I was 17 and I was competing in the District XI championship gymnastic meet. Although I was a tumbly-bouncy type of person, the sport of gymnastics took much more nerve than I had in me at the time. The vault was my favorite piece of equipment and I'd fling myself toward that thing without a fear. That was my main reason for wanting to be on the gymnastic team, to vault.
Sure my best friend, Corina, had been on the team her freshman year, but we weren't that close anymore, anyway. I had just decided that I wanted to try out. I'd done gymnastics since I was in 7th grade at a YMCA in New Jersey.
My first year on the team, we went to State, at Penn State Main, and I competed on the vault. My score was forgettable, but I competed on the vault in State!
My second year was a disaster because I'd lost my virginity that summer before to a dude that had begun dating the captain of the team that winter.
Then, my senior year, I was slated to compete on the vault and the beam at the District meet. The whole event seemed so inconsequential to me, and I felt so disconnected from the experience. I did my vault, don't even remember the score, and sat down. Then I mentally prepared myself for the beam...
Throughout the season, I'd stuck my beam routine maybe twice in competition. It's not like it was that difficult. It's just that I didn't have the balance to stay on the beam. While my mount was a "high superior," I replaced a back handspring pass with a move equal in value, the ole no-handed rolls. It was a sweet move, that looked flawless and light, when done flawlessly and lightly. When done correctly, the no-handed roll felt like a whimsy, like my back didn't touch the beam beneath my spine. And then done successively, two in a row, it was almost like an amusement park ride.
But it wasn't back handsprings, and I had to fight the feeling that I wasn't really trying hard enough. Something about those backward moves that frightened me. I wouldn't do back handsprings in my floor routine either; so I incorporated aerials, punch fronts, and a handstand push-up into my routine, choreographed to the theme of "Pee Wee's Big Adventure."
Then there, on that afternoon of District Championships, I sat awaiting the opportunity to compete once again on the beam.
Being the consistent low scorer on that piece of equipment, I went first in my team's rotation. I remember running up and mounting the beam smoothly. The rest of the routine is a relative blur, except that I stuck my tumbling pass, with the no-handed forward rolls, and I stuck my landing, a round-off back tuck off the end of the beam. My score was the highest it had ever been, whatever it was. I excitedly sat down and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Following, I watched my teamates fall off during their routines. Because the focus was on winning a team medal, I don't remember thinking anything other than, "Damn! That's gonna be a deduction." The meet carried on and finally the team and the individual medals were announced. There were three all-arounds competing and their scores weren't considered in the individual equipment medals. So, the three all-arounds were names and congratulated, and then the focus turned to the individual events.
First came my medal for vault -- sixth place! I was so overjoyed to feel like a winner on the piece of equipment that I loved most.
Second, the first place medal was announced for the beam -- me! I was flabbergasted! I scurried up to the announcer and accepted my medal. I felt like a pound puppy that was adopted by the Rockafeller family! I felt like the lucky son-of-a-bitch that was in the right place at the right time. I contained my excitement and downplayed my rapture, for the sake of Corina, and my other friends whom I had competed against. The next morning, the school announced the results during homeroom; I smirked proudly to myself as I slumped in my desk.
These days, my first place District medal hangs on the wall of my basement, constructed as a mini-shrine to sports, my husband's idea. I laugh when I think of my pathetic no-handed rolls that magically stayed on the beam that day. I also remember my performance as being similar to Olga Korbut's 1972 Olympic routine...at least in feeling.