A Perfect Test in Balance: A Former Gymnast's Story of Athletic Transition
I started a career when I was six years old. No typo here. I’m talking about a career in the sport of gymnastics. I had a ton of energy when I was younger, my parents said I was bouncing off the walls, so they enrolled me in my first gymnastics class at age six and from that day forward I was hooked. It was extremely hard work, day in and day out, but I wanted to take my career to the highest level of personal achievement.
To answer the most common questions: Yes, I can do a backflip. Yes, I have seen “Stick It.” And yes, I dreamed of going to the Olympics one day.
However, my gymnastics career ended 16 short years later.
At 22 years old, my first ever passion came to a screeching halt. Those 16 years of dedication now seem like a blink of an eye. Imagine doing something you love every single day for as long as you can remember, and then one day it’s all over. Oh wait, of course you can all imagine that. I forgot who I was talking to for a second.
For 16 years, my coaches were there to help me reach my full potential as an athlete. This included telling me what to do, what not to do, what to eat, what not to eat, etc... When it was over, I felt the need to look for a coach to guide me in life, someone to tell me what to do, where to work, how to spend my time, now the structure that my coach gave me disappeared. My family was always supportive and encouraged me by saying "Do what you want to do." They believed in me at this time far more than I believed in myself. In fact, my whole career they never wavered in their support, and for this I'm not sure how I will ever be able to thank them enough. But without a "coach" telling me what to do, despite my family's encouragement, I was at a complete loss.
Without question, gymnastics was worth every second. The intense practices six days a week, the stressful competitions, the countless number of missed high school events, the blood, sweat and many, many tears. It was all worth it, all my hard work for less than four minutes to preform. Because our gymnastics routines were so brutal on our bodies, we average around 10-12 competitions per year, four minutes of performing each, as compared to some other sports that are 60-90 min per game, averaging around 20 games per season. But for a gymnast, we only have about six seconds on vault, 30 seconds on bars, and one and a half minutes on beam and floor to perform our best - once the judge raises their flag, you start your routine and all your hard work is put to the test for less than four minutes. That’s all you have to lay it all out on the floor. What comes next? The day after the competition, I’d practice my routines over and over again until it was my next chance to perform. The whole season of practice was to perform the same exact routine; the only way to improve the routine was to get closer to perfect each time you perform, the only way to succeed was to be perfect.
I’ve never loved anything as much as I loved gymnastics. However, unlike sports such as soccer, baseball, or basketball, it’s not a professional sport, so after college there is no future to compete unless you are invited to the Olympics or coach at a competitive level. This was always a thought in the back of my mind while I competed; I knew there wasn’t a future in gymnastics after college, but it was much harder to deal with that reality when it actually happened. It’s much harder to achieve perfection when you don’t know what else you can be perfect in.
Even though I felt like I had so much more drive in me, my career still came to an end. I realized then that I needed to find new passion, start a new career. But, with what resume? An experience I’m sure you can all empathize with is the struggle of having 16 years of experience in a career with a nontraditional title, like “gymnast,” which doesn’t mean all that much on a professional resume. But what could I have done? There was no time for a job while going to school and practicing gymnastics. No time for a single job.
So there I was: a college graduate with a one-word resume: “gymnast.” My only identity before this moment was “athlete,” but I had to figure out how to live with a new purpose. I was a former athlete seeking a new chapter in life. I struggled to find a hiring manager where the word “athlete” meant something. However, there were some out there who knew the traits of an athlete, probably because they were one themselves or they recognized the work-ethic it takes to be a high-level athlete. They looked past the zero work experience and saw the goldmine of desire I, an ex-athlete contain, just waiting to apply my hard-earned skills again, only now in the workplace.
I knew I wanted to work in a corporate office because it reminded me of athletics; there’s competitiveness, teamwork, discipline, commitment, much like my sport, but there isn’t a linear career path in corporate like there is in gymnastics. There’s no level 1, level 2, level 3, no consistent upward mobility. In corporate, sometimes you don’t move to the next level even if you are good enough. As it turns out, that’s just how the world works sometimes. Learning this wasn’t the worst feeling, but I have had to learn how to cope, how to be okay with being stationary. I very much enjoy my corporate job because it gives me a taste of all those important factors (teamwork, discipline, commitment) which helped and still help me stay on track to be successful. Work, without a doubt, has filled most of that void that I experience from the loss of gymnastics.
But there was still a tiny piece of me that wanted more, and I struggled for a long time trying to find a new athletic passion. So, I found other ways to make use of my time and bring me back to that passion for which I was longing. I now invest in group-activities, yoga and spin class, to feel a sense of community; I encourage myself and others to push our limits, I physically challenge myself, and create discipline. This is what has really saved me in the end. Work is something I needed to do to feel level headed; working out is what I need to do to remind me that I can still stay challenged. A sought out solution to fill the void wasn’t just one thing, it was a healthy balance (leave it to the gymnast to use the word balance) of career success and physical activity.
Of course, the title” gymnast” or “athlete” will always be a part of me, however the meaning behind it has changed and may continue to change. Even though I’m not physically competing in gymnastics and hanging out in a leotard all day, I feel the athlete traits I’ve captured throughout my gymnastics career appear in almost everything I do and will continue to do. And because of this realization, paired with this new chapter in my life, I'm finally beginning to feel complete again.
-- GABRIELLE TARGOSZ, COLLEGE ATHLETE
She received her Bachelor's in Communication and Media Studies from San Jose State University. She competed on the gymnastics team for 4 years. She now lives in the Bay Area and is working in the tech industry for marketing departments.
Gabby's passion is to help and encourage others and would love to connect with other athletes.