08/26/2014 12:11 pm ET Updated Oct 26, 2014

Tough Times Make You Stronger

I glance at the clock. It's only 5:30?! It feels like I've been here forever! The constant gnawing in my stomach reminds me each second that I'm hungry, and I feel my energy gradually seep out of my muscles. I stare at my gym bag distastefully, reluctant to do any routines today or anything that would require physical exertion. After some deliberation, I turn away from the apparatus sitting in my gym bag and grab my hoop. I half-heartedly go over my routine once, dispersing water breaks throughout, and then look hopefully at the clock: 5:45.

My hope deflates. I've pretty much taken all the water breaks I'll need for the rest of training, and the irritating nagging of my empty stomach convinces me that getting through this training day is an impossible feat. I sigh, heading to the bathroom to get a cold towel and press it to my forehead. C'mon, Amanda, get excited, I tell myself, staring harshly at the reflection in the mirror. The girl that looks back, though, doesn't seem to register those words. Her blank, lifeless stare gazes back at me. I scrutinize her for a second and feel the hopelessness creep in.

I pick up my hoop, the image of that defeated face imprinted in my mind. Focus, I think, trying to redirect my attention. I tense my muscles as much as possible and go at each skill with forced enthusiasm, only to feel more void of energy afterwards. Groaning at the futility of my efforts, I roll my hoop back and forth across my arms, thinking of all the inspirational quotes I can conjure. Nothing sparks a burst of energy. Ok, stop, I decide, the hoop gliding to a halt into my hand. There has to be something about the present -- about this moment -- that's special. I stand there, my eyebrows scrunched, searching for that piece of inspiration. And then it hits me.

It's May 9th. APs are almost over. Junior year, the notoriously most arduous year in high school, is almost over. Those nine months of incessant toil, the struggles in class and with homework and tests, are almost over. I can almost taste the sweetness of summer vacation that drifts closer with each passing second, and soon elation erupts through my heart, diffusing to every inch of my body and breaking my expression in a huge grin.

I feel like jumping, running, screaming -- anything. Suddenly, with these thoughts in mind and a sense of accomplishment welling in me, a massive reservoir of energy explodes inside me, ready to be expended. I can do anything. I practice my routine with renewed vigor, my mind bursting with joy and relief, the nettlesome hunger and fatigue numbed away. I can hardly even imagine how tired and sluggish I felt just moments ago.

When I'm called to go with music, a small jittering flutters in my stomach, which only triggers more excitement. I commit all of my effort to each skill, sometimes needing to restrain my overflowing energy, and finish exactly with the music. Afterwards, even though I'd normally be tired for another routine, I shoot on my feet and get ready, soaring through everything as I did the first time. And as I catch my last toss and end with the music, I stay there for a second, shocked by what just happened.

It was all in my head: the weariness, the hunger and the thought of being unable to make it through the training day. Sure, my body wasn't lying when it signaled that it needed rest, but that was no excuse to believe I couldn't try my best during training. It's one thing to be able to give everything on a day where all the circumstances are ideal, but it's entirely different on a day when everything seems to discourage you.

As my mom's car rolled along the road towards home, I stared up at the darkening sky, a content expression lying comfortably on my face. I realized I didn't just improve my skills as a gymnast. After today, I grew as a person. Because on days like these, if you can push yourself one step further, that's when you get immeasurably stronger.