From my perch on the high balance beam the floor looked miles away. The encouraging words of my coach went in one ear and out the other. Even if I had been practicing for months trying to accomplish one semi-difficult move, as soon as I stepped on the high beam and mentally prepared to attempt it, my head would get dizzy and I would rock slightly. My little beam shoes with rough bottoms would cling to the side of the beam with no chance of loosening. Many moves were difficult but I had never gotten as many cuts and bruises as I did when I tried to do a back walkover on the high beam. This maneuver must be perfected or I would I never be able to pursue my career as a gymnast.
I practiced for months on the low beam with mats on either side so if my hands missed the beam, I did not land on my face. Finally one night I got to the point where could do a back walkover with ease on the low beam. I thought I was ready for the high beam so I told my coach, and he helped me up onto the high beam. I wanted so badly just to gracefully arch my back, put my hands down, and throw my legs over, but for some reason my body froze every time I got up there. I stood there for about five minutes until my coach politely said, "I think you need a little more time on the low beam." I refused to show my devastation so I dismounted and just agreed. I sulked back over to the low beam and without surprise did a flawless back walkover. After completing another five, I glanced at the clock to discover that I would not have time to try again. Disappointed, I flung off my shoes, stuffed them into my gym bag and left, convincing myself that on Friday I would do it.
When Friday rolled around I was prepared. I had practiced back walkovers in my house all week and I could do a back walkover just as easily as I could count to five. When I reached gymnastics I could not wait to mount the beam. After stretching, I implored my coach to have our team start with the beam. He chuckled, gave me a reassuring smile, and agreed to my plea. I limbered up on the floor by arching my back and kicking my legs in the air. Then I mounted the beam, took a deep breath, and envisioned a girl lifting her arms and then, as smoothly as a paintbrush on a canvas, arching her back, shifting her weight to her hands, and then launching her legs over her head and onto the narrow strip behind her in one fluid motion.
My imaginings were interrupted by my coach saying "Ready when you are." I lifted my arms just as the girl did, and before I had time to regret my actions or get nervous, I had flung my legs into the air and over my head and onto the stationary beam. My coach was thrilled and to show his excitement he gave me a gold star to wear on my forehead. The gold star symbolized my effort and achievement.
I was thrilled by the feat I had accomplished. Although I ended my gymnastics career about a year later, I knew I had overcome the fear of the beam that had once haunted me. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.