It is hard to get up close and personal in elite gymnastics. Most gymnastics fans are not able to attend many live elite meets. Even if you find yourself at a meet and have great seats, it can be hard to see those things that really define the moments we love in the sport. The expressions of victory, of celebration, of triumph. The moments of intense determination, of disappointment, of heartbreak. How many people actually saw McKayla Maroney’s “Not Impressed” face in the arena that day?
A picture is worth a thousand words. In gymnastics a picture is worth so much more. It captures the angles we analyze, the height we marvel at and the movements that take our breath away. A picture captures the play of the eyes in a mesmerizing floor routine, the shared triumph of joy between a mother and her child or teammates celebrating a long awaited perfect 10. The moments we love in gymnastics and never want to forget.
In the North Carolina airport after the AT&T American Cup, my flight was delayed for hours and eventually cancelled. I shared this flight with gymnastics photographer Christy Linder. It’s not hard for one gymnastics fanatic to spot another, and so we quickly became friends. I was excited to meet her, as I had already used her pictures in my posts for the meet and had fallen in love with her work. Her personality is as delightful as the pictures she takes.
Christy was a former collegiate gymnast, and her teammate Kristin Myers had come to cheer her on. You see, getting on the floor as press at an elite meet is no easy feat. Like the gymnasts she photographs, Christy has worked hard to follow her dream. The love of a sport she has done all her life has given birth to a dream of going to the Olympics in a different way – as a photographer.
Christy’s teammate, a published author and wonderful writer, recently wrote this post about Christy’s journey. It tells the behind the scenes of what it takes to be a part of this sport – after you have retired your grips.
Christy Ann Linder and her Artistic Journey to The American Cup
Not too long ago, I received a text from my friend Christy Linder:
Media request granted!!
To which I responded:
I'm all in.
Here’s the rest of the story:
Christy and I grew up in the same gym. Together we survived competitive gymnastics. We leaned on each other when the grueling sport threatened to break us. We are teammates. Our bond is for life.
Rarely do we talk. Texting works best for us. It most closely replicates the millions of conversations we shared in the gym. Time is of the essence when you’re almost next in line. We knew to be discreet and keep it to a minimum so coach wouldn’t assume we were messing around instead of concentrating. Punishment was not a risk worth taking.
Gymnastics is a sport of discipline. Obedience. Focus. A constant test of emotions. Mental toughness. Self-control. Darwin was right: only the strongest survive.
Christy and I were Level 10′s – the level required to have any hope of receiving a full collegiate scholarship, which we both did to Michigan State University. While we were not elites – the level at which Olympic gymnasts compete – we both understand the commitment, sacrifices and mindset required to continue to return to practice hour after hour, day after day, year after year.
Gymnasts are determined forces of nature. They do not give up. Not when they fall. Not when coach says she’s not good enough. Not when she’s dying to quit so she can just be normal.
Gymnasts are far from delicate, even though their televised appearance may tempt you to believe otherwise. Gymnasts are warriors. Machines. Athletes.
Linder gets this. She was a great gymnast. Like all great gymnasts, she understands that no skill worth having comes easily. Now her skill is gymnastics photography – recognizing and capturing the true essence of what it means to be a gymnast.
A year and a half ago she picked up her first camera and started with the basics. Since then she’s practiced a countless amount of hours, done thousands and thousands of repetitions, and made the necessary corrections to master her skill. She has sacrificed time with her family and put her finances on the line to invest in her dream. Along the way she’s proven herself by becoming the most popular photographer for UCLA Gymnastics.
Her candid results have been breathtaking. Electrifying. Mesmerizing.
Christy Linder’s images are real. She does not cover little girls in pretty boxes. She captures women. Women who can bust through brick walls with fierce determination and strength. Superheroes who are not afraid to bleed in the name of victory.
Two weeks ago, I sat in the stands as Christy photographed The Nastia Liukin Cup – the pinnacle meet of any Level 10′s career – and The AT&T American Cup – the most prestigious elite international competition the United States has to offer. When I learned she’d earned her media credentials to photograph from the floor, I knew it was a really big deal. I was all in. I booked a flight and watched with pride as my teammate continued to make her gymnastics dreams come true.
Christy Linder’s photos are the best gymnastics pictures I’ve ever seen. She uses her lens to portray the complex sport of gymnastics with beautiful artistry, honesty and great detail. The whole world is noticing. The gymternet is begging for more. The name Christy Ann Linder is becoming recognizable. Elizabeth Price, Brenna Dowell, Victoria Moors, Nastia Liukin, and Jordyn Wieber are all fans, just to name a few. Mary Lou Retton even personally thanked Christy for “capturing priceless moments” as she and her daughter, Level 10 gymnast McKenna Kelley, celebrated her Nastia Liukin Cup victory.
Christy Linder brings to the world of gymnastics photography her athletic experience, her artistry and her game face. She nailed her international debut. I’m so glad I was there to watch her shine.