In case any of you are wondering why I'm not competing in Beijing, I thought I'd tell the story of my truncated gymnastics career.
Before I start, let me explain that with my 12-15 miles a week on the treadmill and occasional bike ride, I am the athlete in my immediate family. I don't think I've ever seen my brothers even take part in a pick-up softball game at a picnic. In other words, the Hulls are not an athletic people. And when I was a kid, I was the least athletic of all of us. I was good at doing front somersaults, but that was about it as far as the normal kid tumbling and romping went. I never did figure out how to do cartwheels because I was terrified that my arms wouldn't be strong enough to hold me and I'd land on my head.
Needless to say, PE was not my best subject. By the way, does anyone remember gymsuits? The picture at the top is pretty much what ours looked like except that they were sleeveless and our name was embroidered over the vest pocket. Hideous, huh?
So let me set the stage. In spite of the retro outfit, the year is 1970. I'm in 7th grade. The Jackson 5 are singing "I'll Be There" on every radio station, and while we're standing around in the gym, we're all gossiping about what's going to happen when Michael Jackson's voice changes. (It never did, but that's an entirely different story.) My gym teacher, Miss Whatsername (sorry, I can't remember), is a young African-American woman with an afro that would do Angela Davis proud.
The time came for us to do our gymnastics unit. We were all supposed to learn a move on the uneven parallel bars. I don't remember the name of the skill, and I'm not even sure my memory of it is correct, but I'll describe it as best I can. If I recall correctly, we were supposed to place our feet on the lower bar and grasp the upper bar with our hands. The we would kick our right leg up, one, two, three times, and the momentum was supposed to somehow propel us around the top bar. And that's where my memory fails me. Did we end up back where we started, or did we somehow end up balanced on the top bar? I have no idea, and there's a good reason for that.
I remember being nervous as I stood in line watching my classmates, mentally rehearsing how I was going to do the move and scared spitless that I wouldn't be able to go up and over that bar. When my turn came to get on the apparatus, I took my position and kicked my leg up, up, up. But when I tried to push myself over the top, I just froze and gripped that top bar as though I were in danger of falling into the grand canyon. My teacher had to get a chair and pry me down off the uneven parallel bars.
That's all I remember from the entire gymnastics unit, just clinging as if my life depended on it to that top bar and having to be rescued because I was too paralyzed to follow any of the instructions that Miss Whatsername called out for how to get down.
At the time, I felt mortified. Can you imagine making such a fool of yourself at the age of 12 years old? But as an adult, I've been grateful for having had that experience. Many times, when facing something that almost paralyzes me with fear, I think of myself glued to the top bar of the apparatus, and I know I don't want to humiliate myself that way again. Whether it was learning to be vulnerable with Michael shortly after ending a devastating relationship or taking the risk of going freelance, the memory of that terrified little girl has helped me to take the step I needed to avoid paralysis.
So while I'm not competing in Beijing this week, but I'm still trying to compete in life.