In the arena, I’m still young at heart

Between the ages of 9 and 14 I spent an inordinate amount of time following the American Women’s Gymnastics team.

I would buy magazines with babysitting money, purely because they featured some “day-in-the-life” story of one of the Olympic hopefuls of my youth.

I quietly obsessed about those girls the way other kids knew famous basketball player profiles or what the New Kids on the Block ate for breakfast. I could spout statistics about Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton as if we’d gone to school together.

Now the Olympics are back for another year, I remember the fervent excitement I held for my team; a fierce pride thronged out of me.

I was bursting to be a part of it, despite the fact my personal experience of gymnastics amounted to some toddler dance classes, a decent forward handspring, and being able to do the splits all three ways.

To this day I have still never landed a cartwheel on the balance beam, and not for lack of trying: I almost broke my arm in an ill-fated attempt in 6th grade.


Not me.

I remember staying with my grandparents one summer and watching the preliminary trials. I was too excited to sit still. I moved all the living room furniture so I could somesault and cartwheel across the floor in between sessions.

I especially practised my final pose; throwing my arms up, arching my back, and smiling a million watts at my reflection in the front window. If I couldn’t really be on the beam, I could at least stand like an Olympian.


Also not me.

Of all the sports, I felt a particularly connection to Women’s Gymnastics.

I use the term women lightly. By the time I was a kid, being a young, spritely teen was practically a pre-requisite to be internationally competitive, and secondary sexual organs were about as common as a full sweep of gold medals (though, so help me, on occasion the World Championships have been won while pregnant).

Gymnastics is incredibly appealing to gawky 11 year olds. I speak from experience. Especially those sporting braces, glasses, an uncomfortably conspicuous C-cup, and gangly, clumsy limbs built entirely through unpredictable and often painful growth spurts.

In almost laughable contrast, this was a sport of young women on top of the world, with balance and agility. It’s not a game of force or power, but surefooted elegance. To be in command of one’s own body, much less graceful with it, was a fairy tale come true.

are you kidding me?

are you kidding me?!

Tonight is the Women’s Team Final. I think I’m going to watch with it with curious nostalgia. I am still clumsy and deeply un-sporty. I no longer aspire to be those over-pressured, hyper-committed teens, but I do still find inspiration in the amazing abilities of the human body.

This time, I will probably think they are all far too young and that their stage-parents are insane  – seriously, have you seen them?

But I’ll bet you anything a potent mix of envy and awe will still creep over me.

Perhaps it’s just the inspiration I need to get on with my cartwheels.

2 Responses to “In the arena, I’m still young at heart”
  1. Mary Reid says:

    Were you practicing a bar routine at STA when you broke your wrist/arm? Have a great adventure with your mom. Love G


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