Sometimes life offers you second chances because maybe the first time you just weren’t ready. I always believed not to hold back in life because you may never get another chance…or so I thought. A small gymnastics club meet happened over the weekend early last year with some of the strongest rivalries across Adelaide.
As my team walked into the arena, the smell of sweat and freshly polished wood filled our noses. Moving into the stands, I felt the eyes of the Tigers burning a hole
in the back of my head. I felt weak, like I couldn’t breathe, like my heart was about to stop beating even though I could feel the blood pulsing through my veins. I
started preparing myself, taking off my tracksuit revealing a sparkling leotard that glistened under the competition lights.
When I turned, I saw each team huddled in an intimidating circle, each gymnast glancing up at me then returning to their tight force-field of bodies. My coach could see I was scared, saw the fear in my face, the goosebumps growing down my arms and legs, the tears welling in my eyes. He called me over and said, “You are one of my most talented gymnasts, the bravest, most driven person I have ever coached. If anyone can do this it’s you”. For a brief moment I felt relieved.
I had trained tirelessly for this, but as his hands left my shoulders it all came flooding back and my gut dropped into a never-ending hole as I caught a glimpse of what I had been dreading the whole journey. The vault. The long, crisp red running track with a pure white spring board sitting perfectly at the end. Towering over it with a sleek wooden frame was the vault, covered in chalk hand prints from previous gymnasts who had conquered the beast.
I told myself to take deep breaths, in and out. I could do this A Second Chance I thought, but my gut said otherwise. I turned away to face the uneven bars, where I was most confident. The urge to burst into tears was exhilarating and merely thinking about it made my stomach lurch. The earsplitting siren sounded and the fight had begun. Each team sent their first member to battle against the other teams with pride in their step. I watched and waited, painted a happy face over my terrified eyes and ghost white complexion.
I shuddered at being tapped on the shoulder and a shiver ran up my spine as the sound of the announcer filled my ears, “Could all Women’s Vault athletes please make your move immediately.”
For a moment I forgot how to walk, to breathe, to blink and like a statue, I stood terrified to move on. The whispers of luck from everyone were drowned out by the deafening silence that filled my ears. I could only hear my heartbeats like a thousand drums all playing in harmony. My competitors fell into a dead straight line in front of me, and one by one, took to the red floor with determined faces and perfectly stuck landings giving them the prize of perfect scores.
I saw my name come up in bright yellow letters across the dead black screen. I moved to the chalk bowl dipping my hands in, watching the sweat beads get absorbed by the feeling of the dry chalk on my hands and feet. I clapped my hands leaving a white cloud behind me as I waited on the runway in silence, my eyes fixed and focused. The judge gave me the nod and I was off. Each step had spring to it as I approached the sleeping monster.
I jumped, plunged my hands towards the surface and spun. I twisted my body over and around as I held my breath. Something felt wrong. I knew I wasn’t going to make it over, and snap. I felt it go. I heard the loud crack in my ear as the pain shot up my spine. My body unravelled in the air and fell limp onto the awaiting mat underneath me. I couldn’t hear anything and my vision went blurry.
My eyelids were heavy and I woke to the sound of automatic beeps pounding my head. I was in pain, I couldn’t feel my legs, I couldn’t move. I flicked my eyes down to find myself covered in chalk, my leotard still wrapped tightly around my body. Warm tears flowed down my ice-cold cheeks, and the worst thoughts
swarmed my head… I would never be able to walk or run again.
My mother’s words were mumbled but I could just make them out,
“You will be fine”, she said.
“The doctor said it was a close call.”
I will forever be haunted by the unmistakable crack of bones, locked inside my head being a constant reminder of the sheer terror I was engulfed in that day. Despite everything, the feeling of soaring through thin air was so exhilarating I knew this would never stop me.
I refused to let this take the life from my heart and the breath from my lungs, I was alive. I never had a doubt, only belief that I was given a second chance.