September 15th is National Gymnastics Day, and it will be an honor to speak at the local event hosted by Silver Stars Gymnastics in Maryland. Even though my days as an Elite National Gymnast are long behind me, there is not a day that goes by where I am not grateful for the lessons I learned early on in life as a result of being a gymnast. Here are the six best life skills gymnastics imparts on all those dedicated to the sport:

1. Healthy Habits– When daily exercise, eating balanced meals, and getting at least 8 hours of sleep is part of your normal routine early in life, these become life long habits that will help you later in life.  Also the desire to seek balance, not just while on a balance beam, but in everything you do is a good instinct that can save you from unnecessary stress.

2. Work Ethic– We’ve all heard phrases like “no pain, no gain” or “practice makes perfect,” but it is when you experience these things that this really sinks in. Only when you see your perseverance and dedication pay off do you truly start to believe that your hard work will be rewarded, and not just in some far off distant future. Physical changes can occur within weeks if you practice self-discipline.

3. Creativity– While listening to music, as you push your body and play with different types equipment, your mind starts to explore the endless possibilities. It’s easy to think outside the box when anything seems possible, and this gift is highly rewarded.  To dream without fear is a blessing.

4. Courage– You have to be willing to take risks to be any good– like the saying goes, “no guts no glory.”  In order to be daring, you need to be brave– and that includes accepting that not everyone around you will believe in you or understand what you are doing. We won’t always succeed in our endeavors, but at least we are open to trying something new because in the end we know that if we fall we can get back up again.

5. Competition– It’s a natural part of life, and the sooner you learn to cope with the pressure of competition, the better. Of course, it’s all in how we choose to cope that can make or break us. Gymnasts are taught the importance of breathing when tense, visualizing success and staying positive in their thoughts, and we rely on coaches to guide us and team-mates to be supportive. Most importantly, we don’t see criticism as a bad thing- it is meant to be constructive, so we can learn from our mistakes and improve going forward.

6. Gratitude– When everything is said and done, it’s impossible not to recognize all those that helped you reach your goals because it truly takes a village to get to stand with your medal or trophy at the podium during closing ceremonies. What does take time to learn is the importance in bowing, a small act of humility with an incredibly large meaning for with that simple gesture you are thanking your coaches for all their help, the audience for its support, and the judges for acknowledging all your efforts and bestowing upon you an honor.

It has been over two decades since I retired from the world of gymnastics when I made a choice  in college to focus on my academic pursuits, but not a day goes by when I don’t practice the skills I learned from my gymnastic days.  Ultimately, I became a nationally recognized matrimonial lawyer, who is often quoted in the media and has authored several articles and chapters in legal books.  There is a children’s book I wrote a few years ago summarizing  that transition  (available on Amazon): Gina the Gymnast, which is intended to inspire each child’s ability to dream, have courage, and persevere.   Obviously each child will choose his/her own path, hopefully while implementing the best life lessons readily available at an early age through sports.

Happy National Gymnastics Day!

By Regina A. DeMeo