When I was seven years old, there wasn’t anything that I wanted to do more than gymnastics. My mom did her best, and signed me up. But, the class was on Thursday nights, and far away, and so I would always miss Buck Rodgers. This was a travesty of epic proportions. What was a Young Turk like me to do?

The breaking point was when my coaches (mind you I was just a rec. level 1) pushed me down in the spits! Yeeeooouuuch!!! That sealed it…Buck Rodgers won. It is somewhat ironic, that I became a gymnastics coach and later pushed my boys down in their splits, but I always explained why, and it was only to the team guys.

Later, I went back, learned a front flip, and it was over—gymnastics is the best sport in the world!!! That is of course I had to learn a penny drop. I realize that I am showing my age; the sport of gymnastics has come quite far since the 70’s. For those non-initiates, a penny drop is where you hang by your knees on a bar, head closest to the ground, and then you just let your legs go…and expect to live.

I didn’t want to do it. When they got me hung upside down, I REALLY didn’t want to do it. I cried- A LOT, but they still made me do it. Like I said, things have changed a lot since the 70’s. Anyway, because of that trauma, I didn’t go back for a while.

Later, when we couldn’t afford gymnastics, the women’s coach would let me come in and train with the women’s elite and optional girls first thing in the morning. He felt if I was willing to come and work out every morning at 5:30, then he wouldn’t stop me. It was very very generous on their part. Because of that, National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics (NAAG) has always had a place in my heart.

In the summer while in college I use to come back to the original gym that I began at here in Eugene. It was always fun to show off a little what new things you could do, and impress your old coaches. But, I haven’t been here in a long while. I went by yesterday and talked to the original owners who opened the gym some 40 years ago.

I explained what I was doing regarding my pilgrimage, and my desire to possibly go to gyms all along my route and share what I have learned regarding competition, gymnastics, and compassion.  Because this was my first gym, it seemed most appropriate that I offer my services to give back to them for their love and kindness to me, and all the free 5:30am practices over the years.

The owners were ecstatic, willing to allow me to put on a clinic for the boys, and they even knew whom the Peace Pilgrim was! Even their company employee handbook was written with compassion and love as the center of their mission statement. I really felt as if I had come home in more ways than one.

I have really missed gymnastics in the last 2 months, so having the ability to coach, if only for the afternoon, was wonderful. What I wasn’t prepared for was the high I had afterwards. I got to work with some great boys. Got to help some get over their fears, others to get new skills, and others to learn drills that will help them along their way. I got high off the experience. This is what I remember gymnastics being like. Just a bunch of guys working out, trying to get some new skills, laughing, being scared, and having fun.

I can’t remember when I have felt so free about gymnastics. No pressure. I have loved all the boys I’ve ever coached, and still worry about them from afar. But, this simple experience changed me, and gave me back my love of gymnastics at the most deep and fundamental level.

It made me ask myself whether to stay (they kinda offered me a job) or to go today back on the road. I thought a lot about it while watching last night’s sunset. But, today my bags are packed, and I’m ready to go.

I know now that I can always return to THIS kind of gymnastics. Regardless, if I continue running for another 20 years, this kind of gymnastics will always be there again. Now that I remember what it was all about in the first place.