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Standing there, in the middle of the floor, my heart pumping so loud it was the only thing I could hear. The moment leading from perfect stillness and piercing silence to music and graceful but powerful passes. I was in my new uniform, specially bought for this particular meet. Standing in the largest gym I had ever been in and with so many people watching me, yet nerves were almost impossible to find at this moment. The massiveness of this place weighed down on me as I prepared myself to show the judges what I had in store for them.
Only a week before this moment did my team find out that eight of our girls qualified for this meet. It was a Nationals meet that consisted of twenty-three different teams, with about fifty girls in my age group alone. We weren't a big team, but we were good. Good enough to go to Orlando Florida for a Nationals gymnastics meet held at Disney's Wide World Sports Arena. When our coach told us we had qualified for such a high-standard meet our eyes grew wide and our jaws hit the ground with a thud. This news was given to us just as our new leotards came in as well, so we were all pretty pumped. Bumping into one another repetitively to find our own uniform, we raced to the bathroom so we could be the first to try ours on. Our old ones were regular long sleeved purple leotards with little silver sequins in the shape of what looked like an upside down crown on the chest. The new ones were jet black with gold, shimmering sleeves. This made us not only look more professional, but made us feel more confident in the way the judges were going to look at us.
I was so excited that I began packing that night. My sisters got the big news and jumped for joy as well. My little sister actually thanked me, but as usual, my older sisters’ gratitude went unspoken. They were both ecstatic about the fact that they too were going to share this place of sunshine and warmth with me. We were driving down because, as I said before, we weren't a large team, so we didn't have enough money to travel together. We made it to our hotel in Orlando about twenty-four hours after leaving home. The next day was my competition so I got my uniform and set it out so it would be ready to put on when I got up. I went to sleep as soon as I could to try and rejuvenate before the performance of my life the next day.
I woke up and got ready for the most nerve wracking experience of my life. We drove down to the gym. When I got out of the car my eyes stared at large concrete stairs that wound around the front of a huge tan colored building with pillars that looked like they could touch the sky. We arrived late so my family was rushing, trying to find my team and coach. Getting lost was not part of our plan, but we ended up running into another lost team member and together we just barely made it in on time.
The pressure put on a gymnast in any meet, let alone a Nationals' one, is incredibly nauseating and sunk our hearts to the point where we believed there was no return. We would get the typical butterflies, shortness of breath, sometimes our vision would get blurry and sitting down would be the only hope of regaining balance. Paranoia of dehydration would sink in and the closest water fountain would be complete chaos, with colorful leotards and anxious competitors. After that filling sip of water the sudden urge to pee would consume every thought in the already overloaded mind. Though that urge can't be acted upon yet. First the competition needs to be carried out, and then relief can be granted. It's a total train wreck, but worth it when at the end of the routine the "thump" sound of feet hit the ground and you reach up, pretending to grab a star out of the sky.
The gym was monstrous in size. The floor was five times the size of ours, so we wouldn't have any problem with staying inside the white tape around the edges. There were four sets of uneven bars, while my team only owned two. The beams were as tall as they got, the size actual professionals use, about head height compared to myself. Two pairs of vaults with at least a mile of running space, my least favorite and mind blocked event. Something about running that far gets me thinking of all the bad things that could happen while flying over the tongue shaped object. All twenty-three teams warmed up, then took their places and waited to be introduced by the announcers. We turned, faced the American flag and held our hands over our hearts as the National Anthem was sung. Teams departed and the competition finally began. My team's rotation was vault, beam, bars, and then floor.
Getting up and standing on that run way, the vault looking like a tiny speck on a horizon. Thoughts of my face smashing into the front of it ran over and over again through my mind. Fear sank in and I got the urge to just turn and bolt for the door. Instead I stood up, found my spot at 64 feet, soluted the judges and planted my feet on the piece of carpet. I stared at the stationary object, hating it, whishing it never existed. Up on my tip toes, just like how every one of my runs started, I ran as fast as I could toward the spring board. Placing my feet in just a way so that way I wouldn't miss-step and totally tank it. I hit the spring board and the loud creaking from the springs underneath lift me up and over the vault. Heels over head I land with perfect precision, feet stuck to the mat as if my life depended on it. I turn and reach for that star, turn, step down, and walk to my team as they smile and give me thumbs up. Finally vault was over, next was beam, one of my better events.
Looking at the four inch wide, head height object got me nervous. Palms sweating and getting dizzy, the fact that balance was key seemed to always create and un-equilibrium within me. I solute the judges, walk three steps in and face the beam. My hand rests upon it with such sensitivity I swear I can feel each cell in my hand as it brushes against the rough leather like surface. I jump and mount. I look down, and at first my nerves go hay wire, but I take one deep breath and every worry is gone. My routine, with the jumps and leaps, seemed like nothing. I accomplished it with a smile and a wave from my parents, whom I caught in my sight as I repeated my routine of attempting to touch one of those stars. Now that my balance was restored it was time for the uneven bars, not my best, but not as dreaded as vault.
I stood watching the girl ahead of me twist around the bars like her swings were doing all the work for her. She seemed to fly effortlessly, but I knew better. This was going to be hard and I was going to have to try a lot harder than normal if I wanted to finish this event with smiles and good gestures from parents and team members. I chalk up my hands and solute the judges once again. Attempting a graceful glide to the spot where I would have to jump to reach the lower bar and use every muscle in my body to get a top it. I jump, and glide under, lift my feet up and pull, almost like pulling a pair of pant on in mid air. My routine has started and my nerves have once again disappeared. Swinging, feeling like how the girl before me looked. I fall to my dismount, land with a squat reach for my star and walk back to my team mates with a good feeling about how the judges perceived me at this point. Bar rotations were over and next was floor, my favorite event and the one I had been most keen on proving myself in.
So there I was, trying not to move a muscle in the beginning position to the level five floor routine, waiting to hear my slow paced music to begin. Aware of all the eyes looking at me, as if each one was burning a hole through my leotard and staining my skin, I began to shake a little. As soon as the music started my heart raced, and I was off. Nerves sinking away, I was paying attention to every position I landed in and every movement my body made. Floor was the most time consuming and was also the only event I couldn't actually fall off of. Every skill took a lot of effort and I’m sure my face was contorted as I was flying through the air in my round off back handspring tuck, but inside I felt happier than I had in a long time. In the end I had done myself justice.
When the competition was over all the teams were herded to a back room, big enough to fit us and family members. I wasn't expecting anything. I had just been happy to be there and done what I did. No sooner was I getting ready to clap for the next person did I hear my name called over the loud speaker. Of course it didn't register at first, I was in shock. I pulled myself together and strode to the spot where I was handed a ninth place medal, bronze and in the shape of a manatee. Now ninth place doesn't sound that impressive, but out of fifty other girls at a nationals meet, and the only one on my team to place; I was ready to faint. That medal is my favorite. Though it's not gold, it holds a special spot next to my bed as a reminder of what I had accomplished that day, and how all the training and all the pain had paid off. I got to prove myself and finally got to touch one of those stars I had been reaching for all of those years.