Interview with Bethany Crouch

Interview with Bethany Crouch

 

Rebecca: Hi everybody.  Welcome to the PerformHappy podcast.  We have a special episode today with collegiate gymnast, Bethany Crouch, who is also known for her Always an athlete community and Her Sports Story, which is an awesome Instagram account to follow, and she’ll tell us a little bit more about exactly what that is and what she’s up to now. So Bethany, welcome.

 

About Bethany

 

Bethany: Thanks so much for having me.  I’m so happy to be here.  As you mentioned, I was a former collegiate gymnast.  I started at around six years old and had quite the journey that involved a lot of burnout, quitting twice, and turning down a scholarship, then finally making my way back to college athletics.  It was definitely a journey but I wouldn’t trade it for the world because I learned so much.  Thankfully I found collegiate gymnastics, or it found me.  I currently work, well, my full-time job is working in the student athlete development at Sacramento State.  I am advising student-athletes and creating programming designed for life after sport.  I’m creating programming around life skills.  I’m very much still a part of the collegiate athletics environment and I am so glad that I had my experience of what I went through during my college experience so that I am able to shed light and share when I am working with the current college athletes today.

Recognizing a Need

 

So that’s my nine to five.  As you mentioned, I also have a blog podcast and Instagram community called Her Sports Story.  The reason I created that was that when I finally got to sit still for a minute after leaving gymnastics, after pursuing internships and part-time jobs, and finally getting my first full-time job in athletics, I sat at a desk for eight hours and it hit me that I missed gymnastics.  I was like, “This is so weird.  Why am I missing gymnastics right now?”  I chalk it up to never fully processing it.  I wanted to always talk with someone about that.  And so there is this really interesting subject where you’re trying your best to adult and you have your full-time job but you’re wondering – is no one else missing their sport?  How do you all work out now after sport?  Does anyone want to talk about this?

I felt weird and then I couldn’t find that community, so I created that community and that’s what her sports story is.  It is connecting via storytelling because as former athletes we all have a story to share and I think we all need to give ourselves a moment where we reflect back on our journeys and just think, “Wow, we were really amazing.”

I think sometimes we forget our journey when we’re in the grind of the day to day and then now, but we’ve done so much and we’ve come so far.  It’s really a place to connect and share in all things sports and life after sports and dreams, and it’s just been a beautiful, beautiful thing.

 

Rebecca: That makes so much sense.  As you’re saying that, I’m thinking, “Yes, the way that I did Bikram yoga is like a gymnast would.  I’ll think to myself, “I will be the best in this room if it kills me,” and then it just about killed me and I was like, “I’m never doing that again.”  I’m in spin class thinking I’m going to be the best and the fastest, and then afterward all I can think is, “Well that was horrible,” and other athletes totally get it.  It’s like you want to win yoga.

 

Bethany: I’ll add to that point when people say, “Oh, just go spend 30 minutes in the gym, and I’m like, “What?  Is it even worth it?  Is it even worth it if I don’t feel like I am low key going to pass out at some point?”

 

Rebecca: There was no nausea, there was no pre-heart attack feeling, that wasn’t a workout.

 

Bethany: And it’s so silly, but it’s such a mindset of an athlete.  But then, when you get to the other side, you start to peel back all of these layers and realize, “Oh, that stemmed from my sport. That stemmed from being in an environment where we were always striving to be perfect.” So it’s really interesting being an adult and rediscovering all of these things that happen that are part of sport, at least for me, that contributed to my adulthood, mostly in positive ways, but also in ways where I think, “Oh, you know what, I could ease back on that, you know?”

 

Rebecca: Yes.  It’s that realization of, “Oh, I do have value if I’m not noticed and if I’m not winning.”

So you were sitting at your desk in this nine to five missing gymnastics.  What was the first move that you took that reconnected you with that healing process?

 

Creating Her Sports Story

 

Bethany: I literally would look up on Google – “workouts for former gymnasts” or “resources for former athletes” and I started to collect resources, which was another idea.  I was like, “Why aren’t there resources?  Why can’t I go to athlete resources and pick out what I need at this moment?”  So I just started researching like crazy.  To be honest, it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I actually came up with Her Sports Story.

It was almost three years in the making of knowing something needed to be created.  I would buy domain handles and go through this brainstorming process of how I could connect with current or former athletes and then I could feel connected to the mission.  It didn’t seem like something too big for me to wrap my arms around.

But it was a process.  In all honesty, I had a very love-hate relationship with gymnastics, so when I found myself missing it, I was like, “What gives?  I shouldn’t be missing this sport,” because I was so done at the time that I walked away.  I didn’t walk away completely healthy. I walked away with two years of eligibility left, I walked away with stress fractures in my fibulas, torn rotator cuff and labrum, some back issues… being a gymnast, your body gets to a point where it’s about pain management and maintaining your cleanest routines and that’s what you do.  That in itself is challenging to accept, but also… my body was done and I knew I had to walk away cause I didn’t want to get surgery.

It was always a goal – I didn’t want to get surgery if I didn’t have to, so that was something that I set for myself.  It was really interesting – as I was processing these feelings, and I stopped gymnastics, I hit the ground running.  I literally did every internship I could, every part-time job I could.  I would work three different jobs at once just because I had that goal.

I literally replaced gymnastics with my professional development.  Once I finally got to the goal, the full-time job (so glamorous), I sat there and thought, “Wait, what?  What was all of this?”  The past three years of me kind of going through this, this chase.  I just chalked it up to me never really processing it.  I just said, “I’m good, I’m done, bye.  Thanks for my body souvenirs.”

Processing the End

 

I had a very nonchalant attitude about it, to be honest.  I clearly didn’t fully spend time walking away forever because in my past I had quit and come back and then I had quit and come back with about anywhere from I think five, six months to almost a year of not doing gymnastics.  So this was the for sure done and maybe there was a part of me that didn’t kind of want to address it, so I just like shoved it down and said, “Nope, I gotta be an adult now and do what I’m supposed to do.”  So it was all, it was very weird to me, but it makes total sense now that I didn’t process it at all.

 

Rebecca: It’s fascinating.  Of course, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, me too.”  That’s what I do is process.  That’s what I do for my career, helping 12-year-olds go backwards on the beam because I was 12 and couldn’t go backwards on the beam.  It’s pretty cool how you just put it out there that this is a big thing that we need to embrace.  We need to grieve and we need to just come together with like-minded people so that we can make this into a beautiful asset instead of just the thing that makes my back hurt or just the thing that keeps my chiropractor busy or keeps me stressed and feeling like I always need to be better.  Hearing you say that I’m like, “Oh good, I’m okay.  We’re all just gymnasts,” and then I wonder, is it the personality of the doer, the perfectionist, the high achiever that is attracted to gymnastics or does gymnastics create that in the person?

 

Bethany: I want to say it’s a little bit of both, right?  Where they kind of meet in the middle in this perfect combination of like if you have a little bit of that achieving personality paired with the environment of gymnastics, it might instill it, bring it forward, enhance it.

 

Rebecca: There are pretty phenomenal post gymnastics success stories.  Gymnasts are pretty amazing folks.

Ok, so…  you quit a couple of times.  What’s the story behind that?  What was it that drove you out?

 

Bethany:  As you know, gymnastics is so intense.  The first time I left I was 15 and I had just competed at the college-bound meet (I don’t think they have this meet anymore) where all the college coaches are there, watching, scouting, recruiting.  I literally walked away from that meet and I quit.

When I look back I was in high school, I was 15 years old, I felt like I totally have FOMO, fear of missing out.  I struggled in school with making friends, and I so badly wanted to feel like included and like a part of my school, but school for me was going to school and then to the gym.  I was not at all involved with my high school.

So I think that paired with wanting everything that a teenage girl wants, paired with those hours and those summers where you’re training up to 40 hours a week and having that feeling, “Well, I go to the gym from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM almost every day in the summer, so I feel like I don’t get to experience what else is out there.”

My solution to getting more experience and being part of the high school world was to become a cheerleader.  Honestly, it was the best experience for me as far as feeling a part of something at school, coming out of my shell because I was so incredibly shy that when I joined the cheer team, people ask where I’d moved from and I’ve been going to this school for two years.  I  was that girl that was just so shy, so unsure of herself and so wanted to have that team at school like I had at the gym.  I, of course, had the best of friends at the gym and I still have those friends that I spent hours with at 10 years old and in beam jail… you know, each experience has brought me so much.

Anyway, I became a cheerleader, and then I would say a couple of months into cheering, I started getting letters in the mail from colleges, like recruiting questionnaires.  I was like, “Well that’s interesting.”  It’s so funny.  15-year-old Bethany was like, “Doesn’t the world know that I quit gymnastics?”  I thought that there was this memo that everyone would receive that I was no longer a gymnast, but I got letters in the mail and they kept coming and I thought… “Should I go back?  This seems kind of cool.  I can go compete for a school.”  That’s what I loved about cheer was being a part of the school.

Going Back

 

I decided to go back.  Going back to gymnastics, if you’ve taken any chunk of time off, is so hard… but I went back and I think I competed at the very tail end of season.  I think I mad it through state and regionals and then I got alternate for JOs, which I was so upset about, of course, even though I had just taken six months off.

So I did that and went back to training.  At that point, I was going to try to do both cheerleading and gymnastics and I was pretty successful through the summer with it.  Once I got to school, I was trying to do gymnastics and cheer, and when I was at one practice, I would feel guilty for missing the other practice, or I’d worry about coaches and all the things that you worry about at 15 or 16 years old.  I ended up quitting cheer.  I walked away from the team, which was not a great thing to do in high school.  Then, because of still feeling burnout, still feeling like I was struggling mentally and emotionally, I quit gymnastics, too.  At that point I had verbally committed to Sacramento State, so I called up the head coach said I was quitting, that I was not going to be a gymnast anymore, which was huge, a huge decision.

I still remember the family discussion around this decision and it was intense.

 

Rebecca: I was just going to ask, how did your parents feel about this?

Family Support

 

Bethany:  I think one was fairly supportive, and one said, “You just can’t quit when things get hard.”  You know, they had invested so much in gymnastics since I was six years old, so to have the scholarship and for me to turn it down because I wasn’t happy, that was hard.  It was really hard. Point being, I quit gymnastics.  I left my club gym for the second time and a few months later, I had a total kind high school breakdown, the sky is falling again, and I had this moment where I decided, “I need to just try college gymnastics.  I’ve come this far.  I’ll see if there is still a spot on Sacramento State’s team.”

Getting a Second Chance

 

I think what led to this is I went and toured colleges and saw that I would have to become involved in a club or something.  I remember reading through clubs and not like resonating with anything.  Again, that fear of not feeling included kind of drove me to want to go back and try college gymnastics.  So I called up the Sacramento State coach and I asked if there was still a spot on the team and he said yes.  He also said my scholarship was still there, too, which does not happen.

I was extremely lucky for that to happen because also I wasn’t with my club gym anymore.  I had technically walked away from them for a second time and, and that was hard.  My club coaches were like my parents and they had watched me grow up, so it was emotional on every level.  What I ended up doing was asking the SAC state coach if it was okay if I just worked out and stayed in shape and you know, got as invested shape as I could. And he said, “Yeah, no problem. You don’t even have to worry about competing this year.”

So I went back to the very first gym I had started at, which had turned into a cheer gym.  There was one gymnastics coach there.  I think they coached up to level five and IGA.  I asked if I could use their equipment, and what ended up happening is a coach up there coached me for a couple of months until I asked my club gym if I could go back and train with them.

There was a lot of pride involved… a lot of hurt, pride, a lot of like tail between my legs kind of thing, all of the while being at the adolescent age, being in the teenage years, it was challenging. It was so hard.  I look back on that and I always wonder what would have helped? I think I always wanted someone to talk to you about it.  I did work with a sports psychologist every now and then, but I wanted some type of mentor or maybe someone that I looked up to that said, “Yeah, let’s talk about quitting.  It’s totally okay to talk about quitting.  It’s totally okay to talk about burnout and not to feel bad for wanting to quit or feel bad for feeling so burnt out.”

I wanted someone to talk with maybe outside the sport.  I definitely didn’t want to go to my coaches or my teammates because I didn’t want to bring them down.  Then with the whole teenage thing, my parents didn’t get it

 

Rebecca: And they have the agenda, “Well, of course you can’t quit when things get hard.”

 

Bethany: Right.  So that’s what I’d always wished for, which is another reason I started Her Sports Story, this community of former female athletes who can help the current generation of athletes.

 

Rebecca: That’s beautiful.  I talk to people pretty often, these parents going, “She’s so talented.  I don’t want her to quit just because it’s getting hard.”  What would you say to that parent who is in that place where they see the 15-year-old Bethany who’s full of talent and full promise and there is love there and the parents can see it, but the athlete can’t feel it?  What do you say to those parents?  What can they do?

Taking a Break

 

Bethany: You know, I think there’s so much power, if possible, in taking a little break, like taking a true month off.  I remember my coaches saying “for every day you miss it takes five days to get back”, so you’re going to be going against the grain, but you have to do what’s best for your family and your daughter.  If your daughter is feeling burnt out and gymnastics is the only thing that defines her, can you spend a couple of weeks or a month where she gets to dive into other identities?

Identifying Only as an Athlete

 

I think sometimes we get so emotionally intertwined with gymnastics, that if we have a bad day at practice, we have a bad life.  If we’re a bad gymnast, we’re a bad person.  So if you can create any type of space, any type of healthy space, and encourage her to explore other things that make her happy and see what those are, allow her the freedom.  At the end of the day, three weeks off or a month is not going to derail her.  Sure, it might take her a little longer to get a skill, but I truly believe that that timing is on your side and there’s no reason to rush and push, especially if your daughter has the goal of college gymnastics.  If you can get to level 10 by that 16-year-old mark, awesome.  Unless you’re trying to go beyond college gymnastics, to get to level 10 at eighth or ninth grade, and you have to sit there and maintain, it’s hard.

Even when I was a coach for a little bit, I would coach our little hotshots, and I would have parents ask me, “When is she moving up?”  And in my head I was thinking, “She’s four.”  I always told them, “You know what?  I wish I would’ve started later – maybe then I wouldn’t have gotten so burnt out.”  I think I got there at a reasonable time, but in my head, I remember thinking I had to spend three years at level 10 and then do four years of college gymnastics, and I didn’t know if I could do that.

Timing

 

Timing is everything – explore those identities, allow her to feel and to identify with other parts of her and what makes her amazing.  I really encourage that.  I know another part of it is you can be so phenomenal at something, but you don’t love it.  Isn’t that weird?  People say, “Well if you’re so good at it, you must just love it.”  Unfortunately for me, there were times that I absolutely loved gymnastics, but there were times that I did not like it at all, and that’s okay.  It’s okay not to love every minute of the journey, but it’s also okay to not like something you’re really good at.  It’s really interesting.

I know it’s such an investment on the family side and on the gymnast’s side, but taking time and taking space, is going to be okay.

 

Rebecca: So what if your parents had had that perspective with that?  Would things have been different potentially for you?

 

Bethany: I think so.  I think my mom was pretty good.  I think she got to a point where she would say, “We’re going on vacation, sorry.  We’re going to be gone a week,” and I think that there’s this really interesting relationship between parent and coach and athlete and coach and this triangle of missing practice.  I think the perception has to change around missing practice because a gymnast, after years of being done with gymnastics, can hop up on a trampoline and still probably do a round off back handspring.  It may not be pretty, but they can still do it.  My brother at 32 can still throw a full in his shoes on the grass.  He might be sore for a week, but he can still do it.

I think when we allow our mind and our body that freedom for a little bit, it’s going to be more beneficial than not.  I don’t necessarily think training so much is going to make you better. There’s so much value in the mental health piece.  There’s so much value in feeling grounded and good about yourself.  If my parents had known this, if I would have told my mom, “Mom, I need a month off,” she would have said, “Okay, I guess talk to your coaches about it,” and had the “how to” discussion because it’s so hard being a 14 to 18 years old trying to be an adult and talk with coaches and having your parents really the liaison for you.

So I think they would have handled it, well, part of me thinks they would have.  They let me quit and go back and be this yoyo of decisions for my entire high school career.  I think they would have been okay with it.  I encourage those who feel burnt out or want to quit to talk to someone about it.  Maybe there’s a former club gymnast who went off to college or who’s maybe done with college – reach out and maybe ask for advice if you don’t feel comfortable talking with your parents or coaches about it… because it is hard.

 

Rebecca: Go find them, find that person on Instagram and just say, “Hey, I have a question for you.”  Go find anybody.

 

Bethany: Yes, and being a former athlete, and all of the former athletes that I’ve met through this community, they’re so willing to help.  There’s nothing more fulfilling than when an athlete reaches out to you and asks for your advice, and you can go, “Here’s everything that I know now that I wish I would have known then.”  And I think there’s so much value in finding a mentor or someone you look up to where you can reach out in that way.

 

Rebecca: Amazing.  Now, who did that for you?  Did you have a particular person who sort of served that purpose?

Finding Mentors

 

Bethany: You know, I looked up to a lot of girls going through club gymnastics, and I would really say that in college gymnastics, when you get there, you have this team of maybe 20 gals, all between 18 and 22, so you’re like at this new level of maturity and you’re more real and open with one another.  You talk about the struggles and the tough times.  I think one of the best parts of college gymnastics was being on that team and going on team trips.  All of the things that I remember about gymnastics or from college is not necessarily performing or how great I did, but more so the feeling and the experience of being a student-athlete and being on a team.

I don’t think I had one perfect mentor or person.  However, I did have a club coach that I stayed in contact with and she was definitely my sounding board at times.

I think another part of college gymnastics that you can talk about is that there are only six that get to technically compete.  When you’re a gymnast that competes all around for all of your life, and then you go to college and they’re like, “We’re only going to use you on beam, vault, and on floor,” and you’re like, “Whoa,” just a totally different experience.

I remember going into the gym one day and on the beam depth chart, there’s me, 20th, last.  I felt so down on myself, but thankfully I had a former teammate that I was doing gymnastics with from age six to maybe age 10, and I totally idolized her because she was older and so phenomenal and so good.

She was a SAC state gymnast as well, who had graduated and became a coach and whatnot.  She came back to the gym one day during practice.  Our beam coach had her judge our beam routines.  I did my beam routine and she gave me like a 9.7 or 9.8, and I was so excited that she saw that and saw me.  The next day on the depth chart I was number seven.

Confidence Boost

 

It’s just really interesting game, but her believing in me and sharing with her former coach who was my current coach that she believed that I would be a prominent marker on beam lineup was pretty cool.  Our journeys have been somewhat intertwined and she’s now an associate head coach at SAC state, and she is someone that I always looked up to.

 

Rebecca: I love that.  What are some of your other favorite stories that you’ve heard that inspired you or that maybe shifted your perspective in a big way?  Things that you’ve heard, whether it’s on your podcast or just in these relationships with athletes.  What are some of your favorite stories?

 

Bethany: Gosh, I have so many from those amazing women that I now interview on my podcast to the athletes that come in my office.  Some of the ones that I truly remember, for better or for worse.  I had an athlete come in who was cut from the team five minutes before, and she came into my office and she said, “I’ve been cut,” and I was like, “Just sit here and I want you to feel it all.”  So she literally sat in my office and was trying to process that.  I want to let athletes know that it’s okay to feel these feelings.  Just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean you have to always align with these stigmas of being strong and keeping it together and that coach can’t see you weak.  We are all human.  You need to feel that all the feels.  You need to go through that.

Being able to work with that athlete as best as I could through those moments and find her action plan moving forward.  Now she’s able to pursue a major she really wanted.  Life has shifted for her and she’s on this new journey.  I absolutely love when that happens, not that they leave their sport, but that they find themselves and that they’re more than their sport.  I’ve had that which resonates with me.

Finding Your Purpose

 

As far as some of the women that I’ve met through Instagram, which has been so cool, they’re so honest and genuine with their stories.  I’ll have gals who talk about experiencing times when they know they were numbing their emotions and not being truthful with themselves and knowing their purpose, but thinking it was not really for them or it’s too big, why would they do that?

I have met former athletes that are now identity coaches for athletes after sport, which is so cool.  I’ve met women that are doing mindset coaching and creating these communities of high school age, girl athletes to lift them up, to instill confidence, and to prepare them for that next level, whatever it may be. It’s just so cool and so phenomenal because again, most all athletes, when you connect with them, it’s like an instant connection.  You kind of get to dive back into remembering all of those things and that their willingness to help and pay it forward is so much.  They’re so caring and their work is definitely their purpose.  When you can see someone in alignment with their purpose doing the work that they’re meant to do beyond sport, that is called action of doing sport.  It’s just truly phenomenal.

When I’m interviewing guests, I will listen to their stories and then envision their future for them.  I’m playing this movie, but I always tell them, “I’m envisioning all of your future right now and it looks so great.  It’s definitely going to happen.  I can’t wait to see it happen for you.”  Just those experiences of me connecting with another former athlete and us cheering each other on in our goals and our dreams is pretty magical.

 

Rebecca: It’s amazing how you’ve been able to help people identify their way out and their gifts, and how your story is so unique as a collegiate athlete.  It just goes to show that there is no right story, there is no right path or right age or right time or right anything.  The key is just to take whatever that story is and then do as much good with it as you can.

 

Bethany: Yes, it’s so true because your story, your pain will be your purpose.  Your mess will be your message. Whatever you’re going through right now, and I still have this with certain life experiences that I’ve had after sport, I just reflect and say, “You know, although this is tough for me right now, I’m going to be able to help and relate to so many and be able to share my story, to give back and maybe provide some comfort.”

So yes, it’s, it’s all meant for you.  I am a firm believer that if it’s meant for you, it will not miss you.  It will become a part of your journey.  We all like to fantasize about crushing gymnastics and how it’s going to be so great and you’re just going to be so good.  You have these visions of everything you want it to be. Sometimes it’s not that at all and that’s okay.  It’s hard to process, especially when you’re getting to a realization.  I had the realization that my body was done and that I could not tumble anymore without it feeling like I was tumbling on concrete.

There are these really interesting hurdles that you’ll go over and challenges, but just know that it’s serving you.  It sounds so weird when you’re like, “Why would something horrible serve me?”  But it will in some regard.

 

Rebecca: Beautiful.  Well, it has been such a pleasure to hang out with you and to finally get to know you.  I know our paths have sort of crossed here and there along the way, but thank you so much for all the hope and encouragement and amazing tips for parents and just a really good perspective for any athletes who are feeling burned out or feeling like they need a month off.  Go, everybody!  Ask mom.  It can happen.  It’ll be okay.

If they want more of you and more of Her Sports Story, where can, where can people find you?

 

Bethany: I am on instagram @hersportsstory, and then my website is www.hersportsstory.org.

Rebecca: Wonderful.  Everybody, follow Bethany and her fabulous page, listen to her podcast.  It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Bethany: Thank you so much.

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