Gymnast in training camp

She was awakened suddenly by a beam of light piercing through the windows. There were no curtains. Another 20 or 30 girls were sleeping in the same dormitory, on beds made of metal bars. It was a scorching summer day in a gymnastics training camp by the Black Sea.

For three weeks, the girls had done the same routine: waking up very early, eating breakfast, training, going to the beach, having lunch, more training, having dinner, sleeping. Those three weeks seemed like three years to her. She hated that routine and being away from her family. During 1974 - 1979, she trained as a gymnast at the primary school next to the block of flats where her family lived. With Nadia Comaneci’s success at the Olympics in Montreal and her perfect 10 score, the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu seized the opportunity to raise Romania’s profile internationally through sports. A lot of talented girls were enrolled in free training programs throughout the country. She was one of them. She wanted to be like Nadia, all Romanian girls in the ‘70s wanted to be like Nadia. It was very hard work, with calloused palms, scratches, bumps to the head and blisters. And during summer camps, she missed her home dearly, her familiar surroundings, the food, familiar smells and faces.

A part of the routine was going to the beach as a group. She loved water, but she didn’t have fond memories of going to the beach with the group of gymnasts. She didn’t like the way children were exposed to water and sun at all. They were lined up on the beach like sardines, one next to each other, very close together, on three or four rows, and they were told when to turn: 10 minutes on their backs, 10 on their stomachs. A trainer would shout: “Back now!”, “Front now!”. Her favourite position was on the stomach, as she could better protect herself from the sun that way. Then they were sent in the water, but in a very orderly and organised manner: a line of older girls would line up in front of the younger ones. The water was just up to their knees, but nobody could go beyond the line of older children. Ten minutes or so in water and then back to our blankets or towels. She used to cry a lot in that camp, at night, in bed, quietly. She would write letters to her parents that she hated it and she wanted them to come and pick her up. But of course, by the time her letter would arrive home, it was time to leave the camp. That was the longest camp in her life.