On March 11, I was on my way back home after a two-week trip in Europe with my coach, Ionela. It had been an incredible time competing internationally for the first time as a national team member. I had just competed in Miss Valentine in Estonia and Tart Cup in Czech Republic against some of Europe’s best gymnasts.
As I sat at the gate waiting to board, I reflected on my trip. I was pleased with my performance and proud of the medals around my neck. Seeing top gymnasts train and compete up close had been eye-opening. I was excited to return home and work hard to become consistent, strong and beautiful like the gymnasts I had seen. I was looking forward to my first season as a junior.
But things didn’t work out as planned.
Two days later, everything has changed. It is March 13, and the beginning of my quarantine journey. School is canceled, my gym is closed, all events and activities are canceled. We are told to stay at home. I am confused. I have so many questions, so many thoughts and doubts. But we can’t stop training during this time.
Three days later we started training on Zoom.
Online training was an entirely new experience. I was used to training in an enormous space. My gym, Rhythmic Dreams in Needham had a high ceiling and a large open space where I could freely leap, turn, and throw my apparatus.
I started out by training in my bedroom, but I could barely stretch my legs. I decided to move my training to my living room. It was bigger and brighter, but my family would have to give up that space for three to four hours a day. As the days got warmer, I started to train outside. We lugged a carpet out onto our driveway and ran an extension cord from inside the house. I loved training outside. The sun would shine on my face, occasionally there would be a fresh breeze, and my dog would roll around on the carpet in front of me. It was pleasant, but it was incomparable to the freedom of the gym.
My coach Ionela, made the best out of the situation. Rather than dwelling on the many challenges that we faced training at home, she understood how we could use the opportunity to improve weaker areas. From the very first remote practice, our focus was driven towards improvement in strength, flexibility, and the fundamentals of apparatus work. Essentially, the basics of rhythmic gymnastics. Almost every day, Ionela would come up with a new strength exercise. It was challenging and I’d wake up sore all the time, but it all meant I was getting stronger.
I missed competing: the adrenaline, the nerves, and the excitement. Competing was always my favorite part. We were innovative and found ways to incorporate competition into our training at home. Each gymnast choreographed a routine and after about a week of practice, we would compete with a gym in Seattle on Zoom. We started these competitions in June and did a couple more similar competitions over the course of the next few weeks. It was amazing to compete with gymnasts from the other side of the country without leaving my living room!
Months passed in the blink of an eye. It was already summer. Our gym was hosting an international online camp. People were logging onto our Zoom calls from England, Germany, India, Russia, Singapore and many other countries. Some of them were training at six in the morning or nine o’clock at night. Olympians and World Champions were invited to do masterclasses for apparatus work and expression. It was incredible to get feedback from such amazing gymnasts like four-time Olympic Finalist Almudena Cid of Spain. Before quarantine, I could never imagine working with these people and now they were coaching me from their homes to mine.
I feel so lucky to be able to practice the sport I love the most during this constrained situation. I’m so grateful to my gym and my coach for organizing these programs so quickly. I’m happy that I haven’t had to miss any or reduce the quality of our training. This structure keeps me focused, positive, challenged and active during this time.
Coronavirus has been a challenge for the world. People have lost their lives, their jobs, their families. But despite all of the sadness and inconveniences, there are still some things we have gained during this time. It may have taken away so many opportunities, but it has given us so many unique opportunities that I will cherish.
Gemma Gow is a rhythmic gymnast training at Rhythmic Dreams in Needham, Massachusetts. She is currently on the US National Team and is the winner of numerous all-around medals at international tournaments as well as Hope National Champion of the United States in 2019.