R U OK?Day

Written by Deborah Greenbaum

I have always made sure I was available for friends to talk to me about how they are, and ensured that people know I’m always here to listen. However, I am constantly amazed at the extent of my support network when I need the same support. Friends, family, coaches and even acquaintances have cared enough to take the time and check that I am OK – and each time it has reminded me that I am part of an amazing community who really do care and will take time to listen and help. I hope it never stops.

As an elite gymnast, injuries are an inevitable part of training and competition. Last year in the lead up to the world championships, I had to pull out of a world cup competition in Japan 2 months prior to the world championships due to a 5cm tear in my adductor the week before the competition. This was devastating because this competition season (culminating of course with competing at Worlds) was my only goal that I had been training towards for the past two years, and suddenly one injury meant that all of that could slip away.

Even though there was a clear physical injury that I was struggling with, there were also significant mental health implications which came alongside that injury. For someone who derives so much joy and purpose from gymnastics, it is extremely tough to get through the periods when I’m told that I’m unable to compete (or even train) for a certain amount of time. And the worst part is that apart from doing the exercises prescribed by my physio and maintaining my strength, there is very little else in my control which I could do to make myself heal faster – and this lack of control over my own body and ability that really brings me down.

My coach played an extremely important role in my mental health throughout this injury. Even though she was half way around the world coaching the Australian team, she checked in on me every day and reassured me that I would get through the injury as long as I stayed positive. I also felt as though I let my team members down because we they unable to compete in the Trio category without me, however they were nothing but supportive throughout the entire injury which motivated me to focus on my rehab so that I would have a chance to compete with them at worlds.  

l was also overwhelmed by the number of other competitors from around the world reaching out through social media giving me their support, asking me how I was feeling, assuring me it would get better and simply being there to talk to. They shared similar stories which reminded me that even though it didn’t feel like it at the time, I would make it through the injury, and would be able to compete again. This made me realise how strong and connected the broader gymnastics community is - even though I wasn’t there competing, I wasn’t forgotten by the other gymnasts and athletes. And it was this that really gave me the strength to push through and keep on training and completing rehab, which meant that two months later I was able to represent Australia at worlds.

Even though gymnastics is an individual sport, it is the support network that really allows us to thrive, especially when times are tough and it seems like our bodies are failing us. And as part of the gymnastics community, it is important to accept help that people offer to you and then also be able to pay it forward and return that help to someone else when they are in need.