Diana is a talented writer, a talented critiquer, and the equivalent of #teamdangerzone's dance mom (er, make that gymnastics mom!).
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One of my favorite things about Tori, the protagonist of FIERCE, is that she refuses to bend to gender expectations when it comes to what a female athlete can and can’t handle. She’s tough, she can be abrasive, and she’s unafraid to push her body to its limits.
Give her the option to slack? Tell her to do one thing while her male training partners do something else? Yeah, not happening. It’s a spirit that I try to instill in the athletes I coach.
“Strength time,” I call out, and all of my gymnasts groan. So it goes – an inevitable part of competitive sports, albeit not the most thrilling.
I instruct them to gather around for a push-up circle. After much elbowing and lying on their bellies, waiting for the last possible moment to get into position, we begin. I let each girl come up with their own variation, and so we run through the gamut: regular, diamond, wide arm, handstand--
They’re nearly silent now, faces red but elbows bending and straightening with precision. I’m starting to get a little self-congratulatory (look how strong they’re getting!). That’s when someone pops the question.
“Can we do girl push-ups?”
“Yeah, can we?” another pipes in.
The flip side to gymnastics is that the women’s side is far more popular than the men’s. There are more collegiate women’s teams, and come the Olympics, you can bet that girls tumbling on floor exercise will draw in higher ratings than their male counterparts. There’s not a sense of “Man’s Sport” versus “Lite Sport.” When it comes to gymnastics, it seems to be a generally acknowledged truth that men do crazy hard skills, women do crazy hard skills, and sometimes, they do the same ones. (In fact, it’s argued that the McKayla Maroney’s vault in the 2012 Olympic team finals was even better than the one performed by men’s all-around champion Kohei Uchimura – who competed the same vault.)
But that question sets me back on my heels.
I get that they’re tired. There’s nothing wrong with such an intermediate push-up – I’ve assigned them to athletes recovering from injury. But the fact that it’s “easier” with the moniker “girl” attached doesn’t sit well with me. There shouldn’t be the sense that what girls do is an out, a stepping stone, a not-quite-there.
“You’re gymnasts,” I say instead. “You do gymnast push-ups.” Which means they’ll keep their legs off of the ground, thank you very much.
Diana Gallagher is a gymnastics coach, writing professor, and country music aficionado. WHAT HAPPENS IN WATER, her contemporary YA novel about a girl afraid to take risks after a gymnastics injury, releases in 2015 (Spencer Hill Contemporary).
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