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Taking it to the floor

2 June 2008 30 views No Comment

My wrists feel like they are bleeding. In fact, I’m sure they must be. I look down at both of them, but there isn’t a drop of blood to be seen.

This is surprising because I’ve spent the last hour and a half jumping backwards, landing on my hands, and then pushing off of them to land, I hope, back on my feet. The promise of being able to learn how to do a back handspring was most of the appeal for me when I started cheerleading last fall.

I’m a retired rhythmic gymnast who found cheerleading years later, and decided, at the first practice with the Vancouver Academy of Cheer, that she had learn how to do a back handspring.

My original plan was a simple round-off, back handspring by the time my team competed in San Diego at the end of February. But as I practiced once a week, I decided that being able to compete with a front walkover, step out, round-off, back handspring would be more impressive.

I was right. It would have, had I competed with it.

Instead, I learned how different the worlds of cheerleading and of rhythmic gymnastics really are.

* * *

Rhythmic gymnastics was my first love. It was great because it was all about the individual. No one else suffered if you messed up. No one blamed you except you.

On the other hand, cheerleading on the other hand is a team sport. It isn’t always about you and what you want to do and what you want to get out of it.

In fact, it never is.

You’re part of a team of cheerleaders who suffer when you make a mistake, and there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes during a cheer routine.

That’s why every Sunday, my team practised for three hours, and it’s why I kept practising, often for another two hours.
Team practices were typically dedicated to learning routine choreography and learning how to stunt. (Stunting is where you see cheerleaders lifting teammates, who are called flyers, up into the air. I was what is called a “third,” or a “back spot.” Basically I helped lift the flyer, or throw her.)

I hated stunting. Every practice, stunting was like torture. All I wanted to do was tumble.

Because there wasn’t much time for tumbling during practice though, my coach stayed with me after practice so that I could work on my back handspring. After three hours of stunting, I’d hop onto the tumble track and I’d practice jumping back onto my hands, pushing off, snapping my legs down to land back on my feet again.

I did it again and again until my wrists burned.

It was worth it, though.

One practice, I finally got off the tumble track and hit the floor. I stood there, looking at the orange crash mat in front of me.

My mind kept telling me that I can’t do this, there is no way, you will die if you try to do this.

My body didn’t listen. Before I knew it I was running… step, step, step, round off, back handspring. I jump through the air, my hands hit the floor, and my feet manage to find their way back to the ground.

I did it.

My very first back handspring. Shaky, at best, but a back handspring nonetheless.

I did a couple more with coach spotting me, and then I did it myself: no crash mat, no spot, just me and the mat.

I went home that night smiling from ear to ear.

I haven’t felt that way since I last competed as a rhythmic gymnast.

* * *

Over the next few practices I worked on perfecting my back handspring, and it got better with each one. So I started working on a new tumbling pass: front walkover, step out, round off, back handspring.

It was going well until one practice when I kept on landing on my knees. Over and over again, I’d fall, and I couldn’t figure out why. I was getting frustrated. Every time I’d fall, I’d get back up and do it again, only to have to pick myself back up off the mat again. I went home that night angry, exhausted, and wanting to give up.

My coach assured me that sometimes bad days happen, and that next week would be better. At the time I didn’t believe here, but nothing could have cheered me up at that point.

The next couple of weeks were better, until one practice I bailed.

If you’re going to tumble, the one thing you don’t do is bail. It causes injuries. I bailed and, for the next few weeks, walked around with a scab underneath my nose from kissing the mat. It could have been worse. My nose was intact and my teeth were all in place.

The competition in San Diego was two weeks away though, and coach was worried that I would fall on my tumbling pass, which would result in a big deduction in our team score. Falling after my back handspring could mean the difference between us coming in first or coming in second.

* * *

We were warming up tumbling at the competition at Sea World in San Diego. Coach turned to me and asked me to leave out the front walkover part of my tumbling pass. I didn’t even get to warm it up, even though we agreed we would see how it went at practice.

I could tell she was nervous, though. And looking around at all of these girls, most of them competing in their first cheerleading competition, some in their last, and I realized that this competition wasn’t about me.

I was furious, because I felt as though I wasn’t given the chance that I was promised, and frustrated, because I worked so hard to prove that I could do it.

But at the same time I was oddly at peace with the decision, because I didn’t want to disappoint my teammates. I wasn’t the only one who had worked their ass off for this competition. All 15 other girls on Vancouver Academy had put all of their effort and focus into the routine we were about to perform, and they all deserved a chance at first place.

Turns out, it was worth it. Even though I didn’t reach my ultimate goal in cheerleading, I did end the year as part of a first place team at the Sharp International competition in San Diego California, 2008.

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