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Savannah Gymnastics competition brings back long lost memories

Updated on July 1, 2013

YMCA National Championships in Savannah 2013

Many years ago I watched On Golden Pond, where Jane Fonda's character decides to go back to her childhood home to prove to herself that she can dive, a feat that alluded her as a child and one which brought the ridicule of her father.

I can relate to this, not so much the ridicule by the father, though I did have my share of crying bouts when trying to learn math concepts that my brother and father found so simple and thought I was just not trying, when in fact I was putting every ounce of effort into it.

No, I was just not an athletic kid. I couldn't dive, could not throw a ball or a Frisbee for that matter. I could throw a fit and I could climb a tree, but there aren't too many competitions at school for that.

I failed nearly every portion of the President's Fitness Test, except for the sit ups and the running. I believe the softball throwing required one to throw the ball at least 90 feet to pass. I believe I threw the ball nine feet. To be fair it made a huge cloud of dust in the clay soil and drew rousing rounds of laughter from my peers, one of whom tried to cheer me by saying, "well at least you didn't hit your foot with the ball like last time..."

I could not do one chin up and had to be lifted by three boys just to reach the bar and hang there until my arms felt like they were going to shatter. I still did not make the minimum hang time and felt like I needed to take a recovery nap afterward.

I was not a lazy child. I did a lot of walking and bike riding. I was just not good at sports or anything requiring extended muscle strength or lung power. I could not even hold my breath for more than 15 seconds without feeling like I was going to pass out and did more of a head out of the water turtle crawl when swimming, feeling like I was going to drown if I swam the normal way and turning my head so far out of the water I nearly suffocated in my own arm pit, which if you were dyslexic, you would perfectly understand.

Still, I was intrigued by many sports and when I was given an opportunity to attend and volunteer for the 2013 YMCA National Gymnastics Championships, I was a little excited about it. I had never been to a gymnastics competition before, despite having seen them on TV.

In college I had taken a gymnastics class, but it wasn't anything to brag about. I vaguely remember doing tumbling and bridging, doing some sort of backward hang on the bars by your arms not your neck, and having to do a handspring off the beam to pass the class.

If I recall, my handspring looked more like a frog being shaken out of a plastic cup and and landing bent kneed and fearful on the floor, but hey, I stuck the landing!!!

To this day I can still not do a cartwheel and I get dizzy just thinking about flipping my head below my feet while my body is still attached to it, though that would be preferable to the other way around.

The last time I did a somersault was when I was staring at some guy while I was running and tripped over a tree root, quickly scrambling to right myself and looking around to make sure no one had seen me. In my defense I was trying to see if the guy was a man or a woman because he was carrying a pink water bottle and swinging his arms wildly out by his side while he ran. It turned out he was just carrying pink lemonade in a clear bottle, but I'm still not sure what all that arm swinging was about. That's what I get for being nosy.

I used to do a somewhat decent split and could do a handstand if I had a wall to support me once I was in position, but it had been so long since I had done either of those and I was almost too afraid to try for fear I'd get injured and have to explain myself to my physician who already thinks I am way too old to do half the things I do.

In any event, when I first arrived at the event I just wanted to sit quietly in a corner and watch. I tried to take some pictures, but apparently my wonderful Exilim which takes great indoor still shots and pretty decent outdoor sports shots, just couldn't capture the fast movement of the athletes when they launched their bodies into all sorts of contortions before heading back to earth.

For the first hour it was fun, but as it drew on I found myself getting critical, thinking things like, she's too fat to be wearing that leotard, or man, could that girl get any whiter. After that I started criticizing their routines, as if this somehow made me feel better about my own athletic ineptness... like I could do any better myself.

I don't know if it was lack of sleep and decent food, or I was just in a bad mood because my camera was not cooperating with the flying Wallenda girls, but I started getting grumpy and decided it was in every ones best interest that I just went home.

All the way home I was mad at myself and was being self critical for never having pushed myself hard enough to do something of this caliper, or was that caliber... even my use of the English language had pit falls.

Maybe it is just that when you are younger and go to an event like this, you allow yourself to dream and imagine that will be you one day, but when you are older, you realize that you blew your chance and if you are honest, you never really had a chance to begin with.

You did not have the money or the talent or the time to do these things and even your ten week college course in gymnastics which you passed with a B did not bring you any closer to your dreams of being an elite athlete.

I even took ballroom dancing in college and never have danced in a ballroom in my life. All these courses in all these things, and still my life is the same old same old and I have no drive to make something more of myself than what I already am.

I think all of us struggle with something we would like to be better at doing, but some of us, like me, come up with excuses that prevent us from pursuing those things, in part because we are afraid if we really put ourselves out there, we will fail or at the very least, be poorer in finances and still not "make it big" so just waste our time and money on something that we have no business pursuing.

This event made me think of so many things, like should I make a greater effort to look like other people, get my hair cut, get a face lift, have my teeth fixed, wear more make-up and fashionable clothing. Would that really make me feel more like "one of them"? Why did I always feel so ugly and outcast to begin with. It wasn't like I was a prepubescent girl anymore, so why did I still feel that I wasn't as good as everyone else?

Should I go for the gusto and buy a 40 pound $3000 camera with a ten foot lens and an eight foot high tripod so I could take a decent picture of a girl spinning upside down while doing a split?

Would any of those things really make me a better human or a better writer, which is one of the few things I feel I do well in life?

Why were all these thoughts coming into my head to begin with? Why couldn't I just enjoy the event and be happy for those in it?

Perhaps it is because I could never afford to compete in the things I loved to do. I still can't afford a better camera. I can't afford a Garmin watch and expensive running shoes. When I showed up at a run carrying a water bottle by hand, even a friend of mine commented, "oh, I see you are going old style today..."

I go old style everyday. It's a lot cheaper and to be honest I have no desire to have my water bottle strapped to my anatomy by neoprene and Velcro. I am doing good just to wear a watch and even that is irritating in summer.

I suppose I was not so much resentful of others talents, but of the funds they had to pursue those talents.

As I watched the slim and perfectly dressed young women with their perfect bodies and hair and faces bouncing youthfully down the hall, escorted by doting and devoted parents who gave up their own pursuits so that their daughters could follow their dreams and one day win Olympic Gold, I realized that this could never be me. My family could not and would not have made that sacrifice. It was too out of reach and besides, just like piano lessons, I would probably have become bored with the routine and given up after a few years anyway.

It is the rare person who can pursue something with such dedication all of their lives. Most of us, myself included, have trouble focusing on one goal for life, other than to survive from one year to the next.

If the truth were told, most of us have dreamed of becoming a professional at something. Maybe it was a sport like basketball or tennis or swimming or running. We may have aquired all the gear to go with the sport, like a wetsuit that has been sitting in the closet so long, the rubber is starting to dematerialize, or a tennis racket that is so old it is still made of wood and has Billy Jean King stamped on the handle, or a pile of "how to draw and paint" books that sit with the plastic box of paint brushes and designer charcoal pencils, waiting for their next masterpiece of art to be laid upon canvas, or even the tent that was purchased ten years ago and never even made it out the box into the back yard, much less that trip down to the Keys and the Dry Tortugas. .

The half knitted scarf, the 1/10th knitted sweater, the boxes full of colored sand we hoped to use to turn old mason jars into works of art, the story we started to write in 2003 and saved to disk before the computer crashed, the lenses and filters we bought for the film camera we now never use because digital is too enticing and cheaper, the how to books on home repair and design, the hole in the backyard where we planned to build a fish pond, the landscape timbers in the ground where we started to build an above ground garden box that now houses the largest ant mound on earth, the spot of tilled soil we planned to design a rose garden in, but now serves as the cat's litter box... all lost dreams that we beat ourselves up over for never having pursued to the fullest.

There is always something for which we will have regrets. There is always something we hoped to achieve, that once we achieved, just didn't really satisfy as much as we thought it would.

There are trophies that sit collecting dust and spider webs. Certificates and gold sealed diplomas, all of which made us and our family proud at the time, but now seem long forgotten, so much so that we find ourselves wanting to remind others... "well, I won first place in a tennis competition 30 years ago", or "I graduated with high honors from middle school and have not one but two college degrees..." as if that will somehow impress someone.

In one sense that is like bragging about having three purple hearts, while people are thinking, you know, you would think after one of them, you would learn to duck and cover a little bit better...

No one sympathizes with us like ourselves unless they want something from us in return.

I suppose at some point in life you start to realize that if you don't make changes happen now, you are going to be forever stuck in that rut of regret while feeling like you are never going to be anything other than exactly what you are, which would not be so bad if you really liked yourself, but who of us really do like ourselves except those who post half naked photos of how great they looked while on vacation in Aruba and we all know, those people really are more insecure about who they are than we are, so... yeah, well...

Maybe I should do like my younger friends and make plans to scale a mountain in Africa, only that would require a new set of knee caps, hip joints and an unarthritic spine, plus airfare and accommodations...not to mention a better set of lungs. I still can't hold my breath longer than 40 minutes without going into a panic. I would never survive the thin mountain air on Kilimanjaro.

My dreams of marrying a rich adventurer have long since passed. Just the thought of jumping up on a balance beam makes my ankles turn purple with sympathy pains. What dreams are there left for me to pursue, what noble goals, what adventure?

For now, there is the job of repairing the rotten door on the chicken coop and patching the holes in the leaking bathroom ceiling, a chore that seems as impossible and insurmountable as doing a back flip on a four inch beam.

And so, I will save this draft and go get dressed for work and smile and greet people and look up lost numbers and read the schedules which they are unable to read for themselves or prefer to have me do the work for them, because after all, this is my reality and the dreams of greatness have long since passed away, though not really.

As I belly flop into my future, I can only imagine what will come of the girls in their perfection and persistence to perform despite all odds. Maybe they will become like me one day. I pity the fools... (said in Mr. T fashion, half in jest). Maybe they will go on to lead productive lives, taking that dedication and talent and perseverance on to do great things in life. One can only hope.

Today, when I get a break from work, I might just try to do a split or a forward roll just to see if I still can and if that fails, at least I can still touch my toes! I imagine it is best just to focus on the things we can do well and not be too resentful of people who can do those things so much better, but instead be gracious and wish them the best and try with all our might to mean it.

It's easy to get depressed as we get older and to think that there is no use trying to improve on our condition because it is all too little too late. We just get tired of trying and failing and all the pain and the sorrow and the mundanity of life, but in reality this world is not about us and the greatness we can achieve through our own ability, so much as it is about helping others and doing the will of a God who loves us and uses our talents and skills in small ways that may greatly influence others without our even being aware of it.

We may not get a physical trophy as a reward of our progression. We may never have anyone clap for us or sing our praises, but none of that is really necessary anyway.

Maybe everything we have done in life has lead to something better for someone else, if not for ourselves. Maybe a smile for someone who was depressed, a word of encouragement, a struggle that seemed so painful for us, was the inspiration for someone else to overcome even greater odds against them.

Maybe we cannot flip from bar to bar like a lemur on cocaine, or run fifty miles or paint a portrait too magnificent for words. Maybe we are best suited for buying a sweater for ninety percent off at a year end clearance than knitting one from scratch, but each of us does have talents that someone other than ourselves appreciate.

If you know someone who has made a difference in your life by their actions, words, or influence, then take a moment to tell them what they mean to you. Find the good in people and lift them up on the high bar. Do flips for them when they cheer you on and never fail to finish your routine with a flourish and a smile and you will be a winner and so will everyone who knows and loves you, for that is what life is all about, loving the people who love you with all your heart, and doing your best to lift them up when they are in need and support them when they fall, something we all have in common with gymnasts.


Young gymnast on the beam exercise
Young gymnast on the beam exercise

YMCA National Gymnastics Championships

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