Tracy Cain swung onto the lower uneven bar in gymnastics class, then was standing briefly atop it when she lost momentum and had to hop off, onto the padded floor.
Her 15-year-old daughter, Mikaylah, stood by, offering encouragement and just the right perspective.
“Just think about how many 50-year-olds would even try this,” Mikaylah said.
Cain isn’t just taking adult classes through Stafford County Parks & Recreation’s gymnastics program. She’s participating in a meet later this week, sponsored by the group’s competition team, the Stafford Royals, that will benefit the Make-a-Wish Greater Virginia chapter.
Almost 1,000 gymnasts of all skills levels, and apparently a range of ages, have signed up for the event that’s gotten so big, it’s being held for the first time at the University of Mary Washington’s Anderson Center. The invitational runs Friday through Sunday with weekend passes for spectators available for $20 to $25. More information is available at 540/658-5115.
For the 50-year-old Cain, the Make-a-Wish benefit will be her first competition in 25 years. She heard about it more than a year ago, after she started taking classes in the same gym as her daughter, but didn’t think she was ready.
“It became an item on my bucket list, being in a gymnastics meet at the age of 50,” Cain said. “Who else can say they did that?”
The bigger question might be who else would want to.
Stafford Parks & Rec currently has eight students in its adult class, which started in October 2018, said Director Michael Morris. Most have been in their 20s and 30s.
It’s rare to have adults and students compete together in Virginia and nationally, but Morris thinks it’s great to see interaction among different generations.
“Tracy will be an example to the youth to reach for dreams, no matter what age you are,” Morris said.
As Cain practiced recently for the upcoming meet, she was nervous about being in the spotlight, but also excited because her floor exercise was coming together. For the first time, she was able to combine three skills as she launched herself into a round off, back handspring and back tuck.
Mikaylah cheered, of course, along with a few others, but many were busy working on their own routines.
Cain started taking gymnastics at age 12 in her home state of New York, stopped for a while at 18, then went back and forth to meets until she was 25. When Mikaylah came along, Cain was living in the Fredericksburg area, and the two took “Mommy and Me” classes with Stafford Parks & Rec.
At 5-foot nothing, Cain has stayed the same basic size as an adult, and she and her family enjoy being outdoors, hiking and backpacking. When she started taking gymnastics classes again, she was pleasantly surprised to learn she could still do a lot of the tumbling and vaulting moves.
The response those moves triggered wasn’t so pleasant.
“It’s amazing how your body doesn’t bend the way it used to,” Cain said, laughing.
In addition to about 20 minutes daily on an elliptical machine, Cain also has tried more stretching exercises, such as doing the splits and back bends and touching her toes.
“Those are the best for your back and your wrists,” Mikaylah noted.
“Those are the hardest for old people,” her mom said.
Mikaylah said her coach likes to rub it in when Cain can do something that the teenager can’t, such as performing a kip maneuver to get from one uneven bar to the next. And Mikaylah jokes that she eggs on her mother the same way her mom cheered for her—especially the way the mom held up two fingers, with no air between them, and admonished her daughter to keep her legs straight and her toes pointed.
“You’d always do it to me, so now it’s my turn,” Mikaylah said.
Still, there’s no doubt the teenager is proud of her mother.
“She’s 50, and she’s on the same level as me. That’s not bad at all,” she said.
A common belief is that people over 25 are too old for gymnastics, an idea that Roger Harrell, webmaster of a site called DrillsandSkills, calls ridiculous. The sport involves resistance training, which is known to benefit joint health, maintain muscular development and improve cardiovascular fitness, he said.
But there are points that older gymnasts should consider, Harrell wrote on the website. It can be embarrassing for adults to watch 9-year-olds master maneuvers they can’t, and adults do have a higher risk of injury.
“An 180-pound adult will hit the floor with a lot more force than a 60-pound child,” he stated.
Still, being able to tumble, flip, swing and “come as close to self-powered flight as is possible is a blast,” Harrell added.
Cain definitely would agree, although she points out that not everyone in her family is doing cartwheels over her plans. Her brother and sister in New York, who will come down for the meet, have told her she’s insane.
Cain, who works for Spotsylvania County schools, does wonder what she’s doing at times.
“You can get hurt, and I worry, ‘Is my body too old for this?’ ” Cain asked. “Am I crazy?”
Once more, her teenage daughter has all the answers.
“If you do get hurt,” she said, “at least it will be a great story when someone asks you how it happened.”