The ‘What If’ Game

 

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I’ve decided God wants to keep me humble, as I’ve seen the limelight shine in other directions. Normally, I’m okay with others having their moments of glory instead of me because I wasn’t doing my task  for recognition in the first place, but one time was the exception. For ten years I had trained as a gymnast and sacrificed a ‘normal’ childhood. When other kids went out to play or spent their teenage years on the phone, I was spending my time at the gym. So I had a hard time fighting back tears when the announcer skipped over my name. When the six other girls from Region 8 competing at Nationals stepped forward after hearing their names and raised their arms in a salute, I stood back awkwardly, not sure what I should do.

Perhaps this moment set the tone for the competition. Even though I was overlooked, I was determined to have one outstanding meet. Our team started on floor, and I gave a solid performance. The rest of the team looked good, and we established early that Region 8 was here to win. We then moved to the vault. I had two chances to perform my handspring front, and I landed each successfully with a small step.

By this point in the competition, I was having fun. I cheered for girls on my team whom I normally competed against, and those few hours as teammates formed a bond and, in same cases, a friendship that would continue after the floor music and flashing scores had stopped.

As we moved to the bars, my excitement moved to a nervous energy. Bars had always been my worst event, but this particular season I showed consistency that had been lacking previously. I wanted to keep that consistency going, help my team with a high score and my own chances for a personal best all-around score.

And as I gripped those bars, muscle memory took over. I swung with grace and ease from one skill to the next. I felt my legs squeeze tightly together during my release move–I kept perfect form–and when I let go of the bar one final time to dismount, I landed without a movement. I was rewarded with a 9.625, the highest score on my team and enough to put me in the finals for the uneven bars.

But the meet was not over. Region 8 still needed to compete on the balance beam, and everyone in the auditorium knew it. As gymnasts from the other teams finished their final event, they found their way over to the balance beam area to send their wishes of wobbles and falls our way. I didn’t notice them, however. I was too busy staring at the judges, wondering why they still hadn’t signaled for me to begin my routine.

I was up first in my group, and I stood nervously awaiting to complete my last event. But the judges weren’t ready. Other teams were finishing their events, but the group of judges were conversing over a score inquiry from the last team on beam. I had waited so long to begin my routine that my coach finally came up to me and whispered in my ear to go ahead and sit down. And it was at that moment, as I had begun to go to my seat, that the judge raised her arm, letting me know it was time to begin my routine.

I don’t dwell on this event or hold regret, but I have often wondered what if I had taken a couple seconds to regain my composure and focus before returning my salute to the judge. If I had taken that time instead of immediately acknowledging the judge who had kept us all waiting, would I have stuck my routine?

From the first move of my beam series, I knew I was off. I threw my back-handspring to the right, and I couldn’t pull the rest of the series over to avoid the fall. And with that fall fell all the energy and excitement we had carried with us through the other three events. The girl after me fell. Others as well. And we and the crowd knew the moment in the limelight was no longer ours.

After my routine, my coach came over to let me know that before beam I was second in the nation all-around. I remember thinking if he had told me that before my routine, would it have made a difference? If I had known how close I was to standing atop that podium, would I have nailed beam as well? And if I hit my beam routine and kept going the positive momentum, would the other girls have followed suit?

Of course, there’s no way to know and no reason to dwell on the event. But every so often my mind’s eye replays that fall on the beam, and I cringe. And every so often, I recall the announcer skipping over my name at the beginning of the meet, and I realize it just wasn’t my time to shine in the limelight.

I actually started this post last week for Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop and decided I needed to finish it. I’m glad to be back today after a few days away to Dollywood and a couple days after that recouping! I look forward to catching up on all your blogs and comments. I’d love to read below if you have a sports/performance memory that occasionally replays in your mind? Do you ever get caught up in the ‘what if’ game?

4 thoughts on “The ‘What If’ Game

  1. Looking back, I often wonder if I had the insight that I have now if my gymnastics career would have been totally different. Then I think about how all of those ups and downs and 'what ifs' that didn't go my way, have helped mold me into the person I am today. A wife and a mother with a wealth of understanding as I watch my children have their trials and triumphs in baseball and soccer. I understand now that learning how to handle the mistakes, especially the mental ones, during my gymnastics career gives me special insight to gently guide my kids. Jennifer, I always remembered you as a gymnast with the heart of a lion. You were amazing, hardworking and humble. Quite a combination that, from the outside, it looks like you carry on today!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Jennifer. I, agree; my gymnastics career definitely helped shape the person I am today. I learned discipline that I'm not sure I would've learned anywhere else at such a young age. And as far as gymnasts go, you were always my role model! 🙂

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  2. All those years, 10 years I went to your practices and to all your meets, missing only one. I watched you and your team mates perform many different twists, flips, etc. I watched them so often I felt I could actually do a roundoff, back handspring, backflip or whatever. I just knew I could do it. What if I gave it a try and ACTUALLY DID IT? Would Dan have asked me stay on as a coach? Would those at the gym applaud me especially since I was well over my teenage years? WHAT IF I actually got the nerve up to run across the mat and attempt the trick, fall on my face and dislocate my shoulder? What if you saw me do it? Would you have been embarrassed? I guess we will never know. Yeah, we know, you would have been so embarrassed you would have quit gymnastics. Today you would be thinking, "What if I didn't quit gymnastics, better yet what if my father just stayed home that day……."

    In any event, you will always shine in my eyes.

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