There was a time, in elementary school, when I firmly believed
I could be I was an Olympic Gymnast.
I believed this wholeheartedly because, out of all my classmates, cousins and siblings, I was the only one who could do handstands (but only if I was leaning my feet on walls) and cartwheels.
Now, I know being a gymnast requires a lot more than just the ability to do these two things, but in my head, the facts were these:
There was a point where I believed this so much, my parents sent me to a Gymnastics Summer program for kids the State University held each year. My aunt Norma was a teacher there so she helped us with the enrollment.
Once I was in, she picked me up every morning, at 7 a.m. and took me to my class.
I kinda blocked out a lot of what happened there because most of the time I felt like an awkward giant, since I was much taller than the kids my age* and as tall as some of the older kids that had had some years of training.
What I do remember from that summer is that my “Olympic Gymnast” bubble burst once I saw girls doing back and front flips and twirls in the uneven bars and flying and soaring thru the air like it was the most normal thing ever… and because of a a girl named Denisse.
Denisse was a short, super skinny girl that was in the same group as me, who also thought she was the best gymnast in the world because she could bend back in to a bridge, then do a handstand, then bend forwards to stand up without gaining momentum. There must be a name for this particular movement, but since I don’t know it, I drew it. It went kinda like this:
Needless to say, I hated Denisse
…and her mom which was one of those overbearing, loud moms that are loud and overbearing.
After a couple of weeks in the program, I stopped wanting to go. This was, in part, because of the whole “feeling like a giant” thing but it was also because waking up that early, every day, for weeks on end on my childhood summer vacations was taking a toll on me.
My mom told me I had to keep going until the month was over (I guess she’d already paid the full month’s fee) but if I still felt like quitting the pursuit of becoming México’s next Nadia Comaneci after that, it would be O.K.
… So I kept going.
On one particular day — when I was feeling sleepy and not very good about being there — little miss Denisse came up to me.
“Can you do this?” - she asked me, flipping back and forth in her ugly, little, red leotard.
“You know I can’t” - I answered, rolling my eyes at her. We’d been in the same group for two weeks and she very well knew I couldn’t do flips like she could.
“Mmmh… my mom says it’s ‘cause you’re too tall and kind of overweight” - she said.
That was the last straw.
I wanted to punch Denisse in the face and then go to the bleachers and punch her loud mom, but I knew better than to hit people that were shorter than me, so I just pushed her out of my way as hard as I could and ran to the bathroom.
The girl’s bathroom was filled with older gymnasts and, since I didn’t want anyone to look at me or to see anyone in a leotard, I locked myself in a bathroom stall and waited until my aunt came looking for me.
It amazes me, now, how a rude little comment from a rude little girl could get me from feeling like Nadia Comaneci to this:
in just a few seconds, but it did and that was the end of “Nahemaneci” (which was the nickname no one gave me ever)
After that, I still pretended to be a rogue gymnast sometimes and I learned how to do one-hand and no-hand cartwheels on my own, but I could only do them if I gained a LOT of momentum by running for yards and yards, or else I would fall head first.
Another thing I learned how to do, was back flips in the monkey bars, like these:
I did this all thru out junior high, but once I graduated from junior high and left the school, I stopped doing this, only to try it one more time, about a decade later.
About a decade later:
When I was twenty three, I went to my parents house in Mexicali for Christmas.
While I was there, I started going to the park to jog ‘cause I didn’t want to gain a lot of weight with all the Christmas food that is around everyone’s house at these times.
The park where I jogged had a complete jungle gym set and by “complete” I mean “it had monkey bars.”
One day, when I was feeling particularly athletic, a great idea dawned upon me:
“What if I try to do a back flip, for old times’ sake? I’m still pretty athletic” — I thought to myself (I had only started jogging a week before this) — “and I’m still young. Twenty three is not that old. I’m in my prime!”
And this was pretty much all the convincing I needed for one of the worst ideas in the world.
I climbed up those monkey bars, sat down on the edge and just went for it.
After a few minutes of being upside down, I went from feeling like this:
I decided it was time to do the back flip.
I tried as hard as I could to lift the upper part of my body up so I could grab the bar to flip. I wasn’t counting on me not having any upper body strength anymore, so doing this took all the energy I had.
By the time I was in mid flip, I was exhausted and couldn’t turn all the way…
…and I was stuck.
I tried to analyze my options before entering full panic mode only to realize I’d entered full panic mode the second I realized I was having a hard time lifting my upper body.
Analyzing my options made my panic attack even worse, because they were to:
- either, let go of the bar and try to fall on my side so I wouldn’t fall flat on my back, with the risk of breaking my neck OR
- try with all of my might to get my legs back on the bar and see where to go from there.
So I tried with all of my might to get my legs back on the bar and see where to go from there, but I couldn’t.
After a few of the longest minutes of my life (and just as I was about to let go) I heard some noises in the background. People’s noises.
I remembered having seen some guys playing soccer in the middle of the park when I was jogging.
I turned my head and saw the goalie for one of the teams just standing there.
“Hey, hey you!” - I yelled.
The guy turned, saw me, let out a few loud laughs and ran towards me.
“You need some help?” - he asked once he got to where I was, trying his hardest not to laugh.
Saying I felt embarrassed is an understatement to the level of shame I felt — this level of shame kept me from drawing an image resembling this episode in my life, so just imagine it. —
He helped me get down and once I had my two feet on the ground I thanked him, trying my hardest not to make eye contact.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone else saw you” - was his answer.
He shook my hand in a “well played” sort of way (you know, the way someone from the other team shakes your hand when you lose a game) and left to cover his post.
I ran as fast as I could towards my house, without looking back.
And that was the end of it my career as an Olympic Gymnast.
*The times where I’ve felt taller than everyone else in a room or class will come up repeatedly, for I’ve felt like this a lot of times in my life.
Source of the animated gif: this video
Source of the pictures used: sxc.hu
All illustrations by me for Mindoodles® 2011