For most all-star cheerleaders, tumbling is a skill that is picked up either before cheer altogether, or is learned along with cheer at a very young age.
I was introduced to power cheer at an age where most elite cheerleaders are already competing at world’s – and here I was, seventeen and learning double-base cradles. Tumbling wasn’t much of a question – on my high school team our most advance tumbling pass was a running cart-wheel. Our routines didn’t even have a tumbling section.
Then I somehow made it on my college team, where I realized I’d have to learn to tumble pretty quickly if I wanted to continue cheering. I remember watching a level 1 team at my first competition and admiring their back walkovers, which seemed like a difficult feat to me. Handsprings felt like something I could only dream of, and people who could handspring were my idols.
So after a gruelling three-month summer of once a week tumbling, I managed to achieve a bridge-walkover. Though I had once marvelled at this skill, I wasn’t satisfied in the least. I was by far one of the oldest girls in the class, and I watched with envy as 14 year-olds tucked, flipped, and twisted effortlessly. My semi-walkover seemed pathetic in comparison. I had level 1 tumbling (barely) on a level 5 team.
I knew that if I could just spend more time and practice a lot, I could achieve a handspring. And OH, how I wanted that handspring!
I was never quite satisfied with skills I achieved, even in stunting. I wanted to get my scorp in the air so bad, and while I was happy the day I got it, by next practice I was already looking ahead to what skills I still hadn’t achieved. The same ethic applied to my tumbling. A back walkover meant nothing since the day I got it.
The following year I transitioned to all-star cheer. They didn’t have a tumbling requirement, but I knew that if I wanted to go far I’d have to tumble. I had an advantage, being a flyer, but I still didn’t feel like a well-rounded cheerleader. After all, what kind of cheerleader couldn’t tumble?
At the time, I couldn’t take any more tumble classes, because the gym was too far away from my school, and I couldn’t afford the costs either.
Finally, in my last year of university, and at 21 years old, I put my mind into achieving some basic tumbling, and I started taking private lessons at a gymnastics gym close to my school. After 3 lessons, I was doing unassisted back handsprings on the trampoline, and learning back tucks off the mini tramp. I’ve been taking lessons for a month and a half, and am starting to work on round-off back handsprings on the tumble track. I thoroughly enjoy the classes, and feel no pressure because I’m only competing with myself, and every small feat feels big to me. I hope to take my handsprings to the floor soon, and believe I can do it.
But I can’t help but wonder if my body will give out at some point, and limit my progress. After all, most tumblers start out much younger than me. The non-tumblers on my team all claim that they’re too old to learn to tumble, but is that just a restriction of the mind, or is it really possible to learn to tumble at twenty? Is there an age that’s too old for this sport? Or can willpower trump age? Does this age apply to stunting too? I’m not sure, but I’m not about to let the answer stop me from trying.