Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rooftop Gymnastics and My New Sport

When I was younger, I was a gymnast. It started as a hobby but became more intense as I progressed. By the time I reached my peak, I hadn't yet acquired all the skills to reach the Elite level, but wasn't terribly far away. I was spending roughly twenty hours each week at the gym where I trained. Because my parents both worked, they were minimally involved. Through part of my gymnastics training, my mother was dealing with major illnesses (one was life-threatening), which caused my parents to be even less involved. They or another relative usually transported me to and from the gym, and they attended an occasional competition, but mostly they just threw money at the directors of the gymnastics programs (we relocated a couple of times during my gymnastics training) and told them to take me away. That ended abruptly on an autumn afternoon when I was ten.

Because gymnastics is a very expensive sport (my father's reason), or because too much time spent on one activity at a young age isn't necessarily a good thing (my mother's reason), my parents opted to have me participate in very close to the minimum number of required competitions. That still left me involved in frequent weekend meets but it gave me what most gymnasts at my level didn't have, which was an occasional weekend at home. On one of those weekends, my family was in the process of spending our usual quality time together. This meant that my father was inside watching football on TV (I think it was a Saturday, so it was presumably college football), my mother was in her room asleep, and my brother and I were outside thinking of dangerous things we could dare each other to do.

My brother had climbed a pine tree to get onto the roof of our two-story home. He first climbed on top of the garage, then made his way to the lowest part of the house roof, and finally onto the very highest part. Once there, he observed that the beam running the length of the roof was "about as wide as that thing you do gymnastics tricks on." His statement was reflective of how little attention my family paid to my participation in gymnastics: my very own twin brother didn't know what a balance beam was called. He then went on to suggest that a gymnast who wasn't a coward could probably "do tricks right here on the roof of our house."

I recognized that he was baiting me, but I couldn't pass on the challenge. "What'll you give me if I do it?" I asked.

"I'll visit you in the hospital after you fall," or something very similar to that, he replied.

"I won't do it unless you give something!" I demanded.

"A dollar," he offered.

"Ten, " I countered.

"Five," he shot back.

"Okay, five" I agreed.

I navigated the limbs of the pine tree and made my way up the various levels of the roof until I joined him on the highest part. "What do I need to do?" I asked him.

"Some of those flip things," he replied.

I may have been foolish at that age, and may still be to some degree, but I wasn't suicidal. "I'm not doing any round-offs or back handsprings up here," I told him, looking down at the ground so far below.

"You can't just walk. I'm not paying you to do something I can do," he argued.

We finally agreed on a back walkover and a cartwheel. I told him to get out of the way. I walked to far the end of the roof, took a deep breath, turned around, and went right into the back walkover followed by a cartwheel. . . and now I'm speaking from a wheelchair into an assistive technology device that will translate my spoken words into print. Not really. I'm kidding, although it could have ended up that way. The maneuvers were ones I'd been doing on the beam since my first year out of the "Mommy and Me" gymnastics classes that my brother and I took, and the beam on the roof was nearly identical in width to an actual balance beam, but it was on the roof of a two-story house. God was apparently protecting fools that day, and I escaped unscathed. . . more or less, anyway.

Just as I was executing the maneuvers, a neighbor guy across the street came out his front door. The rest is history, as is my gymnastics career. (My parents had already paid non-refundable fees for the first half of the year, but that wasn't even a consideration to them. To this day I haven't seen the inside of another gymnastics facility.) I won't say exactly what happened, as it is embarrassing to admit that my parents were ever so barbaric, but I will say that I believe my father would have been arrested if we had been in Sweden. My sole consolation was that my brother's role in the reckless activity was not overlooked, and my father would have been arrested in Sweden for what happened to him as well. That and, I should add, my brother and I had and still have a code. Even if we get caught, we always pay up on bets or dares. I was five dollars richer when we were finally allowed out of our rooms.

At the end of my eighth grade year, when tryouts for the next year were in progress, the high school cheerleading coach attempted to recruit me. This came as a surprise, as I don't look, act, dress, or think much like a typical cheerleader if there is any such thing. (I'm not overly fond of the cheerleaders with whom I'm acquainted [most of the ones in my school lust after my brother] but I do try to avoid sterotyping people into narrow pigeon-hole categories.) I don't think I would have taken the cheer coach up on the offer anyway, but once her motives became clear to my parents, the choice was taken out of my hands. I was needed on the squad for two reasons: 1. because of my background as a gymnast; 2. because my weight at the time (seventy-five pounds) would have made me the perfect flyer. (I'm now up to a whopping 87 pounds. I don't think I'm fat in the least and I don't diet. I'm genetically small, but I should eventually reach the small-normal adult size range.) The lady even said she'd bump me up to varsity from the onset. It wouldn't have mattered what she said. Either of those reasons by themselves were enough to keep me off the cheer squad. Both combined meant my parents didn't even bother to discuss it. They tried to let the coach down nicely, but she persisted in begging, so they finally gave up and escorted her out of our home as politely as they could. My cheerleading career was over before it even started. Fortunately for me, I never wanted to be a cheerleader anyway.

I thought I was going to get a brief turn on the apparati again. There was a limit to what tumbling my parents could prevent on the floor or the grass when they weren't watching,(though they did watch us both very closely after my rooftop gymnastics incident) but they effectively cut me off from all contact with the vault, beam, and uneven bars. In my freshman year, I was required to take P.E. A gymnastics unit was part of the rotation. I was really excited. When I showed up in the gym all dressed out and ready to go, however, the instructor handed me a nurse's office summons slip. I changed back into my regular clothing and headed to the nurse's office wondering what she could possibly want from me. What she wanted was to tell me that I had a doctor's excuse signed by my own father, excusing me from P.E. for the next four weeks - the length of the gymnastics rotation, of course.

By now I must surely be approaching the length limit with this post, so I'll continue it later. Wouldn't it be great if we could all do that with school assignments?

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