Incidental Life Skills and High School Sports

For the better part of my childhood, I was a gymnast. An all around competitor, balance beam being my best event. Odd choice for someone with my body type and particularly strange considering my discomfort with heights. That’s right, I pilot planes, but struggle to look over the railing on the second story of malls. Completely irrational. I’ll admit. But what can I say? Emotions are complicated.

Now those who have met me realize there’s nothing pint-size about my physique. Trust me, I didn’t come out of the womb five-foot nine. Although if quoted, my mother might argue this point. It wasn’t that I was so long as much as I had gigantic feet. Wrinkly baby toboggans that grew to a size ten years before my torso stretched sixty-nine inches. Ironically though, my disproportionately large tootsies were incredibly useful when trying to grip a four inch block of wood. (Yes, back in the dark ages balance beams were made of timber.) So without any inkling of my height potential and a built in pair of stick-em soles, I fell in love with the balance beam. A conscious choice. My internal face-your-fears and don’t be a country fried chicken on a stick.

In short order I learned that there’s only one thing you have to do to be a beam specialist. Stay on the block of wood. More simply put be centered, balanced and navigate straight down the middle. A heavily practiced skill that still translates in every day life. I’m eluding to the invisible “track” that we are all trying to be on, get or stay on.

Thoughtful practice makes perfect. I remember my coach shouting every time a foot missed the narrow target and I landed flat against the crash mat. Words of encouragement that pushed me to climb back on the beam and try even harder to stay balanced. Reflecting back on years of chasing gym meet nirvana, the utopia of perfect, subsequent beam routines at every competition, I had a delayed epiphany.

Everything that I’ve experienced in the world is fluid. The seasons, the weather, the suns daily trek and the phases of the moon. Even the ground under our feet. All shift, spin, blow, and twist. If you sit and think for a tick, not much really idles in place.

The point I’m suggesting is perhaps the goal is not to stay on track. Maybe instead of clinging to the constraints of a four inch box, a more productive resolution would be to allow yourself to squiggle. Ebb and flow. All the while crossing back and forth over that elusive straight line we all seem so desperate to maintain. If you get knocked off, don’t stop, play the negative head tape or beat yourself up with a double shot of guilt. Instead breathe, relax and weave back towards the center.

Gymnasts rarely fall off an apparatus and shout  to the spectators “I’m such a loser.” Punch themselves in the gut and then hobble out of the stadium. No matter how bad the fall, no matter how many planned are tricks missed, they take a moment, recenter and complete their routines.

Now I realize all of you may not be die hard gymnastics fans but I’ll gamble and assume most have seen a football game or two. So if a wide receiver misses a pass, does he fall to his knees, plop down on the field, roll on his back like a dead beetle only to be coerced to keep playing after a two pint Ben and Jerry’s binge? No. Of course not. (At least I’ve never seen a replay on Sports Center.)

The old me used to take pride in how long I could tow the line, wearing rigidity like a gold feather in my wide brimmed hat. But now I’m considering all I did was set myself up for some sort of big crash. I’ve learned that the “track” is a moving target. If I get off, I thrust my hands in the air, enjoy the ride an then move back towards the middle. My daily routines are no longer filled with perfect pirouettes, but random spins more consistent with the loose curves on a Formula One race track.

Go along, be kind to yourself. Be patient, flexible, laugh, enjoy the dizziness from the unexpected jolts off centerline. Then, when the landscape levels, angle back towards the intended path. Eat clean for awhile, resume an exercise regime, skip the trendy fall fashion that you’re sure to donate in the spring. Avoid mojito Monday for a week. Slap on your smoking patch. Get organized. Get a good night sleep. Be ready, because the next ebb is just around the corner.

E.L. Chappel author of Risk/Spirit Dance/Storm Chasers

We’re Jammin…hope you like jammin too…

aka The Glamorous Wife.

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