A retired gymnast, navigating the spaces between
Before executing an uneven bar routine, it is important to chalk your hands. This improves the grip between the skin of your palms and the porous surface of the wood bar. In my final competition before retiring as a competitive gymnast at age eleven, I walked onto the mat of the uneven bar without having chalked my hands. Stepping onto the mat, I held the record for the highest swing on uneven bars, I presented to the judges, hands dripping with sweat from puberty triggered acute awareness of an awakening adult body. I stepped up to the bar for my mount, a half glide kip, and on my first circle around the bar before the tuck hold, I lost my grip and fell, ass first, legs holding straddle, down onto the mat. The low bar reverberated with a sound us gymnasts are all familiar with, the sound of slipped grip, failed trick, it ricochets around the gym, it pangs through the body. I finished the routine, and placed eleventh. 11:11, make a wish. Pushing down the humiliation of the fall, I moved onto my floor routine with something to prove. This is the mentality of a competitive gymnast, performance is the goal, you push this body for the result. I never placed as well on floor as I did with other events, and at this competition, floor would be the last event of my entire gymnastics career. My sweaty palms were a nice match for the carpet of the floor, tumbling to an instrumental rendition of “Crazy” by Britney Spears, the sweat absorbed and wicked away with each round-off back handspring. I knew once I had finished that I would place well, the execution of the routine clicked, my entire self aligned, working cohesively, it felt right. Something you are always working towards, but doesn’t happen very often. You have overcome the barriers of your body and have performed to the highest standard. Sitting amongst the other girls waiting for our awards, I was conscious of my body, its failures and triumphs that day, conscious of how it looked in comparison to the other girls in my age group, fuller hips, a bigger butt, prepubescent ginger shadowing starting to sprout on my bikini line. I am reminded of a conversation Dave, our gym director, had with me and my parents, “…we want to move her to the tumbling team, we think her lower body could affect her performance if she continues in the artistic program, she’s just built better for tumbling”. I placed first on floor at that competition. Maybe tumbling would be a better fit for me. At the end of the meet, I sit with my parents in the bleachers, ribbon in hand, medals around neck, watching the white Velcro tape being pulled up at an angle off the carpeted tumbling floor.