How Gymnastics Sparked My Interest in Neuroscience

From a young age, gymnastics was my passion, entailing year-round competition. It was not until after moving on to other activities after seven years did I realize the impact of the sport’s strong core values. Simple instances like supporting my teammates after a fall off the balance beam taught me teamwork and managing the twenty-hour-week practices taught me responsibility. But the most intriguing outgrowth of my time in gymnastics was neuroscience.

To me, this connection between a sport and science makes perfect sense. Injuries in the form of chronic back pain from gymnastics led to many hours on Dr. Scott’s physical therapy examination table for acupuncture. Being poked and prodded like a pin cushion sounds like bliss to the typical eleven-year-old, right? Well, for me, it was. Appointments with Dr. Scott meant hour-long anatomical lessons about the spine and how each needle he stuck into my back instantaneously rids pain. Dr. Scott, along with the gift of my grandpa’s Gray’s Anatomy textbook, blossomed into my discovery of our body’s beautifully complex nervous system.

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Eventually, I returned to gymnastics in a new capacity-coaching. However, when I first stepped onto the floor mats of Chattooga Gymnastics, a center for special needs women, I began to question the confidence my years of gymnastics instilled: I am twenty years younger than all gymnasts here, so how I can I coach them? I have never interacted with someone with a developmental disability, so how do I teach? Chattooga’s supportive atmosphere helped me overcome this doubt and begin to develop an understanding of neurodiversity. My coaching mantra is to find value in everyone’s abilities. Different needs and abilities do not make people inferior; they simply make people more unique.

As time went on at Chattooga, I found it difficult to establish meaningful connections with the women. In particular, I struggled to communicate with Stephanie, a forty-year-old with hypotonia (weakened mouth muscles) induced by Down syndrome. I could not understand her words and became ashamed when I asked her an innumerable amount of times to repeat herself just for my convenience. However, as we worked towards more meaningful and engaging conversations, she felt actively heard and not just passively ignored. This simple act made all the difference because I am now her “woman” and we bond over our love of Publix’s chocolate chip cookies.

Outside of the realm of gymnastics, my fascination with neuroscience continues to grow. As a counselor and participant for the past two years at HOBY, a youth leadership camp, I learned of an even more unique perspective of neuroscience. Paul, the improv speaker, led a workshop on the brain’s plasticity. It was fascinating to learn about the ways theatrical exercises can retrain your brain to become more divergent, creative, and efficient. By writing the alphabet with both hands at the same time in opposite directions, you open up both lobes of the brain, which combines logic and creativity.

On a deeper level, Paul taught me that I, too, am plastic like the brain. When I went to HOBY International without knowing a single soul, but immersed myself into the new culture, I was adaptive to the introduction of new stimuli, precisely like the brain.

Through gymnastics, I learned to be curious, accepting, and empathetic, ultimately leading to a new passion for neuroscience. As I look forward towards the next four years of my life, I am eager to interact with the diverse minds of others and celebrate the neurodiversity I was exposed to at Chattooga and HOBY. The real question is, just how plastic is my brain?

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How Gymnastics Sparked My Interest in Neuroscience. (2023, Jan 25). Retrieved from