Identity MAG

By Kayla S., Reno, NV

     Until a month ago, if you had asked who I was, I would have told you proudly, “I’m Kayla, and I’m a gymnast.” Gymnastics was my life, the core of my being, my identity. And I gave it up.

Gymnastics clubs have a certain atmosphere about them. Chalk dust reigns supreme, floating in the air, coming to rest on skin and in lungs. I can still remember the sensation of the air: dusty, dry, and tasting a bit like, well, chalk. But it’s more than that. Gyms have an air of intensity. Gymnasts know what they’re doing, they know how much work they’ll have to put in, and are willing to offer themselves body and mind to it. This mentality permeates the sport. Even the sound that fills gyms is intense: the rhythmic thump-thump of tumbling, punctuated by the occasional dismount from beam or bars. The sound is like music to me, a rhythm and melody all its own.

I love gymnastics. I love the feeling of flying through the air, of seeing the world from upside down, of knowing the awe that you poor ground-bound people feel when you watch. I love the emotions - the thrill of trying something new and scary, the joy when I hit a move perfectly, even the pain when I miss a skill but don’t give up. And most of all, I love knowing that I alone can do it, that, while I may not be the best (not even close), it is my mind, my body, my willpower that is behind whatever I accomplish.

From the moment I saw the amazing U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in 1996, I knew gymnastics was what I wanted to do. Working up from once-a-week gymnastics classes at the age of five, I made it to the level of an optional gymnast, spending as many as 20 hours a week in the gym. Needless to say, I didn’t have much spare time. Yet when I came home from gym every day, chalk dusting my hair and skin, I was happy. True, I would almost always be hurting, but I would be sleepily proud of myself.

And gymnastics does hurt. I was always in pain, whether from the rigors of the repetitive impact on my body, blisters and rips on my hands from the chalky wooden bars, or sore, screaming muscles. But gymnastics is about learning to ignore pain, and I had become an expert at it.

At least, I thought I was. Then my back began to hurt. I didn’t give it a second thought, at first, because pain was something I expected. But it continued, got worse, until one day I was unable to tumble and could barely stand up without crying. My team was due to leave the following day for a competition, and my coach pressed, “Can’t you do just one routine?”

I shook my head, holding back tears.

“Do you want to compete tomorrow?”

I nodded slowly. I knew what was coming.

“Then you are going to do this


Gymnastics coaches are not known for sympathy, so I did the routine, biting my lip to try to ignore the throbbing in my back. At the end of the music, and thus my routine, I fell to the floor and burst into tears. I had to be carried out of the gym - in too much pain to walk. Knowing what back injuries can mean, I thought my gymnastics career might be over forever.

I spent a year in physical therapy and out of competition. Finally pain-free, I jumped back into full workouts, trying to make up for lost time. I managed to catch up with my teammates and compete that season. But gymnastics didn’t make me as happy as it once had. I rubbed under the rein of my strict coaches, and gym just didn’t seem to be worth quite as much time as it once had. But I still loved gymnastics, and it was the focus of my life. The next summer I was training for the next level, hoping by gaining new skills to be able to advance, when my back started to hurt again. I went back to therapy, not backing off gymnastics, not wanting to lose ground. While my friends were basking in the summer sun, I spent my time in the chalk haze of the gym. By the end of vacation, I was asking myself, Is this really worth it? As much as I loved gymnastics, I had other interests and gymnastics didn’t leave any time.

With the start of school came homework, increased gym workouts, and exhaustion. On the first day of school, I reminded myself that gym was my life, my home, my passion. But I was ready to stop ignoring my pain and doing damage to my body. I didn’t want to hurt at the end of every day. Trying to find the balance between workouts, homework, and sleep, I realized I wanted to do everything other high school students do because they don’t spend four hours a day at the gym.

I wanted to have other passions.

That day, I stopped going to gymnastics.

I can’t pretend I won’t miss it: my home, my life, my obsession. I can’t pretend I won’t miss my teammates, or my skills, or my ability to fly. But it’s time for me to let go.

I’m Kayla Sheridan, and I’m a


Can I really give up my identity?

I’m Kayla, and I am me.

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This article has 3 comments.

kgirlscores said...
on Feb. 12 2015 at 10:24 pm
Liked this a lot. Very intriguing and made me want to keep reading.

on Feb. 12 2015 at 6:04 pm
bewareofbunnyrabbits SILVER, Winona, Minnesota
8 articles 0 photos 86 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Empty yourself and let the universe fill you." -Yogi Tea

Wow, this is very well written. It was brave of you to make that choice, good for you :)

on Sep. 8 2014 at 5:05 pm
TargonTheDragon GOLD, Ofallon, Missouri
15 articles 16 photos 292 comments

Favorite Quote:
First dentistry was painless.
Then bicycles were chainless,
Carriages were horseless,
And many laws enforceless.

Next cookery was fireless,
Telegraphy was wireless,
Cigars were nicotineless,
And coffee caffeineless.

Soon oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
The college boy was hatless,
The proper diet fatless.

New motor roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
Our new religion — godless.

So last week I get this assignment to write a critical personal narrative about my "identity." I am a chronic procrastinator, so I begin working on it today. As I sit on my bed reading my syllabus on this particular assignment, my eyes hover over the word "identity". I go to Google to find the definition. as with most deep words like that, the literal definition doesn't help me narrow down what "identity" means to me. so I decide the next best place to look is TI, because there are teens my age or around my age who are looking for the same or have already posted similar articles on this. Your essay is what popped up first. I just wanted to say that basically I went through something very similar to what you did. "my name is Addison Eaker, and I am a fencer." As with you, I began fencing young (though young for me was freshman year). I was bit bad. I loved fencing and everything to do with it. Soon I was fencing competitively. I earned my E rank (a national rank) when I was a sophomore. I competed in the Summer Fencing Nationals in my junior year. I began dateing a girl who fenced with me. It seemed that quite alot of my life revolved around fencing. Im not quite sure how it happened, but one day I just began to care a little less about fencing. I was interested in what college i wanted to go to, and i wanted to work some more (because extra money is always a plus) and  i wanted to pursue some of my other, more intense interests, such as animation. I began to miss practices, and i seemed less interested in tournaments. My friends saw what was happening, and tried to pull me back in. The girl i was dateing, well, during the summer before we would both go off to college we broke up (thankfully it was something we both were prepared for and didnt particularly blame each other for). Somehow, fencing just slipped out of my life. Im not sure i didnt want it to though. Now my life is just a mess of homework, work, and struggleing to find this "identity" of myself. I hope you had better luck at keeping your priortities straight after you quit gymnastics.   All the same, thanks for writing this, it has helped me a little with this personal narrative i need to tackle.  

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