It is important to understand that you cannot do gymnastics forever. Really, there is not much in the competitive world after your twenties, unless you are someone like former Olympian Chellsie Memmel, who is still performing Elite gymnastics in her thirties. But there is not a sign-up sheet at the community center for a Gymnasts League like there is for sports like softball and basketball. Many gymnasts feel out of place or lost after their gymnast career is over.
Every year hundreds of young gymnasts quit at age eighteen because college gymnastics did not work out for them; and in fact competitive college gymnastics truly is not for all gymnasts. It might seem like a lifetime of hard work, dedication, time, and money has all been for nothing.
Some gymnasts may retire for a variety of other different reasons, such as a serious injury or the mental exhaustion and burn out that comes along with any sport. Their bodies are not what they used to be and there is a serious level of frustration that occurs for athletes that have strived for perfection their whole life. So what other options do these athletes have?
There are a wide range of options for athletes with this kind of mental and physical strength. I was able to interview a few retired gymnasts that are now involved in other sports or activities where gymnastics has been fundamental for their success.
Gymnasts can be very neurotic due to perfectionism, and many burn out early on. A former gymnast who reached the Junior Visas Championships when he was sixteen years old explains that he felt burnt out, even though he was offered a scholarship. He decided to retire from gymnastics for his own wellbeing and instead he joined a diving team in college and had more fun competing in this sport than he ever did in gymnastics. This is a reason why it is important for gymnasts to know that there are other options to be successful and use their gymnastics skills, other than competing on a college team.
This same individual went on to pursue a career as a stunt performer for television and film, mainly doing a lot of doubling for actors. His background of high level gymnastics helps him handle pressure situations and face certain types of fears when it comes to performing and executing. Gymnastics assists him with strength, flexibility, air awareness, body awareness, and focus in general. The level of focus gymnastics provided helps him to believe in himself when performing stunts and acting.
Cirque du Soleil
Sean Gwilliam, a retired Level 10 gymnast and National Vault Champion, stopped competing when he was eighteen. He states that he was too old to compete in the Junior Olympic program and simply did not want to go to college. However, he did not let his gymnastics skills go to waste. Gwilliam explains that he wanted to pursue a career in Cirque Du Soleil, but thought there was no chance he would get casted. "My only goal was to make a video and send it in. I did that and two months later I had a face to face audition with casting. It wasn't until six months after that audition that I got a call that I was casted on one of the Cirque shows in Las Vegas. The point of that story is no matter how far off your dreams and goals are, just start somewhere you never know where it will take you."
When asked what his day to day life is like as a stunt performer, Gwilliam entertained, "I could be doing things from a fight scene, high falls (30-50ft) into airbags, repelling from 50 ft onto a stage, flying upside down 20 ft over the audience while holding onto a girl that's flipping from my hands. All sorts of fun random stuff like that."
With all the flipping and performing it is easy to see why retired gymnasts like Gwilliam have excelled in this field. He is now one of the lead performers in the Las Vegas Cirque Du Soleil show "KA". Gwilliam concluded with, "If I didn't have gymnastics, I wouldn't be doing the job I have now. Although my job isn't strictly gymnastics, it has given me the confidence to train my body to do new things. The work ethic that gymnastics taught me comes in to play every day at my job."
These are just two examples of retired gymnasts who have used their athletic ability to pursue a different dream besides collegiate gymnastics. One last piece of advice is to be open to new experiences. We are all novices when it comes to new crafts, but forgiving yourself for making mistakes helps with overall growth. Gymnastics has such a wide range of movement and coordination involved, that it truly helps with learning many other types of movements for fun, and for a career in stunts, and/or circus performing.
Look for other articles on retired gymnasts who have been successful in Crossfit, coaching, track, and even International Pole Athletics.