A Day in the Life of a College Gymnast

Rachel Filipski is a junior and a member of SUNY Cortland’s Women’s Gymnastics team.

Gymnastics is unlike any other sport. After 14 years with it, you would think that competing would get easier.

You’d be wrong.

Every competition season brings new mental blocks, injuries, teammates, and skills. Meet days in college are bittersweet. All of the fans, pounds of make-up, glitter, locker room jam sessions, and pretty leotards give me an indescribable feeling of joy. While at the same time, nerves, pressure from coaches, judges, scores, and other teams, create a pit of anxiety in my stomach.

Before college, all I cared about was the score I would get after the routine is over. Now? What I wish for is to get through the routine the best I can, and the score will come as it is.

Also, I would like for my body to not feel like an 80-year-old woman.

Let me take you through a typical competition. The first thing I think when I wake up is “I have a meet today,” and then, “but I get to see my family.”

I am the most self-conscious person to ever walk the earth. Having to wear a tiny red leotard in front of people I go to school with is more terrifying than doing the routine. If we do not have even our hair done perfectly, the judges deduct from our score.

Isn’t that nice? Being judged on our appearance for a sport. This is not a beauty contest.

Back to the meet. Once I get ready, I make my way to Park Center.

When you tumble, your joints take a pounding that is twice your bodyweight. After so many years of pounding, visiting the training room on meet day is a must. This is when the mental routines start. The words “snap, push, pull, head in, squeeze” mean nothing to anybody else, but those words are what get me through one vault.

The pit in my stomach grows as it gets closer to meet time. I make my way to the locker room to put on my leotard (I assure you, they are not the most comfortable things to wear for a full day). My teammates are all in the same boat I am, so venting with them beforehand makes the pit shrink a little.

When warm-up starts, the fun begins. The looks on the Ithaca gymnasts’ faces say, “we beat you two weeks ago, but you scored a 190 last week.” Our warmup playlist is made to distract us from the pressures of meet day. Dancing and singing definitely help. I cannot tell you one thing my coach told me during warm-up. I have taught myself to tune it out. I just do what I know how to do, that way I can’t freak myself out.

Once the warm-up is done, I think to myself, “okay now I just have to do all of that one more time.”

That’s all we get, one chance. You don’t get more shifts to try again.

Before we march out to the meet, the team conducts something similar to a cheerleading competition. We line up in the hallway and scream at the top of our lungs about how confident we are. In reality, my stomach is turning violently.

The event rotation is set up so that my events are first and last. In other words, I’m uneasy the whole two hours.

I do my vault and get my 9.725. Now I wait and scream for my teammates, who I would do anything for.

I step up to do my floor routine. At this point, my stomach feels like I have to go to the bathroom or vomit or do anything but tumble. In the middle of the performance I think to myself, “I’m fine, just relax.”

I finish and score a 9.725.

It isn’t until you finish your job that you realize how much fun you actually had. I run to the stands to hug my proud family and my boyfriend. This makes the whole day worth it. Nothing else matters.

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