I attended college at the University of Utah. That shouldn’t mean much on its own. I’m from southern California, near Pasadena. I had never been to Utah when I decided to go there to school. No, I’m not Mormon.
If you asked me why I went to school there you would get one of several of my standard answers. All of them would be true; they were just different facets the truth. The most common answer I gave was that it was the only school I applied to. And it was. Applying to college involved application fees and I didn’t have a job. Not to mention the enormous forms and essays…but I digress.
The secret answer would have been that I met a boy from Salt Lake City and he fascinated me. He put SLC on my radar. I went there thinking I would find him and hook up and live happily ever after. The truth of the matter was that I called him once or twice after I got there, but never told him that I was only five miles away because I am a horrible coward. I still had the better not to try than to fail mentality. I wandered about the city thinking he could be around any corner and if I saw him I would run the other way (like you do when you’re 18 and cowardly).
The secret secret answer was because they had a gymnastics team. More importantly, I could take gymnastics classes. On my first visit to the college I bought a gymnastics t-shirt. It was bright red with a Ute on the balance beam. I didn’t wear it because I liked black spooky clothes and favored velvet, but I have it to this day.
Education was sadly secondary. I majored in English literature and had absolutely no idea what to do with an English degree. It didn’t matter to me at the time. College was a time for exploration and small scale adventure, maybe even a coup.
Gymnastics class was exhilarating. I hadn’t been on a springy blue mat since sixth grade. Every time I feel the mat beneath my feet it’s like finding a missing piece of myself. They make me want to run and dance and play. And I did. Obviously since it had been so long I couldn’t pick up where I left off. The body remembers what you’ve taught it though. It tries to fall into the splits and bound into forward diving rolls. It just seems to have developed strange impediments like hips that it never had to contend with before. Not to mention that unhealthy fondness for big macs. Of course that could be why there are those hips…
I walked into the beginning gymnastics class and glowed. The class focused on tumbling. Occasionally we tried the other apparatuses, but usually we stuck to the floor. That was fine with me. The floor was my favorite. I loved the bars as well, but my seven year hiatus made bars almost inaccessible. I couldn’t glide around them like I used to, and whenever I tried to spin around them I ended up with two angry bruises on my hip points. Like I said, those hips were new (the breasts too, but they didn’t seem to get in the way as much).
We practiced in the same room the Ute gymnastics team used. It had all sorts of neat equipment that neither of my previous gyms had. The trampoline the Utes used was very long. You could run the length of it and then do a tumbling sequence. We learned to do roundoff back handsprings and roundoff back flips on it. Sometimes we would just practice standing back flips. I never knew how hard my poor stomach muscles had to work to do those. It hurt to laugh for days after, but I was ecstatic. One side of the room was elevated. At one end of it was a pit filled with foam blocks. We practiced tumbling off into that much like on the trampoline. They had harnesses to practice dismounts. We didn’t advance that far in our tumbling prowess to warrant a harness.
They had low beams and high beams. And of course they had a vault. The vault sucked away the happy feeling that just standing on the mats gave me and reminded me of my final days as a gymnast being terrified and giving up.
My heart pounded waiting to run up to the springboard and the vault. Of course there was very little chance of my hitting my head on it considering we were just jumping on the springboard, onto the vault, and onto the fluffy mat behind it. So, I got my second chance at facing my fear. I ran full tilt. I jumped, and I was absolved. The fear lessened each time I faced it. By the end of my three years of gymnastics class there I could front handspring over the vault in the moment, without a thought about the past’s scars.
The vault was the reason I needed to take gymnastics class. I had to face that fear. It wouldn’t erase any of the regret, but it could help me find a more comfortable closure.