Kirsti: Recently I competed in a veterans gymnastics competition (and secured a gold medal, might I add! – Sarah).
I’m 39, and I was the oldest in my age category (31-40 years). With moral support provided by a 42-year old fellow competitor and friend, I was amazed to arrive and then meet the oldest competitor, a man of 71 years! This fellow was still doing some impressive tumbling and vaulting, a result of his training in his garage in the Flinders Ranges (far from any organised gymnastics venue).
It was a fascinating weekend. For one thing, I discovered that at least six of us 30 competitors were scientists! I also learnt that the origin of the word for gymnastics is the same as that of gymnosperms (conifers and pines that have naked seeds). ‘Gymnos’ in ancient Greek means ‘naked’. The men of those times trained and competed in gymnastic exercise completely naked. They believed that coordination of the mind and body was enhanced by physical development. Gymnastics was as important in their education as music and art.
At this point I might add that whilst my friend and I did not take the ultimate step in clothing removal for our competition, we did strip down to bare bones (see a sample of our outfits by clicking here).
Most people these days regard gymnastics as something only young people do. This is partly with good reason – sports scientists agree that gymnastics is hard! In fact, it has recently been listed as the hardest sport in the world! It demands skill and agility, but also physical strength, flexibility, power, coordination, grace, balance and control of your body. It requires and develops good vestibular and proprioception sensing, two senses that are frequently forgotten beyond the early years of life.
This Sports Science video analysing the balance, spatial awareness and speed of gymnasts at a recent competition gives you an idea of the complexities involved in high level gymnastics. The accuracy and precision displayed by these women in the execution of their routines is astounding. Enviable!
I didn’t quite get this fancy when I competed. But whilst training it became clear that I had retained a substantial amount of technique and muscle memory from my childhood and early adult gymnastics and dancing careers. The neural pathways were still there! I realised that to start from scratch in gymnastics as an adult must be daunting and very intimidating.
I’m grateful to gymnastics for giving me an awareness of my body – of the biomechanics of my core and limbs – that will hopefully persist into old age.
I know that as I get on in years my muscle fibres will decrease in number and size, and new muscle fibres will be generated at a slower rate than when I was a teen. But I fully intend to reap the physical and cognitive benefits of gymnastics. With persistence and continuous exercise, I plan to continue gymnastics into my 60’s. It’ll be fun, a challenge and might even have an impact on my life expectancy.
More gym, for longer. Sounds good to me.
[image thanks to uwoshkosh on flickr]