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“And now for Callista Hogan on the uneven bars.”

I tightened my ponytail, smiling at my coach. I walked over to the chalk bucket, making sure my hands were fully coated in the substance. Then I took one deep breath, visualizing the routine in my mind, and walked up onto the mat. Start values were announced, but I kept my eyes focused on the bars.

I had to keep my focus. This was my one shot, and I couldn't ruin it. I had worked so hard for this moment, ever since I was three years old.

One more deep breath.

My hands met the bars, hard and strong and fast just like in all of my practices. My arms, taut and powerful, pulled me into my first rotation. Legs straightened and toes pointed as I moved into my first handstand. I held it—one shallow breath, two—and then swung around. My legs spread, toes pointed, as I moved into one more rotation. I swung around again, letting go of the bar—

I felt like I was flying through the short distance to the high bar. For a moment, all was still and silent as I wondered if I would reach it but then—strong. Sure. I landed the high bar.

The momentum pulled me into another rotation. I felt like I was flying through the air. The feeling was infinite; the bars against my hands, the strength of my arms as I held a handstand and then went spinning into a rotation, and my legs, stretched tight and powerfully together, completing my perfect lines. As I spun, faster than I believed possible, I spread my legs and then brought them together again as I came over the top of the high bar into a handstand.

I released the bar, spinning into a Jaeger. I somersaulted through the air—I was a bird, graceful and strong—and caught the bar again. Another rotation and another handstand, legs extended. My hands moved across the bar with a Nastia Liukin-like flourish, changing my position—a piroette—and I spun, gaining speed.

I let go of the bar.

Power, adrenaline—all coursed through my body as I landed the low bar again. I kept my legs slightly at an angle to the floor, toes pointed, and spun. The bar remained the sole stationary spot in my vision as I spun around it, everything else blurring. There was nothing but the bar. Nothing but my routine existed. Nothing existed but the feel of my hands on the bar and my body moving through the air. The flight to the high bar again made me feel invincible, impenetrable.

The rest of my routine was a blur. Another release move—this time, I let go of the bar, flying backward over the bar, legs apart, and caught it again. A perfect Tkatchev. I barely managed to spare a thought for my coach, most likely beaming with pride, as I swung around the bar. A handstand, another release—flying high over the bar, gaining air—and then I spun, ready to dismount.

As I rotated over the bar and then came back down, I released. I felt the air whistle past my face. I somersaulted through the air, body straightening as I neared the ground. My feet met the mat, solid and firm. A smile spread across my face and I raised my arms. The crowd cheered. As I stepped off the mat for the next girl to compete, my coach grabbed me around the waist and spun me.

“I'm so proud of you, girl,” he whispered. “You're going to the Olympics!”

It is an unfulfilled dream, this fantasy.

Ever since I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the girls who spun around the high bars. I was intrigued by the skills the girls utilized on the balance beam, with their standing full twists and leaps through the air and the way they made it seem so effortless. I wondered why they ran toward the vault, somersaulting through the air. How did they always land on their feet?

“Daddy,” I remember myself saying. “Can I go to a gym, please? I wanna be a gymnast!”

“Maybe,” my father said, smiling at me. “Let's see if we can find a good one.”

When I was five or six—maybe a little older, maybe a little younger—my mother and I used to watch gymnastics together. (Figure skating too, but I only paid attention to the gymnastics.) I would take the pillows off my couch and lay them on the floor.

“I'm gonna be like them one day,” I said. “I'm gonna be a gymnast!”

I arranged the pillows on the floor, content to somersault across them for hours. I leaped and danced across the floor, pretending I was one of those girls who could do those elegant tumbling runs. And when I got bored, I balanced on the arm of the couch, arms outstretched. When my mother and I went on walks, I would balance on the edge of the sidewalk.

I pretended I was on a balance beam. I was strong and graceful, powerful and sure. I could do the tricks. I could cartwheel across four inches of wood. I could jump off the beam and land back on it, straight as a pin. Handstands? No problem. Straddling the beam, bringing myself back up to a standing position, all with perfect balance? Of course. I could do that in my sleep.

They are so pretty, I acknowledged. They make it look effortless. I wanna be like them. I wanna be powerful and strong.

I want to be free as a bird, I thought as I watched gymnasts on the high bars.

Years passed.

I was five, six, seven and then eight. Deep inside, I knew it was never going to happen, but that didn't stop me from wishing.

“Dad, please enroll me in a gym, please?” I begged. “Mackenzie and Caitlyn and everyone else are doing gymnastics. Why can't I?”

There was always an excuse. Not enough money, he said. No good gyms around, he said. It's not the right time, he said. There was never enough money, never a good gym, and it was never the right time. As I grew older, the door began closing. People started gymnastics when they were three or four, not when they were pushing on ten.

I am fifteen, and I am already too old for one of my biggest dreams. Many of the elite gymnasts are my age—give or take a year or two—and they have been practicing since they were three or four. Maybe even two in the cases of some of them. It's taken them years to get to the point where they are now, and I can just imagine the way they feel when they are doing that which they love.

It must feel like freedom to swing around that bar, going into a Jaeger or a Tkatchev or any number of the other difficult moves gymnasts do every day.

They must feel like birds.

I see them in my hopes and my nostalgic What ifs. Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson competing in the 2008 Olympics are inspirations. They follow their dreams. Nastia Liukin with her perfect routine on the bars doing something no other gymnast in the world is able to do—Shawn Johnson pushing up to silver with her fabulous floor routine in Beijing—

Amazing women, both of them.

I long to be one of them, but deep in my heart, I know it is too late. The door is closed, the cage is locked, and I know. I was not meant for the bars or the floor or the beam. I cannot strike the bars hard and fast, like a cobra, and spin into rotations with my tension perfect, light and strong as a hawk.

No, that is not my path.

I am meant for the quiet room, my fingers tapping gently at the keys, exploring long-lost dreams and the wish for the future. I am meant to contemplate the ever-prevalent question in my mind:

What if?


This has been my entry for week 17 of [ profile] therealljidol. I hope you enjoyed this entry, and hopefully you will consider voting for me when the poll comes up!
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March 2010

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