What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word “gymnastics”?
More often than not people get a mental image of a girl doing cartwheels and handstands in a sparkly spandex suit. It goes to show how gymnastics as a sport is all too often underestimated by many.
In reality, gymnasts have extremely high levels of athleticism, even compared to other sports. In fact, because of this, gymnastics is recommended by many as the best cross-training sport for athletes in all sports because it is a total-body workout that promotes overall fitness and develops the body’s full range of motion. This is a sport where not only do you need to have great strength, you also need flexibility, balance, and coordination – and on top of all that, it has to look like it’s completely effortless! Welcome to the world of gymnastics, arguably one of the toughest sports in the world.
Despite its level of difficulty, people of all ages can take up gymnastics to develop their fitness. However, many gymnasts who later go on to become professionals start at a very young age, as gymnastics is a great outlet for children to learn to channel their energy into a sport that both disciplines and strengthens. “I was hyperactive as a child and I wanted to do cartwheels and climb walls,” shares Mikaela Sunga, a 15-year-old gymnast who has been competing in national gymnastics meets such as Palarong Pambansa and is now part of the national pool of gymnasts.
Bea Sta. Maria, who at 12 years old has been training in gymnastics for more than 6 years, actually started out playing ice hockey before enrolling in gymnastics. “I would cartwheel from the ice skating rink to the parking lot. My parents were worried that I might injure myself if I don’t do it correctly so they enrolled me in the Summer Sports Program at Club Gymnastica Pasig in 2008.” Bea was recently awarded Individual All-Around Champion in the 2014 Palarong Pambansa and placed in all her events.
Because gymnastics is rigorous and requires not only physical but mental strength and discipline, it becomes a major part of shaping the lives of young athletes. Regine Reynoso, who started with Club Gymnastica through the Milo Summer Sports Clinic in 2002, has been competing as a gymnast since the age of 5. “It shaped me into the person that I am today,” she shares. “Even at a young age, and as a child who wanted to do a lot of extracurricular activities, my passion for gymnastics pushed me to stick to it and pursue my training in order to become a better athlete.” Regine is currently a member of the seniors’ division of the national team after making it to the top ranks in the 2014 Philippine National Games.
“I love gymnastics. But, what makes me love it even more was the fact that it is the basic [unit] of all sports… I am capable of doing any other sport because my body is already conditioned,” shares Eunice Evangelista, a 17-year-old gymnast on the national team who has garnered medals for national meets such as the Philippine National Games. “As a gymnast, our bodies must be strong. So every day, we need to do strengthening and conditioning so that our bodies are capable of doing the required skills.”
The difficulty of gymnastics increases as the gymnast learns more skills in training. However, this is also what fuels their passion for the sport. “[One of the most difficult things in gymnastics is] overcoming my fear when doing difficult skills,” Mika says, “[but] I get a high when I’m able to do new skills.”
“We flip on a four inch wide ground and we have to stay on top. We have to swing and let go of the bar and catch it again. When we jump on the floor, our feet take a blow of up to 5 times our weight before bouncing right back up. We have to run and jump on a table vault and flip even before our feet touch the ground. And that’s not even half of the skills we do. These skills get scary sometimes, I admit. But, once I overcome that fear, I get this feeling of pride when I know I can say, ‘I did that skill, even though it seems almost impossible,’” shares Eunice.
A gymnast should not only be willing to work hard. Being a gymnast commands a large amount of courage, and more importantly, the will to keep going. For Erin Evangelista, who at 13 was the lone representative of the Philippines in the junior division in one of the most prestigious international meets, the Pacific Rim Championships held in Canada last April 2014, this is the number one lesson she has learned from gymnastics. “The most important thing I learned from gymnastics is to never give up. I learned that even if times get really tough… you should just try your best and never stop.”
Inspired by her older sister Eunice, she shares, “When I was 7, I broke my arm playing around the bars before training and decided to quit. My sister told me not to quit because she, together with my coaches, parents and friends believe that I’m good and that I would just be wasting talent if I did quit.”
No matter how talented and how hardworking a gymnast might be, it takes a great support system to keep them going during tough times. “My parents, my coaches and my co-gymnasts were the ones who inspired me all throughout my Gymnastics career. They were the ones who were always there to cheer me on during the times that I’d feel like giving up already,” shares Regine, who represented the country in the ASEAN Schools Games.
For Bea, inspiration also comes from some of the greatest gymnasts in the world. “Kerri Strug is an inspiration to me. She was part of USA’s Magnificent Seven. During the competition, the team was lagging behind because they did not do well on the vault. Her second vault was the only chance for the USA to win. Even with an injury, she gave her best and landed her second vault on one foot, giving USA their first team Olympic gold.”
At the end of the day, gymnastics is about so much more than just physical prowess and discipline. “After every fall, I learned to stand up and I didn’t let any obstacle get in the way of my dream,” shares Eunice. Regine says, “I learned that it’s not all about your title, the number of medals you receive, or your level. It’s all about the knowledge and values that you earn; and the friends and the people that you inspire.”