Beijing 2008


Here’s one for the mothers and fathers of daughters. Being somewhat bedridden for the last few days, I have watched an unprecedented number of hours of Olympic coverage, staying up until ungodly hours to watch the girl’s women’s gymnastics competition. Even if I wasn’t recovering from surgery, I would have burned the midnight oil. Because for 15 years of my life, I was a competitive gymnast. I was never near Olympic caliber, but the sport truly defined me as a person. It still does.

University of Pennsylvania 1988

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So if you have one of those high energy daughters for whom you are considering Ritalin, try gymnastics first. If she excels and loves it, commit yourself to supporting her. Here’s why:

Intelligence - I remember my first team coach telling me when I was 9 years old that you will never meet a “dumb gymnast”. And in my experience, she was correct. Your brain works in so many ways when you are flinging yourself through the air. Stop thinking and you start wiping out. You get smart fast.

Commitment - If you start early with an appreciation for perfection, it will never leave you. This sense of commitment got me into college, helped me land my first job, start a career, raise a family, earn a black belt in karate … and prevents me from delegating even the tiniest of tasks to anyone else on a regular basis. (seriously – its mostly a good thing)

Friendships – Serious gymnastics is not unlike a secret club with very few members. When you meet another gymnast, even years after you have retired, you share a bond and probably a few knee surgeries. And those who you share a gym with become your closest friends. Ask any gymnast from the 1980s to perform the Class III compulsory floor routine for you. We will all remember it to the last pointed toe. And will probably perform it for you. Its freaky.

Self-esteem – Granted, I was somewhat of a show-off in the first place, but if you can do a standing back flip at birthday parties you wind up being kinda special.

But a few things you should know:

It only gets harder – After the age of, uh… 12, gymnastics begins to get exponentially more difficult. Yes, your body changes and most humans do not remain under five feet tall forever. But more importantly, you begin to get wise to the fact that “I could really kill myself doing this trick.” Fear is your worst enemy.

Your kid can’t do much else – Girls who do gymnastics and basketball and lacrosse are gymnast posers. There is no gymnastics “season” – it’s all the time. As a child I was not allowed (by the coaches) to do any other sport – especially skiing. They didn’t want us getting hurt on the slopes – they preferred it happened in the gym. Musical instruments were okay as long as it didn’t interfere with practice. And whatever you do — puhlease, no dual major in cheer leading.

Don’t be the Gym Mom or Dad - The whole world might think its sweet that Nastia Liukin’s father is her coach but I think it’s creepy. And I call bulls-t on anyone who claims that he is the “coach” in the gym and the “dad” at home. Whether you are Olympic material or just starting out, you need your parents to be there for you and tell you that you are great when you screw up. That is your only job aside from carpools to the gym and working the snack bar at the meets.

And one last thing. Despite years of training and countless hours in the gym, I still have no clue as to 85 percent of what Bela Karoly is saying to Bob Costas. Do not ever hand your child over to a man who gets that excited about anything. As my kids would say, “that’s just wrong.”

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