Tag Archives: gymnastics

Set a goal. Cross it off. Set another.

When I was 15, I quit my first love—gymnastics. It was a decision that taught me so much about myself. I loved it, still do, but it was tearing me up mentally and giving myself the permission to quit meant giving myself permission to experience whatever life had in store and not put a big red FAILURE stamp on that chapter in my life.

I went on to run cross country and track. Something I didn’t know how to do. Something I had always hated. I was the 15-minute mile shrimp in elementary school. The girl who would’ve gotten the Presidential Fitness Award, or at least the National Fitness Award, if she didn’t get a big X in the mile every year. I could stretch and push up and sit up and pull up and all the things but running? No, not running.

And honestly, running felt like salt in the wound because I couldn’t play any other sports. I wasn’t any good at anything else. I had no hand eye coordination. I think it took me a month or two to see running as something to be admired. Something to push towards.

My dad spent hours with me at the local YMCA, in the months before school let out for the summer, training my breathing patterns and posture and arm movements, pushing me to round one lap of the indoor track without stopping to heave. He would stand at the corner of the track, pressed against the wall with a running watch, timing me, quietly propelling me to just keep going, one more step, that’s it.

Then we transitioned to running outside. My neighborhood had rolling hills and I remember thinking, “This is hard. This is nothing like the indoor track. You expect me to run 3 miles by August?” It was May and everything hurt. My calves. My quads. My lungs. I was a muscular 110 pounds and yet, I felt so heavy. Sluggish.

I started doing summer runs with the coach and some other girls and I remember the first time I ran 3 miles. It was mid-July, mid-morning, and I was coming around the corner down Walnut Street in Royersford, thumping down the uneven concrete sidewalk, trying to admire the houses I passed by. I had just stopped to walk a block when my coach came doubling back for me and pushed me to keep going, almost there. When I got to Lewis Road, the 7-11 on my left, I felt home free.

Running was never the plan. But those 3 last years of high school brought me so much joy, and so much appreciation for the limits of the human body. Set a goal. Cross it off. Set another.

A few people in my life are struggling with where to go next. They’re at crossroads, hoping they can just continue forward but realizing they can’t. And I want them to know that there is beauty in forcing yourself to set aside what you planned and follow the best path you see now, to push yourself into something you didn’t know you could love.

Lately, running has given me anxiety. Am I going to fast? What’s my heartbeat? Am I going to be okay? Can my body handle this?

When I was just 15, had never run more than a few hundred feet at a time, that was the last thing on my mind. I was just frustrated and tired and hot and out of breath. Our bodies are powerful. But so are our minds. They see us through. They know what we sometimes cannot know until we given in and trust. Let’s not forget that.

My seventh grade history teacher ruined my childhood dream.

gymnastics hershey beam awards medal

my first year of competitive gymnastics

When I was thirteen, perfection was just a misspelled word on a t-shirt from a gymnastics catalogue. Perfec10n, the shirt read.

Perfect 10.

I was obsessed with the way the phrase rolled off my tongue so easily. Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton? Now those were girls who knew how to work hard.

I thought that if I pointed my toes hard enough and stayed at the gym extra hours, working on stretches until my arms and legs were sore for at least two days straight, I could make it to the Olympics.

But then I went to seventh grade and my history teacher told this other girl that she was too old to be an Olympic gymnastic. And since we shared a birthday, I knew what that meant.

It didn’t matter anymore if I was short and skinny and ready to dedicate my whole life to being America’s next Shannon Miller. I was already too old.

I remember looking at her from across the classroom, my pulse skyrocketing as I thought quickly before he reached my desk in the back corner. What did I want to do with the rest of my life? I didn’t know. I didn’t even remember what I’d packed for lunch.

From then on, perfect was unattainable. Out of my control. Sure, I could spend 20 hours a week caked in chalk and sweat until I literally couldn’t smell myself anymore. But that wouldn’t be enough.

And so began the pattern of always being perpetually behind.

My coach would make us do five perfect beam routines in a row. No falls, not even a wobble. For some of the girls, cleaning up minor missteps on a dismount or over-rotations on a front tuck was easy. They’d focus and knock all five routines out in no time.

Me? I’d do one or two then fall. Two more and another fall.

And then, of course, I’d be late to the next event — uneven bars — which was, consequently, my worst event.

It was a cycle that drove me crazy. And I watched the rest of the girls master it, so why couldn’t I?

What I know now is that perfect’s just the accumulation of mistakes we make leading up to a self-determined ‘final destination.’ I was so busy being paranoid over the notion of “5 perfect beam routines in a row” that I couldn’t focus on the block of wood under my toes.

When USAG stopped handing out 10.0’s like candy, I’d already quit. Not because I wasn’t perfect, but because I couldn’t accept that fact. I drove myself (and my parents) crazy when I played mental games, reverting back to basic skill levels like a child forgetting how to walk and talk.

On those nights, I ran upstairs and jumped into the shower, because at least I didn’t have to think about how to wash my hair. But the truth was that all I needed — and all most of us need at one point or another — was to be shaken and reminded that perfect’s boring.

And really, perfect is a lie. USAG decided that for me. Not long after my seventh grade history teacher.

Tell me I'm not insane. I'm just a writer.

Growing up, I always found a way to be different.

can't tell in this one, but I have on boys sweatpants

Nine and squirming at the back of the line on picture day, the shortest kid in the class.

Thirteen and stick thin, coming home from 3-hour-long gymnastics practices to sit in front of the television and watch ER. Bowl of ice cream in one hand. Spoon in the other.

Always and forever unable to sit still in itchy tights or pantyhose that ran the moment I reached to adjust them.

another hat one

Fifteen in sweatpants and crumpled t-shirts, my straightened hair awkwardly juxtaposing this.

And yet I forgot for a time that there’s a beauty in being different. Being weird.

Writers always say they’ve been writing since they could spell out the alphabet. I didn’t leech onto writing like that. My room was cluttered with ribbons, medals and trophies. My eclectic stack of diaries were pushed to the bottom of my desk drawer, buried under stacks of computer paper and old homework assignments.

But now, twice a week, I free myself from all expectations of reality for 75 minutes at a time and allow myself to be whoever I want to be.

There’s a beauty in that. I cannot even begin to justify it to the non-writers, the naysayers.

Anyone who can fill out a job application by themselves can write. They can sit down with a fresh sheet of loose-leaf paper and let the words bleed together incoherently on the page until what once was clean has become dirty. What was once a tree becomes a work of calligraphy. An artist’s canvas. What once was pure has been tarnished with our broken thoughts, unspoken worries and grandiose dreams.

It took me twenty years to become a writer. But I was one all along. I wrote for my intermediate school newspaper in fifth grade. Swore that off for about eight years.

And at barely seventeen, in a sleep-deprived and delusional state, I made the ridiculous decision to write a 50,000-word novel in a single summer.

Normal kids worked and goofed off. Wasted three months trying to turn six shades of orange. I did that too. Had a foolproof method for that, actually.

Turn on iPod. Bake in sun until I couldn’t stand it any longer. Jump into pool. Climb back out. Grab earphones. Repeat.

Rita's uniform, music, writing (?)

I worked nights at Rita’s sitting on the freezer and relishing in all-you-can-eat free water ice. After my shift, my stick red lips stained, I’d come home to write until 2 a.m. Often forgetting I still had that red polo on. Just clacking away at a keyboard in my room, the whole house quiet while I hashed out details of a romance I’d only dreamed about. The kind of guy I wanted to fall in love with me. My best friend kept me writing. “I want him to be real,” she once said.

I hadn’t met him yet, but I knew everything about him.

There are bloggers and there are writers. And then, there are writers (like me) who blog.

I’m compelled to figure out why some guy is complaining about a blind woman who lives in the apartment above him playing classical music. Why does anyone hear entirely fabricated conversations in their head? Please, please oh please, tell me I am not insane. I’m just a writer.

That is all I ask of you, my fellow writers and bloggers. I ask you to believe that writing is uncontrollable. That I cannot put up an invisible fence and expect myself to not run into it and get electrocuted.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m running in circles, but in the end, I always return to the person I was meant to be. A little bit weird. A lot bit crazy. A writer.

You taught an antsy group of girls in leotards how to one person can change the world.

day 11 – a deceased person you wish you could talk to

Dear Mr. Dave,

We both knew this letter was coming. As I’m sure most anyone who knows me did. The easiest part was deciding to write to you. The hardest part? What to say.

When I look back at my thirteen-year-old self, cataloging the series of events that encapsulate the last seven years of my life, I can’t imagine it without your influence. How did I go from spending 20 hours a week with someone to having trouble remembering his voice?

The worst part of grieving is watching it slip away. Watching the person slip away, as you grow farther and farther away from That Girl You Were When They Were Still Alive.

Now, I look back and wonder if she would be happy with who I’ve become. If you would be.

You were the first person I lost whose death really shook me up. Challenged my faith in God, gymnastics, and myself. In the cold winter that followed, I gave up on myself and let the voices in my head override yours.

How do you justify taking someone away, removing them from the hearts of thousands of people across the globe?

After I calmed down on Thursday and drove my car back onto the road, I continued to focus on driving, but occasionally slipped back to the past. With each passing ambulance, each car accident, I was transported back to that cold December afternoon, standing in line at practice, shivering. Knowing with each whispered phone call that something had gone terribly wrong. Then, though, I couldn’t yet imagine the worst.

The words black ice freak me out. My heart rate skyrockets and I have to reassure myself that thinking something doesn’t make it happen. That I have met my car spinning out on I-81 quota for the year (twice).

And then I remember how much you’ve done for me. How much you’ve taught a group of antsy girls in leotards, too energized to stand still and listen. Too young to appreciate the lesson that transcended the sport.

You taught us to believe in ourselves, to be better people. You taught us to compartmentalize, to focus on one thing at a time. You taught us how our love can change the world by showing us how yours already did.

As we sat huddled in a packed funeral home, staring up at those older than us reading testimonies of a life cut much too short, we learned you had already changed hundreds of lives. That you were passionate about just about everything — coaching, your wife, and the sport of gymnastics.

We cried for days straight, leaning on each other for support. In part, we feared we had lost someone so great we couldn’t even yet comprehend it. And when all was said and done, we shared your love and lessons with the world.