From age six on, I desperately wanted to be like my elementary friend Jessica who took gymnastics classes. Her tumbling classes involved strutting across the balance beam, swinging around the uneven bars, and bounding on that springy ramp up and over the vaulting horse. I was sure she’d be whisked off by Bela Karolyi to train for the Olympics at his magical gymnastics camp.
I begged my mom to sign me up.
“Do you want to break your neck?’ she asked.
She worked in the ER and had seen too many kids hurt doing gymnastics—millions if she were to be believed. Every kid in our neighborhood must have broken her leg or sustained a beam injury at some point because she made it sound like there were broken collarbones parading through the hospital door in leotards.
In 1984, when I was 12, Mary Lou Retton won the gold medal, and even my mother was excited. I was sure I was next, even if 12 was middle age for a gymnast and I could barely manage a straight cartwheel. Still, mom refused.
These days, when I’m at the gym, complete with a gymnastics center for kids only, I’ve been known to stare wistfully through the window at the eight-year-olds tumbling across the mat, landing dismounts from the high beam. So when I spotted a blurb about a gymnastics boot camp for adults at the gym last month, I couldn’t fork over the cash fast enough. I signed up and I didn’t tell my mom.
I entered the temple of gymnastics on that first day at 8 a.m. sharp with the hope of a medal still lingering. I scanned the bars, beams, and horse with awe and restrained myself from plunging my hands into the chalk barrel. I saw a glint in the eyes of the other half dozen adults that said childhood dream deferred.
By 8:10, I was eyeing the exit.
Those uneven bars I had dreamed about? Swinging on those really hurts your hands. We used them less for swinging and more for pull-ups anyway—or half a pull-up in my case. The floor exercise mat was a canvas for lunges, push-ups, sprints, and overall hell. I wondered if you could die from sweating. In the corner was a rope hanging over a pit of foam that brought back memories of gym class. Rope burn still stings.
Each week—the class ran for five weeks—was a medley of sprinting, jumping, lunging, and crying, repeated in an endless circuit. When the instructor demonstrated a move on the trampoline on day one and injured herself, I realized, Hey, this sport is dangerous. How narrowly I had escaped Bela Karolyi’s camp.
On the last day, I was chatting with a woman in the class, saying our goodbyes.
“Are you gonna take the class next session?” she asked.
“Oh, God, no,” I said.
“Me neither,” she said. “It’s just not a workout for me.”