February may feel like years ago now, but it was a month of unexpected international attention for Nicole Clemens.

An English teacher at Rock Bridge High School, Clemens posted a video of herself performing a gymnastics move she says she was afraid to do as a 14-year-old gymnast.

”It’s just so bizarre. Of all the random stuff that I’ve ever posted on the internet, I would not have guessed that was the one that would get traction,” Clemens said.

Although decades had passed, she found herself again in the world of gymnastics environment, this time for her daughter. Clemens is now in her third year of coaching at Elevate Gymnastics and Fitness in Columbia, where she is also enrolled in an adult class she joined around a year ago.

”I think the part I really like about the class is that I come into the class as a student, but I also understand gymnastics as a coach,” she said.

Although the adult class hasn’t met for a while because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the members were at different levels and happy to celebrate each other’s “little victories,” Clemens said.

”It’s like a concrete goal,” she said. “As an adult, you don’t get to see a lot of concrete, ‘I did this thing’ kind of stuff. It’s just like this long march to the rest of adulthood.”

It was that spirit of celebrating an unexpected goal that prompted Clemens to tweet the video of her performing a round-off back layout.

Clemens wrote: “In the spirit of being freaking proud of myself and also knowing I’m about to be fat shamed on the Internet, I present to you me, a 38-year-old mom and teacher, doing a thing I was afraid to do when I was a 14 year old gymnast.”

Clemens said she was surprised by the attention the tweet received, considering she hadn’t originally intended to post anything from her practice session. As of Monday, it had 338,400 likes — and 4.8 million views.

She had help from her daughter, Ashlyn Clemens.

”I asked my daughter to take the video just because I had never seen myself do gymnastics as an adult,” she said. “The skills felt … not terrible. And I was like, ‘I just want to see it.’”

After watching the video, Clemens decided it was good enough to share. She never dreamed it would make Time, USA Today and the Today show. Access Hollywood called, too.

”My phone just kept blowing up. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of funny,’” she recalled thinking as the notifications poured in.

The positive comments, most from strangers, was a surprise, too.

”For the most part it’s been very cool to see people who take time out of their day to reach out to you in a positive way,” she said.

Clemens said she thinks she understands why the video gained traction.

”I think it’s that people identify with being insecure, and I think people identify with doing things they’re afraid of,” she said. “They want to celebrate other people who are doing those things as well.”

The challenges faced in the sport, especially when returning to it years later, are just as much mental as physical, Clemens said.

”You forget that you do it for fun sometimes,” she said.

  • Education reporter, spring 2020. Studying photojournalism. Reach me at mepkw4@mail.missouri.edu or in the newsroom at (573) 882-5720.

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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