Abby Gromek can’t remember the first time she stepped on a trampoline. However, she can remember the day it began to mean something more.

Gromek began taking gymnastics classes when she was just five years old, but was quickly pulled out when she only showed interest in climbing onto the trampoline.

It’s the one place where she can go to focus, to run through routines and concentrate on each rotation and bend her body, which is all she needed in the sixth grade.

The girls in Abby’s middle school made her an outsider, and so did her school’s administration. During computer class, Abby began having trouble with the activity, and her teacher chose to yank her out of her chair by her shoulder. Her classmates all saw it. But her principal wouldn’t believe her. She came home crying, every day, for months.

It was during this time that Abby found the gym to be her escape.

“You just don’t think about anything else,” she said, “You feel like you’re free, flying.”

Abby’s favorite part of gymnastics is the room she has to grow. She will never learn everything there is to learn — there is always another skill, or a new routine to conquer.

Abby also remembers the moment her training paid off — the moment she received her bid to the 2016 United States National Trampoline Team. After a tough competition, she didn’t think she had the scores, until her name was called.

Her dreams had come true, right before she was heading to college. At first she thought the move wouldn’t affect her gymnastics: She could drive back and forth, train on weekends, travel and compete like normal.

But after settling into life as an undergraduate, Abby quickly realized how many demands there were for her time. When her mom called to ask when she was coming home to train, Abby told her she simply couldn’t do it anymore.

Then she tweaked her ankle on a landing, and began feeling intense pain every time she landed. The doctors told her that her ankle ligaments were twice as stretched out as they should be, and she needed surgery.

But even after the treatment, her time commitment wouldn’t matter; her career was over.

At 19, Abby is a retiree, but she is very content with her status. She’ll watch her teammates train, lean back and smile, waving her hand:

“Aw, yeah. That looks fun.”

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