had several mental struggles including confidence and anxiety, and
countless physical injuries including a back injury I may never fully heal from, and two
completely ruined ankles resulting in two reconstructive ankle surgeries at the age of sixteen.
I trained between five to seven days a week, while continuing to go to school and maintain two
jobs. When I was in fifth grade I left school at 2:30 to get to practice in time and when I was in
ninth grade I came only half of the regular school day and completed the rest of my academic
classes online, in order to clear out more time to practice and coach. I didn’t realize how bad
this became for me, and how such a grueling schedule managed to distance me from all of the
normal things my peers were experiencing, and slowly cause long term damage to my body as
a whole.

When I was in ninth grade I was competing as a level nine gymnast and during training before
my state competition I completed a tumbling pass and landed on a spot in the floor of the gym I
was training at that had little to no padding or wood and failed to support the impact of my body
and the floor. I remember immediately falling over, and losing feeling in my left leg. I had been
having back problems, but this was different. I layed there for what felt like hours and eventually
managed to get myself up and go home.

The next day was states. Half way through the competition I lost complete feeling in my left leg,
was unable to walk, and had shooting pain all down my back. It was the most devastating
moment in my career because I was automatically unable to finish the competition which ruined
any chance I had at making regionals and easterns.

After I recovered from that I started training at a different local gym in Frederick. After about
three or four months of training I started to experience pain and coldness in my legs that pointed
to nothing other than blood clots. After trying to push through over and over again, my body had
finally given up. To get to the root of the problem I saw dozens of specialists in the National
Children's Center in D.C. and was eventually told my body could no longer sustain gymnastics
and the toll that it caused on my body.

It seemed like I was cursed with bad luck, and it seemed as if it would never stop. Between
seeing doctors for my blood, I also was seeing doctors for my ankles, and had been getting cortisone shots and patches for over two years to try to continue gymnastics. After going in to
have them look at my ankles, the worst thing I could have been told came up. They told me and
my mom that they thought I need to have both of my ankles reconstructed. The pain in my
ankles was at a high, and there was little to nothing that they could do to fix it besides an
operation.

I got my first surgery on May 22, 2017, and my second on November 13, 2017. The entire
journey that gymnastics has put me through continues to this day even though I’ve been retired
for a little over a year now. But there is so much I wish someone would have told me before it
had gotten to this point.

I wish I knew the physical challenges gymnastics would bring into my life. I wish I knew the
mental boundaries the sport would push and I wish I knew the amount of time I wouldn’t see the
people closest to me.

The physical challenges were something no one ever warned me of. I was hurt a lot. I was in
and out of casts and physical therapy. It was really hard to go through, but the hardest part was
when I almost got blood clots because of the amount of physical challenges my body was
handling.

It started out slow. I thought I had shin splints, but the before I knew it my legs were turning blue
and I was losing circulation. I spent time in and out of the hospital but nobody could figure out
what was going on because there weren’t any real clots yet.

Finally I ended up at the National Children’s Hospital in D.C.. I saw dozens of specialists but no
one could figure out what was going on. I got used to keeping a journal of symptoms, and taking
blood on a regular basis. The only thing that all of my doctors could agree on was that I
shouldn’t be doing gymnastics anymore.

It was heartbreaking, and eventually lead me to a diagnosis that just further complicated things.
I was diagnosed with a Factor 2 and a Factor 5 blood clotting diagnosis. It was hereditary and
came from my mother's side of the family. These two meant that I was at higher risk to clotting
especially when bleeding, but what came next was the complicated part.

My third diagnosis was a Lipoprotein(a) disorder, also known as little a. Little a goes hand in
hand with your cholesterol so normally when you have a high Little a, your cholesterol is high.
This puts you at more of a risk to heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases and
problems. The problem with my cholesterol is that it is low. Because my disorder is newer to
science, they don’t have medicine that just attacks the Little a instead they chose to attack the
cholesterol instead, which effectively lowers both.

The doctor that handles my Little a disorder is top notch. She knows exactly how to help and
tells me exactly what I need. Because she is on a panel in California that handles this form of
my disorder she offered to put me on Niacin which would hopefully help my symptoms without lowering my cholesterol. The problem with the Niacin is it is not prescribed anymore because of
the side effects so on a daily basis I deal with hot flashes and headaches.

For my Factor 2 and Factor 5 disorder I see a Rheumatologist. He prescribed me to aspirin,
which is normal for blood clotting and Factor 2 and 5 disorders and is a blood thinner. It causes
no symptoms but I will take it daily for the rest of my life. Because I am more susceptible to
blood clotting after each surgery I was given blood thinning shots that I inject daily.

I still see both doctors and am on the panel in California for testing for other people with similar
medical issues. I take my medicine every day and my symptoms are slowly going away. I still
have times when they spike though, and my body can not handle extreme and long physical
workouts which meant I had to officially retire from gymnastics on December 2, 2016.

Though the physical problems were hard, it was the mental ones that had more of a long lasting
effect. Gymnastics teaches you to be perfect. Every little movement or wobble equates to a
deduction or a bonus. Everything matters, always. This wasn’t all positive. I became way to hard
on myself and I always pushed myself a little too far because of the lessons I learned in
gymnastics.

There were days that I mentally couldn’t handle it. I would break down and shut down. I didn’t
know how to handle all of the anxiety that came with it. My thoughts became clouded with ways
that I could do better all the time. I had panic attacks before meets and would beat myself up for
weeks for the minor mistakes.

Eventually, this translated into my school life. Because I spent so much time on gymnastics I let
my school work fall behind. I was loaded with homework but I wouldn’t do it. I put projects off
and often missed school.

I distanced myself so much from the regular world that eventually freshman year I only came to
school half day and I took the rest of my classes online. This cleared more time for gymnastics,
which cleared more time for work. I thought I was helping myself but in reality I was just making
it worse.

I started hating everything that wasn’t gymnastics and because I was out so late every night I
wasn’t sleeping. I became irritable and mean and lost most of my close friends that I’ve had
since childhood. This later formed a caffeine addiction in which I would sleep little to none and
only survive the day with pure black coffee.

It was really hard to go through but at the time I didn’t feel myself changing. I thought the anxiety
was normal, I thought beating myself up mentally was normal. I didn’t realize until I was pulled
away from the sport how bad it really was.

I am still a perfectionist, and I still beat myself up when I mess up. Though I don’t drink nearly as
much coffee anymore and I sleep the recommended amount. I have become closer with my friends again and made new friends. I work every day to do my homework on time and to not freak out over the small parts of life. Nearly a year after retiring, I’m still working, and I still have
my bad days but I am getting better.

Throughout all of this, I missed my family the most. I have four younger siblings and it seemed
like they grew up without me even there. I spent all my time at the gym and when I was home I
was irritable and didn’t want to talk. I missed countless family trips and dinners, often times
because I felt like I couldn’t miss gymnastics.

In the process of all of this I lost my father and my grandmother in the span of less than a year.
Gymnastics had always pulled me away from all of the small moments with them, and it made
me feel guilty as if I missed my chance to be close with them when they were here.

This is why I work every day to get along more with my siblings and spend more time with my
family. They are all very different and bright people. I spend as much time as possible with my
family and don’t miss out on trips or vacations or dinners. I don’t let the rest of my life get in the
way of being with them.

I still work everyday to overcome the challenges that gymnastics has caused. I am physically
rehabbing from surgeries and still see doctors in hope to one day be able to experience the
things that other kids my age do. I am on an uphill battle to overcome the anxiety that I feel,
teaching myself ways to cope and handle it. I put less pressure on myself to be perfect and
have realized how unrealistic that goal is. Lastly, I spend more time with my family. I cherish the
little moments and the big.

Everyday comes a new challenge and a new lesson. I have learned that I can be myself without
gymnastics and I have learned how to handle my challenges. Though it isn’t always easy, I plan
to keep fighting, and keep going because I can only go up from here.