Rhythmic gymnastics is both an individual and group sport involving the use of the apparatus rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon. Rhythmic gymnasts show superhuman flexibility and strength while combining elements of ballet and gymnastics. We must perform leaps, pivots, balances, throws, masteries and dance sequences and at the same time keep the apparatus in constant motion. It’s basically hand-eye coordination on steroids.
I spent thousands of hours training for this sport and to say it was a roller coaster ride would be an understatement. Competing at the elite level of any sport has extreme highs and lows which outsiders can’t quite comprehend. To call these posts a summary, would be an injustice but rather I would like to offer a window into my ‘past life’.
Succeeding as a late starter?
From an early age I’ve had a strong interest in gymnastics, although I had never done any serious training beyond Primary school competitions. Instead, I was an avid ballet and jazz dancer. It was while watching the Beijing Olympics in 2008 that I became obsessed with starting competitive gymnastics. Originally, I had my heart set on artistic gymnastics. But mum was worried it was too dangerous and suggested that I try the (supposedly) less harmful option of rhythmic gymnastics. I had a friend that did rhythmic at a local club and decided to try it out at the very late age of twelve.
I was immediately hooked. My dance background gave me the natural flexibility and grace that some other gymnasts lacked. I remember going home after that first training and instantly ordering a rope from Australia to practice with at home. Any free moment I had at home, I was either fixated on the computer watching rhythmic videos or practicing moves while Dad yelled at me to not break any windows.
The next year, I started competing in Level Two. Competitive rhythmic gymnastics in New Zealand operates under two streams. The national stream is comprised of Levels One to Ten and has no age requirements, whereas the international stream is ranked by age through Stages One to Four and later Junior International and Senior International. Anyone would argue that it was ridiculous for me at the old age of nearly thirteen to be competing in Level Two, but at the time I didn’t know any better and I won my first competition.
Competing ball at my first ever competition, 2009 (aged 12)
Unfortunately, two weeks after my first competition I broke my arm in two places in a freak accident (unrelated to gymnastics) and needed two surgeries, meaning I was technically out of competitive gymnastics. This however, didn’t put a stop to my obsession and I spent my recovery time watching and self-teaching from YouTube videos. Regardless, at the end of the year I was still awarded Highest Score trophy in my club for the one and only competition that I competed.
At the end of my first competitive year (if you could call it that), I found out about a summer camp held by the top club in Auckland. I learned so much in those short two weeks, afterward asking the head coach if I could move to her club. She agreed and instantly bumped me up four levels. Bearing in mind, that normally gymnasts compete one level per year…
First steps on the international stage
Encouragingly, my rapid progression to competing in Level Six was rewarding. I made friends with all of the girls in my level, and it didn’t really matter who won or lost in those days – as long as Auckland was on top! I competed at my first National Gymsports Championships that year in Hamilton and came 3rd in New Zealand, as well as gaining silver medals in apparatus events.
Competing ball as a Level 6, 2010 (aged 14)
Shortly after, my mum received a letter. I still remember that day vividly. Mum had picked me up from school as usual, and when I hopped into the car she gave me the letter to read and I immediately realised what it was. An invitation into the Junior International program.
I started crying because I had secretly hoped for this, but never actually thought it was a possibility. Normally, a Junior International gymnast should have been training and competing for at least five (if not more) years. Yet I had only been competing regularly for six months.
Needless to say, I said yes!
But I had no idea what was coming for me.
My year in Junior International was hell. I was ill-prepared and fighting an uphill battle against talented girls who had been training in gymnastics since they were five. What little confidence I had gained in my first few competitions as a Level Six was immediately destroyed. I was training hard upwards of twenty hours a week to consistently rank dead last.
And train hard – I did. I had a strong reputation for being highly disciplined and always pushing myself to the extreme. Others admired how hard I worked during training and told me that they wished for my determination. I would constantly go above and beyond what was expected. Unfortunately, my efforts did not pay off and I started to believe that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be ‘good enough’.
Despite my shaken confidence, I was proud of persevering through 2011 and building my determination to succeed in the future.
Competing ribbon in Sydney, Australia as a Junior International, 2011 (aged 15)
Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon x