RECAP PART I: Six weeks of decline, tears, fear, and hell, there was no hope. I decided to quit. My mom introduced reality: If I quit, my life would change – I wouldn’t train, travel, or compete – I will be NORMAL like other HS kids. I became terrified: If I’m not a gymnast, Who am I? …I love gymnastics. I am a gymnast. I cannot quit. I must try.
I re-entered the gym. But I had NO strategy. None. I just did small stuff, drills, 20 split leaps, 20 handstands, simple moves. No flipping. The question loomed, “How will you get back to the gymnast you were?”
[Message #2 – Miracles happen when you are Hopeful.] That week, Angel #1 appeared in our gym: Lynn Rogers, Head Coach of Cal-State Fullerton Women’s Gymnastics Team. His team won the National Championships in college women’s gymnastics. Previously, Lynn had worked with my coach, Jim, and he’d heard that I was struggling. “What’s up with Lisa?” he asked. Jim explained. Lynn suggested a Sport Psychologist at Cal-State Fullerton – Ken Ravizza – enter, Angel #2. Ken had worked successfully with the CSUF women’s gymnastics and baseball teams. (Women’s gymnastics had won the national championships…!)
SPORT PSYCHOLOGY? So we met. Ken and Lynn offered to work with me twice a week, 2 hours a day – teach me methods in sport psychology. It seemed strange to talk about fear, do breathing and meditation. But hey, nothing else worked. I was willing to try.
LEARN MENTAL SKILLS: The first hour was always in Ken’s office. We talked. He asked me questions, what I was thinking and feeling when I attempted my tricks in the gym. At what point do you start to feel afraid? Hm, this was not easy. I tried to imagine doing my skills, but often, I couldn’t or just got scared. So we started at the beginning, with very basic moves. I wrote and wrote in a journal. I captured details and emotions. He taught me Mental Tools: How to STOP, BREATHE, and USE A TRAFFIC SIGNAL as a model to manage my fear – green was go (no fear), yellow was pause (little fear), red was stop (peeing my pants from fear). I learned and practiced deep breathing, relaxation, clearing the mind, concentration, positive self-talk. Then I’d focus on one image or a word (that cued me). I visualized the simplest moves, then, harder moves (mental imagery). I did everything in my mind in slow motion, s-l-o-w–m-o-t-i-o-n. After a few weeks, I started to gain mental confidence. My fear temporarily disappeared at times, when things seemed easy and in control. But I was nervous. Ken put me AT EASE. His voice, gentle, his energy, very patient. I trusted him.
APPLY MENTAL SKILLS IN THE GYM: The second hour I spent in the gym. Lynn was my spotter, Ken guided me, starting with most basic skills. Front roll. Back roll. Like a 2 yr-old. Lynn supported me with his hands on my neck and back for safety and comfort. I did everything in slow motion, staying present in each moment, like slicing the skill into fractions. A single somersault had 10 slices – I became aware of the position of my chin, my toes, my knees, in every slice. I was acutely aware of every body part in every moment. I gradually advanced to handstands, walkovers, and more. At times, I’d get scared, but Ken and Lynn were patient, encouraged me to apply the tools, breathe, relax, and stay present. They put me in a spotting belt attached to cables and pulleys. I was held safe, so I relaxed a little more. Gradually, my confidence grew. I moved to handsprings and single flips. Each week, more and more, I became a master in the art of self-awareness – to notice anxious thoughts, breathe, release them, be present, and re-assert myself. Allow the natural flow of movement to come. I had to TRUST it would come.
AFTER 3 MONTHS: I re-learned my skills, except the double back. I got in shape for competition, but I was not completely healed. Anxiety crept up on me, often. But now, it was January and time to compete. Would I be able to do my skills — under pressure? Could I qualify for Elite?
(Final, Part 3 coming next…it’s a miracle ending 🙂
Reach, sweat, and believe,