I wrote this memoir for my English honors class. I wanted to share it with all of you.

Breathe. I found myself gulping air like a fish out of water while I tried to contain my tears. I was in one of the girls’ restroom stalls and didn’t want anyone to overhear me crying. Once the flood started, it was hard to stop, though. I didn’t even know why I was behaving that way. One stupid mistake. It wasn’t even a competition, but it felt much bigger than that.

Coach Nee had all the members of the gymnastics team perform at least two of their routines for approval to compete in the upcoming meet. Two checks are required to compete on any routine, and coach wanted us to compete in at least half of our total events. There are a total of four events for female gymnasts. My two events were going to be the uneven parallel bars and floor exercise. I rehearsed both of my routines at least a thousand times both in class and at after-school practices and could do them in my sleep. Bars was my favorite event; naturally I would perform that one first.

Everything was going smoothly until I started the Stride Circle skill. As I fell face first, I could feel one of my knees bending involuntarily and knew I wouldn’t complete the skill. I was right. Once I completed the circle and flicked my wrists, I felt myself fall backwards instead of going forward. I found myself dangling upside-down from the bars. Humiliation!

Coach Nee once told me during a routine it’s better to make a mistake and finish the routine than to make a mistake and quit. After all, there’s a small chance you might redeem yourself. Somehow I found the courage to jump back up onto bars and finish the event even though I knew I wasn’t going to get a check for bars. If I couldn’t even perform my favorite event during practice, then how could I hope to do better at a meet?

Not for the first time I found myself questioning my decision to be a gymnast. I came to gymnastics knowing next to nothing. I felt like I had to work twice as hard as the other girls because it took me twice as long to get a skill. I had initially joined gymnastics because it looked cool and I was afraid of heights. I had thought to myself, “Here is an activity to force me out of my comfort zone and to face my fear.” I was in the gymnastics class, gymnastics club, and on the gymnastics team. All in a bid to give myself more time to practice and perfect my skills. Coach Nee says every gymnast has a “toolbox”. What each gymnast has in their toolbox is dependent on them and not every gymnast has the same tools in their toolbox. I felt like in comparison, my toolbox look pretty pathetic.

The first time I became interested in gymnastics was while watching the ABC Family television show “Make It or Break It”. I admired and idolized those actresses even though I knew that they weren’t real gymnasts. It wasn’t until I became a gymnast myself that I realized how accurately they portrayed the struggles of a competitive gymnast. It was times like this that made me ponder if being a gymnast was worth it.

Only on one occasion had I ever contemplated quitting gymnastics. On that occasion the risk felt too great. I was practicing my balance beam routine. The balance beam is a 4’ inch wide piece of wood that rests 5-1/2″ feet off the ground. It’s only wide enough to stand on with one foot in front of the other. I was in the process of bringing my legs out of the air after doing an English Handstand on beam; my right foot landed first but my left foot glanced off the beam and I found myself wobbling on one leg with the other in mid-air off to the side of my body. I capsized to the left. My heart was racing, palms were shaking, and my eyes were burning with unshed tears of fright. I realized that day that if I could perform a handstand on a piece of 4’ inch wide wood that’s 5-1/2″ feet in the air then I wasn’t afraid of heights. I became terrified of falling. That day my worst fear almost came to fruition. I nearly fell during gymnastics. But I didn’t quit. I came close. But I stuck with gymnastics. I just avoided beam like the devil.

After I managed to keep the waterworks to a minimum, I stayed in the stall for a few minutes more. I didn’t want to walk out with tear-stained cheeks and red puffy eyes and have someone ask me what’s wrong. I was tempted to call my grandmother and leave practice early, but that wouldn’t sit right with me. Since I was a junior and the majority of the girls on the gymnastics team were sophomores, I had to be a role model as much for them as for my own siblings. What would my little brothers and sisters think of me if I told them I refused to compete in a sport that I love because of one mistake during practice? How many times before had I fallen and gotten right back up? Why was this failure different from others?

It was different because there was more at stake. The upcoming gymnastics meet was only a few days away. I had to get this now or never. I had to show the underclassmen that it was okay to fail as long as I rose again. And with that in mind, I stepped out of the stall, washed my face, and walked right back into the gym. I earned not one but four checks that day. Two for each routine. I only planned on earning one check per event for that practice. But when I walked back into that gym, determination and adrenaline fought for dominance. I felt the need to prove myself. To my teammates, my coach, my siblings, my grandmother, and most of all, to myself. I needed to prove to me that despite my fear and failures I was cut out for gymnastics. I was a gymnast. The stakes were higher only because I raised them for myself. And I met them.