Letter 53: My Dashed Olympic Dreams

Dear Elizabeth,

I'm watching the Olympics as I type this, waiting for Gymnastics to come back on. I watch these little girls do unbelievable things with their bodies and am in a sort of awe. I see special moves, named after girls who competed in the past and remember when that move was first done. The moves that were incredible when I was a girl are normal now. By the time you watch the Olympics, even today's amazing moves will have been surpassed.

I was a girl during the Marilou Retton days. I, like probably half the girls in the country, dreamed of being in the Olympics like her. I turned my backyard swingset into Olympic equipment. My little swingset had a ladder style top, and I would walk across that top ladder. I'd swing up, jump from the swing and grab that top ladder like it was the uneven bars.

My parents couldn't afford gymnastic lessons. At the time I was really disappointed, but now I know that, too, was a gift from God. I likely had the beginnings of Addison's Disease even back then and that constant stress on the body would have accelerated it.

(FYI, Elizabeth, I'm not a sports person. Never was. I used to think it was because I was just a wimp. Now I know it was my body that couldn't keep up. For some reason that makes me feel better.)

Anyway, since I couldn't take official lessons, I turned my backyard into a gym instead. I swung, I balanced, I dreamed.

Then I got an idea. We had a picnic table in our backyard. I moved a picnic bench away from the table and turned it into a balance beam. It was wider than the 4 inches the real balance beams were, but what did that matter? I made up my own little routine and twirled and jumped.

Then I did my big move: a cartwheel. This turned out to be a bad idea. The wobbly picnic bench wobbled. I got off balance. My cartwheel went awry. My bare shin scraped down the unfinished side of the picnic bench.

Soon I was inside crying to my mom about the blood and torn skin all up my lower leg.

Suddenly Olympic dreams fell from the heights of glory down the rigors of everyday pain. I decided maybe I didn't want to be in the Olympics after all.

Some dreams should remain just dreams. I retired those dreams back with many others, and now watch little girls do things on a 4-inch balance beam that I couldn't do on solid ground. They are amazing, but I don't envy them anymore.

A lesson on accepting life's limitations, taught to me by a rough wooden picnic bench.

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