As I sit here watching the Olympic gymnastic finals and overflowing with emotion every time Simone Biles appears on screen, I feel it’s important to remind you of my own brief Olympic stint.
I’ll never forget how it felt. Standing there, on the edge of the mat, about to begin my Olympic floor routine. I had dreamt of that day for as long as I could remember, and now it was my time to shine. The crowd hushed. I pulled my shoulders back, took a deep breath and began my routine.
The year: 1988
The location: My living room
Ok, ok, I was four. My family had just moved into a new house in Michigan, and my sister Lauren was no more than 6 months old. My parents were busy doing something – unpacking, caring for a newborn, whatever it is parents do – and I’m sure they thought I’d be content in the living room quietly watching the gymnastics competition.
But they didn’t know just how much I was inspired by Belarusian gymnast Svetlana Boginskaya, and they didn’t know how confident I was in my God-given gymnastics abilities. (Of course, I’d never taken a gymnastics lesson. I didn’t need to.)
And that’s how I found myself standing with my toes on the edge of the couch, a blanket rolled out ahead, leading toward the television. Ahh, the television, where Svetlana was inspiring me with each graceful tumbling pass. I had my routine planned out. I was ready.
So, I pulled my shoulders back, took a deep breath and began. I performed a gorgeous somersault off of the arm of the couch, across the cushions to the other arm of the couch. Long and lean, I stood up, lifted my arms above my head and hopped to the center cushion. From there, I dove off of the couch, head first onto the blanket, somersaulting toward the television. I did one somersault, followed by another (“A double somersault!” the announcers would shout) and sat up – smacking my forehead right into the corner of the wood-encased TV. (This was 1988, after all.)
What happened next is a little foggy, but I’ve been told that my parents walked into the living room to find me all sprawled out on the floor, limbs askew, blood gushing all over my face. Panicked, they scooped me up, dropped Lauren off at a neighbor’s, and rushed me to the hospital.
I didn’t get my gold medal that day, but I did get stitches. In fact, I still have a scar – a faint vertical line in the center of my forehead. A keepsake from my first (and last) Olympic competition. And all Svetlana got was a silver medal.