Upcoming Episodes: You Trained on What? and Craziest Meet Stories
We're going to record a new episode discussing the "you trained on what?" and "craziest meet stories" and would love to hear from you. Can't wait to hear your stories.
Growing up, I trained at a YMCA through level 9. It was a small space. First off, two sides of the floor were against walls. The floor was a foam block floor, which I didn't mind training on. However, when we competed on spring floors I felt out of control. Secondly, we vaulted into a corner off of a 60-foot runway. The fact that I did tsuks there gives me so much anxiety now. It was incredibly dangerous. But the most notable aspect of this gym was that there was not enough room for the beams. Instead, the beams were put in a raquetball court. There were three high beams across one half and two low beams and a dismount mat on the other half. You could literally touch the wall if you were using four out of the five beams. The middle high beam was coveted, because you weren't next to a wall, and you could dismount. I competed a standing full dismount as a level 9, because anything else was too sketchy to train.
As for meet stories, my first one is more embarrassing than crazy. I was competing at a meet that was held in a club gym. The landing for bars was a mat on top of an inground resi pit. I had a good routine and was finishing up with a toe front dismount (because fly aways are scary). When I landed, I rebounded forward due to the bounciness from the resi. I did a full dive roll out of the bounce and rolled right into the judges table for beam, knocking it over completely WHILE A GYMNAST WAS COMPETING ON BEAM. It was so mortifying, and I did not want to compete on beam after that.
Also, one time we were setting up for a gymnastics meet at this Y, and we had to move the bars, vault, and beam down to the basketball court from the second floor. From the second floor, there was an entrance to a track that circled around above the court. For some of the mats and soft things, it was easy to just throw them from the track over the railing to the court below. Many parents were there to help. One of the parents asked how to get the vault table down there, and a coach jokingly said, "Just throw it over the railing." And wouldn't you believe it, two dads did exactly that. Luckily it was just the top of the table without the legs attached, but everyone was in complete disbelief. The table survived with no damage, but I still think about how stupid this was.
For a time frame reference, I was born in 1990.
I have more to add! I recently talked to someone who also trained at this YMCA. She reminded me that there was only 6 feet from the low bar to the wall for both sets of bars. Behind one set of bars, there were double doors that led to a closet. When one of the gymnasts went on bars and did her shoot over transition from high to low bar, they would open the double doors in case she might miss the bar or need the extra room.
At the very beginning of my competitive years:
I, too, had the horsehair mats. They were used more on the ends of equipment, like to cover the beam base which wasn't the Y shape we know today.
We had 1 Nissan folding landing mat, and one "crash pad" that couldn't be used in meets.
We had spongey foam mats that were covered in red vinyl. I think they were 2 inchers.
For floor, we had at 40 x 40 space lined out with yellow tape done with spaces in between, like this; ------ Then, we had panel mats placed in an X. That's where we did tumbling with handsprings and somies. We were allowed to move the aforementioned red mats as needed. I had one on the concrete placed for my back extention.
My first year competing was on a wooden beam. My second year was on a naugahyde beam. Eventually suede beams started appearing.
We happened to have a long carpet remnant for a runway, but at most other gyms there was no runway, we just ran on the floor.
The older girls used the rosin box, much like a chalk tray on the floor for vault and beam. I didn't because I was little, and it looked like stepping on and crunching rocks.
I have 2 crazy meet stories. Maybe not so crazy, but more in the "you trained/competed on what?" category.
1) I was competing in some very small gym somewhere, it obviously used to be a basketball gym, but like, for small children. The gym was so tiny that there was literally no space to seat parents or spectators. I imagine my parents were relieved and found some bar nearby... Anyway, the landing mat for the vault was right up against some double doors leading outside into a courtyard. Random people would poke their heads in and try to walk into the gym straight onto the mats, ugh. So I go for my blind-landing vault and SUUUUUPER over-rotate and literally run out the doors into the courtyard. I had to walk back in the building to salute the judges. I remember wondering how many tenths they took for all my steps.
2) This is just a classic klutzy gymnast story, simultaneously my most and least proud moment at a competition. Somehow I got to compete on podium exactly once in my gymnastics career even though I wasn't good and didn't go to a fancy gym. I think it was an invitational for club kids in the morning and a fancy meet in the evening? Who knows. Anyway, I do my bar routine, it goes great, I stick my landing like the gold medalist I always dreamed I'd be. Then, while I was walking off the podium I tripped over the bar cable, broke 2 toes, and crashed face first off the podium. Classic gymnast. But I did place 2nd on bars!
Also, the tramp I trained on was 4 feet in the air and didn't have any safety netting around the edges. I never personally fell off, but when I was a teen coaching the pre-team littles to pay for my own tuition, a kid bounced right off the side of the trampoline onto the vault runway. She was fine, little kids are bouncy.
I have a few crazy meet stories. The first one is from when I competed in high school gymnastics. My first 2 years were with a local club coach and went great! Unfortunately, that coach decided to move and he warned me I was not going to have a good time when the new coach came in who was the mom of one of my teammates and coached at the local YMCA. I spent the next season being basically bullied by an adult and ended up getting hurt at the state meet and her response was basically, “what do you want me to do?” Mid meet and continued to snark me while I tried to push through the rest of the events. I almost caused a full melt down from the staff because I left a blood trail from my toe down the entire beam that couldn’t be cleaned enough to be deemed safe for the next team to compete… my coach didn’t care. I ended up needing to have my parents take me to the er for x-rays on my foot. My coach was upset I left for the the hospital instead of staying for the awards we clearly weren’t going to win. Afterwards while taking me back to the team hotel, my parents advised me I should tell my coach I was back from the hospital as I was technically in her care from the school. I knock on her hotel room door and she opens it clearly drunk with the other female assistant coach. One of them had a black eye and they were giggling about how they had a fight earlier and were so confused about why I came to talk to them. I decided to leave high school gymnastics and go back to competing club at level 9. During the next year the same judges that had judged my high school meets approached my club coaches and revealed that they had been forced to fix scores in favor of the coaches daughter, mainly against me. Our first year in high school I could only score better than her on vault, and then as I progressed it became all events except floor bc that was the other girls favorite. Apparently these judges coached at the YMCA with my high school coach and got screamed at and punished if they scored me higher during a meet. This was about 15 years ago and yes she is still the coach at that school.
My second crazy meet story occurred during our vault warmup at a club level 8 or 9 meet. There were 2 vaulting tables that were parallel but facing opposite directions. The girl after me had a miscommunication with her coach about whether or not she was doing a tsuk timer or a flip while he was standing in spotting her. I don’t remember who was in the wrong, but she landed directly on her neck and didn’t move. Emts immediately came to assess her following all protocols. Of course apparently delaying this inconsequential meet by 10 minutes wasn’t an option in this meet directors mind, so they just moved us to the other vault to start competing while this girl was getting treated less than 3 feet from where we were starting our vault runs. It was so close the emts couldn’t even have their feet overhang the mat or we couldn’t have run without tripping. I was competing a piked tsuk and obviously as a teenager was a bit unnerved about doing the very vault another girl was hurt on while she was being spine boarded less than 3 feet from me. Needless to say, when people ask me how I handle stress so well I think back to this moment. Of course I couldn’t tell this story to anyone who isn’t deep in gymnastics culture because they think you grew up in an insane environment that isn’t possible in “modern” times. What other sport would just keep playing around someone with a serious neck injury. She ended up fracturing a bone in her neck but she got all movement back over the next week while in the hospital.
My first rec class was at a small YMCA. Probably not the craziest thing you've heard, but I'm still traumatized. I was 7 or 8 and the tramp they had was one of those small circular "exercise trampolines" that people used to have in their houses.
I remember doing seat drops, donkey kicks on it, things like that. But also they made us do belly drops on this tramp that any child would clearly be too big for. It was terrifying. The springs hurt, the tramp hurt. This was not a safe situation.
I wasn't there long, and thankfully transferred to an actual gymnastics facility---but that was definitely traumatizing.
Like many other kids growing up gymnastics-crazy, I had a makeshift balance beam (I remember being inspired by the low practice beam "A Very Young Gymnast" Torrance York had in her bedroom!) --it was a construction beam covered in carpet. What makes my beam a little more unusual is that I grew up in a newspaper family--my parents started the weekly local newspaper in our small rural Massachusetts town when I was 3 years old and they were just out of college. Our house was a constant chaotic hum of newspaper work, with the staff coming in and out at all hours, the editors and reporters meeting around the kitchen counter, strips of typeset print laid out all across the living room floor and in the basement, rubber cement and other 1970s newspaper production essentials everywhere. I went to sleep to the sound of my dad setting type on the huge blue IBM CompuServe computer that dominated our living room. In the middle of this hectic scene, I obsessively practiced my back walkovers and handstands on my acoustic balance beam, determined to be a champion gymnast in spite of the total indifference of my journalist parents.
I was really lucky that we ran that paper, though, because since my parents weren't able or willing to pay for my team training at the gymnastics club, we were able to barter free advertising in exchange.
(P.S. It wasn't until I left the sport at age 17 and became a professional flying trapeze artist in France that my parents finally took any interest in my acrobatic ability--because THEN, it became a "good story." Jessica and Spencer, I would love to come on the podcast sometime and talk about what transitioning into a circus career was like for this ex-gymnast!)
As a beginning level competitive gymnast in the early 1970s, our team went to compete at Gleason's--in an old movie theater in Minneapolis. For floor exercise, we spread out old horse-hair mats for our tumbling. My teammate did a backward roll on one of the mats (I said we were beginners!). She landed on her knees and just stayed there, crying. We thought she was hurt, but how do you get hurt on a backward roll? It turned out her hair was wrapped around a button on the horse-hair mat and she was stuck. A coach had to spend significant time unwinding her hair and helping her get up.
Photo attached of the movie theater.
I grew up on Cape Cod...I am going to date myself here. I started gymnastics in 1976. My parents were not into it so I mowed lawns to pay for lessons. There were 2 options on the cape at the time. The better gym was "too far" but I was down with anything. The 'gym' and I use the term lightly, had suspended ceiling and the pieces of the ceiling had been taken out over the high bar so you would not hit your head. The bars were probably mens P bars at different heights but I don't remember because I was a little kid. There was one wooden high beam. There might have been a low beam, I don't really remember. There was no Floor really just those old Nissan blue and tan mats and some grey ones that were tufted. But the 'vault' It actually was not a vault. They called it a sweedish horse. It was made out of plywood and, obviously, even to 10 year old me, was home made and had been covered with a pad and leather. They made it higher (And i can feel Jessica fainting over this one) by stacking it onto of another home made plywood piece. It was kid of like a rectangular rectangle. If the bottom piece was under the top piece (the pieces just sat on top pf each other, they were not actually attached) when you went over it the whole thing kind of rocked
They moved to a bigger space, still no actual floor, real bars, a real horse, a covered beam and a low beam. I competed for my HS, one set of bars, one bean, one horse, no runway and not really a wrestling mat but it was a one piece thing we had to pull out everyday. NO high schools had spring floors
I also completed division III in college. We had the same floor as my HS, one set of bars, one horse a paper thin runway, TWO high beams, no low beams, No tumble tramp, no pit, no spring floor. We had 1 12 inch mat and plenty of 4 inchers. ONCE in 4 years we got the mat they used for the high jumps to use. ONCE in 4 years we got to use the trampoline which was typically reserved for the divers. Yep it was the chuck a skill era. They way you can train now is SO much better and safer.
There were only a few schools we competed against who had spring floors. One college competed in a very small gym. Picture your elementary school gym with a stage. Yes it had a stage. To vault you had to go into the hall, run across a stack of mats level with the height of their spring floor, run across the floor and go over the horse which was on the opposite side of the floor.......and hope you didn't smack into the stage. LOL Good times. The sad thing is of all the schools I competed against as a college athlete only on school still has a team. There are lots of other schools now that have DIII teams that did not before and tons more DI schools with teams creating more opportunities for athletes so that is good.
Thanks for the podcast. Its a little bit of sunshine in my life. I do long distance triathlons now and I save the podcasts for my long bike rides when I am able to ride on a closed trail; as in a trail closed to cars....so I don't get squished after surviving gymnastics in the 80s 🙂 Love you guys
Here’s a list of various equipment monstrosities that occurred while doing HS gymnastics in the 90’s
- we tumbled on wresting mats. Our practice started right after wresting practice and we’d have to clean all the sweat, snot, blood, and god only knows what all fluids off of them. Once and a while you’d step, roll, or otherwise encounter a wet spot at which point you’d want to vomit and get a rabies-tetanus booster asap.
- the floof was made up of 3 wrestling mats that were very tenuously pushed together. It was common for toes or fingers to snag between the mats, or even part of your foot (bye ankle! It was nice knowing ya!).
- all the equipment was typically a wreck. The 4” mats for landing and dismounting would have a 3” dead zone in the landing zone, so we’d be basically landing on the concrete below.
- all meet setups were temporary. So there either was no vault runway and you were running on a slippery basketball court or concrete floor. More than once the audience had to walk across the runway to get to the viewing area, leaving rain puddles and snow and other debris on the runway. or if there was a runway pad it was taped down with a single piece of packing tape so it would move or come loose while you were vaulting.
- the bars were men’s p-bars, which at the time (and May still be) squished ovals which were impossible to hold onto and even harder to swing around. Hey, do you know what p-bars don’t have? Tension cables, or as the engineer I am refers to as structural points to prevent the bars from moving all over the place or even falling over. There were multiple times I just made up a new bar routine based on the available equipment
- speaking of structural integrity, since none of the meet or practice equipment was ever in any permanent location, it was often only held down by nothing other than it’s own mass. The bars moved and rocked. The beam moved. The vault horse would rock when you hit it. Vault board would slide forward when you hit it. The mats would slide when you landed.
- there was a singular mat under the beam. If you opted for a fall more dramatic than a little boop straight down you would have an up close and personal encounter with a very hard surface.
- at one gym they had a 4ft square recess above the high bar to make the ceiling high enough do do a giant. As long as you were in the middle of the bar anyway.
- my freshman year in HS my coach who had apparently never been introduced to math, took me off beam at the district championship because I had fallen (for the first time all season) and only gotten an 8. I still won beam with this egregious score. And the all around. The girl he replaced me with got a 0.5 because those judges had no freaking mercy that day.
- 75% of the time I didn’t get a chance to warm up bars because I had a different setting than others (everyone had different settings back in the days of yore) and time management involves number and, see item 10
- no HS coaches knew how not were strong enough to spot me on anything. So I was doing tsuks, giants, etc on shittastic equipment that was moving underneath me with no spot whatsoever.
I’m sure I’ll think of more. #SafetyThird!