Gymnastics

From Joanie:

I was once a gymnast.

This is a description of myself that stopped very shortly after I finished the fourth grade, and was one that largely determined choices I made later.

I loved to climb things and be upside down, so the gymnastics classes at the local YMCA seemed like an good choice to my mom when selecting activities for me. Within two sessions, the coaches approached my mother about me training for the gymnastics team–apparently my tiny frame and lack of fear of flinging myself over obstacles while tucked into a tiny ball made me ideal for the world of competitive gymnastics.

It also may have been that I had that Dorothy Hamill/Mary Lou Retton female bowl cut so popular with girls my age who dreamed of wearing leotards on national television. That’s what I though the Olympics were really for.

Like any true child of 80s, I loved leotards.

And so, I was on the gymnastics team. Thus began my first journey into unsportsmanlike behavior.

I honestly don’t know where I got it–both of my parents love games and sports, and neither are particularly distraught if they lose–just reshuffle the deck, and play another round.

I, on the other hand, am known for excessive (bordering on Newt Gingrich-esqe self-aggrandizement) gloating over wins at something as small as a hand of gin.

This terrible habit, which makes me a pain in the [expletive deleted] whether I win or lose first manifested itself in gymnastics.

See, gymastics is not a team sport. We may have had a team, but it really is an individual sport– you go out alone for the floor routine, vault, balance beam, and uneven parallel bars, and receive a score based on your performance.

After my first meet, I went to the girl who’d won first on the uneven parallel bars, a girl on my team, incidentally, and told her flatly that I’d wanted to win that category, as it was my favorite, and I was better at it.

When I told my mother this, she looked at me with that mixture of horror and shame only parents can produce. That look that says, “this is the product of my loins?” and told me that I should have said congratulations.

Here’s the really horrible part: I was not ashamed. I didn’t feel guilty. Instead, I felt annoyed that my mother hadn’t shown the same competitive edge as me.

Before the next meet, I meticulously practiced at home all of my perceived “mistakes.” This “practicing” was fairly dangerous without coach supervision and probably could have ended with me losing the use of my limbs.

But onward I went. And why?

Why, to get medals to put on my medal bear, of course!

The bear wore a neon blue leotard in true 80s fashion (it was one I’d cast aside as too “plain” for daily practice at the gym). It also wore all of my medals.

We gymnasts took our bears to meets to show off how accomplished we were, because really, we weren’t about to cuddle a bear coated in ribbions and bits of medals. My bear looked a bit like an Austro-Hungarian prince (except for the neon-blue spandex).

The neon blue leotard is gone, but the totally rad 80s sweatband remains. Note the other stuffed toys: prizes. From what? Headstand contests in gymnastics, the contest in which I was always the unparalleled winner.

The bear is now gone, though the medals are tucked in a drawer at my parents’ house, a reminder of my “childhood accomplishments.” as my mother said when she wouldn’t let me pitch them.

For me, they are more a memory of what I shouldn’t be: stressed and self-centered, with winning as my only goal, and any love for the activity vanishing in unnaturally fierce competitiveness–it was children’s gymnastics, for [expletive deleted]’s sake, not survival in a cruel wilderness.

In the teary confession that I wanted to quit, I felt a sense of relief that has been unparalleled in other activities in my life that I later abandoned cheerfully after a time. It may be why I continued to play the drums or be on the diving team even though I was truly horrible at both activities: they were fun.

Quitting gymnastics (by the way, thanks, Mom, for not being a “tiger mom” and forcing me to do an activity which I was good at but brought me little to no joy) gave me the freedom to pursue a career that gives me true joy.

I still have (very privately in my own home or vehicle) crying spells when I don’t win a competition or get a gig I want, but I’m never petulant or rude to my colleagues because of it. Because I’ve been down that river, into my own Heart of Darkness.

And while I may gloat annoyingly (and sometimes hilariously) over winning a round of Quiddler, I mean it only in good fun, and to poke at my own cruel demon.

But you will never again catch me in a leotard.

Well, maybe not…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.