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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s actually just Abby Gilstrap doing her gymnas
t thing. Gilstrap is a junior here at Sunset with some incredible moves on the balance beam, bars, vault, and floor. While gymnastics is not a sport offered here at Sunset, it has captured the hearts of many Americans while they cheered on “The Final Five” this summer in Rio. What does it take to be an elite gymnast? Gilstrap can easily break it down for you, in words or in the air.
In 2004 when Abby first stepped on the floor at the Oregon Gymnastic Academy, she felt like she was home.
“I tried many other sports but liked gymnastics the best. My older sister was already doing it, and I wanted to do it too,” says Gilstrap.
Soon after, basic tumbling and leaps turned into a full scale exercise routine that eventually included four hours of practice, five days a week. During a practice, Oregon Gymnastic Academy members complete at least an hour of conditioning, with an emphasis on sprint running, core work, and upper body strength. The gymnasts then rotate between all of the events, perfecting their skills. They know it could come down to one tenth of a point in competition to advance to bigger meets, which could merely mean that a toe was not pointed during a skill. Gymnastics is a sport where success is never given, always earned.
“We are not allowed to sit, we are pretty much moving all of the time. If we finish early we have to do jumping jacks while everyone else finishes” says Gilstrap.
Combine the harsh time commitment, required focus, and level of intensity required to fly through the air, Gilstrap has had her fair share of injuries. Last year, she sustained a mild concussion after pausing mid air tumbling and landed backwards on her head, and did damage to her right toe after landing a tumbling pass too many times favoring her right foot. How does one exercise through things like that? Sometimes, they don’t.
“Luckily I’ve never been too injured, but there is some part that does hurt a little every day and that comes with the sport and you just have to deal with the aches and pains everyday. When I was in a boot last year it was really hard to sit on the sidelines and just watch, “ says Gilstrap.
As any athlete knows, the comeback from the struggle makes the victory all the more meaningful.
When she nails a perfect routine, Gilstrap says she can honestly describe the feeling as relief. Falls are always a big part of a sport that involves throwing yourself through the air. Executing a perfect routine is a feat even for Olympic gymnasts.
“After I finish a routine, sometimes I forget what just happened because my body goes on autopilot. After a good routine I get annoyed if I know I could have done better, especially the little things. Knowing you did everything you could to make it successful feels so good,” says Gilstrap.
Good apparently doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Her favorite moment so far in her 9 years of competing for OGA was last February. Her older sister Sarah, a Sunset alumni, was up on the beam at a meet, trying to qualify for Western Nationals. It was her final year as a gymnast before heading off to college, and the beam was her final shot to make it.
“When Sarah stuck her aerial (dismount from the balance beam), she just looked so happy, and everyone else was so happy for her. She wanted it so bad and put a lot into making it happen. Then the results came in and everyone started hugging each other. It was a special day,” says Gilstrap
Picture perfect endings are rare, and sometimes they come exactly when one would least expect it. In addition to her sister’s success last year, Gilstrap finished off her season with a win on Bars for level 7’s and a high all-around score at State Champs. She had been injured most of the season, and was happy to see all of that extra work paid off when she finally could fully exercise again.
At the end of the day for Gilstrap, the joy in the journey is her main focus in gymnastics.
“My outlook on gymnastics has definitely shifted as it has beco
me much harder mentally and physically. The people keep me going, I’ve known some people on my team for ten years. It teaches you so many life lessons about overcoming challenges, and my coaches emphasize that we are preparing for life not just how to compete.”
Here’s to sports for teaching the invaluable, one flip at a time.