Kip of Faith

Every gymnast has had that skill, that one impossible skill, that, try as they might, they just can’t master. Even Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas had one, though it might not be what you’d expect…

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It’s called a kip, and it’s on of the toughest skills a gymnast first learns on the uneven bars… The skill, which can be used to either mount the bar or connect elements in a routine, is a big part of just about every level of competition. That makes it a must-do skill. And in May 2003, I was failing at it. Big time.

“Put some power into that glide!” my Gymstrada coach, Dana, called out as I struggled to bring my toes up to the bar. Since spring, I’d been practicing all of my Level 4 skills — like the jump to handstand on the vault, the pullover on the bars, and the tuck jump on the beam. None of these tricks is a cinch, but at least I was making steady progress on each of them. Not so with the kip. I’d been trying to master it for nearly a year.

By June 2003, I’d messed up my kip so many times that I’d lost count. “Whoever gets the kip first wins a trophy,” the coach told my group one afternoon. I wanted that trophy so badly that I could already visualize it standing proudly on a shelf in my bedroom. Each time I took my turn at the bar, I’d sway my body forward, and then gliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide — right down onto the mat beneath the bars. Shoot — I was so close! […]

On Friday nights, there was open gym, a time when we could come to refine our skills or even just play outside of structured training. So Mom brought me to the gym one Friday so that I could keep working on my kip. “Need some help?” one of the higher-level girls asked when she saw me struggling. I nodded. So she and a few of the other gymnasts came over to coach me. By the end of that open gym session, I had mastered the skill! I hate to get all sentimental on you, but I actually got a warm feeling inside when I did my first kip. And here’s a tip for all you aspiring gymnasts: A great kip is all about perfect timing, momentum, and strength.

My feeling of achievement was only temporarily replaced by a tingling sensation; a huge blister had formed on my palm. 

From her book: Grace, Gold, and Glory My Leap of Faith.

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