Understanding the demands of a gracefully gritty sport

By Murphy McFarlane, York Community High School

Secluded in a balcony adjacent to the South Gym, a select group of York students practice astonishing stunts and audacious skills that the average person could not imagine pulling off. During the winter season, the tenacious work and eventual performance of York’s girls gymnastics team may go unknown by many students at York.

“For training, we focus more on making sure their routines are consistent before the meet and that their other skills are in the right mindset,” head gymnastics coach Nick Criel said. “One of the biggest challenges of a gymnast is overcoming their own fear.”

When a gymnast executes a back tuck on the beam– a four-inch-wide surface raised five meters above the ground– they make it look graceful and effortless to the audience’s eye. One may assume the strength it must take to perform such daring stunts, but might not realize the mental conditioning these athletes must develop in order to possess the confidence come time for a meet.

“If you’re scared of something, you can’t just bail on it because then you’ll hurt yourself,” senior and gymnast Megan Cronin said. “You have to be mentally and physically strong.”

Even if these gymnasts maintain a fearless attitude, that by no means ensures they won’t get hurt. In fact, pain is frequent, and they must work through it every day– one aspect that makes the sport so demanding.

“A lot of people don’t know how many injuries we have,” sophomore and gymnast Hannah Aubry said. “We’re all injured at the moment; we all get taped, we always have to go to physical therapy, or we’re always down at the trainers. Its a very high impact sport.”

Gymnasts must endure the grit of each routine, whether performing on the vault, beam, bars, or floor. Meets typically carry a lively and energetic ambiance with girls flying in the air from bar to bar, intense music blasting for a floor routine or teams collectively cheering on their individual.

“York students should come to a gymnastics meet because there’s always something going on with the four different events,” senior and gymnast Zikora Nnam said. “It’s also pretty easy to understand.”

Unlike other sports, fans don’t need to comprehend complex rules. An individual must simply retain a fascination to watch athletes complete unbelievable performances.

“I find gymnastics really cool,” sophomore Maria Chornij said after spectating her first gymnastics meet. “They’re so flexible; it’s crazy seeing them do all those flips and other skills. I could never do that, so it amazes me to watch other people do it.”

Like Chornij, many experienced the stunning ability exerted in each event at the girls meet last weekend; however, few truly understand the deep-rooted persistence required to create a driven gymnast.

“It’s definitely one of the most underrated sports,” Nnam said.

This story was originally published on This is York on January 29, 2020.