Almost as soon as I was born, my parents knew I was going to be a gymnast. I was an active baby, learned to walk quickly, and even learned how to climb out of my crib early on. I was not even 2 years old by the time they had signed me up for a “Mommy & Me” gymnastics class. I took to it quickly. It soon it shaped not only my childhood, but helped to shape me into who I would be as an adult. My experiences as a gymnast helped lead me to my career as a physical therapist, specializing in sports medicine, pelvic health, and gymnastics physical therapy.
Gymnastics is a sport that not only strengthens the body, but it strengthens the mind. Growing up as a gymnast, I was constantly overcoming fears in the gym: fear of trying a new skill, fear of performing in front of others, fear of falling. But overcoming those fears cultivated some really important qualities that I still carry with me to this day – willingness to try new things, staying calm under pressure, and picking myself up after I fall down (literally and figuratively).
I also learned the power of perseverance as a gymnast. Learning a new skill required doing it wrong hundreds of times before finally getting it right. Gymnasts have to make minute correction after minute correction before they are finally able to perform a new skill correctly. It can be so challenging not to get frustrated and give up. One year, I competed a back handspring on beam. Or at least I tried to. I literally fell on every single back handspring I tried – at practice and competitions – the entire year. Then, at the final competition of the year, I finally landed my back handspring and ended up getting first place on beam. Long story short – I’m glad I didn’t give up.
I mentioned that gymnastics strengthens the body. That was an understatement. Gymnastics had me climbing ropes without using my legs, performing up to 15 pull ups, 100 single leg heel raises, and much more at a young age. As you can imagine, I was a buff kid. I remember getting so many comments about my muscles when I was younger. Many of them were positive comments, but as I entered my teen years, there started to be some teasing, too. I was proud of my strength, and was always confused why it would ever be seen as a negative thing. It meant I could do amazing things with my body, and it had carried me through my sport without a single injury. I knew that, as an adult, I wanted to teach young girls that it was good to be strong.
I started doing just that when I began coaching. As a coach, I wanted to make sure the gymnasts I worked with were strong enough for the tough things they were asking their bodies to do. And, I wanted to make sure they were proud of that strength, too.
I loved coaching. Getting to work with athletes in the sport I loved and helping those athletes to realize their full potential was so rewarding. I coached all throughout college. At the time, I was studying to go into the medical field, but I hadn’t yet decided which aspect of the medical field I wanted to pursue. That’s when I started to hear about physical therapy from some of the girls I coached. It sounded like the perfect way to be in the medical field but still be able to help athletes excel in their sports. What I didn’t realize at the time was that, as a sports physical therapist, I would get to continue to help young girls get stronger and help teach them how to be proud of that strength.
As a sports PT, I get to do much more than just work with gymnasts. I get to help all sorts of athletes, whether competitive or recreational, get back to the activities they love to do and get stronger along the way. I’m so grateful that my years of coaching gymnastics helped lead me to this career, and I know that the lessons I learned as a gymnast help to make me a better PT every day.
Jess Danahy, PT, DPT
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