Elizabeth Kurz was a gymnast ever since she could walk.
So it should come as no surprise she set some personal bests at a gymnastics meet in early March — unless you know she’s 34 years old and recently started competing again after a 22-year break.
She’s happy to be a mom and wife. But after two decades of not competing, she’s also proud to call herself a gymnast again. She’s hoping others like her find their passions along with the demands of parenting and everyday life.
“As adults, we are conditioned by society or our own general thoughts to believe we can’t do something because of our age,” Kurz said. “I just felt if I could give so much in one area, no one could take it from me. It’s mine and mine alone. I said, “Let’s see if I could do gymnastics again.”
A born gymnast
Kurz started gymnastics when she was about 5 years old. And until the age of 12, gymnastics was her life. In 1997, despite success (she had made regionals — a step above state championships — a couple of times), she decided to walk away. The “normal” life of a teenager beckoned — more time with friends, school-based sports and other interests. That led to a lengthy gap in her gymnastics career, though she wouldn’t know it yet.
During those years she met and married Matt, a member of the Army. They eventually had Oskar, now 2. The duties of being a military spouse and the mother of a young boy came first.
"The main thing that makes Elizabeth so special to Oskar and I is that she is simply so committed to us as a whole, Matt said. “She obviously wants the best for Oskar, and that can be seen on a daily basis. For example, she has already gotten Oskar into gymnastics. She is an excellent mother, and I'd be lost without her.” Matt deployed to Iraq when Oskar was 2 months old. Matt said he knew it was difficult for her, but she was determined to make it through. Matt had seen her determination many times before. She worked two jobs to make ends meet earlier in life. She braved Northern Virginia traffic so they could see each other often early in their long-distance relationship because he was stationed in Pennsylvania.
“Throughout the years, I've seen her determination come out in many other aspects of her life, but it has been most apparent in her dedication to health and fitness,” he said. “Since getting back into gymnastics, I've seen her determination soar to a level that I wasn't even aware she had in her.”
‘Things will unfold’
While Elizabeth loves her family, she soon realized something was missing from her life. Like many parents, she had the urge to do something for herself again.
“There was no one specific thing (that happened),” she said. “Last year, I decided to stop trying to find the perfect size and just get started. I thought, ‘Things will unfold.’”
She started with tumbling classes, a class she also took before becoming pregnant with Oskar. After doing the class for 30-minutes once per week, she realized that was not enough. “I wanted the physical challenge,” she said. Kurz moved from tumbling class to full gymnastics. She signed up for a local program and worked with a coach.
She competed five times from January to March. Her scores were good enough to qualify for the state competition later in March. She’ll compete against the best gymnasts in North Carolina with a chance to move to a regional competition — the same level she competed at when she was a kid.
“There are numerous reasons why Elizabeth has enjoyed getting back into gymnastics, but I think the most important one is that she simply finds it incredibly gratifying to see that she can still do it,” Matt said. “In addition to that, I feel like she still held some regret about stopping when she did — like she had not yet reached her prime when she was competing as a child. I know there's also got to be that aspect of a sense of belonging and acceptance that you find doing any kind of activity with like-minded people.”
Though she’s comfortable with competing, she said she draws curious looks from onlookers. However, everyone she’s spoken with has been supportive and encouraging.
“We think we are too old,” Kurz said. “I knew I had to get over the stigma of this. When I do something, I have to be all-in. I have great intensity and have to be really good at it.”
No more sleepless trips
Kurz knows it’s tough for parents to get away to pursue something that’s not related to children, work or home life. She says she’s lucky to have good daycare centers in her area. Matt has supported her, she said, and his job flexibility has allowed him to either travel to meets with her or stay home with Oskar.
Kurz also credits her SlumberPod. She can take Oskar to meets, and he’ll sleep soundly despite the action around him. “I am obsessed with the product, Kurz said. “It has solved so many problems for us.” Kurz bought SlumberPod shortly after she had spent a sleepless vacation at a family member’s house.
“I took it on my next trip, and Oscar was out like a light,” she said. “For every mom that follows a sleep routine, it’s the answer to our prayers.
And it’s never far from her. She’s used SlumberPod to safely sleep Oskar in a downstairs hallway during Hurricane Florence in September 2018. On a trip, she got a surprise visit from a curious security guard at Heathrow Airport during a flight delay. She used her SlumberPod so Oskar could take a nap while she did some stretching for her gymnastics regime which caught the eye of airport security.
Kurz has also made a few friends along the way, including Katy Mallory and Lou Childs, co-creators of SlumberPod.
The three have never met, but that hadn’t stopped Kurz from sending notes of encouragement when Mallory and Childs were trying out for Shark Tank. Or sending messages of her gymnastics success and demonstrating for people how SlumberPod can make a difference.
“Elizabeth has been an inspiration to us,” Childs said. “She doesn’t let normal life things get in the way. She has energy, tenacity, and she shares that with the world.”
Kurz knows firsthand what it’s like to sometimes feel confined when you are a mother to a young child. She says it’s important for mothers to explore what made them happy in the past because it just might help them live a fuller life now.
“If we find ourselves in the monotony of everyday life, it’s important for moms and women to look back to childhood and explore what made them happier,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be gymnastics. It could be swimming. It could be karate. Maybe reflect on what happened in life and see if it brings you joy again.”
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