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Mom Talk: Leaving a Sport That Defines You

Written by

Nina Max Daly

Photography by

Photograph via Liveabout

In today’s Mom Talk essay, Boston-based mother of two Nina Max Daly shares her unexpected grief after an injury forces her gymnast daughter to finally leave the sport she loves.

I have a picture of Rose when she was 4 or maybe 5, in her tiny leo. Leo, that’s what gymnasts call a leotard.

I know that now, like I know what a kip and a giant and a layout are, because gymnastics has woven itself into the very fabric of who my daughter is.

Rose had to give up her sport a few weeks ago. Her back pain had come back the previous week but she didn’t tell me, because she knew what it meant.

Her body is telling her to stop. She had an L5 vertebrae stress fracture at the end of last summer. Some kids recover, and some kids just keep having back trouble over and over. For Rose, it seems to be the latter.

I always thought I might be relieved if she ever stopped. I barely remember the time before I spent my weeknights driving back and forth to the gym. Before I spent winter weekends sitting in bleachers with an elevated heart rate, watching incredible girls do seemingly impossible things.

Instead of feeling relieved, I feel grief.

I didn’t anticipate the way my stomach would drop when I went to put one of her leotards in the washer, and the feeling in my chest when I zipped up her gym bag and realized we won’t be needing it anymore.

When she was injured the first time, people asked why I didn’t insist she quit. “A back is forever,” they said. A point well taken, until you see your 11-year-old with a broken heart, because she can’t do the thing she feels defines her.

She can barely remember life before gymnastics.

This thing that has become such a huge part of who she is, is no longer part of her life. The community she has at the gym, her teammates and coaches, who worked so hard together, for so many hours every damn week, year-round, year after year—it’s gone now.

In seven years, there were maybe three times when she said she didn’t feel like going. She was okay with progressing at her own pace even when her teammates surpassed her. She was okay with not winning. She just wanted to be in that gym, where she was so comfortable, among her people, doing the thing she loved the most. She was tenacious and resilient.

She is.

I’ve heard the expression “once a gymnast, always a gymnast” and I’m kind of starting to get that now. Gymnastics is not a long-term sport (unless you’re Oksana Chusovitina), but it teaches some forever life-skills.

Rose has learned to be tough and resilient. To be part of a team and a community. To train harder than most adults. To manage time, expectations, and nerves. To face defeat and keep going. To succeed with grace. To push herself out of her comfort zone and overcome fear.

Though she’ll no longer be tumbling, balancing, and swinging, because of gymnastics she’s already got more coping skills than your average adult.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Rose officially stopped, and she is doing okay. She says she might want to join a rock climbing team. She does NOT want to do dance.

For now, she’s enjoying being a normal 11-year-old and relishing the first summer she’s had “free” for as long as she can remember.

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  1. india says...

    Have you looked into pilates for Rose? Obviously I don’t know the whole situation but pilates can do amazing things for your body. Even if it doesn’t get her back into gymnastics it would probably helpful long term to keep her strong and healthy

  2. Jennifer says...

    My daughter spent 8 years at gymnastics. Reached level 7. Came back from an injury that took her out for 6 months, and finally quit about 2 months ago. She joined her high school cheer team and I’m so thankful I still get to see her tumble. But, I will miss watching her defy gravity on bars…..and stun me with her jumps and leaps on a slim piece of wood that only allows one foot to be on it at a time. It finally hit me today that it’s over. I won’t see her accomplish new skills on bars, beam or vault. It’s bittersweet. The gym was our life with me even helping the owner and working the front desk from time to time when they were in between employees. Im shocked at how gutting it is accepting the end of the past 8 years. I never expected it to hit me this hard and fight feeling like an idiot now that it has. Reading your thoughts and feelings has helped me realize I get to feel these feelings. I have every right to mourn the end of this sport even though it wasn’t me performing. I wasn’t the athlete, but I was the support system, the fan in the stands cheering her on and having my breath taken away when she would perform perfectly at competition and crying with her when she didn’t. Driving her everyday to gym and even putting her brothers in gym because it took up so much of our lives. It wasn’t my decision to make to leave and it wasn’t my body having to go through the pain and intense training. It was however my heart that was there and now taken out. So, I will allow myself to feel the sadness and wash over me. Eventually it will be a beautiful memory.

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