Flipping in Agony
The loud sound of my chalk-covered body smacking those dreadful blue mats echoed across the entire gym. Everyone stared at me in sympathy, as I had become extremely friendly with those blue mats. Not in a good way. No one bothered to help me up; it was normal to see my body lying on the ground in pain. I struggled to pick myself up, so I just sat there in shame.
My irked coach slowly walked over to me and sat next to me for what I thought was finally some much needed comfort to ease the pain.
“Ally,” she said, “Are you even pushing yourself? Do you need a private or something because I don’t know what we’re going to do with you if you continue to perform like this.”
I replied, “Coach Jamie, I’m trying my best, I’m just scared.”
“Scared of what?” she asked laughing, “your favorite blue mats that you hit every day?”
She got up and walked away, abandoning me to encourage my more successful teammates across the gym. My neck hurt, my heels hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurt, my wrist hurt, and my brain hurt. I didn’t know what was happening to my body and why it was changing before all my other teammates. I was awkward and tall compared to everyone else. I was only eleven.
Not only did the unbearable pain prevent me from moving forward with developing new skills, it also caused me to develop this odd, unexplainable fear of my previously mastered skills. Determined as ever, I attempted to conquer these fears, but failed miserably every time I tried.
I heard cheers from my teammates as I got ready to start my routine, “Here we go Ally...You got this Ally...Push it here we go...Let’s go Ally,” they cheered.
Those cheers faded as I began my routine. I was unstoppable. I was killing it. That slightest bit of extra encouragement from my teammates really helped.
I hit those thick blue mats once again, landing straight on my injured back. My confidence rose up, only to be knocked down as always. Surprisingly, my teammates rushed over to help me up, realizing that I was struggling exceptionally this time. They were worried about me, as any family should be.
“Ally! I’ll go get ice, stay here,” said my best friend Marisa.
We felt a deathly glare shoot across the gym.
“Marisa!” shouted my coach, “she can get her own ice, you need to focus on yourself, we have a big meet coming up,” she said, rolling her eyes at me.
Marisa looked at me as if she was sorry, as she didn’t want to get on Coach Jamie’s bad side, no one did. She knew I would understand. It’s the thought that counts.
I couldn’t perform in the meet that weekend; I was in way too much pain. My teammates all got 9.0’s or higher. I was so proud of them. They worked so hard for that placement. Me on the other hand, I was not working the slightest bit.
At our traditional post-meet dinner, Kaya asked, “Ally, when do you think you’ll be back to compete again?”
“I’m not sure, but the longer this goes on, the further behind I’ll get. I don’t even know if I’ll go onto level 8 with you guys next season,” I replied with my head down.
Always there for encouragement, Marisa argued, “No way. There’s no way that will happen. You’ll be back before you know it, and better than ever before. Not even coach can break this family we have here.”
Everyone smiled, agreeing with Marisa. I smiled back at everyone, thanking them for their semi-support. But for some reason I just couldn’t believe her. For some reason I didn’t see myself with them in the future. I wanted to, trust me I really did, but I just couldn’t.
To no surprise, that Monday we were back at the gym for practice. Why would Coach Jamie give us any days off when we, or rather they, have been working so exceptionally hard?
Then I remembered Coach Jamie mentioning contract signing on Friday. That was the dreaded day you discovered if she believed in you, or had given up on you. I already knew Jamie had given up on me. I had given up on myself. There was no way I would be signing a contract for level 8 that Friday. I had no motivation to even try to get my level 8 skills by Friday knowing that I feared my previously obtained level 7 skills. My family was about to leave me behind and I didn’t know what to do.
Friday rolled around. Happiness was in the air, well at least for everyone else. Throughout the night everyone came out of that dirty, claustrophobic office with a piece of paper and a smile.
They were greeted by their parents when they came out, “You did such an amazing job, we’re so proud of you! You deserve this!” is what most of them said to their children with a hug.
Not me. I got called in last out of all my teammates, a sure sign of disappointment. I limped into the tiny office to Jamie staring at me with her emotionless black eyes. Before this meeting, I walked into that office seven times in my life, and every time she’s told me to sit down to talk about the contract. This time, she handed me the paper face down and didn’t say one word. One word. A tear rolled down my face, already knowing what that paper said.
I looked at her in despair and disappointment, as I expected more from a coach I knew and looked up to for eight years. I turned my back on her and walked out. All my teammates came over and gave me a big, compassionate hug, without saying a word. That hug was enough, way more than enough. We all knew what was going to happen and there were no words to explain it. I finally looked down at the paper. It read “LEVEL 7” in bold on the bottom of the sheet.
The next week I was stuck with the 10 year-old upcoming level 7 group. They were only one year younger than me at the time, but the amount of maturity seemed microscopic. They had developed their own family, just as we did. They had their own way of approaching gymnastics, or life even.
“Guys, guys, guys,” said Heather, one of my immature new teammates, “Julie looks like a monkey right now look, look, look!”
Everyone turned their heads and started cracking up as if Julie was putting on a comedy show. I didn’t find that funny at all. What’s the point?
I limped away, still unable to perform, and glanced over at Marisa, who appeared to be laughing at something Tara had said to her. They both waved at me, so at least I got some acknowledgement, but then they continued to laugh and talk. I missed that so much. I felt like they completely forgot about me. Usually they were the ones who helped me cope with my anger, frustration and sadness, but now it was almost like they were the sources of it.
I had to get away from this unhappiness and this loneliness that I wasn’t at all used to in that gym. I had a family. I had a family in that stinky, messy, dirty, painful, wildly emotional gym and I was grateful. The amount of love that was produced by eleven year-old gymnasts towards one another was irreplaceable. We won together, we lost together, cried together, laughed together, traveled across the country together, and most importantly, we understood each other. In a snap of my fingers, that all disappeared.
I stormed into Jamie’s office that evening after practice, “Jamie,” I began, “I’m done with this. I’m done with all of this. I’m tired of being treated like I’m not a part of this team because I am, ask any one of my teammates. You stripped me of my self-esteem and on top of that you decided to pry me away from my family. I’d rather not continue doing this terror you call a sport if this is how I’m going to be treated. I’d rather not see my teammates at all than watch them have a blast without me every day. I’d rather not be stuck with the immature level 7 group when I’m the most mature out of the level 8’s.”
Her eyebrows rose, I guess she was shocked that I finally stood up for myself after the last nine years. Before she could even answer, I slammed the door and walked outside.
I’d walked out of that dirty, despised gym into that sweet, fresh air countless times, but this was different. I walked out for good, leaving behind one of best and possibly worst things that had ever happened to me. I knew I was leaving my loving, caring teammates, but it was all worth finally getting out of that prison Jamie called a gym. I would find time to share with them outside of that abhorred gym, without the stress and disappointment it brought me.
This made me wonder. Jamie grew up in the gym just as we all did. When all of us were much younger, we idolized her. We wanted to be just like her, with her passion and dedication to the sport. The times had changed. I’m not sure if we changed or she changed, but I know something had to have gone wrong in the middle for her to suddenly act this way. I don’t know, but I really don’t think it matters. I’m free now, and sadly enough, I doubt Jamie will ever experience that feeling.