I Could Have Been a Gymnist In The Olympics

I Could Have Been a Gymnist In The Olympics
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With the Olympics coming up, I’ve waxed nostalgic about my wannabee days as an athlete. If only I had kept up with gymnastics, I have no doubt that I could have been a contender. Sure, Audrey, keep dreaming. I think though that it is a marvelously hopeful thing for young people to aspire to dreams Olympic. Why, if only I had had longer legs (and some modicum of coordination), perhaps I, too could have been a champion. Somehow I doubt it, but here’s my story about my dabbling into the world of gymnastics.  It obviously did not get better in adulthood though, as you can see from my experiences skiing.

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2006 NCAA(r) National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics National Championship
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A State of Mind
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This Guy Stole My Act!

This Girl is My Idol!

When I was growing up, I was NOT very athletic. I really wanted to be and I constantly tried things but they never quite worked out. One of the guys in the neighborhood tried to show me how to ride a bike with no hands – I did – for all of 5 seconds before I fell over and ripped open my knee. Then he tried to teach me how to close my eyes and ride a bike – I did – when I opened them, I’d wrapped myself around a telephone pole. My mom even sent me to ballet class and quasi-gymnastics only to be told I’d probably be best to stick to my accordion playing and give up ‘the dance’. Whatever!

So on entering junior high, it was probably no surprise that I continued my wannabee athletic hopefulness. I was a very insecure kid anyway and was always looking for people’s approval. I was starved for attention in some ways and I figured the way to get it was to just keep trying to stand out somewhere and somehow. I should have stuck to comedy but at that point, I was still figuring it all out! At any rate, gym class was not my favorite class. Somehow – I know you will find this very hard to believe – something ALWAYS went wrong.

Well, when Ms. M announced that we were going to do gymnastics as our next category of gym, I was pretty stoked. I figured I could do okay at this because while I was short and scrawny, I had drive – I also did not have to pit myself against the tall, lanky athletic girls that seemed to always be in my class and that I could NEVER keep up with. I would run twice as fast and never catch up. So gymnastics seemed like a possibility to me! Shows what I knew!

First day of gymnastics 101, we are all gathered in a little knot and Ms. M is describing what we will be doing. We are going to try the springboard first off and she needs a volunteer. OMG – ‘pick me, pick me, pick me, Ms. M!!!’ I am jumping up and down and thrusting my hand so far in the air while all the other 7th grade girls look on in disgust – ‘she is SO obvious’ and all that. Oh well – I took my attention where I could get it. Somehow out of all those other athletic girls, she picked me – ME!! Oh I was so jazzed. I just so wanted to show Ms. M that I was SO good at this! She would really like me then!

She explains to us that we are to start at the end of the blue mat, then run full tilt, run up the springboard and then turn a somersault. Hmmm – that sounded pretty easy but I was running it in my mind and thinking wow – I’m going to REALLY have to get some lift off. I’ve seen it done but I guess she must think I can do it or why would she tell me to do it? So after this brief explanation of what to do, I proudly stepped to the end of the mat. I ran down that mat at the speed of light – okay maybe a little slower – but my scrawny short legs were really moving – and my arms were pumping!

I ran up the springboard, jumped so hard on it that I’m surprised it didn’t break in half from the load – I went up in the air and I do remember thinking ‘hmmm – that doesn’t feel like I went up very far but oh well’– and then proceeded to go into my somersault. Hmmmm – this was not pretty. All I remember is being sprawled on the mat and looking up at like a dozen faces and they were all saying ‘are you CRAZY? Why did you do the somersault (or attempt it) in the AIR?’ Huh?? I didn’t know what the heck was the matter with all of them but Ms. M said to jump off the springboard and do a somersault. She didn’t say to LAND first! How was I to know this? It wasn’t like she demonstrated it or anything!!!

Well – I got her attention okay – she just sat there shaking her head while she checked me to see if I’d broken my bloody neck. This of course was in the days before immobilization and neck trauma awareness obviously!! Man did I have a headache too – and I sure made a name for myself in the class! Everyone did nothing but giggle and sneer at me as they of course did their perfect run, jump and somersault. ANYBODY could do that though, right? If I’d gotten more loft, it would have been SPECTACULAR! Of course on the other hand, I could have been a paraplegic but we’ll just ignore that little nasty side note. I think I got an F in dismount!

I am in Fine Company

So you’d think I’d have gotten better or at least kept a lower profile in gymnastics 101, eh? No way!! The next day we moved onto the Swedish box (aka the vault). Well, I have to say – I’m not too keen on the Swedish box. First off, I don’t think it’s fair that my legs are/were so short. I think I should have gotten a lower one to work with but no one was listening to me. Being young, being impressionable though, I was totally sure I could get THIS one right – how hard could it be?

Ms. M gave us the instructions again – this time we would start at the end of the blue mat, run like a bat out of you-know-where, plant our hands firmly on top of the Swedish box, spread our legs out in a big V and jump over. Sounded simple to me! When my time came, I was a little nervous to be honest – I was quickly getting the picture that I was becoming the class idiot (do ya THINK?) and I was determined to do well at this one part.

‘Just take it easy, keep your cool, Audrey – don’t panic – it’s just a box.’ All these things are going through my head – probably distracted me damnit! When she gave me the signal to go, again I flew down the mat as fast as my short legs could carry me (in retrospect, I think it was all the mat’s fault – not mine). My arms were going to town as I tried to build up the speed I needed – I planted my hands on top of the Swedish box, spread my legs out towards my hands and I was actually going over! WOW – figure that out – it was WORKING! Oops – too bad I got over-confident because just as that thought went through my head, my toes caught on my side of the stupid Swedish box, and over I went head first on the other side of the box, laying on the mat (again) in a tangle of limbs and a bent neck!

I heard laughter – lots of laughter – I yelled out ‘yep – I’m okay – no problem – everything’s fine down here’….and after a long, long time, finally people came to see if I was okay – think I walked around with my head tilted to the left for about a week but oh well – again in the 1960s, folks didn’t pay so much attention to those pesky neck injuries!

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The Ringer
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Been There Done This!

Sure – Now There’s a Video!

If Only I’d Thought of This!

I bet you are thinking SURELY she gave up trying to be athletic after this – but no – that would be quitting and a quitter I am not! I admit that I did not do very well in junior high with this whole gymnastics thing. I fell off the balance beam and twisted my ankle – I think I was about 1 inch off the floor so I could not blame the height this time. I wondered why Ms. M put me on towel detail all the time and I was constantly running around getting equipment for everyone else but guess she was trying to somehow protect me from myself. Hmmmph – I could have been a Mary Lou Retton for all they knew (or was that Marilu Renner?).

I did give it up for a bit though but then in high school discovered track, which I thought might be a little safer than gymnastics. It turns out not so much! The first event I tried out for was the 70-yard dash. That might have gone better if I didn’t have the worst case of nerves ever known to man. Despite my eloquence on the accordion and playing in recitals and such, I have always had terrible performance anxiety so waiting for someone to signal the start of the race was absolute agony for me. I would be so distracted waiting for the signal to jump off the blocks that by the time there WAS the signal to start running, I was a nervous wreck. Usually what happened was I would crouch down and get ready to launch myself warp speed down the track only to discover when the shot went off, I got so wigged I fell down and had to start all over again. How utterly embarrassing! Of course by this time, now you’ve added the delightful component of boys watching and I’m truly a basket case in my way too short for comfort white shorts and my ‘dorkism’.

But never say die – if you’re Audrey you never quit. When I discovered I did not have the talent in any way, shape or form for short distance running because of nerves, I tried for the long distance running spots. As per my routine, I would sprint out ahead of everyone and be running double time to everyone else’s nice, long strides – I just never got the concept of saving myself so to speak. I would be rocketing around the track full bore only to realize about halfway through that I was so tired my legs were hanging by a thread and I would inevitably be passed by the long-legged gazelles as they loped past me scarcely breathing heavily. I was going like a bellows and sweating like a pig – but hey – I was an athlete! I wonder why they kept laughing at me.

However, the very last straw for me and when I knew that I was doomed NOT to make the Olympics was when I tried the hurdles. I should have looked at my body – at least at my legs – and I definitely should have thought about my potential for disaster for sure! I approached it like I did everything else though – with complete optimism. I could do this – how hard could it be to run really fast and jump a couple of gate things. So what if you had to do it like a whole bunch in a row, which meant composing yourself and making sure you got your legs up over EVERY one? Looked easy – sure thing. Well as you can imagine, I was like the proverbial shot out of the cannon as I tore down the track – jumped the first one but unfortunately didn’t get the second leg over – kind of gimped over that one, gathered myself and prepared to jump the second one but caught my FIRST leg on that one and over I went, rolling around on the track like the athlete that I was…Special Olympics material.

Again I find myself in the position of ‘really – I’m fine – I do this all the time guys – no worries here’ as I limped off to the side of the track with two bloodied knees and dirt covering my pristine white gym outfit. I also tried the shot-put – dropped the ball on my own foot so I had to be excused from participating. I tried the pole vault but slid down the pole before I ever got up to the bar and fell on the ground, almost impaling myself on the pole. The worst part of this whole thing is that I really don’t get why everyone didn’t want me on their squad! I really could have been great – I personally think it was the equipment!

Summing it Up

I believe in every person there resides an athlete – in my case, I’m still looking for her.  I did play high school basketball but spent much of my time running out of bounds with the ball because there was some girl on my own team who kept trying to wrestle the ball away from me – as IF I couldn’t play!  What was it with these bitches?

At any rate, I got my revenge when at age 38, I started playing soccer – old lady soccer as I call it now. I showed those prissy athletic types I went to school with – damn straight.  Those are stories for another day – need to go get an ice pack on my thigh as I think I pulled it getting up to get a glass of water to take a break from typing and tripped over the dog toy. 

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