When I look back at my younger self throwing back handsprings and cartwheels in the gym, I see a little girl that was never apprehensive; she lived fearlessly.
I felt that it was possible to achieve anything I set my mind to; I never backed down from the countless battles I had to encounter. Gaining confidence in unfamiliar skills was my main focus, and not making any progress was the only fear I held.
All I can remember is the whiff of bar chalk I would receive in my face every so often and the rips that once formed on my dainty, baby-sized hands from swinging on the bar for so long. Little did I know, those unpleasant, agonizing rips would turn into calluses, and the focus would be overcoming jitters and countless mental blocks of being a flyer. My worries for what could happen began to set in during cheerleading.
One of my biggest fears—lack of progress—was now my reality.
As weeks go by, I display little growth or sometimes not any at all. I hold more hesitation and uncertainty in cheerleading than I did in gymnastics. I am no longer in control of where my body lands or how long it stays in the air; this feeling makes me panic.
My whole life, I’ve had control over every skill I’ve thrown, and I got to choose the outcome—until cheer.
Now, I am struggling because others have to catch me. Even though I know my bases will be there to grab me if I collapse, the thought of me falling flat on my back onto the solid cheer mat that covers the gym floor always hovers over me. This scenario runs through my head more often than not and tends to sit there—waiting for me to crack mentally. There is always a constant voice telling me I can’t do it, and it’s giving me more doubt.
When I did gymnastics, I had the reassurance of a spongy, soft mat being there to capture my fall and a pit full of endless foam blocks which was more reassuring than hands hitting your rib cage or face on the way down. Don’t get me wrong, all sports have their hardships, but they’re all different. The main struggles I faced in gymnastics were maintaining a tighter body and timing my skills. All in all, I had hardly faced mental blocks, and it was just me and the apparatus I was competing on.
As I started adapting to the team aspect of cheerleading, I found myself having a hard time. Honestly, I was not a fan. Gymnastics is a team sport but focuses more on individuality because there’s only one athlete competing per event. Every gymnast gets an individual score, and the top scores from each team contribute to the team’s all-around score. In a way, you are helping the team while working on improving your scores.
Cheerleading shows more of the team aspect, seeing as multiple girls are performing in all three rounds. Every motion composed must be precise and done promptly, and being on time with everyone else is crucial. Along with this, moving with a purpose is mandatory—this includes tight hand placements and motions. From the beginning, I knew that was not going to be my forte, but it was unavoidable.
While I occasionally continue to struggle with the placement of motions, I fall stunt after stunt and slowly lose faith. I constantly think negative thoughts which only throws me off. Every time I fall, it makes me feel powerless, especially when I’m the only one having an off day.
My progress is nonexistent, and my motivation is not far behind. I didn’t know what it felt like to avoid an event in gymnastics; I was always on good terms with every apparatus, but now, I know because I get that feeling with flying—it’s a love-hate relationship. Although I have had many mental struggles with this sport, I can say that it has given me one of the most important lessons of my life.
One of my biggest takeaways from this sport is learning how to trust others.
Holding trust in my teammates is key. When a person catches my body after every stunt, I may not realize it, but more trust is getting put into that person because I know they’ll be there when I fall. Aside from this, cheer has been a tremendous learning experience for me; I have overcome so much. Although I am still struggling with not being able to have full control over where my body lands, I am starting to adapt.
Oftentimes, I wonder if the stress and tension between me and cheer will ever go away. Recently, I have found that the only thing I can do to feel in control is to accept that I can’t always be. At least I get to decide that. Accepting this situation has helped me bloom in ways I never thought I would, and I am looking forward to how much growth is yet to come.